My Pilgrim Spirit

It's all about good friends, good music, and new places...

Author: Mike Fitch (page 1 of 4)

Friday Five – Chicago

One of those cities where it’s impossible to see even a fraction of it over several trips, so there is no such thing as an exhaustive list.   Here are five places that I found to be quintessential Chicago.

Wrigley Field – I’m only a passive baseball fan, but this is one of those Bucket List kind of places.   So much history.    Having a video version of Harry Carey lead the 7th inning stretch was priceless.   If only I’d made a trip for the real thing back in the day.

The Art Institute of Chicago – whatever your taste, chances are they have it here.   Probably a lot of it.

Millennium Park/Cloud Gate – anything nicknamed “The Bean” can’t be all bad.

Le Colonial – it wasn’t on my scouting report, but was highly recommended by a friend and right around the corner from my hotel.  I went to a couple of landmark restaurants while I was in Chicago, but this was hands down the best meal of the trip.  (Honorable mention to a Wrigley beer and hotdog).

Signature Lounge (or any place with a skyline view) – I’ll admit this place is super touristy, which is not normally my thing.  Sometimes you have to suck it up to enjoy the amazing panoramic views of this beautiful city.  Even better if you can make it for sunset.

Bonus Round – Five More Restaurants and Bars

Osteria La Madia – I ended up here after music at Blue Chicago only because it was open later than most places on the block.  It ended up being exceedingly good Italian food and a super friendly staff.

Hugo’s Frog Bar and Fish House – I was trying to get into Gibson’s but it was always too crowded.  It’s next door neighbor, Hugo’s Frog Bar, ended up being a great alternative.  They apparently share a kitchen and it was a more subdued setting to enjoy a drink and a nice meal.  Plus, the bartender recommended Celtic Crossing for a pint of Guinness, which ended up being another neat find.

Blue Chicago – I was turned off by the time the music started due to the ill-mannered tourist crowd.   The staff, who seemed weary from the fray, was surly at best.  My mood changed when the music started.  And turns out the staff are nice folks once you get to know them and they realize you are not another tool.

Andy’s Jazz Club – the crowd here was a better mix of local versus tourist than Blue Chicago.   A lot of people intent on listening to – and appreciating – good music.

Bernard’s Bar – I had a bit of a love/hate relationship with my visit.  The service was not nearly as sharp as I’d expect for a bar in the Waldorf Astoria and the prices that go along with it.  But this is one of those hotels where legit Chicago business deals get done over a couple of martinis.  I literally witnessed a multi-million dollar commercial real estate deal get done on a handshake at the table next to me.

 

 

 

Looking back at another SXSW

SXSW h2016-03-12 12.41.36as cleared out and Austin is back to our normal/weird self.  Seeing the empty streets the Sunday afterward reminded me of an episode of Seinfeld where George gains access into a club of beautiful people – only to find it has vanished with barely a trace when he tries to go back.

The essence of SXSW was summed up for me amid cocktail conversations at one of the convergence parties with both filmmakers and entrepreneurs from all spans of the globe – including Istanbul, Toronto, Tokyo, and of course across the U.S.   I couldn’t pull away from work to see as much of the Interactive festival as I would have liked, but a keynote by Dr. Brene Brown stood out as a highlight.   As has become tradition for me as a bit of digital scrapbooking – here is a rundown of the music I saw – as best as my memory over a haze of four days can recall.

Wednesday

POP ETC

Coast Modern

Theo & The Get Down Stay Down

Thursday

Purple

Sunflower Bean

Hinds

Grace Mitchell

Ra Ra Riot

Friday

Spin Day Party

  • Beach Slang
  • White Lung
  • Bleached
  • BAIO
  • Vince Staples
  • Deftones

Youtube @ Copper Tank

  • Muna
  • Lewis Del Mar

Elliot Summer

Small Black

X Ambassadors

Saturday

Honne

The Heavy

X Ambassadors

The Not So Golden Age of Air Travel

It’s a shame that people under a certain age will never know that flying use to be a romantic and exotic part of the journey.  My own travel  bug started when my parents got divorced.   By the time I was 10, I lived in Houston with my mother, my father lived in Tulsa, and my grandparents, aunts, uncle, and cousins (more like siblings to me) lived in Minnesota.   While the distance was sometimes difficult – the upside is that it created an opportunity to fly during summers and holidays – mostly by myself since time and money were both factors for my working parents.

I remember being treated like a King – or perhaps more fittingly, a Prince – on my solo travels.   Wings pinned to my collar and deck of airline playing cards in hand, I’d venture back to my seat – often in first class if there was space so the crew could keep an eye on me.   Almost every flight included a tour of the cockpit before takeoff.    Once I got where I was going, I had a wonderful time seeing family but getting there ended up being part of the fun.  Granted, my experience was unique – but this was in the age when adults got dressed up and acted on their best behavior for what was still a developing industry.    Being on an airplane opened, literally, a world of possibilities.

