Things I Miss About Champaign

I’ve been meaning to make this list for a long time, but Gemma’s recent photos have pushed me to actually writing it up.  My feelings for Champaign are all wrapped up in my grad school experience, my first really fulfilling (and challenging) professional job, and a prolonged period of personal growth and experimentation between the end of my marriage and the beginning of my relationship with Shane – so lots of complicated, complicating things factor into my relationship with that little city in the corn.

  1. Riding my bike down University towards GSLIS early in the morning in the summer – empty roads and the sun coming up through the trees.  A 7 minute commute on a good day.  And then the long months when I couldn’t ride because my arm was in a cast.
  2. West Side Park.  Living across from West Side Park.  Walking home through West Side Park after a long shift at Aroma or a movie at the Art or a too-late night at Mike & Molly’s.
  3. Coffee and sandwiches at Paradiso.  Consistently good music on the stereo.  The smoking section at Paradiso, barely partitioned off by a row of ficus trees.  Books or homework on the “patio”.  Paradiso’s perfect imperfectness.
  4. Living near downtown Champaign, where I never paid more than $500 for a one bedroom apartment, and even that included utilities.  My first solo apartment directly across from the park.  My studio apartment that never really got above 50 degrees in the winter, but that in the summer offered the most fabulous porch for parties.  The apartment with the Wild Things on the wall and the yellow kitchen.  Our last place on Clark, where we rented the entire ground floor for around $750, planted our first garden, spent $300+ on heat in the winter, and enjoyed the mixed blessing of a screened-in entryway – great for cats in the sun, not great for cats escaping.
  5. Saturday mornings at the Urbana farmers’ market, bringing home things I didn’t recognize and that would eventually go bad in the fridge. Splurging on fancy cheese, meat, and a croissant from Art Mart.  Riding our bikes to the market and bringing a dedicated backpack for watermelon or canteloupe.
  6. Friday afternoon Revolution Lunch at Jerusalem Restaurant with my favorite nutters.  The food was fine, but the company was effing crazy.  I’m glad to hear that it hasn’t changed.
  7. French toast at Sam’s, where Shane and I went for breakfast one of the first times he spent the night.  We drew maps of our hometowns on the rectangular napkins.  In case you ever forget, the special is at the top.
  8. Late nights studying at Merry Ann’s with Sarah and Nicole, drinking TERRIBLE coffee and eating fries and goofing around with the servers.  Going to Merry Ann’s at bar time, ordering a grilled cheese sandwich, and being in and out in under 10 minutes.  Greg and I standing on the booth and singing happy birthday to Mark, who brought us screwdrivers mixed in the back.  Hanging out with Shane for the first time after Carl and I had gone to see 2046, all three of us wasted but on totally different things (exhaustion, alcohol, an emotionally weighty movie).  Many many plates of fries before Subversion.
  9. Boltini bingo.  We went almost every week the last summer we lived there, but I didn’t win ANYTHING until my very last card on my very last bingo.  Marv gave me his oversized clapper, which I kept until we moved to Michigan.
  10. AromaWorking at Aroma.  Drinking mojitos outside Aroma in the spring of 2003.  Working 20 hour days (Aroma + Carle) in the fall of 2004 when it was easier to not sleep than to deal with my heartbreak.  10 hour kitchen shifts with all New Order all the time, getting fake engaged to Sam, smoking out front with Carl and Erich and Leah in the summer.  Ryan’s shark mug and Dave catching flies out the air.  Flirting with customers who became friends.  Coffee grounds permanently under my fingernails.  A good place and a good time, though definitely not the best coffee in the world.
