Friday, August 1, 2008

End Credits

This summer would not have been what it turned out to be without a great number of people helping, guiding or otherwise assisting me along the way. And unlike an oscar acceptance speech, I do have the opportunity to thank everyone individually.

Luke Coussan (Sr.)
Jan Coussan
Paul Coussan
Dave Kurpius
Mark Dollins
Sharon Philips
Sharon McIntosh
Tim Russell
Sandy Korhorn
Ed Gilbert
PJ Sinopli
Jinx Holesha
Lisa Goodwin
Lisa Hicks
Paul Boykas
Genise Watkins
Danny Shipka
Helen Taylor
Lisa Lundy
Cas Smith
Elizabeth Lagarde
Bridget Lyons
Monica Masson
Paige Nichols
Alex Florea
Bill Davenport
Sophie Williams
Abby Bosco
Lauren Cruze
Jana McHugh
Eimear Kitt
Zach Blair
Dave Ravi
Ms. Sandra
Aunt Det
Nanny Lynne
Candace Mueller
Karen May
Lisa Carlson
Sue Moronic
The City of Chicago
Chicago Transit Authority
The Manship School of Mass Communication
The University of Illinois-Chicago
Louisiana State University

Chicago Denouement

In 1990, the City of Chicago issued an official apology to Mrs. O’Leary for the century of blame she received after her cow purportedly kicked over a kerosene lantern, igniting a fire in the barn and eventually laying the entire city to waste. Recent studies now indicate the great fire may have been started by a small meteor rocketing to the ground as part of a larger meteor shower.

Since then, of course, the city phoenixed, allowing some of history’s greatest architects, artists, designers and city planners to create a new metropolis. This redevelopment gave Chicago the nickname of “Second City” and reinforced the city’s adopted motto “I will.”

There is a flame still burning in Chicago, however. At sunset, the city streets produce an amber glow like a smoldering ember. The Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park even resembles smoke billowing from the red flame curtains of the symphonic stage. But even more than that, Chicago has a fire raging in the metaphorical sense. With a fire of motivation glowing inside them, the people in the “I will” city take this liberty and determination and become the people of an “I do” city. It’s amazing how the residents and visitors of Chicago take the city and make it their own, whether that’s in the form of architecture and art or just the way people interact with the city itself. I have certainly felt this as I walked through the valley-like streets; the city is for the taking.

Chicago revealed to me my own sense of adventure and excitement. I will look back on this trip with a sense of accomplishment, because on the rare occasion I would walk through the streets and just remind myself, “you made it.” It had always been a dream of mine to live in Chicago for an extended period of time, and now that the summer is coming to a sudden close, I can look back on the time spent here and know that not only did I live in the city, but I emersed myself into the city. I am proud to that I squeezed everything I could from this summer, never suffering through a dull moment and always looking toward the next item on my “to-do” list. In the “I will” city, I can board the plane tomorrow and say “I did.”

I never experienced a dull moment, even at work. The people that I worked with for the past ten weeks were comprised such an amazing team and made my stay here only that much more amazing. This, of course, made my departure from work quite difficult as I told everyone goodbye, promising to stay in touch and possibly return. Mark, Sharon, Sharon, Tim, Sandy, Lisa and Jinx not only helped me with my work and thus my work experience, but their kindness and generosity helped to craft this amazing summer. I find it funny that from now on I’ll never be able to look at Pepsi as just a tasty beverage, but an experience that not only prepared me for the business world, but helped to shape the way I will study, work and lead. It was an amazing internship, and for it to be in Chicago, I know somebody somewhere is looking out for me.

When I arrived in Chicago, I didn’t really pay to much attention to the family history I have with the city. My father came in 1960, my mother sometime after that, but I was really surprised to discover that my great-grandmother came for the 1893 Columbian Exposition. As soon as Pop told me this I felt such an amazing connection to her. At the time she was a young woman from a small town in Louisiana, experiencing the grandeur and mystic of a major city, interacting with people from all across the world, and witnessing all that Chicago had to offer. You see the parallel, I’m sure. This city was part of my family history well before I had the innate desire to come to Chicago. This city, steeped in history, is a gift to the entire world, and where as the Columbian Exposition showed the world what Chicago had to offer, Chicago showed me what the world had to offer. Though cut from the same American cloth, my transition from a relatively small city in Louisiana to a bustling city like Chicago was one of both amazement and quick assimilation. In the last few days I have been asked several times what the best part of my summer was, and though it is overly-difficult to point out one or two things, I would have to say the most rewarding experience was leading my family around the city. To step back and observe what was happening, here I was, the “baby” of the family, being the tour guide for my parents and brother, witnessing how impressed they were with my familiarity with the city.

