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
“PopPop”
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

CTA

















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:

Friday:
-Bus Tour
-Top of Sears Tower
-Boat Tour
-Giordano’s Pizza
Saturday:
-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)
Sunday:
-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.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Work: Part II

I am yet to meet the person who would rather talk about their job rather than their vacation. With ten weeks at my disposal, and in the shadow of the amazing things I’m experience here in Chicago, I did want to take some time to reassure everyone that, yes, I am working as well.

PepsiCo continues to fulfill the glowing compliments I gave to it a few entries back, especially as I observe some of the details in certain situations. The recent flooding in Iowa has left extensive damage across the state, not excluding the city of Cedar Rapids and the Quaker plant therein. Several of my supervisors have been asked to turn the scope of their attention to the Cedar Rapids Plant and those Quaker employees that have been affected. The internal communications for the Cedar Rapids plant was turned over to my supervisors – a challenging task, no doubt, undertaken by people clearly fitted to handle such a situation.

Thus, my responsibilities have changed slightly. I am now writing many more articles for the three internal newsletters: Pep-line Corporate, Pep-line QTG and Chicago Communicator. Additionally, I am sitting in on, and contributing to, the PR meetings for the opening of PepsiCo Chicago’s Sustainability Center. The PepsiCo Chicago Plaza is in the process of constructing a Sustainability Center in its western wing. The center will be a self-sustaining first for corporate buildings, showcasing the sustainability efforts made by PepsiCo and offering ideas and suggestions to the Chicago community and other corporations as well. It will open later in the summer, well after I have left Chicago, but I’m enjoying making contributions to these meetings. My role in these meetings is to, first and foremost, be the secretary and take notes on everything that is said or suggested, and from what I’ve seen, you’d be very impressed with this Sustainability Center.

Sustainability Center aside, one of my more interesting responsibilities so far was to compile and construct the binders used by the top communications and management leaders to use when they visited the damage to the Cedar Rapids Plant. Though I did not write any of the information (that’ll come after taking a few more PR classes), simply compiling and glancing over the information was fascinating. Every loose end was tied down, every problem was ready to be handled and all of the right people were listed. It was a little intimidating to think that one day in the near future it will be my responsibility to make sure that everything possible is covered in a one-inch binder. Simply compiling it was menial maybe, but I really felt as though I was part of the team handling that disaster situation.

As you can see, it’s not all free grits and orange juice. I am being put to work, and I am enjoying that work. These were just a few things that I am involved with right now, and as more comes along I will certainly let you know, especially the United Way Facility Campaign Toolkits (I’ll explain more later). The compliments I receive on my writing style, and the thoroughness of it, only motivate me to keep it up. The work here is certainly work, but I enjoy it.

Oh, and I wanted to share this with you. It making the rounds on the internet and is a big success for Gatorade’s marketing team, so mad props to them.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Wrigley


Baseball is the ever-present sport of Americana. It is often spoken of in glowing terms, being mentioned in the same breath as apple pie and amber waves of grain. All my life, however, I never really caught on. Baseball, to me at least, was a sport that was on TV, airing from either Houston or Atlanta. From the living room chair, baseball brought out the impatient sports fan in me, with only little spurts of action, and what seemed like hours of watching the players pace around the plate, hit foul ball after foul ball, spit, and occasionally loose their tempers. That changed last Tuesday.

The nearest souvenir shop to the PepsiCo office was in the basement of the Sears Tower, so after darting their after work to purchase a standard blue Cubs T-shirt, I made my way to the Merchandise Market to meet up with Paige Nichols, fellow LSU Tiger and Chicago native. Paige was kind enough to set up an evening at Wrigley Field for her first Cubs game of the season and my first MLB game ever. Filing on to the crowded Red line, we headed out of downtown and into Wrigleyville, the home of the Chicago Cubs.

Pouring out onto the streets of what seemed like a serene neighborhood any other day of the week, I found myself in a sea of blue-donning Chicagoans. Meeting up with Paige’s friends and weaving our way through the crowds, we walked through the gates and up into the bleachers of the immortal Wrigley Field.