  11. Symposium at the Esquire, and the Esquire in general.  For at least the first year after we left Champaign, I would often sigh and say that I just wanted to go the Esquire for dinner – cheap beer, cheap bar food, endless bowls of peanuts.  Always the same, never disappointing – just a solid townie bar.
  12. The Blind Pig in the winter of 2004-2005.  Holding hands with Carl on my 25th birthday.  A snowball fight in the middle of the night in the middle of Walnut Street.  It’s still a great bar, and I know Shane misses it greatly, but (oh this is so hipster) I stopped truly loving it when the sign went up.
  13. Swimming laps in the outside pool at IMPE in the summer of 2005.  I had started exercising that spring, but realized after my first botched length that Curves had nothing on laps in the 50 meter pool.  Sunshine, chlorine, hard work, bliss.
  14. Sunday nights at Bentley’s – our Local Neighborhood Bar – with the GSLIS crew.  Beth’s Bloody Marys and Blue Moons adorned with loads of snacks.  So many games of Bohnanza that we bought a second copy – one for the bar, another for occasions when we were less likely to spill drinks.  Planning our first Bonnaroo, celebrating our first NYE, eating a whole lot of miniature pizzas.
  15. Gyne instruction totally changed my understanding of my own body, and of the range of what constitutes ‘normal’.  I am so thankful for having the opportunity to work with such a remarkable group of women and to become empowered to advocate for my own health.  In the years since, a number of friends have felt comfortable asking me about gyne health stuff because they knew I had this experience and was willing to talk about it openly.  What a remarkable gift.
  16. Porch parties at my place on Springfield.  There weren’t many of them, but oh, they were wonderful.
  17. So much enduring love for Cafe Kopi.  I can’t believe I lived in Champaign almost a year before I found it, and can’t believe I haven’t found a comparable spot since.  Actually, I can believe it.  Kopi has something really special going on.  The coffee and food aren’t remarkable, but they’re solidly good, as are the staff and the ambiance.  I spent way too many nights doing my grad school reading over their cafe miels and tuna salad salads – and swatting away the ever-present flies on the patio.  Those things will survive the apocalypse, I swear.
  18. Mike & Molly’s may be my most favorite bar ever.  Shane preferred the Blind Pig, but my heart belongs to M&M.  Lots of nights reading with a beer, hanging out with townie friends, dancing to music played in the loft by friends.  Someone – Tim? Steve? – trying to explain darts to me.  The chalkboard in the bathroom.  Knowing that I was a regular when I forgot my ID and the bartender vouched for me to the doorman.  The bar’s vignette in Tell Me Do You Miss Me.  Carl arranging for my induction into Pi Omega Omega on my next-to-last night in town.
  19. Nox/Subversion and the year that saw me on the dance floor almost every week.  I told Shane recently that I missed out on being a raver girl because I didn’t live in a big city in my early 20s.  Instead, I had Tuesday nights at the High Dive with Emily and Jim playing the music I always wanted to listen to but didn’t know how to discover on my own.  Saturday nights with Tim in the booth and reciprocal pants protection with Shane and Karin.  Meeting Brian and Ben and Kristina and so many others.  Dancing when I was sick, dancing when my heart was breaking, dancing when I’d had too much to drink, dancing on the patio in the pouring rain.
  20. And then there’s everything about GSLIS: getting my job, making my friends, meeting Shane, finding a career path, getting a real job, discovering and falling in love with and then hating and then loving research.  All the wonderful, remarkable, challenging, and exceptional people who over the years became friends, colleagues, trusted associates, and family.  I can’t even begin to articulate the ways that this school changed my life.

