Tyler A. Green

In Transit

Month: November 2015

An American in Ontario

This essay describes my experience sitting on the boardwalk at Toronto’s Woodbine Beach on Tuesday, September 22, 2015. I was visiting the city to attend a Blue Jays game and appreciate their transit, but I took the following hour or so out of the week to take in my surroundings.

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Woodbine Beach stretches gradually from the boardwalk to the water. Small waves break at the edge of the sand. A man navigates the shoreline on a paddle board. He loses his balance and falls on his back into the shallow water. My attention is reigned in as a woman jogs past my bench on the edge of the boardwalk. She wears a sports bra that is a bit too loose and appears as exhausted as the skin that covers her upper arms. She passes more slowly than expected through my vision from left to right. A black and orange butterfly follows her, fluttering in the light breeze.

I remember a Salinger quote: “She wasn’t doing a thing that I could see, except standing there leaning on the balcony railing, holding the universe together.” What would that look like? Is there an equally-intriguing metaphor to describe the gulls on the beach?

For a September in Toronto, the weather is perfect. My right arm is sun-soaked, my left wind-swept. My brain combines the two sensations into a single feeling of comfort. I commend the shade tree underneath which I sit on a job well done. Based on my arm’s differing experiences, maybe this is the first time it has been called a “shade tree”.

I cross my legs, right knee over left. Other people who do this seem to be having profound thoughts. Is it causation or correlation? I hope to soon know. I feel no immediate effects, but I tell myself I’m in no hurry. Maybe Eckhart Tolle crossed his legs right knee over left during his two years of sitting on park benches.

A blacktop path runs behind my bench, complementing the boardwalk and beach to complete a 360-degree theatre of urban activity. A couple jogs by on the path, the man pushing a stroller. The woman is going a hair past her comfortable jog-and-talk speed. She exhales deeply between a series of two-word exchanges.

An elderly couple saunters to my right, a bit of distance between them to accommodate their differing gaits. They smile at each other. Each says a single word. I hear neither.

A man wearing a Blue Jays baseball cap strides briskly to my left. The logo which adorns his hat offers a pleasing mix of retro and modern vibes, the two shades of blue that form the jay contrasted nicely by a red maple leaf. Countless fans at the baseball game last night sported the same logo. If I weren’t visiting the home diamonds of all thirty teams in Major League Baseball, I may have bought one. But because I am flying across the country (now countries) to check off my list, I now get to sit on this bench not checking off a list. I intend to achieve spontaneous mindfulness at the beach I discovered on TripAdvisor in between checking my Visa balance and my American Airlines flight details more than a week ago.

Another butterfly flutters several meters in front of me. Then another. They also fly left to right. I look to see which way the wind is blowing. Towards me.

Who will I describe this moment to first? Why do I want to tell someone about this moment? When should I get lunch?

Too-loose-sports-bra jogs by again, this time to the left. A boat takes advantage of the lack of swim ring and drives parallel to the shore. It moves quite near the sand, and I wonder how soon before it is too late a beached whale is aware of its fate.

I don’t see the CN Tower to the left. I remember it is actually to the right. I don’t see it there either. Maybe it’s better this way.

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Two young women pass. Both have straight hair that reaches the top of their backs. Both carry leather bags slung over their left shoulders which rest just behind their right hips. Both wear denim pants which stop several centimeters above their ankles. Both wear sandals which straddle the line between fashionable and functional.

The effect of crossing my legs begins to reveal itself. I can’t feel my right foot.

A dog with a head as small as the rest of its body is big pulls its owner down the jogging path behind me. Who is walking whom?

I count my breath in. One, two, three, four. I count the number of hats worn by people on the boardwalk in front of me. One, two. I count the number of butterflies flying to the right. One, two, three. I count the number people who know I am here.

A mother ambles to my left pushing a stroller with a child onboard. Their smiles are similar, but the child’s does not last. She pushes herself onto her arms and cranes her neck towards the direction from which they came. Maybe they won’t need a stroller next time they visit the boardwalk.

What does it mean to enjoy life? What does it mean to enjoy an hour? Maybe those are actually the same thing.

A white pickup truck drives along the water’s edge. The beach is not topless, so maybe the driver chose this vehicle over a convertible. Or maybe the beach trash patrol completes their rounds approximately midday on Tuesdays.

