Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: Pedaling Fine Gifts

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Holidays, Transit 1 Comment »
The Malört water bottle. Photo: Tim de la Motte

The Malört water bottle/Photo: Tim de la Motte

By John Greenfield

The holidays are all about consumption, but the nice thing about giving a sustainable transportation-oriented present is you’re encouraging the recipient to use less resources, by walking, biking or using transit when possible, instead of driving. Most of the following gift ideas are also locally produced and available at independent stores, which means a minimum of fuel was expended in transporting them, and by spending money at a mom-and-pop instead of a big-box you’ll be promoting pedestrian-friendly retail. Unfortunately, one present you can’t give right now is a glitch-free Ventra card.

However, you can promote one of Chicago’s more successful transpo initiatives by giving the gift of Divvy. The bike-share system will be operating all winter long, so if you buy your loved ones twenty-four-hour passes ($7) or yearly memberships ($75), they’ll be able to hop on one of the baby-blue cycles right away. Passes and memberships entitle the holder to an unlimited number of thirty-minute trips, so they’re perfect for short trips and errands, plus “last mile” rides from transit to one’s final destination.; email to purchase gift certificates. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: A Holiday Express Gift Guide

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Holidays, Transit No Comments »

By John Greenfield_MG_9912

A true Chicago sustainable transportation blackbelt is never late, unless it’s the CTA’s fault. But if you’re running a little behind in your winter gift shopping, here are a few last-minute ideas for the walking, biking and transit enthusiasts in your life. Most of these nifty items are locally made and available at independent stores, which means a minimum of gasoline was burned getting the products to market, and by purchasing them you’ll be supporting the local economy. Plus, these presents will encourage your friends’ and family members’ healthy commuting habits. Can’t get much more politically correct than that. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: Santa Hustle 5K (December 1, 2012)

Holidays, News etc., Running No Comments »


Breakdown: In only its fourth year, the Adrenaline Sports Management (ASM) Santa Hustle 5K has already expanded to seven locations across the country, with Chicago’s being the first and largest of the season with around 8,000 runners this year. And almost all of them listened to their inner holiday spirit and donned the Santa shirt, hat and beard included in the goodie bag on race day, leading to a red sea of Santas of all shapes and sizes. Christmas music blared at base camp and along the course, and a vast spread of cookies and milk was available after the race. Having runners group themselves by pace seemed to work well and kept the course open, even for the trip back along the Lakefront Trail. Whether you’re a runner or not (ASM says about eighty-five percent of participants this year do not consider themselves “runners”), this well-organized, family-friendly fun run is a perfect way to start December in a very merry mood. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: Lifetime Chicago Turkey Day 5K (November 22, 2012)

Holidays, News etc., Running No Comments »


Breakdown: Along with gathering together with friends and family to eat as much food as possible, a quick morning race has also become a traditionally popular family activity to take on during Thanksgiving, with more than ten races in the Chicago area taking place today and several more scheduled for this weekend. Now in its thirty-fifth year, the Lifetime Chicago Turkey Day 5K (or TD5K for acronym lovers) is one of those races, and probably the most convenient for those celebrating T-Day in Chicago proper, especially since it starts at the sleep-in friendly time of 9am. Starting on Cannon Drive in front of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, the race spends a good deal of time on a blocked-off lane of Lake Shore Drive before following the Lakefront Trail to finish back on Cannon Drive. Changed from an 8K to a 5K, this year’s race drew around 6,000 people, which led to a somewhat last-minute waved start, with new waves being released every thirty to sixty seconds. Read the rest of this entry »

Presents: A Most Peculiar Holiday Guide and Gift Rap

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Bailey Building & Loan. Matuschek and Company. The Pine Tree Ski Lodge. Macy’s, when there was just one, owned by Mr. R.H. Macy. Holiday Inn, the one in the movie that the chain was later named after. Heck, even Scrooge & Marley when you get right down to it.

It’d be kind of hard to play a Christmas movie in your heart without a business owned by a real person, not a faceless corporation. The holiday, at least in its contemporary secular sense, is hard-wired to the moms and pops of the world, usually for better, sometimes for worse (Ebenezer, Mr. Potter).  Read the rest of this entry »

Home for the Holiday: A Jew’s First Christmas

Essays & Commentary, Holidays No Comments »

By Rachel Helene Swift

“[Christmas is] the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.” —Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol”

Jeremy was twelve years old when his father left. There was another woman—a family friend—and an ultimatum, and finally a bitter divorce. The wounds remained raw, and the kids didn’t talk to their father much. But every year, on the evening of December 24, he arrived on Jeremy’s mother’s doorstep in time for Christmas dinner.