Ultimately, though, what I miss is being able to walk everywhere – and the fact that wherever I went, I would run into someone I knew.  Hell, it’s been four years and that is still often the case.  And it goes without saying that the people and relationships made Champaign my home, but there are far too many of them to list here.

“The best bad job you can have”

Jenny B sent me a link to this article last week, which made me think about how much I really do miss working at Aroma. It was a crappy job that wore me out, but I really enjoyed working with fun people (most of the time) and talking to random customers (most of the time) throughout the day. I miss doing a mindless job and doing it well, drinking all the coffee I could handle, getting a free meal, and grabbing drinks with coworkers after work.

I think the days of mindless jobs are behind me, at least for the time being, but that doesn’t mean I can’t look back on them fondly.

Starbucks

So last night I was talking to a few former barista coworker friends, and the subject of Starbucks came up – I believe in the context of discussing the neglectful management of our former place of employment. If you know me even moderately well, you know that I’ve maintained a long-standing ban on Starbucks. I worked at an independent coffeeshop for two years, and have many friends who work and/or manage independents. With Starbucks planning to open 250 more Chicagoland locations (to add to the 330 existing ones), you can understand my vehemence. By the numbers, independent coffee shops have lost 11% of the market in the last four years. For those of us who rely on our indie for income, variety, and good coffee, that’s alarming.

One of the most touted things about Starbucks (notably more touted than the quality of their drinks) is their treatment of employees, who are eligible for health insurance, stock options, and a 401K – as well as advancement possibilities simply not available in your average mom-and-pop shop. A Starbucks employee union exists, though it seems that it has a contentious relationship with Starbucks itself. Starbucks has also, in the last few years, agreed to sell Fair Trade coffees, though it sounds like that decision only happened under some protest.

Last night, my coffeestore friends slightly revised our ban. We’re OK with people working for Starbucks – like our former manager, who routinely works 40+ hour weeks for no vacation, no benefits, and no chance of ever having any real authority due to the ongoing mismanagement by the owners – we’re just not OK with people buying coffee there.

a happy crazy person

Oh man, I wish nothing was happening. The last couple of weeks have been INCREDIBLY busy, so I’ll just give you the highlights:

Work: rolled out Moodle for the LEEP kids on or around 9 June after a long week of really intense work. Two training workshops (led by me), a number of forum discussions, and a couple of live sessions later, things seem to be going smoothly, and we’re “cautiously optimistic” for fall.

Work: turned in my notice at Aroma – my last normally scheduled week will be the week of 31 July. Feels like the end of an era. I said I’m fine with being on-call, but with my fall schedule (whatever it will be – 40/2 or 20/4), I just can’t do it anymore. Oh, and we changed the menu, which has made things needlessly complicated.

House: keys have been delivered, and I’m headed to Rockford this weekend to meet with a realtor, do a ton of yardwork, and generally figure out what needs to be done to the house to get it on the market. The ex has been cooperative, which I really appreciate. This is hard, but it could be a lot harder.

Adventures: spent last weekend in Chicago at Intonation and visiting Amanda. Good times all around, even though the festival was so-so, and it rained part of the weekend. Bloc Party was awesome, so was Jose Gonzalez, and I enjoyed seeing/hearing a bunch of new bands, including a lot of fun hiphop. Shane and I did some shopping downtown and at IKEA, both of which were fun. I got a gorgeous dress for Sarah’s wedding on consignment, and we looked at things for an imaginary shared apartment (code name: Basil Land). Pictures here.

Adventures: spent the weekend before in central Tennessee at Bonnaroo, which is/was an experience that can’t be summarized in a short paragraph. More on this later, but in brief, it was four days of dirt and sun and music and food and friends. I was relaxed and happy and very dirty, and coming back to the “real world” was difficult. I saw Andrew Bird, Radiohead, Beck, Rusted Root, The Magic Numbers, Buddy Guy, Cat Power, Matisyahu, and a bunch of people I’ve already forgotten. Pictures here.

General: things are good – exhausting, but good. I’m running around like a crazy person, but a happy crazy person, and that makes a world of difference.

Here is a thing I’m exceedingly tired of:

For the last two years, I have worked more-or-less part time at a local coffeeshop. More-or-less part time means my hours have ranged between 10-30 per week, with the high being in the fall of 2004 when I was working a full time job and trying to get over a bad breakup, and the low being in the fall of 2005 when I was just too busy with school and a 2/3rds time appointment to work any more than one 10 hour shift per week. I’ve had (at least) two jobs since I started there two years ago, and between school, work, and my part time job have averaged between 60-70 working/class hours per week plus homework.