This acquaintance with the city could not have come without much exploring, and the exploring could not have been completed without the company of friends. Alex, Sophie, Bill, Jana, Eimear and Abby, thank you for enjoying this city with me. My hope is that in the not too distant future, we will all see each other again, either in Chicago or navigating through a new city. My summer would not have been the same without the friends I have met along the way.

And, of course, you cannot go anywhere in the country without finding a fellow LSU tiger, and thanks to Bridget and Paige, my experience in the city never felt too far away from home. I thank you both for showing me around and enjoying this great city with me.

So now that all is said and done here in Chicago, I reflect on an unusual concept. We’ve all experienced it where we see someone that we have not seen in a while and they make a comment such as, “you’ve gotten taller since the last time I’ve seen you,” or “you’ve lost some wait,” or something like that. From a day-to-day basis, we never notice these changes as we evolve through them, but when observed in varied intervals the changes can be clearly observed. I can only imagine how I will have appeared to have changed since coming to Chicago and working with PepsiCo. I am almost certain I have allowed this experience to change me for the better, shaping me further into the person I aspire to be. I can only image if those changes will be perceivable and what they might be. I am more than confident, however, that if anything these experience have made me into a more courageous, knowledgeable, prepared and rational being than ever before. If this is true, then I am more than grateful for this amazing summer.

As I returned to my apartment for one last time, it was difficult to look at the skyline as the orange sunlight reflected in the tower windows. The word I have been (over-) using is bittersweet: Sad that I have to leave, but happy that I have experienced all that has come to pass. I have fallen in love with this city, and the question of my return is not “if” but “when.” It’s difficult to say goodbye to such an amazing experience, but Paul phrased it best when he said, “Joe, if you want to return to Chicago, you have to come home first.”

Goodbye Chicago. Thank you for everything. As long as the fire of life and inspiration glows through the streets and within everyone who experiences this city, you will forever be in my heart.

All My Love,
-Joe Coussan

Thursday, July 31, 2008


I’ve been debating with myself for awhile now. I wanted to write this entry much earlier in the summer when I was very impressionable, but it goes without saying that a lot has happened since then.

As this summer draws to a close, I cannot go without writing about my love-hate relationship with the Chicago Transit Authority. For the second largest public transportation system in the country, the CTA is a work of art. The 200-plus bus routes in the city vein through the city. Yet, there is a clear method to the madness as buses and trains speed across the metropolis, bringing residents to and from their homes, offices, favorite stores and attractions.

At first I loved the CTA. A bus would pick me up a block away from my apartment and drop me off a block away from the PepsiCo office. The ride lasted a whole ten minutes maybe. The “public transit” link on Google maps made navigating the routes a breeze, and I would criss-cross the city going from destination to destination. Plus, in the ever-disappointing area of gas prices, I am proud to say that thanks to the CTA I have not spent one red cent on gasoline. Thus, I also drastically reduced my carbon footprint, especially when I took the trains. The trains, which were conveniently placed around the city, brought me from Wrigley field to Oak Park to my apartment.

Yet, it seemed the more I vocalized my delight with the CTA, the more the CTA seemed to fail to deliver. It was easy to ignore at first; the bus took about ten minutes to arrive every so often. But then, it became standard for certain lines to always run late. Then, it was every day that I’d approach my daily morning bus stop, and I would be about 30 years away, see the bus arrive, start jogging towards it, then watch as the bus rolled away second before I made it to the bus. What was more painful was to wait for half an hour, and then have two buses of the same number to pull up at the same time. The must despicable of incidents occurred when I had watched a bus pull away, and then waited for the next bus to come, only to see it blaze past the bus stop, not even slowing to pick me up. Lines 12, 38, and 8, they are the ones I used the most and were probably the least punctual.

Still, I cannot completely condemn the CTA, because if it were not for the public transit system, I would not have been able to see as much of the city as I have. From here to there, the CTA carried me through Chicago allowing me to take the biggest bite out of the city as I could, and as much as I was disappointed in the lack of punctuality in certain bus lines, I cannot overlook the what a gift it was to see the city. Plus, my I have nothing my respect for the rail lines. Although many routes were under construction, the trains were always on time, swift and efficient.

So, after everything is said and done, I don’t know how I’m going to look back on the CTA. As much tough love as I’d administer, I doubt it’s going to make a difference. My relationship with the Chicago Transit Authority is, and will be, one of both fond memories and frustration. CTA, keep doing as you do, and I’ll appreciate it, despite the mishaps we’ve had along the way.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

My Summer in Gotham City

There’s something kind of paradoxical about seeing the movie theater you are sitting in on the screen in the movie you are watching. That was the case as two ferries pulled away from Gotham Harbor, or should I say Chicago’s Navy Pier, in the second installment of the latest (and far superior) franchise of the Batman series: The Dark Knight.