My window for unstructured time is nearly finished. Will I go to a baseball-themed brewery next or repeat this mindfulness exercise at a city overlook? Which should I do first?

The similarly-dressed women pass again. I now remember I saw them on the streetcar. The one whose sandals are slightly more fashionable than functional has her toenails painted bright pink. They walk in the direction of the beachside cafe to my right. Maybe they are about to sit for some gelato.

I remember I didn’t get carded at dinner last night. Then I remember I ordered poutine and a water.

Is what I feel right now “peace”? It feels more like the absence of anxiety. Maybe those are actually the same thing.

A man with a head of thick white hair walks next to a woman. She is of similar age and complexion, though the dark shade of her hair still complements the tones of her visage. His black leather loafers, faded denim jeans, and worn green and white shirt would not have been out of place on this boardwalk twenty-five years prior. The man’s voice exudes confidence and direction, unlike others on the boardwalk on this day. Maybe he misses conducting his daily business. Or maybe his wife is hard of hearing.

I mentioned this beach to my seat neighbor at the game last night. “I hope you have good weather,” she said. She didn’t say whether the setting is good or bad, only acknowledged its presence. Maybe this moment is the same.

A young couple strolls to my left. Their small dog bounds in front of them, its curly black hair bouncing with each step. Both the man and woman have shirts of tartan pattern with large squares of color. Hers is red and black and she wears it loose and open. His is blue and black and rests on his left shoulder. Maybe she saw a photo of a matching couple on Pinterest this morning and encouraged him to recreate it with her. Or maybe she is cool and he is warm.

I shift on the bench. Have I answered any of my questions? I feel my American passport in the front pocket of my jeans. An image of Gertrude Stein appears in my mind, but I remember I have a booking for a return flight. The last question I asked is the first whose answer I know.

Three middle-aged women dressed for business make their way from the right. One of them is learning the uneven nature of the boardwalk. The handle on her roller backpack is much too short. She reaches down to pick it up for a second time. I stand and walk towards the city.

The next day, I would visit the Toronto Islands and enjoy the stunning view below. On the boardwalk, however, it was just me, the sand, and endless ocean.

Do you have any mindfulness exercises you do while traveling or at home? Let me know in the comments below or contact me.

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18 Starbucks in a Quarter Square Mile: A Wednesday Afternoon in the Loop

This post originally appeared on my old Wordpress blog on March 20, 2014. The content has been modified slightly for this blog, but is my original work in both settings.

Do you know how many Starbucks locations are contained within the Loop?  The gourmet coffee chain’s prevalence inside this 0.24 square mile area of Chicago’s business district gives new meaning to the phrase “on every corner”.  On Wednesday afternoon, March, 19th, 2014, Pushpinder, Dhawal, and I set out to take a #selfie in front of all 18.  That’s right: one eight.

Background

The three of us were about through exploring The Shops at North Bridge shortly before noon.  We were stumped on what should be our next adventure.  Our Amtrak train was not scheduled to depart from Union Station until 5:45 PM, leaving us several free hours.  We were hoping to stay in the downtown area and preferably find something that was outdoors, cheap, and, most importantly, fun!  Everyone had really enjoyed our breakfast at Starbucks in Wrigleyville that morning, so coffee was not far removed from our minds.  During our walking about downtown, our group had already commented on how there seemed to be a Starbucks on every corner.  I had tweeted the same observation during my September 2013 trip to Chicago.  All of this came together when, suddenly, Dhawal said, “We could take a picture in front of every Starbucks!”  I immediately responded with my “this sounds ridiculous and useless, but doable and awesome” face.  Obviously, a goal like this would need a well-defined boundary.  Fortunately, Chicago’s transit system provides this quite elegantly.  Enter: the Loop.  This circuit of elevated track services the Orange, Green, Purple, Brown, and Pink lines of the CTA rapid transit system.  The keyword which made it even more usable: elevated.  You can plainly see what is inside the loop (Wells to Wabash W->E, Lake to Van Buren N->S) versus what is not.  I pulled up my Starbucks app on my phone to see approximately how many Starbucks locations were inside this region.  The count: 18.  Those inside the marked region of the map below became our master list.

