It’s not rocket science — it’s better.

I was a terrible cook when I could see, and a miraculous change didn’t happen when I went blind.

I’m still a bad cook.


That’s Mr. Loellbach. You won’t see him on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.

Our neighbor and friend Jim Loellbach is a chef, and before attending Le Cordon Blue, he was an aeronautical engineer at NASA. Proves what I’ve known all along. Cooking is rocket science.

Mike threw a spectacular birthday party for me last year, and one (of many) highlights was having Chef Jim there to create scrumptious appetizers for all the guests. Mike knew Chef Jim would not disappoint: The two of us have had the privilege of enjoying many magnificent homecooked meals with Jim and his wife Janet (a damn good cook in her own right) ever since we moved to Chicago’s Printer’s Row neighborhood in 2003.

I love hearing Jim’s stories about summers at his grandparents’ small farm in Wisconsin and how he, his sisters and their cousins all helped with growing, preparing and preserving food there. He says back then he never considered cooking as a career, “but a seed must have been planted.”

Over the years Chef Jim has worked as a cook and sous chef in several Chicago restaurants and hotels — including the Four Seasons and the Pump Room. Late last year he opened Custom Provisions, his own business offering personal chef service and culinary instruction. This week a guest post Chef Jim wrote about his first clients was published on the American Personal & Private Chef Association’s official personal chef blog.

Jim opens his guest post acknowledging he’s new to the personal chef game and recently landed his first regular clients. “They’re a busy couple with a one-year-old child and another due in about six months,” he wrote. “In addition to the normal challenges that face any new personal chef, I’ve had to face one more: My clients are vegans.”

Chef Jim’s guest post explains what the vegan diet involves and outlines some of the substitutions for animal products he’s discovered and how he went about developing a “robust menu” for his new clients. Vegan doesn’t sound so bad his way. Read the guest post in its entirety here and you’ll be rewarded with Chef Jim’s own recipe for mushroom Bolognese.

And here’s the pitch, which isn’t a pitch so much,as a recommendation to do it for yourself: For more information about Jim’s personal chef service and culinary instruction, link to the Custom Provisions web site. For pricing information or to schedule a consultation, contact Chef Jim directly.

Monday’s with Mike: Come on down!

Beth and I bicycled to the White Sox game again yesterday, this time with our neighborhood friends Jim and Janet. The last time I posted about riding our tandem bicycle to a White Sox game, some people commented on how brave we were.

I’m not sure if they were referring to traffic or that somehow it’s unsafe down there on the South Side.

On count one, FYI: Bike lanes and a little forethought make the ride strikingly stress free and pleasant. Here in the South Loop, we can take the bike lanes—not protected but Wabash is pretty civilized—to 24th Street. We jog a block west to State, where we take it’s bike lanes to 26th street. At 26th  there are bike lanes all the way to Wells. Head south on Wells and you go through a very pleasant, quiet neighborhood and you find yourself at the park before you know it.

It was a beautiful day at the ballpark yesterday.

It was a beautiful day at the ballpark yesterday.

I think it would be pretty easy to take the lakefront path to 31st and cut over there, too. But if you’re coming from the west, you’ll have to figure out your own route.

On the second point, the neighborhood near U.S. Cellular was for years considered dangerous—in particular, the area east of the park, on the east side of the Dan Ryan Expressway. That’s where hi-rise public housing projects once stood within a short walk from the park.

A lot of black people lived in those projects (though in the early days the projects were pretty racially diverse). Eventually, these buildings became crime-ridden, dangerous places. And that was enough to scare a lot of people—especially white people—out of heading to the park. (Even though, statistically, on game nights and days, area around the park was very safe). And some people were simply scared of black people.

The projects were torn down several years ago, which was not an entirely good thing, especially if you lived there, and it was in my view handled pretty poorly in many ways. That’s an important story worth telling at another time. But I wouldn’t be surprised if some people still have the notion that it’s scary around there.

I’m hear to tell you: It never really was. So get on your bike and come on down!

Two looks at riding Uber with a guide dog (and one thing you can do if a driver won’t take you)

Two Safe & Sound blog followers who use guide dogs have contacted me describing very different experiences riding with Uber.