I thought back to those days last week while I was standing beltless and shoeless waiting my turn through the body scanner – hoping to avoid a prison style patdown.    Looking around at the frazzled masses – most were dressed in a rough approximation of what I’d imagine they wear to clean their garage.   I was carrying my bag – both to avoid the extra expense and also to prevent the airlines from losing or damaging it (I’ve experienced both).    And I broke down the day before and spent a few extra bucks on an assigned seat so I didn’t get the dreaded middle.   It still astounds me that a seat no longer comes with an airline ticket, but that’s a story for another day.    Most airline ads now consist of slogans to convince consumers their brand sucks less than the competition.  And of course, I’d have to stop and buy food in the terminal since you can’t bring your own and the airlines don’t serve it.

I realize that 9/11 ushered in a new world of travel – and I don’t envy the job of either the airlines or the TSA in keeping us safe.   But surely there is a happy medium where airline travel returns to a status somewhere higher than riding on a prison bus.   I’ll still travel to get to ‘Point B’ but the plane now is entirely about the destination and not the journey.  The experience only starts once you’ve survived the exit gates.   In the meantime, maybe on my next flight I’ll dust off an old pair of wings and bring my Braniff playing cards to remind myself of how wonderful travel can be.

Clearing a space

Friends of mine were recently impacted by flooding in Houston.  They lost many important possessions, but fortunately all humans and pets made it out unharmed.   As they started the daunting task of cleaning up debris – it seemed incomprehensible to find a starting place.   Not knowing where to begin, they grabbed towels to clear mud from the floor where they were standing.  “it’s going to be a long process – we should at least have a place to sit”.

It occurred to me that most of us could use help clearing a space in our lives.    We run from task to task, event to event, without giving thought to our own mental housekeeping.    We read piles of self improvement books knowing neither where we are starting nor the destination.  By creating a clear space, you can not only find peace where you are, but also have room to lay out a vision of where you want to be.

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The list below is hardly revolutionary.  They are mostly reminders for myself, but I hope that others find them useful too.   The goal is to find time each week – even if it’s only a few minutes – to reflect on where you are and where you are going.  Maybe it’s over Sunday morning coffee, maybe it’s the commute to work, or maybe it’s out on the trails.  Here are a few reminders from my friends’ experience that relate to everyday life:

1.  Accept the space you occupy.   That’s not to say you have to just “live with it”,  but being angry or ignoring it will not change where you are today.   Only by accepting your current situation can you clearly chart a path to where you want to be.

2.  Take inventory and don’t be afraid to discard the junk.   What was important to you 5 years ago may be different than what’s important today.  Don’t hold on to things (either material or mental) that are no longer relevant to your current mission.

3.  Celebrate the little successes along the way.   Big wins are great, but are almost always comprised of many small steps.   No team has ever won a championship without putting in months of hard work.  Recognize that even though your journey may be incomplete – you are making progress.   And if you aren’t making progress, celebrate by taking that first scary step in a new direction.

4. Remember that most “stuff” is replaceable.  People are not.    If an appliance breaks, you buy a new one.  Not so with fiends.  The only choice is to constantly nurture and maintain them.    Relationships are difficult to fix once they are damaged.   And once they are broken are often irreplaceable.

5. You are stronger than you think you are.   I’m constantly amazed at the resilience of the human spirit (including my own).   Don’t believe that little voice in your head that says “you can’t”.    The obstacles are real and you can’t ignore them, but by focusing on the things that are within your control you can chart a course around – or through – them.

So, clear your spot and identify what’s important.   Just don’t sit there too long – after all, you have work to do!

For me,  writing down my thoughts provides a clear spot to see beyond the horizon.   I’d love to hear about yours.

“In one of the stars I will be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night…and when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend”.

– Antoine De Saint-Exupery

The Beginners Mind

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few” – Shunryu Suzuki

The first time I read that saying, it gave me pause.  We spend a lot of time becoming experts.   That’s a good thing right?  I don’t want my airline pilot looking for a new and creative way to land the plane.

The expression came to mind when I was out for a Sunday walk on a beautiful winter day after a stretch of cold weather.  It seemed like everyone was outside and happy to see the sun.  In the park, I came across a woman that looked to be in her 50’s.   She apologized as her wobbling bicycle headed toward me.   “I’m sorry” she said with her face full of concentration, “I’m trying to learn an old trick”.   My guess is perhaps via Christmas gift or New Year’s resolution, she was back on a bicycle after a long absence.   Her face gave away her nervousness, but she also chuckled a little bit as she wobbled by.   It made me smile that she was not afraid to get back on the literal bicycle.   Which in turn made me think about the proverbial one that we all face regularly.