In short, I work my ass off.

My part time job has never been my first priority – I’ve always had either a full time job or school to worry about. That said, I have been absolutely as available as I could possibly be to them. I worked 30 hours per week when I was working full time when we were short staffed and they wouldn’t hire anyone. I continued working three shifts per week once I started school even though that meant I frequently didn’t have a day off between jobs for weeks at a time. I work this hard because I need the money, and I work this hard because I love my jobs.

That said, I really think the time has come to quit my part time job. I haven’t had a raise since December 2004, and that was when minimum wage went up. I know for a fact that an employee that I trained and who has been the subject of repeated and vocal complaints by coworkers to management is making more than I do. I have repeatedly offered my help for additional tasks that are well within my realm of experience and availability, and have been repeatedly brushed off by management, only for those responsibilities to go to people who complain about the extra hours and extra responsibilities. And now a management position has gone to an employee who has been at the store for six months, and who works perhaps one more shift per week than I do.

It’s not that I want a management job – I don’t. I couldn’t take it even if I wanted to. It’s that I’ve been systematically passed over for any increases in responsibility, ignored when I make suggestions, and brushed off when I’ve tried to help out. I’m so pissed off that I don’t even know what to say – and I feel like my hands are tied because the owner’s father just passed away, and I don’t want to take out my frustration on him right now, even though that’s really where it should be directed.

Oh Internet, what should I do? Is it finally time to quit a job that I love?

tomorrow

Another Saturday, another kitchen shift, another catering order puts $50 in my pocket, which is good as I’ve just bought tickets to Metric and Bonnaroo, and will buy tickets to Neko Case (whose new album is MAGICAL) soon. I’m having my lunch in the kitchen, sitting on a tall stack of milk crates that are pressing lines into my skin. I’m tired.

Last night was Nine Inch Nails at Assembly Hall, which was awesome, and featured Trent oversharing a bit, but mainly a lot of rocking, and Erasure, and a lot more theatrics than when I saw them last May. This was the first show of the tour – they seem to be bypassing major cities and playing stadiums in smaller towns, which is pretty cool in my book. It was in stark contrast to last Friday, when I saw Andrew Bird at the Canopy Club, easily my LEAST favorite venue in C-U. Each AB show is a little different, and this one did not disappoint. I’m looking forward to getting to see him at Bonnaroo over the summer – he was fantastic in a festival setting.

What else? Oh, I don’t know. We celebrated Sonya‘s birthday a couple of times this week with games and shots and lots of chocolate. She has also entered the Knitting Olympics, which I am pimping here because I will directly benefit from her entrance – she is knitting these amazing arm warmers for me:

Also, I’m ridiculously happy these days, though I’m not making much headway on anything resembling work. I need to remedy that. Tomorrow.

some news

I’m on break at Aroma, eating a chicken quesadilla. I didn’t particularly want a chicken quesadilla, but I also didn’t want to throw it away when a customer’s order was wrong (not my fault) and I was hungry. Also, I just got a catering order. Suck,

This week has been filled with news + excitement + running around. So much stuff has been going on, and I just don’t even know where to begin. I’ve been spending all my time at school, with friends, on my bike, here and there doing everything – it’s wonderful and dizzying and not conducive to productivity.

Yesterday I found out that I’ve been accepted into the PhD program – no one seems to have doubted my application except me, which is wonderful, and I’m totally thrilled. I spent most of yesterday making a high-pitched squealy noise. After so much anxiety the last few months, it’s good to know at least where I will be and what I will be doing for the next 4 and change years. On a related note, I need to buckle down and spend more time on my work, even though I don’t have that much to do at the moment.

On Wednesday I bought my plane ticket (boleto) to Portugal – I’m flying Chicago > Montreal > London > Porto, at which point I will join the Camino Portugues and follow the coast (costa) north to Santiago. I can’t – I just can’t believe it’s really happening. I have a lot of saving to do between now and then, and a lot of working out, but it’s really happening. I’ll be gone most of May. I started Spanish lessons last night – Mike’s going for full immersion, and would speak French if I didn’t understand the Spanish (I speak NONE), and English only as a last resort.