Baseball gets lost in the genre of conversations. It’s so closely tied to events throughout the twentieth century and the memories of old men, yet its politics are shouted, its flaws are exposed and analyzed, and its players are traded like stocks. A combination of these conversations flew around me. The fans were interacting with the stadium itself, discussing old friends, fond memories, or simply just family events. The excitement of the fans only revealed itself if the plays were tight, the outs were unjustified or when home-runs revived the spirit, otherwise the stadium reminded me a picnic. Fans surrounding me debated if the owners were getting a return on their $38 million investment in one of the newest star player, Kosuke Fukudome, who clearly had an off night.

Not only was it my first MLB game, but it was a classic one at that. I stacked my drink cups, I ate a $4 hotdog, I belted-out a lovely rendition during the seventh inning stretch and occasionally joined in the chorus of “Fukudome is my homie.” One corner of the stadium was the setting sun and the Chicagoland Suburbs below it, and in the other corner was the reflective sheen of the Chicago Skyline. The Orioles took a win from the Cubs, but after experiencing a game in Wrigley Field, and everything that goes along with it, I pulled off a win as well. Not thinking that I had much invested in it at first, I was surprised to find myself experiencing the disappointment with other Cubs fans. Next time, Cubs, next time. I took the crowded Redline to Clark, switched to the Blue, and arrived back to the dorm a Cubs fan.

On a bittersweet note, two of my close friends left Chicago recently, heading on to new adventures and experiences. Bill and Sophie, together the three of us explored as much of what this city had to offer as we could. Some of my fondest memories with you two were exploring the Museum of Contemporary Art and then the Art Institute. The joyous feeling experienced when looking upon priceless works of art is only heightened when you experience it with people who have the same appreciation for it. Thank you for the amazing memories and I am sure that your departures are not the ends of our friendship, but only minor interludes.


"A Friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of Nature."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, June 23, 2008

Illinois and Louisiana: Different Song, Same Rhythm



In a few days it will be a full month since I moved to Chicago, marking the longest period of time that I have spent outside of Louisiana. Clearly, I need to take extended travel experiences more often. Don’t get me wrong; I’m in love with Louisiana. This time outside of my normal surroundings, however, has allowed me to experience certain aspects of a different state; some things that are iconically different from Louisiana, and some that are perplexingly similar.

DIFFERENCES:
Public Transit
As far as Lafayette and Baton Rouge go, we have the CATS and the COLT. Though the names are clever, these public transit systems are, for the most part, ignored. The CTA trains and buses, however, are the blood cells that flow through Chicago’s veining streets. The New Orleans Street cars may be the best comparison, but a ten-minute bus ride is hard to beat, and is a rare-find in Louisiana.
Revolving Doors
The concept and purpose behind revolving doors may be the reason you see very few of them in the south. Never creating a complete opening between indoors and outdoors, a revolving door prevents drafty winter winds from disturbing the peace of an otherwise warm lobby. Clever.
Skyscrapers
If I recall correctly, the tallest building in Louisiana is One Shell Square in New Orleans, coming in at 50 stories. In Chicago, most of the downtown area exists between elevator rides, climbing to heights unfamiliar to Louisiana buildings (which is understandable considering the bedrock needed for such foundations). I guess the comparison is difficult, considering that the tallest office building in the Western Hemisphere is in Chicago.
MLB
NFL Teams: Check. NBA Teams: Check. MLB Teams: Louisiana has to root for the Astros. Chicagoans, however, really love their baseball, so much so that they have two hometown teams just to satisfy this baseball craving. Wait, how foolish of me: Geaux Zephyrs!
Quick Turnaround
Needless to say, I was quite surprised as I listened to the casual voice of a Public Service Announcement that came in between the stops on a CTA bus. The voice said, “The renovation to the Brown Line is ahead of schedule…” Ahead of schedule? I didn’t know such a thing existed.
Cold Summers
Forty-Eight degree high temperature for the last week of May? Are you insane? Call FEMA, because if it were up to me, that would be categorized as natural disaster. That was only for one week, but still, for a warm-natured person like me, I was a little scared. Walking to the bus stop on my first day, I wondered if I had brought enough warm clothes.
Bland Food
They may have Deep-dish pizzas, Italian Beef sandwiches and Polish sausages, but my after a couple of bits my arm makes a Pavlovian dart toward a can of Tony Chachere's that isn’t there. Sorry northerners, your food could use some spice.