Chicago played a more believable background for this epic battle of good and evil, especially compared to Tim Burton’s miniatures in the campy Batman franchise of the nineties. Sitting in the theater it was fun to hear the excited whispers of people pointing out some of the more recognizable locations in and around Chicago. Bruce Wayne’s penthouse is across the street from the hotel my parents stayed in when they came to visit. Remember when Harvy Dent meets with the mob boss? That takes place in a rail yard about three blocks from my dorm. The buses of the Gotham Transit Authority seem to have a very familiar blue and red stripe of the Chicago Transit Authority’s buses (but then again, it’s not hard to make CTA look like GTA). The city hall is the old post office (which is right along my daily bus route). The forward-flipping 18-wheeler scene takes place all along LaSalle Street, about 8 blocks from where I work: I’m essentially spending the summer in Gotham City, working for PepsiCo-Gotham.

But was there any other choice for the location of Gotham. Yes, Gotham it is loosely based on New York City. But Chicago is a better fit for the mold of a city with a rich history of crime (well-organized at that) bubbling underneath a city of commerce and ordinary citizens. With few of the city’s landmarks receiving more than a pan-over, the art-deco architecture looks as though it was pulled out of the pages of a dark comic book; beautiful yet forebodingly dark, one-time symbols of progress that serve as timekeepers of a city’s changes through the decades. A background for the good, the playground for the corrupt.

As far as the movie goes, this is truly one of the best movies of the year, and if you know me you know I do not throw that term around lightly. My wish is that, if you any qualms about seeing a movie about a comic book character, move beyond them. The movie is more than just good guy and bad guy; it’s about self-sacrifice, resolve and the admission of responsibility even at great costs. The acting is superb, and that’s not just limited to the much-lamented Heath Ledger. Plus, it’s awesome to see a car exploding across from a nearby Potbelly’s.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Not Chicago

We all have them: inane missions. They can range from everything from making sure you chew your food so many times before you swallow to watching every movie from the AFI top 100 list. And, as hard to imagine as it may be, I have some of my own.

It was my inane mission to get that picture of Jeff Koonz’ Balloon Dog. In a grander view of such missions, one could argue that spending the summer in Chicago was a mission that I accomplished. Most of my ridiculous goals, however, are completely arbitrary. One of which is to travel to as many states as I can. And wouldn’t you know it; I share this mission with Paul.

Paul and I have discussed some of the problems that may arise when trying to complete this mission. Does passing through a state count as going there? Questions like this kept arising, so we created a set of criteria that must be met in order to constitute going to a certain state:
1.) You must set foot on the ground. This does not include airport or train terminals. In fact, we consider all places of transit to be neutral and do not count as part of the state. Otherwise Paul would have gone to Michigan, when in fact he was only there to get a connecting flight to New York.
2.) You have to eat a meal in the state. Preferably, something that is unique to the area in which you are visiting.

Once these two criteria are met, you can officially say you have been to that state.
City’s are a little different. We have decided that you either have to set foot on the ground or take a picture. I argue that you should at least do both, but Paul made the case that if you are in a hurry, sometimes all you have time for is snapping a picture.

So, with the material at my disposal, I set out to complete this mission. Chicago’s regional train line, the Metra, stretches to many nearby communities. Much to my luck, the end of the Union Pacific North Line is Kenosha, Wisconsin. Sunday afternoon I took the bus to the Ogilvie Metra Station, bought a weekend pass, walked to gate 14, climbed aboard a lovely, double-decker commuter car, and traveled from Chicago to Wisconsin.

Upon my arrival, I walked a good distance from the platform, officially setting foot on Wisconsin soil. I then walked through this lovely, quiet city towards Lake Michigan. Kenosha is a harbor town, filled with nautical themed attractions and quaint lighthouses. It seemed like a very nice place, and I couldn’t have gone on a day with better weather. I only had about two hours to meander around the city, so I walked to the edge of the pier and took pictures of the beach and the lighthouses. I then walked to Marina Gardens, where I had the fried Lake Perch with a salad on the side. With the clock ticking, I made my way back to the train station, climbed aboard the Chicago bound train and looked through my pictures. By all definitions, ladies and gentlemen, I have gone to Wisconsin.

With that little mission accomplished, I took notice of my surroundings. The Metra train zipped through many small towns on its way back to Chicago, and one stood out to me, but at the time I couldn’t place it. I was, however, very impressed with the efficiency of the Metra and the speed in which it moved folks from one place to another. Still, though, there was something about one town in particular that stood out to me. I knew I had heard its name before, but where?