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We made the decision to not count a Starbucks on the outside side of one of the boundary streets.  The only other rule needed was that we should all be in each photo.  While Dhawal had a nice DSLR with him, my HTC One’s front cam was decided upon as the camera of choice.  We would all become quite familiar with its 3 second count down and face-skewing effects over the next 4 hours.

The Quest

[I just sat down to write this section.  I have no succinct thoughts.  I could use some coffee.  Where is the nearest Starbucks? I wish I was still in the Loop!]  We crossed the Chicago River from the north on State Street and headed towards our first ‘bucks.  The plan was to start in the northeast corner and work our way across the north side.  Quite easily, almost too easily, we found…

  1. Leo Burnett Starbucks, 40 W. Lake Street
    Right out of the gate on our lofty quest, we were faced with a moral quandary.  The pin for this Starbucks on the map was inside the Loop, but the location was on the outside side of Lake Street.  Just minutes before, we had decided to not count this, though this had been with thought process of considering pins that were also outside the Loop.  For completion, we felt we had to include this.  You always would rather do too much, than too little, right?  One could argue that the final number would then be only 17, but then again, who cares?  We were taking selfies in front of coffee shops.
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  2. CT&T Building Starbucks, 161 N. Clark Street
    Just around the corner, our second photo was easily captured.  There was no question as to whether this one was inside the Loop or not.  You have to wonder how this location got left behind when the logos were upgraded, but we were feeling pretty good.  Little did we know it, but in this shot we arrived at our go-to formula of me in the center and holding the camera high (instead of low, like in the big-nosed first photo).  Plus, we got to explore the atrium of the Thompson Center across the street, an awesome building we would have never discovered if we hadn’t started this quest!
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  3. Lake & LaSalle Starbucks, 180 N. LaSalle Street
    Early on, we were still developing our strategies for locating each store.  We had noticed that there were a similarly large number of Dunkin’ Donuts, so Pushpinder established the rule of just looking for Dunkin’s instead to locate the likely Starbucks across the street.  It was actually successful in locating Lake & LaSalle!  As Dhawal indicates, number three had just been checked off!  Maybe next time we’ll take selfies in front of all the Dunkin’s outside the Loop.
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  4. Randolph & Wells Starbucks, 171 W. Randolph Street
    Randolph & Wells gave us no trouble to spot and capture.  If we had known what was headed our way, we would have treasured the simplicity of this photo more than we did.  Look at those faces and smiles; bright-eyed and bushy-tailed would be an understatement.
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  5. 30 N. LaSalle Starbucks, 30 N. LaSalle Street
    30 N. LaSalle was a bit tricky to spot due to it’s lack of an awning or large exterior entrance, but just like that, we were finished with our first five locations.  Had the first location’s signage been back-lit like this one, we may have quit right there due to non-ideal imaging conditions.  Fortunately, Starbucks respects proper exposures and would employ only unlit corporate markings for the rest of their Loop locations.  Now, we were ready to head back east for the first time!
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  6. West Washington Starbucks, 111 W. Washington Street
    On the south side of Washington street, we easily located our sixth store.  Again, this one was was still adorned with old logo mounts, but we were on a roll.  Any other day, we would have probably gone to joked about going to the Grub Hub, but not today!  We had one goal in mind!
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  7. Daley Center Plaza Starbucks, 66 W. Washington Street
    By this time, I had begun cross-checking the Starbucks map pin location with the listing on Google Maps.  By the name of this location being “Daley Center Plaza” and not an intersection, we assumed it was in some sort of building atrium.  However, we were looking into the lobby of the Daley Center and no Starbucks was jumping out at us.  There was a staircase which led into what we thought may be an underground food court, but the entrance was blocked.  We were having thoughts that the end of the quest might be near.  As a last resort, we consulted the Yelp listing for this location.  We were eternally indebted to Jenna S. for mentioning in her review that “This Starbucks is carefully hidden at the end of the Daley Plaza Pedway to the Blue Line…”  We quickly found another staircase near the Blue Line entrance and proceeded earthward.  What we discovered was a crowded office exchange complete with security-guarded tributaries and lots of business-class individuals.  Acting like we belonged, we finally stumbled across the location.  Knowing that photography indoors (typically, private locations) is frowned upon much more than street photography, we quickly lined into place, anxiously waited our front cam requisite 3 seconds, shared a nod, and started off.  A janitor saw me putting my phone away and said, “You can’t take photos here.”  He was simply being a helpful soul though, because when I apologized, he said, “I don’t mind, but I know they don’t want it”, as we passed one of the Daley Center security checkpoints.  Relieved to be finished with number 7, we quickly scurried back up the rabbit hole.
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  8. Macys – Chicago/Lower Level Starbucks, 111 N. State Street, Marshall Fields Department Store
    We were hoping this location would be number 9.  However, locating both of the Macy’s locations proved exceptionally difficult, almost as difficult as coming up with a legit reason for wanting to take selfies in front of 18 Starbucks.  Macy’s on State is a massive 12-story establishment and listed Starbucks locations on both its first and lower levels.  The store directory confirmed this, but no floor plans were present to provide further aid.  Since we saw a downward-leading escalator, we hoped on and found the lower level location awaiting us at the bottom.  The unspoken pose instructions must have been “raise your eyebrows”.
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  9. Macys – Chicago/First Floor Starbucks, 111 N. State Street, The Miracle Mile – Marshall Fields