SIMILARITIES:
Amazing Food
Just because it’s not particularly spicy, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have flavor. Just reference the whole article about the Rib Fest. Plus, it’s difficult to go to Little Italy, enjoy an authentic Italian Ice and a Tiramisu and say that the food has no flavor.
Politics
I guess it’s hard to find a good politician, but whenever I listened in on the random bus conversations of locals discussing kickbacks and under-the-table dealings, it felt all too familiar, almost to the point of comforting. Imagine Louisiana politics but with teamsters and pipe-fitters in the mix.
Bad Drivers, Turning Right on Red
Chicagoans and Louisianans share the same fascinating ability to turn right on red lights, a cultural phenomena if you will. And as far as driving goes, to think I thought New Orleans drivers were bad! I’m just grateful that the CTA does the work for me, but even they could afford to learn how to apply the breaks slowly.
Jazz and Blues Culture
When I took The City of New Orleans train to Chicago in December of this last year, I couldn’t help but fantasize about the romance and mystic of the train, carrying some of America’s jazz greats to and from Chicago and New Orleans. When that train came to a halt, the musicians had to get off somewhere, and their influence rumbles through the streets like the subways underground.
Cultural Meccas
Perhaps it’s the different ethnic neighborhoods, the different languages being spoken on the street or the selection of music played at Millennium Park, Chicago mirrors the diversity, history and cultural blend of Creoles and Cajuns that makes up Louisiana.
Climate
It’s no Mississippi river humidity that sticks to your arms on a late August night, but Lake Michigan produces enough humidity for me to perspire at a familiar level, (at least after that first week.)

The similarities are certainly comforting. There is, however, one thing that Chicago doesn’t have, and that is the people I love. My friends and family have helped to define everything I love about Louisiana. At times, it feels as though I’m so caught up in the pulse of this city that I forget about returning home. All it takes, however, is a text message, a phone call or a facebook message to remind me what I miss about Louisiana. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not distressed or homesick – I was born to live in this city. Let’s just say Chicago would be only that much better if you were here to enjoy it with me.



[Clarification: Though the URL address for this blog is “chicagojoe2008” I am no way affiliated with Chicago Joe’s Bar and Grill (which, by the way, was present at the rib fest). I only picked the name because Pop called me that a few days before I left.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Performance with Purpose

Tomorrow is going to be an exciting day at PepsiCo Chicago. Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi, will be touring the Chicago office, talking with associates and managers to observe the latest projects the PepsiCo team is working on. Of all departments, the Public Affairs team was quite busy preparing for her visit.

For me, it would be a great thrill to see her in person, considering she is on of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2008. She has taken the company to a plateau of responsibility that is rarely seen in Fortune 500 companies.

I’ve never been one to subscribe wholeheartedly to any particular company (except Apple maybe), but PepsiCo has a way of impressing me everyday. The motto “Performance with Purpose” is not just some catchy phrase casually tossed around the PepsiCo offices and plants, it is a mantra that is guides the company to heights of productivity and corporate accountability to be envied. Performance with Purpose focuses on three specific areas of sustainability: human, environmental and talent.

These are simple philosophies that, in a perfect world, would be second nature to more companies than just PepsiCo. Human sustainability refers to the products that PepsiCo sells – the foods, snacks and beverages that we consume every day. The “health phase” in the U.S. seemed to come and go, but the goal of responsible development and production of the foods we eat is a company standard. When PepsiCo aquired Naked Juice last year, it purchased one of the few all-natural, nothing-added juice producers in the world, and if you’ve tried Naked Juice, you were probably just as surprised as I was to realize that there was no added sugar. We can also look to Frito-Lay products as well. By the end of this year, every Frito-Lay product will be made with sunflower seed oil, reducing the amount of fat in every single chip at least by half. And staple products like Quaker Oatmeal have consistently proved the doubters wrong; tests continue to show that a steady diet of Quaker Oatmeal will reduce your cholesterol.

Environmental sustainability has provided even more amazing advances in terms of corporate responsibility. I will use Sun-Chips for this example. I am a firm believer in personal responsibility; I do not believe that people should be forced to buy certain products or forced to not use other products. The green focus that is sweeping the nation is quite impressive; I’ve seen more recycling and less waste than ever before, but many people feel that some green practices are too invasive. PepsiCo, however, has taken the trouble out of “going green.” When you purchase a bag of Sun-Chips and take that first crunchy bite, you are probably only concerned about the delicious snack that you are currently enjoying. You probably weren’t thinking about the Modesto plant where your chips were produced, which is off the power-grid and powered completely through the use of solar panels. Sun-Chips made with the power of the Sun; it’s almost too simple. And you, the consumer, can care or not, but by supporting PepsiCo you just helped the environment in the most delicious of ways. I’m so proud of you!