Kathy Austin and her guide dog Weller.

Kathy Austin is the Community Engagement Specialist at Second Sense, and she and her guide dog Weller use public transit to get to work every day. “Uber has been a Godsend for me since taxis in my neck of the woods are limited or nonexistent,” she said in a Second Opinions blog post she wrote in reaction to the Taking Uber with a guide dog: jury still out post I’d published here. ”Let’s give Uber a chance to prove they are working to accommodate people with service animals.”

A second blog follower who lives in Chicago emailed me with a different story. She wrote an email message saying that the first time she tried using Uber the driver wasn’t friendly and seemed to be bothered she had a guide dog with her. “But we did arrive @ our destination in a timely fashion…”.

The driver’s not-so-friendly attitude made Pam reluctant to try Uber a second time. But then she got an offer from Uber for a free ride (valued up to $15 — money talks!).

Pam requested a ride and was given an option to do a shared ride at a reduced rate. “That was helpful since the total price was more then the $15 free ride promotion.”

When Uber driver Akwasi was getting close, Pam sent a message letting him know she was blind and would be waiting outside with her guide dog. “I wanted him to know I needed him to say something out loud to let me know when he was here.” From Pam’s email:

Akwasi phoned me back and told me that he can’t take me because he has 2 passengers already. I told him that my dog doesn’t require much room at all, he will curl up on the floor at my feet. This is especially possible when I’m sitting in the front seat of a car, but Akwasi told me I’d have to sit in the back, so he was going to cancel my ride.

Uber charged Pam a $5 cancellation fee for the ride Akwasi cancelled. She still needed to get to her appointment, so she requested another ride, but this time she didn’t alert the driver about her guide dog. “That’s when Ralph the driver pulled up and told me I can’t ride Uber pool because it’s a shared ride and people are uncomfortable riding with dogs,” she said. “He told me that I can only ride regular Uber, but not the shared ride.”

Pam tried to explain to Ralph that she’d chosen the shared ride because it’d be less expensive, but he wouldn’t listen. “He kept repeating that other passengers aren’t comfortable riding with service animals and this is a shared ride and I need to use the regular Uber where I can ride alone.”

Ralph drove off without Pam and her dog, but he never cancelled her ride. “Instead he used my free ride voucher to get paid for a ride I never took to and from destinations that I’ve never been.”

Pam missed the appointment she’d been heading to and used that time to call Uber instead. From her email message:

Jake, the young man that phoned me says they will refund my $5 cancellation fee and take care of these matters, but I’m a bit concerned now. Are these drivers going to lose their jobs and come after me?! The world is a crazy place and these men know where I live. Should I be doing something more? Is there someone else that is documenting these situations?

Turns out there is someone documenting these situations. On Thursday Pam phoned Disability Rights Advocates and spoke to Julia Marks, one of the attorneys handling the lawsuit against Uber in California. “She was very receptive to my call and very interested in documenting all that transpired between myself & Uber,” Pam said.

In the end, I’m pretty sure Kathy Austin would agree with Pam’s summary: “The Uber settlement is a great start for us, but now we need to make sure it’s being enforced!”

Mondays with Mike: The (lost?) art of conversation

This is totally anecdotal. Subjective. Not data driven.

But I’m pretty sure that people are gradually losing the art of conversation.

Not that we don’t talk. I think we talk more than ever. But it seems to me that we too often talk at each other, not with. We’re flashing aural bumper stickers at each other.


A good conversation is greater than the sum of its parts.

I’m talking about this thing where conversation can be a medium for learning, but it seems to have morphed, too often, into an opportunity for self-promotion.

For example: You tell me you’re going to Paris. I could say, “Oh, where are you staying?” “Business or pleasures?” “Do you have friends there?” I could seek more information and then see where it goes.

Instead, I say. “I’ve been to Paris. I love Paris. I stayed in the Marais. I had the best falafel every In Paris. Can you believe it?”

And boom. I’ve stopped things in their tracks. Now it’s not a back-and-forth, let’s compare notes, let’s explore where we interpreted things differently, or one of us like something the other didn’t, and learn something new.