    Proceeding back upstairs, we resorted to asking a Macy’s employee to point us towards the first floor Starbucks.  After being directed to the only spot on the entire first floor we had yet to comb, we were able flank the joint to capture a straightforward outside photo.  This location made us realize an interesting point: except for our quest, there was no almost reason to inquire about the location of a particular Starbucks in the loop.  If you can’t locate the one you were looking for, all you have to do is walk another block and you will catch a whiff of Starbucks distinctive fresh brew.  Naturally, you need to be at the right location if you are meeting someone (unless it is your mother-in-law; then you can say, “Macy’s first floor?! I totally thought we were meeting in the Macy’s basement!”).  However, if all you want is a Grande Caffè Americano, the Loop is a good place to be.
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  10. East Washington Starbucks, 25 E. Washington Boulevard
    The East Washington location was cake, as we had seen it out the window of Macy’s while we were searching aimlessly around its first floor.  We were pretty tired by this point, but apparently not too tired to take our first photo with a variation, lots of which would follow.  While writing this, I noticed my jacket collar is uniformly non-uniform in all of the first ten photos.  Lunch at the Macy’s cafeteria would provide a jacket reset, as you can confirm beginning in photo at store #11.  By this point, the difficulty of locating stores 7 through 10 had us a little fatigued.  If we weren’t having a good time, there was no reason to continue, because, as we joked throughout the quest, “what we are doing is completely useless”.  It’s usefulness was derived entirely from us enjoying being goofy in an exciting environment like the Chicago Loop, and we vowed to come back from lunch with that attitude renewed.
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  11. Palmer House Hilton Starbucks, 17 E. Monroe Street
    Energized from our lunch break, we were hyped and ready to knock out our last eight locations.  We decided on a north-south zig-zag working our way west to finish up near Union Station.  There were now 3 hours before we needed to catch the train.  We had begun casually mentioning how we would relax with a Venti cup of Pike Place Roast at the last location.  It was similar to how my Boy Scout patrol used to dream about downing a juicy burger after an exhausting camping trip; instead of hiking tens of miles up hills with a weekend’s worth of gear on our backs, we were walking around a city taking selfies in front of coffee shops.  I know, the similarity is striking.  This location being named “Palmer House Hilton” lead us inside a hotel lobby, where we passed a security guard who was standing very near the Starbucks entrance.  We casually circled all the way around the building to the alternate entrance to Starbucks, struck our pose, and were set.  We were hoping to start having more fun taking each photo, but in the indoor locations, we stuck to business.  “Business” here refers to taking a selfie in front of a coffee shop.
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  12. State & Adams Starbucks, 131 S. State Street, Dearborn Center
    My Google Maps cross-checking had shown from Street View that this location would be very easy.  To add to the challenge, we decided to mix it up with an across-the-street selfie.  Fortunately, we captured some nice cheesing from Pushpinder and a pretty slick car blurring by in the background.  Had we waiting to employ the across-the-street scheme for the last location, one might have called the laziness card on us; since it was only no. 12 out of 18, the word that should come to mind is revolutionary.
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  13. Clark & Madison Starbucks, 70 W. Madison Street
    We decided to get really creative at Clark & Madison.  Almost in a chorus, Pushpinder and Dhawal chanted, “Let’s go in front of the Starbucks and you take the photo from across the street!”  This seemed like a great variation!  We were all set up.  They were in front of the store.  I was just pulling up my front cam.  All of a sudden, three fire engines (and accompanying sirens) proceed in between us, each about 30 seconds apart.  Alright, that had been a disturbance, but we were back!  With my high camera angle, it looked like I could even shoot over passing cars!  Here we……..[enter a CTA bus].  Alright, we can just wait for that bus to leave and….[enter a second bus, this one even longer and articulated].  It had been a great idea, but I simply crossed the street to join them.  New plan: everyone look away.  Having to simplify was a let down, but we were not going to let an accordion on wheels stand in between us and our goal!
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  14. Chase Tower Chicago Starbucks, 21 S. Clark Street
    Another inside location meant another no-frill operation.  Luckily, there was an open table in the Chase Tower atrium right outside the crowded Starbucks.  We sat down as if to relax, snapped a selfie, and were on our way.
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  15. LaSalle & Monroe Starbucks, 39 S. LaSalle Street
    LaSalle & Monroe looked like a classic street-corner Starbucks just asking for a creative selfie.  Construction on Monroe meant that active fire engines would probably not be routed down that street in the next five minutes, so we went for the both-sides-of-the-street pose.  Luckily, this store was not a booming transit hub like number 13 and we left chuckling proudly.  We had selfie’d the first five post-lunch locations in just 45 minutes!  We were really starting to smell those roasted dark beans of energy awaiting us at the finish line now!
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  16. West Adams Starbucks, 105 W. Adams Street
    A news kiosk in front of the West Adams location was a blessing in disguise.  We had already decided not to smile for the photo, but an awkward angle forced us to all to our left.  The result: a selfie which, in any other context context, would be a uniquely awkward and pointless photo.  Okay, so that describes it in this context too.
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  17. Bank of America Building Starbucks, 231 S LaSalle Street
    With only two Starbucks remaining, our success was starting to get to our heads.  An indoor location?  Sure, we can still strike a pose!  We were brought back to Earth a bit when it took a second try to take this photo correctly.  Yes, we were only one Starbucks away from taking a selfie in front of all 18 loop locations, but we were still human and this episode reminded us of this.
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  18. Van Buren Starbucks, 175 W. Jackson Boulevard
    The 18th and final location was an elusive one.  It’s pin was literally in the middle of a building, so we had to just pick a side and traverse, in the worst case, the entire block.  Even with a Jackson Boulevard address, which was for the entire building, the Starbucks was on Van Buren facing the ‘L’ track.  This Street View shows just how near the border of our range of interest this location actually was.  There was no question for our pose for this one: thumbs up all the way.
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Aftermath