I could really delve into PepsiCo’s Talent Sustainability at the risk of bragging to you that they hired me, but it’s more than just the caliber of employee that PepsiCo employs. The incredible cross-section of the populace that works for PepsiCo really helps the entire PepsiCo team understand the needs and wants of consumers all across the world. The diversity of the employees at 555 W. Monroe is incredible. Everyone has a unique background at the company that further fosters the understanding of the consumer base that PepsiCo actually serves. I feel a little unique myself, considering that I’m yet to meet another Cajun in the building (even though I’m only half-Cajun, it still counts!) The programs in place for all employees allow us to track our progress through the company. Employees can see if they are on task for career goals and ambitions and can anticipate the potential for promotions. It must be working, because everyone I meet greets me with a smile and a handshake. These have got to be the happiest people on earth.

A simple motto “Performance with Purpose;” taking care of the consumer, the environment and the employee. In the aftermath of corporate breakdowns at the dawn of the decade, other companies need to follow PepsiCo’s lead. Corporate responsibility is the name of the game, and with a slowing economy, a health- and environmentally-conscious populace, and the growing need for resource responsibility, PepsiCo is in a league of its own, an industry leader meeting the call of an unpredictable future. By simply being responsible, PepsiCo has silenced the naysayers and set a standard for others to follow.

In closing, I have often debated the ethics behind corporate public relations. I fear that if a desperate situation were to arise, I would find myself as the person justifying your five-dollar-a-gallon gasoline. After working with PepsiCo, however, I’ve realized that if a company is acting responsibly then there is nothing to justify. My goal would be to make sure you knew about it.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

MCA

For a structure to house some of the most visually stunning, creatively stimulating, beautiful-yet-perverse contemporary art in the nation, one would hope photography would be allowed to capture these works. Regrettably, the Museum of Contemporary Art was not friendly to camera owners.

Though visual reminders would certainly help to recall the works inside, the lack of photographs is only a minor blemish on what was truly an amazing experience. From the quirky to the dramatic, from the twisted to the modest, from the emotional to the serene, the works inside challenged the concept of art yet remained ever true to its most fundamental purpose: to evoke an emotional response.

Fighting rush-hour traffic evokes certain emotions of its own, but the bus arrived just before I opted to get off and walk. It was agreed that we would meet at the MCA for “Tuesdays on the Terrace:” an evening of free admission to the museum and a live jazz band on the museum’s back patio. “We” consisted of several interns residing at TBH, led by Sophie Williams, our in-house art devotee and connoisseur. Sophie interns with the MCA and, though not a curator per se, she curates the exhibits through editing the descriptions that accompany each work.

The focal exhibit was that of artist Jeff Koons, whose works required a more advanced skill than implied by “kitschy,” a term often used to describe him. Perhaps you’ve seen his giant balloon dog or foil balloon. These works seemed to float across the room, prepared to bounce if gently tapped, yet they were all cast from stainless steal, tricking the eye and mind and inciting disbelief.

The household appliances in plexiglass boxes may not have been as striking, but the more I stood there questioning the purpose of the otherwise simple creation, my curiosity was enhancing the art, fulfilling its purpose. Did it compare to artistic works of other masters who worked in oils, pastels and clays? It was a sudden transition, moving from one work to another and shifting from thoughts of “I could do this” to delighting in what seemed impossible. The works, though not Monets or Van Goghs, followed that common thread and evoked emotions, calling forth curiosity, shame, delight, humility and humor.

Sophie guided us through the different exhibits, which included the patient and steady mobiles of Alexander Calder and the perceptive and piercing photographs of Chicago life captured by Art Shay. We made our way to the patio to soak in the splashings of a live jazz band, enjoying the comfortable Lake Michigan breezes and meandering through the gardens. It was classy, casual and relaxing, especially for a Tuesday evening. We gazed at the towering condos surrounding the back patio and all secretly wished to own one of them, especially one with a balcony.