Now it feels like a contest of sorts, a competition of our experiences.

This happens all the time. Travel, restaurants/food, and maybe especially health care. One person mentions having their gall bladder out, and next thing you know, their friend is off on a tale about his gout.

The initial impulse is still pure. That is, say, you tell me you’re taking care of a sick relative. I say, yeah, I know what that’s like because…”. The idea being to signal the other party that we have something in common, you’re not alone, you can talk to me.

But in the modern world, it can quickly become a sort of SNL skit about how my experience trumps yours. We’re unwittingly running commercials for ourselves.

I think this is real, and it’s something that has developed in my lifetime. And I have a theory about it. Namely, it’s the hyper-commercialization of our culture, particularly since around the 80s, when we started using terms like, “You have to learn to market yourself.” To the point where, the other day, I saw an ad for a seminar on “How to become a brand.”

As the idea that selling ourselves is a 24-hour job took root, bragging and self-promoting somehow shifted from a vice to a virtue, and only suckers didn’t get the memo.

Fortunately, conversation isn’t extinct. A good conversation can be a little epiphany. You find out something about another person you’d never have guessed. You find out what you had wrong about them. It can make you take a fresh look at your own opinions and find them wanting. You find out you have common ground you’d never believe.

No one’s immune from the conversation-killing bug, including me. I try to catch myself and remind myself: Ask questions — you learn more from listening than talking. It’s OK to bring up your own experience in the interest of exploring the topic, but not with the intent of changing the spotlight. The spotlight will shift back and forth if you let it. And, well, just listen.

I’ll try to remember all that, and talk with you soon, I hope.






Too Much Light and a Once in a Lifetime accessible performance

This past week I attended two plays I would have never seen experienced

Let me explain.

Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater moved to its new location at Biograph Theater in 2006  (yes, the landmark building where gangster John Dillinger was ambushed). The refurbished building boasts an elevator, ramps, wide hallways, widened doorways. A perfect location for Access Project, a nationally-recognized outreach effort to involve people with disabilities in all aspects of theater. Access Project designates certain performances as “Access Nights” by offering additional accessibility services to Victory Garden patrons. But wait…there’s more! Access Project also teams up with smaller theater companies (some who usually perform in small inaccessible spaces in basements, above taverns, down narrow hallways) from time to time to sponsor a one-night-fits-all production in Victory Gardens’ very accessible space.

Both productions I went to this week were produced by smaller Chicago theater companies hosted by Victory Gardens at the refurbished Biograph Theater:

  1. Once in a Lifetime, a 1930 play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, was performed by Strawdog Theatre company at Victory Gardens Thursday night.  a review by Kerry Reid in the Chicago Tribune said the play is “seldom revived, and a lot of that has to do with the humongous cast of characters, featuring nearly 40 speaking parts.”
  2. Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go blind is a production by the Neo-Futurists that attempts to perform 30 skits in 60 minutes. They performed their “ever-changing menu” last Saturday night at Victory Gardens.

Dozens of characters. Actors playing multiple parts. Many, many scene changes. These particular two plays could have been recipes for blind disaster, but the thought put into the touch tours before each production — coupled with speedy Shayne Kennedy providing audio description in my headset for both plays — helped me take it all in.

Okay, maybe not all, but far more than I would have otherwise. Because, honestly, without this sort of special accommodation, I wouldn’t have considered attending these two complicated plays at all.

Audio touch tours are much more than just the tactile experience the name implies — a touch tour is a pre-performance program that gives those of us who are blind or have low vision an opportunity to:

  • participate in an artistic conversation about a production
  • experience a detailed description of the set, props and costumes
  • handle key props, set and costume pieces
  • tour the set with a sighted guide
  • meet the actors, hear the voices they’ll be using on stage, and learn about the characters they play

When the plays were about to start, I was offered an ear piece connected to a small device the size of an old-fashioned cell phone — the contraption had a volume control dial so I could rev it up to hear the audio describer alert me to scene changes, character entrances/exits and other movements during the play. I usually can follow the play just fine and opt to go without the ear piece. Not this time, though. With one show offering 30 skits in 60 minutes, and the other featuring 40 speaking parts, trust me, I cherished those headphones — almost as much as I cherished the opportunity to seetake in these two lively performances.