We had just taken a selfie in front of all 18 Starbucks in the Loop!  While we hoped we would feel like this…

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…in reality, we felt like this…

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We wanted to relax at the last location, but the Van Buren store and the few before it were not very conducive to sitting.  We were understandable though; the Chicago Loop coffee market is driven by those grabbing a cup of joe on their way to work, so small stores make sense.  There was another potential location just a block away, so we settled on 209 W. Jackson as our celebration station.  While the first ten selfies had taken 2 hours, the last eight locations were completed in just a single revolution of an hour hand.  During our 90-minute respite, there was an occasional mutter of, “What did we just do?”, but it was always followed by something along the lines of, “I don’t know, but it was awesome!”  Below is our original master map, now with the addition of our afternoon route.  It’s not hard to tell which Starbucks were the most difficult to find: #7 (come on, Daley Center!) and #9 (Macy’s, isn’t the ‘bucks in the basement enough?).

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The adventure and resulting accomplishment left us in great spirits as stepped outside into the Chicago rush hour.  We had turned a potentially boring (browsing more malls), or expensive (dining at a nice restaurant), or both (going to a museum), afternoon into one that was priceless.  We all had a blast exploring the Loop and doing something that had no intrinsic value (if you are reading this and are an interested advertiser, please drop me a line) with people who enjoyed the same types of experiences.  As we walked to Union Station, hoards of homeward-bound downtown employees shared the sidewalk with us.  Many of them had spent the day helping grow the GDP of America’s third largest metro area; we had taken a selfie in front of 18 Starbucks.  One thing was the same: we had all taken advantage of Chicago and the unique offerings of its bustling downtown Loop.  Until next time, Windy City…

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