So, no photographs to capture these exhibits. I was mostly captivated by the giant balloon dog, and even though I have no photographs of it, you can imagine it looks a lot like this, but three-dimensional, purple and 12 feet tall.

I really wanted a real picture of it, so much so that I haven’t signed off on the idea of sneaking a picture. Mark my words, Jeff Koons, I will have a picture of your balloon dog.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

TBH


As far as residence halls go, I haven’t been very impressed. Having seen them at UL, Loyola, and LSU, the eight-by-six-foot box you’re required to share for ten months is not a high point of college experiences. Don’t get me wrong, though. I loved dorm life and I couldn’t have asked for a better roommate than Kevin Campbell. Still, as far as dormitories go, I haven’t been very impressed.

If Thomas Beckham Hall is a “dormitory” as they say it is, it is the Four Seasons of college dorms. It is a similar layout to my on-campus apartment at LSU. With free wireless internet and free laundry access, I couldn’t be more comfortable.

TBH is located in University Village, which has seen its fair share of rough times, but has also experienced extensive urban renewal in the last five years or so. A block east of the dorm is the Dan Ryan Expressway. Little Italy is about five blocks west, featuring authentic Italian cuisine, and my new favorite dive, Al’s #1 Italian Beef (thanks Curry, I found it).

A block north is the actual campus of UIC, and on the grounds of the UIC campus sits the birthplace of social work in America, the Jane Addams Hull House. That being said, you can imagine what the neighborhood looked like a century ago. Certainly no baseball field, no Caribou Coffee, no Coldstone Creamery or Barbara’s Bookstore. I was told that the nearby neighborhood was bluntly referred to as Jew Town, home to Jewish immigrants in the 19th century. I don't suppose many of those people would have imagined young twenty-somethings sipping on iced-coffees 100 years later, but sure enough urban renewal turned what otherwise wouldn't be a beautiful location into a safe, young and intern-friendly neighborhood.

For a city notorious for rough areas bordering posh areas, there's no exception to this rule near TBH. The border seems to fall just beyond the sidewalk in front of Express Original Grill, which makes an incredible (and incredibly cheap) Polish sausage.

Surroundings aside, the most comfortable and welcoming aspect of this dorm would have to be the people who live here: students at the top of their game interning in one of America's greatest cities. Whether it's performing plastic surgery or working for the Securities and Exchange Commission, I am humbled to be meeting and hanging out with such amazing people. Take my roommate for example:

Meet Alex Florea. A student at University of Illinois: Champaign, Alex is interning with Merrill Lynch, one of the strongest investment banking firms in the world. Alex, who will graduate at the end of his third year, is a devout sports aficionado with a penchant for soccer. He stays true to his Romanian and Italian roots, taking time out of his day to watch the triumphs and tribulations of these two national teams. Alex returns from work everyday as though he were flattened with a rolling pin, but only for a few minutes before he catches his breath, gathers his thoughts, and prepares to pour his incredible business knowledge back into his work. It's awe-inspiring, and considering his future aspirations, that's only the half of it.

And lucky for me, Alex is just one of the many interns living here with an extensive amount of determination, knowledge and skill. The caliber of people in this residence hall is such that I would be ashamed of myself if I were to lose touch with them.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Ribs and BB King: Just my kind of weekend

I returned to my apartment from the grocery store around noon. It was drizzling a little when I walked through the lobby door, but by the time I reached my apartment room, rain was pounding so heavily against the window it felt as though the room was going through a car wash. Unpacking the groceries, I gave up on the day, doubting the storm clouds would clear before the end of the day. Thank goodness I was dead wrong.

I suppose it is true with every major city that the beauty of any trip is only further highlighted by the trip's timing with special events in the city itself. This weekend was no exception.

A group of six friends, Bill, Dylan, Ryan, Brad, Charles and yours truly, set out for an adventure in Irving Park, a neighborhood in North Chicago. The L's Brown Line would take us directly there, and on an elevated train ride through the big-shouldered city. Arriving in Irving Park, we were greeted with the aroma of charcoal, pork, and some of the finest barbecue sauce in the world. It was the 10th annual Chicago Rib Fest.