I suppose in a perfect world, every Chicago theater — big or small, well-funded or not — would be wheelchair accessible and offer ASL and audio description at their site, but hey — I got the memo. The world isn’t perfect. I’m a huge fan of “reasonable accommodation” and believe that the “reasonable” part should go both ways. Expecting every tiny theater company in Chicago to refurbish the space they rent or pay for an ASL interpreter or audio description for every play would not be reasonable, but it is reasonable on their parts to pair up with established theaters already set up for this —steppenwolf theater did exactly that when working with Gift Theater to produce Richard III. I have learned first-hand that efforts like those by Steppenwolf and Victory Gardens Theater’s Access Project can put a human face to people with disabilities and inspire their fellow arts organizations to keep us in mind when making plans.

The Neo-Futurists who put on the accessible performance of Too Much Light last Saturday are offering a class this summer to explore the process of creating a 2-minute play in the Too Much Light style, writing and crafting pieces based on true life experiences. In partnership with Victory Gardens’ Artist Development Workshop, Intro to TML at VG will meet at Victory Gardens Theater, thus offering an opportunity to study the fundamentals of Neo-Futurism in a physically accessible setting. Accommodations will be provided for students with other disabilities, too. Artists with disabilities are strongly encouraged to apply and will be given preference in acceptance into the workshop.

As for Strawdog, after the show was over Thursday night, the company’s general manager announced that the second-floor venue they usually perform in is going to be demolished soon and replaced with condos. “All of our productions next season will take place at The Factory Theater,,” he said, adding with glee that the new place is at street level. “It’s wheelchair accessible!” The crowd, well, we couldn’t all rise to our feet, but trust me, we showed our appreciation.

Taking Uber with a guide dog: jury still out

taxi-minivanIn 2014 I had an op-ed piece published in the Chicago Tribune called “Should ride-sharing services adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act?” Well, two years later, ride-sharing for people with disabilities — namely, those of us who use service dogs — is back in the news.

Up to now Uber has not required drivers to allow people who use service animals in their cars. The only reference to animals in their policy statement was one that says they “leave the decision whether or not to transport pets at the discretion of your driver.”

Since Uber cars are privately owned and operated by independent contractors, Uber maintains they don’t have to follow the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA says “public transportation authorities may not discriminate against people with disabilities in the provision of their services,” but it doesn’t say anything about private rides.

Uber identifies as a technology company — not a transportation company — and claims it is not required to provide ADA-mandated vehicles. Their stance has stirred criticism from disability advocate groups, and in 2014 the National Federation of the Blind of California filed a suit claiming many Uber drivers have refused to take passengers with guide dogs.

Uber denied discriminating and argued that, as a ride-hailing service that merely connects drivers and passengers, it wasn’t covered by laws that require taxis and other transportation services to carry a passenger’s service animal.

A federal magistrate in San Francisco refused to dismiss the suit last year, leading to a settlement late last month before the case was scheduled for trial. According to the agreement, Uber will tell their drivers they have an obligation to carry guide dogs, and Uber will also be required to dismiss any driver who knowingly violates that policy a single time. The Uber site has added a paragraph to its “bringing along a pet” page about service dogs now, too. It reads:

Please note: All drivers are required by law to transport service animals. If you experience issues using Uber with your service animal, please reach out to us by reporting an issue with your trip.

Is it me, or does that language seem a little evasive? All drivers are required by law…. Uber will also be required to dismiss any driver who knowingly violates…. Required under the settlement — who’s monitoring and who’s enforcing? This smells like it’s still putting the burden on the guide dog user who has been refused the service to ultimately press the case.

The settlement was proposed to the court on April 29, 2016, and copies are available online.