There has been a lot of really good time with friends lately – watching silly TV, working out, dancing, designating new hangouts, sleepovers, plans for summer adventures. We tried to figure out – complete with colored pencils, lists, and terrible drawings – if Coachella was feasible (the line-up is amazing), but have decided instead to travel en masse to Bonnaroo instead – it’s closer, more reasonable, a better time, etc etc. I can’t wait.

Much to the surprise of all parties, I’m actually in a relationship. It is good and simple and easy and I am really happy.

back-and-forth friday

I’m back in the office after another side-splittingly hilarious revolution lunch. Megan joined us today, and we stood outside for a long time talking about bizarre-o stuff. I’m often asked what goes on at revolution lunch, and all I can tell you is that the lot of us sit around just being weird and laughing.

We’ve moved into the new office – it’s gorgeous and not-buggy (fingers crossed) with higher ceilings and clean white walls. Jill and I discovered after much climbings around on the furniture that there are no power outlets on Matt’s and my side of the room, but through intrepid use of power strips and a pass-through hole in the wall, we’ve got everything set up. I am LOVING it, even though it means another flight of stairs, and can see myself spending many many evenings working here in the fall.

Today is full of back-and-forth – campus, then Aroma, then campus, then dinner, then Rambo-n-beans, then possibly a glam party later. My schedule is dizzying some days, and then there are some days that stretch out in front of me like they’ll never end. I am intoxicated with summer – and yet in the back of my mind is Spain, Spain, Spain.

I am very cold, and more tired than I think I even realize. It was – an odd weekend. I’m really scatterbrained tonight, and I want to make sense of things here, but it’s just not happening. Instead, some highlights:

  • A Series of Unfortunate Events on Friday with Shawn – much better than I expected (feared?) – imbued with a lushness I can’t really describe.
  • The creepiest email I have ever received, period.
  • A Yule brunch at Mel’s, where I was the odd man out but had a lovely time anyway. Mimosas + cute kittens + good food + nice people = a v nice afternoon.
  • Carnet de Voyage, read in its entirety at work over the last two days – I can’t tell you precisely why it moved me so deeply. I wish I could.
  • Bar-hopping, pool, and video photo hunt with the Aroma crew – so good to just be out with friends – even if I am the worst pool player ever, I did kick some serious ass at photo hunt.
  • Writing $500 in checks for bills, which should bring my debt to zero (my paycheck too).
  • Buying preserved lemons for dinner, and being regarded as if I had a second head.
  • Two hours of chess with Dave – and still making more in tips during those two hours ($4 each) than Nicolette and I did during our six hour Tuesday night shift ($3.65 each).
  • Nearly totally melting down before dinner as things weren’t turning out right – then having the Lebanese lemon chicken from Jamie’s Kitchen turn out to be the best thing I’ve made or tasted in a long time.I hope the winter days are treating you kindly, my dears.
  • Tonight I’m too tired to talk about big things. On my lunch break in the sunshine I walked to Strawberry Fields and had a half-sandwich and a blackberry soda. I finished early, and spent half an hour just wandering around, enjoying being outside, sneezing from my seasonal allergies. At work we’re training a new boy, who spent ten minutes explaining his tattoos, all various symbols of/for peace, tolerance, democracy, and diversity. He works for an agency that helps student environmental activist groups organize and network with other such groups. Last night after a giant laundromat trip Sarah and I had dinner on the patio at Guido’s. It was nice to just sit downtown and watch the regulars walk by on their way to Aroma (including the guy with the shark!) and not have to worry about running inside to make their drinks. Tonight I’m too tired to hurt, and I’m too tired to be sad. Sooner or later the physical exhaustion had to catch up with me. Despite all the shit, I mainly just miss him.