“You’ll like him,” Jeremy assured me as his beat-up Corolla rumbled incongruously along the tree-lined streets of Stamford, Connecticut. “He’s very charming. He’s even more charming when he’s drunk.”

I was twenty years old, and this was the eve of my very first Christmas. My parents, practicing Jews, took us kids into the city to see the lights every year, but that was the extent of my yuletide experience. I felt curious, like an anthropologist entering a strange country; nervous, like I feared that the natives would see me as a fraud.

Outside the window, colored lights wound between the bare branches of evenly spaced maple trees, and baubled evergreens winked through the windows of sprawling, well-maintained houses. On the sidewalk, a woman slouched into her heavy coat, clutching a plastic bag as her small dog squatted. Tiny flecks of snow drifted in the air, melting to nothing as they touched the ground. Read the rest of this entry »

Shopping List: Love Thy Neighbor and Shop Local

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Newcity’s “Chicago Looks” photographer-columnist Isa Giallorenzo went shopping for a wide range of possible gift recipients, and did so by sticking to a local focus.

Gifts for brainiacs and cool people in general

MCA Store (
Wanna show how smart you are? Bring something from this creative shop. Handmade accessories—from here and beyond—will surely please any design freak. Great place to find cool non-vintage T-shirts (they exist). 220 East Chicago.

Gifts for the annoying 1%
Vosges Haut-Chocolat (
You gotta respect a chocolate with this name. Just like your boss, who’s your Secret Santa this year (yay!). Also they do offer options for the rest of humanity, like the $4 Gnome Chocolate Pops.


Luisa Casati Truffle Collection: Ask for a raise right after you gift these.


Read the rest of this entry »

All That Glitters: My Father’s Obsession with Designer Christmas Ornaments

Essays & Commentary, Holidays No Comments »

About the time I entered high school in my home city of Minneapolis, my father began a new Christmas ritual that actualized his love for over-the-top decorating, for things that sparkle and glow when he began collecting glass-blown, hand-decorated, designer Christmas ornaments. What seemed like an innocent holiday hobby quickly spiraled into a year-round obsession and a compendium of nearly 750 ornaments.

I don’t think I’ll ever want to know how much money went into those things. It wasn’t just the ornaments. In warmer months he traveled to Portland, Racine and Chicago for exclusive purchasing events with other collectors (mostly rich housewives or, like my father, gay men, and some het couples). I’d come home from soccer and find taped-up cardboard packages on our back steps. Over the following week, several glitter-coated Santas would sit indulgently splayed over a cloth placemat on the dining room table as my father meditated on which to keep and which to return. More and more, the A-frame walls of the attic were lined with stacks of long, airtight Tupperware bins keeping my father’s treasures safe until November. Read the rest of this entry »

Give It Good: Twelve Ways to Shop Local (For the Twelve Days of Christmas)

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By Alexandra Delaney

Sugar plum fairies aren’t the only things that will be dancing in your head this holiday season. Whether your preference is sweet, sour, gummy or chocolate, this retro-inspired candy store has something that will make your taste buds dance with delight. Choose from twenty-one colors of M&Ms or pick chewy candy from Chicago’s first licorice bar. For holiday hostess gifts, pick up a tray of gourmet truffles and fudge. Add a twist to your favorite Bears fan’s stocking with blue-and-orange Bear Down Gummi Bears or surprise a friend with giant pecan turtles. 520 North Michigan, (312)527-1010; 3425 North Southport, (773)472-7800; 835 North Michigan, (312)867-5500.

BeMo Hats
Handmade hats are a personalized way to fight off the winter chill this season. The hand-crafted hats can be customized; adding a favorite animal, color or flower to the hat is a fun gift idea. Materials span from recycled leather to feathers and vintage pins to bows and felt flowers. The hats are sold at various Chicago locations and can be customized (and shipped in time for the holiday season) online. Read the rest of this entry »

Oy to the World: You Don’t Have to be Jewish to Enjoy a Secular Christmas

Bicycling, Holidays No Comments »

By John Greenfield

Christmas is a great time to be in Chicago, even if you’re not a Christian. As a largely nonobservant Jewish person, I make a point of staying in town during the holiday because I always have a blast. It’s the best of both worlds: I get to enjoy the spirit of brotherhood and good cheer that prevails, as well as taking the day off of work, but there’s no pressure to gather with relatives or exchange gifts. For me, Christmas is a chance to spend quality time with members of my family of choice—my longtime Chicago friends. Read the rest of this entry »