I want this to be good news. But who exactly do we “reach out” to if a driver refuses to pick us up? Uber has become somewhat notorious for non-responsiveness, and connecting with a human seems nearly impossible. I know exactly what to do if a taxi refuses service. Contact the City of Chicago office that handles such complaints, online or by phone. I’ve done it, and it works. And the ongoing enforcement helps keep taxi drivers honest (I’m happy to report that it’s been years since I’ve had cause to complain about a registered Chicago cab driver refusing to take my guide dog).

I’m still left with some questions about Uber. Will this new policy they’ve agreed to only apply in California, or all over the United States? Can Uber still claim that because they simply connect drivers with passengers, they don’t have to adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act?

If you ask me, when it comes to Uber, the jury is still out.

Monday’s with Mike: Mutha’s day

Well, we got through another Mothers Day. Not that there’s anything wrong with mothers, mind you.

Beth and I celebrated by riding our tandem bicycle to U.S Cellular Field to watch a White Sox win with our generous friends Don and Juli (seats to die for, btw). And at our son Gus’ direction, I bought some very fragrant lilies and presented them to Beth on Gus’ behalf.

I came by my skepticism honestly, from my mom Esther.

Esther Knezovich, nee Latini, a 5’1″ stick of dynamite.

Which was all nice. It’s just that the avalanche of sentimentality and tributes and bragging’ on our moms can get a little cloying sometimes. And dare I say, dishonest? Maybe, a little? (And then there’s the equal time thing—as our single friend Brad asked our single bartender Sean at Hackney’s last night, “When’s bachelor’s day?”)

On Mothers Day (and Fathers Day, of course), somehow the notion that some people had really awful mothers — that any mothers can be awful — gets lost. I know, I know, that shouldn’t keep us from appreciating the “good” ones. But you know, I didn’t see any pictures of Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford in Mommy Dearest in my Facebook feed yesterday.

Plus, there just seems to be no room for ambiguity. Let me put it this way: to use a gender-neutral term, women can be assholes sometimes. Even the best of them. Ergo, mothers can be assholes.

I know mine could be. She could be abusive in her criticism of me and my sister. She had a crazy temper, and threw stuff at us. She could be defensive and insecure and combative to an extreme degree. She did everything she could to give me and my sister opportunities she didn’t have, but at times couldn’t hide her envy.

And I will always love and admire her.

She was born to Italian immigrants. She grew up 40 miles from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a row house that was in a town owned by the coal mining company her father worked for. Paolo—as I would observe as a child—was a relentless critic of his children, even in their adulthood. So my mom, Esther, came by it honestly. Nothing she did was good enough for him. And so it was for me and my sister.

She won forensics competitions in high school, and traveled all the way to California to compete. She was smart as a whip. And probably could’ve been anything. I always thought a career in law would’ve suited her. Back then, though, the only option she had was state teachers’ college.

No doubt in my mind it wasn’t her first choice. But she did it. She started her career teaching Marines’ kids at Camp Lejeune during the war. She endured tragedy with the loss of her first husband when my sister was only six months old.

She went on to be a fantastic teacher for decades. I know this because of the many parents who have told me so, and from the kids I went to high school with who’d had her in grade school. (Who also professed some wonder at how I survived being Mrs. K.’s son.)

During adolescence, I had some vicious battles with my mom. There were times when I hated her.

And then, thanks in large part to who she was, I grew up and became a young man. With an analytical mind like hers. A sense of civic and social responsibility. A respect for the English language. A love of baseball. And an eternal suspicion of school administrators and gimmicks like charter schools and NCLB blah blah. And, yeah, sometimes with a temper like hers.

The very things that made me despise her in my high school years were the things I empathized with as a young adult. I could read her frustration with her lot in life, her ambiguous and simultaneous support and envy of her kids’ opportunities, and the source of her insecurity. It’s also clear to me now that she was prone to depression in an age where the idea of going to a shrink was unthinkable in her milieu. It wasn’t always pretty, but she slogged through.

And so, this year, in my world, Mothers Day will come again November 8. That’s when I expect to celebrate one brilliant, flawed, confounding, tough-as-nails mother by voting for another one.

And if you don’t do the same—don’t tell me, or be prepared for a coffee cup to come whizzing by your head.

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