As we get older, we become expert in many things.  It can become more difficult to venture outside of that comfort zone.   At home and at work, it’s important to make the best choices for ourselves and families.  Equally important though is taking a few chances and looking at the world from the beginners eye – wonderful and full of possibilities.

I didn’t get a chance to ask the lady on the bike any questions, but suspect she would have told me something like this:

Be mindful of the risks, but don’t be afraid to succeed.

It’s alright to fall down, but get back up….quickly.

Laugh a little.

SXSW 2015 – Looking Back

In the days after each SXSW, there are usually dozens of articles talking about how the glory days are gone and how it’s all a hopeless mess now.   You’ll have to forgive me for not being cynical, but I’ve got to tell you my week was pretty fantastic.

IMG_0590Martine Rothblatt pushed her audience to think about things like robot psychiatry in a world where machines think like humans.   Paul Qui and Questlove talked about the creative spirit and expression through great food and music.  Astro Teller reminded us that you might have to fail a few times to hit your Moonshot.   Hundreds of bands plucked away in 45 minute increments trying to lure (and keep) the attention of both fans and media.

Sometimes though, it’s what happens outside of the conference halls and music venues that makes SXSW special.

I met a professor who has been using technology on her campus to improve the learning experience long before it was in vogue.   I listened to doctors eager to share ideas about leveraging data to improve patient care.  I met a film student who paid for a badge in hopes of making a few connections in her future industry.  What the most interesting people almost always have in common is a natural curiosity and a passion for shaping the world around them.

Pardon me if all of this sounds hopelessly naive.  I’m guilty as charged I suppose, but that’s sort of the point.   At its best, SXSW is about seeing the world  in a different light.   As with most things in life, what you get out of SXSW is highly dependent on what you put into it.   So the next time you hear someone talking about how SXSW has sold out,  become too crowded, or just plain Jumped the Shark….don’t believe them.    It might be all of those things, but more importantly it’s a place for people to come together for a few days to explore the things that inspire them and exchange ideas.   Thank you to everyone I met along the way who was willing to share a little of their story.

Now if I can just figure out how to Meerkat….

 

 

“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

Sunday Drive – Fredericksburg/Enchanted Rock

My last trip to Enchanted Rock was a cold and rainy January day.   The Summit Trail was closed due to the wet ground, but we decided to stay and walk around.    It was only a couple degrees over freezing and we almost quit before we started.  It ended up being a nice hike and we saw a side of the  IMG_0552park that I had not experienced before.  In a way, it was more interesting.   Walking around the perimeter gave me a chance to appreciate the rock formations and natural habitat.   Without having a “destination” – we were free to explore at our own pace.

Since Fredricksburg is right around the proverbial corner from Enchanted Rock, we decided to wrap up our day there.    The Christmas lights were still on display and it made Main Street an even more charming site that usual.   Fredricksburg has a couple too many trinket shops for my taste, but here are a a few things that I’ve found to be interesting over the span of several visits.

Stay – I’ve yet to find a really memorable place, but the Hampton Inn is at least clean and in the middle of the action.

Eat/Drink – Lincoln Street Wine Market is easily my favorite place to hang out.   Nice atmosphere and the staff does a great job of making you feel at home.   If you’d rather hang out on Main Street and watch the world go by, Silver Creek is a solid choice.

Do – The National Museum of the Pacific War is a surprisingly well done center for being in a small town.   And I can’t vouch for much of the shopping, but It’s a Glow is a neat little shop worth dropping in to check out their honeycomb calcite pieces.   I’m just hoping my Happy Stone lives up to its name.   Here’s to a year of travel and new adventures.

Happy 2015

A Perfectly Ordinary Texas Sunset

IMG_0138I missed a beautiful sunset last week.   I didn’t miss it exactly, but it was over my shoulder and behind me while I was driving home.   Short of pulling off the road or crashing my car – I settled for stealing a few glances where I could get them.   The next evening provided similar weather conditions and I was hoping for an equally spectacular vista.   This time I’d take to a hill by my house, camera in hand, and wait for just the right moment.    I took a few pictures and kept one that I thought provided the universe at least an adequate representation.   After all, the job of a photographer at sunset is mostly just not to F*** it up.

I went home and reviewed my handy work – overall satisfied with the output.   Good, but not great.   It wasn’t until I went out to Instagram to compare my efforts that I realized I took exactly the same picture as dozens of others.   I’d tried to be clever and frame the picture with trees in the foreground to give it depth.  Well that and I couldn’t get the trees out of the shot without standing in the middle of a busy street.   The thought of dying for one’s craft most certainly doesn’t apply here.   The result is a bit of a cliche picture, but it’s a start.  I guess I’ll just have to watch a few hundred more sunsets and keep trying…

 

 

 

 

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