By the time Monday afternoon came around, I still had the travel bug in me. I found myself back at the Ogilvie train station, jumping right back on the Union Pacific North Line to that one town, Winnetka. With the hundreds of towns and neighborhoods surrounding Chicago, what was it that drew me to this one neighborhood. What fantastic site was in this neighborhood that I had to see?

Oh, nothing, just the home of Kevin McAlister! That’s right, somewhere in this sleepy (and clearly affluent) suburb was the house that Home Alone was filmed in! I did what any child of the nineties would have done, and I took a picture of this famed location, the said home in Home Alone. That pretty much made my day. I snapped a few pictures, and then got right back on the train to Chicago. Did I tell you that seeing filming locations is also one of my inane goals?

Mission accomplished.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Coussans Take Chicago

I had written earlier about discovering some of the comforts of home here in Chicago. Whether that includes Cajun dancing in Grant park with Bridget Lyons or shouting “geaux tigers” to a fellow pedestrian wearing LSU apparel, realizing that you can find a little bit of home is certainly nice.

And then there are the times when home purposely comes to meet up with you via an Amtrak. Enter the family: Paul, Jan and Luke Sr.

It didn’t feel like I hadn’t seen them in seven weeks, but as soon as I met them in the grand atrium of Union Station, I knew it must have felt much longer for them. They greeted me with a big (and apparently long-awaited) hug and told me about their train ride. Not getting much sleep, the three of them were eager to get to the hotel. If I were spending four nights at the Hotel Sax-Chicago, I would be eager to get there too. I, however, had to get back to work, so after helping them to a taxi, I walked back to PepsiCo, which is a convenient one-block walk from Union Station.

After resting a bit (under goose-feather comforters, no doubt) the folks visited me at the office. Not knowing their way around the city, it became my role to navigate them through the complex bus and “L” lines. After meeting my supervisors, Paul and I ran to get their transit passes. So they were set for the next four days.

My poor parents, I’m sure they were worn out by the end of their trip. Mom told me that they slept a lot better on the way back, probably because they were so exhausted. But with only five days to see as much of the city as possible, the days were just packed

This was the itinerary:

-Bus Tour
-Top of Sears Tower
-Boat Tour
-Giordano’s Pizza
-Museum of Science and Industry
-Soldier Field
-Adler Planetarium
-Shedd Aquarium
-Dinner with Bridget
-Zydeco at Grant Park (the folks were relaxing at this point, they were worn out)
-Mass at St. Peter’s Church on Madison
-Buckingham Fountain
-Hilton Hotel
-My Dorm
-Oak Park/Frank Lloyd Write Studio
-Wrigley Field for pictures (folks skipped this one too)
-Michigan Avenue (Paul and I did some exploring, particularly the old water tower and the Tribune Tower)

Monday, I had to return to work, by Mom, Pop and Paul continued exploring. They went to Merchandise Market, the Old Water Tower, Millennium Park and the Field Museum. I joined them for their last dinner in the city. We then hailed a taxi, grabbed their luggage from the hotel, and head back to Union Station. We hugged and said goodbye at the same gate I passed through back in January, and before long I was on my own again in the city.

Their trip up here was good for me; it allowed me to play tourist and really appreciate the beauty and richness of the city. Also, planning out their daily bus and train routes really allowed me to familiarize myself with the routes as well. Soon, I was easily answering other tourists’ directional queries like a local.

For the folks to receive a first-hand witness to day-to-day life up here, I think it calmed their apprehensions of their last little birdie leaving the nest. Hell, I’m making it in a major metropolitan area. I never saw that as a challenge, but that doesn’t change the fact that I did it.

Most importantly though, it was enjoyable to have a family vacation, the first real one in a long time. With Paul cris-crossing the state with his job, me always in Baton Rouge, and other assorted obligations, the times spent with my family are suddenly few and far between, most likely to become fewer and further between. Nevertheless, we explored the city together, building nothing but good memories.

Mom, Pop and Paul, I really hope I was a good little host and a fairly good navigator. I’m glad you came up here and I hope you three enjoyed yourselves. See you in three weeks.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Fireworks at Lake Michigan

This is an amazing nation.

In a year when we are pitted against one another by our political beliefs (or at least the beliefs that two parties prescribe us to adhere to) we must not forget that we all have one thing in common. There is not one person born or nationalized into this nation that is anymore American than the next. We operate under the protection of beloved documents that ensure our abilities to maintain liberty, live as free people, and allow us to pursue happiness, no matter what we deem that to be. We are Americans.

Perhaps our unity isn't always realized, but it came over me in a wave as about two million Americans, myself included, looked to a cloudless night sky and gazed as it was illuminated by fireworks. Like the people gazing from below, no two fireworks were exactly alike, yet every one contributed to the beauty of the night display. Not caring who was who, there we sat, celebrating America's anniversary, just me and two million other Americans.