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Thousands of meat enthusiasts descended upon Irving Park for what was a celebration of life, a celebration of flavor, a celebration of pork ribs. A five-dollar donation to get in, and with every other pair of one dollar bills after that, I was treated to some of the finest barbecue in Chicago. Every rib brought with it a messy dose of different sauces and flavors, leaving nothing behind but two polished bones and a handful of soiled paper towels. It was amazing, to say the least. Many vendors asked us to vote for them, but never finding the ballot I will cast my vote via blog: I really enjoyed the Cordis Brothers Supper Club's ribs the best; the sauce was a perfect match of tanginess with a hint of fruit and a heavy dose of black pepper. Delicious.

We spent about an hour and a half in the sun, devouring rib after juicy rib. By the time we returned to the train, we were tired to say the least. But, a thirty minute train ride back to the city and we found our second burst, just in time for the Chicago Blues Fest held at Grant Park.

The rain that fell earlier in the day and the constant flow of spectators created a really earthy soup below my feet, but that didn't detract from the lively crowd, the great sunset, the beautiful view, and the legendary entertainment to come. By the time 8:15 rolled around it was time for the evening's headliner, the king of the blues himself, BB King.

The muddy people that filled Grant park exploded with applause when the 82-year-old King walked to the middle of the stage. "Ten years ago, I wouldn't have had to sit down," he said as he made himself comfortable on a folding chair in the middle of the stage, "but that was ten years ago." You certainly wouldn't have guessed it the way he handled that guitar and by the way he "took care" of the crowd. He began with "Let the Good Times Roll" and they certainly did.

To hear a legend like that and to see him perform (even though we were a couple of football fields away from the main stage) it was easy to get lost in the fun. However, we weren't lost for long, and after a few performances we took our dead-tired bodies back to the dorm and watched the last few minutes of Game 2 of the NBA finals.

With a day like today, I can't help but repeat in my head the first few lyrics of "Let the Good Times Roll:"

Hey everybody, let's have some fun
You only live but once
And when you're dead you're done, so...

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Saturday, June 7, 2008

Summer Hours


Summer Hours: work an additional hour Monday through Thursday, and take half the day off on Friday. Simple as that. So what's a boy to do with five hours on his hands?

Just before I shut my office computer down for the day I felt a sudden urge to do some exploring. With a destination in mind, I found a bus route online. I shut down the computer, left the office and started on my journey. As it turned out, the weather was so nice that I disregarded the bus route I just found and walked all the way to the Art Institute of Chicago.

Perhaps you've heard of this place. I know my knowledge of it was minimal, but once inside I entered a place that transcends time. There I was, a little kid from Carencro, face-to-face with priceless works of art. The institute itself was beautiful, but the works inside were indescribable. I had a feeling of disbelief as I looked upon original works by Picasso, Monet, Edward Hopper, C├ęzanne and Frank Lloyd Wright.

One of the most striking exhibits was half-art and half-history. Pieces of pottery, statues and armor from various Chinese dynasties lined the walls of one exhibit. At first, it was easy to pass by and think "that's a nice teapot," and then I read the description of the pottery, saying that it was well over 1,000 years old. Some exhibits seemed more about history and geography than art, but every piece was extraordinary in its own right.

The beauty of the institute came from the steady realization of the time, dedication and patience that went into every single piece. From Picasso himself to an unnamed Asian peasant carving beautiful pottery from stone, it was overwhelming to think that, even if for only a few minutes, our lives intersected as I looked upon their masterpieces.

Much to my disappointment many exhibits were under construction, leaving great works like Van Gough's self portrait out of sight. That was alright by me; only further motivation to return. The same goes for the American Art Exhibit. My camera battery died just before I entered the exhibit, but by not posting pictures I'm providing something for my family to look forward to whenever they visit later this summer.

I didn't want to leave, and I certainly wasn't growing tired, but my feet, however, did get tired and they got the best of me. My day at the Art Institute came to a close, but I left determined to return. What an experience!

Knowing that in the late 1800s Chicago hoped to change its image, wanting to be known as a city of culture and art rather than an exaggerated stockyard, Chicagoans can rest assured that their city is home to one of the most extraordinary collections of art on the planet.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

"Work"


Tomorrow I see the fruits of my labor. My first assignment was to write an article for the PepsiCo Chicago's internal newsletter, which will be released sometime during the day. It's an internal newsletter, so I as much as I'd like to post a link, you will most likely not be able to access it.

And while I'm talking about work, I want everyone to know how great PepsiCo really is. I thought I was happy when they gave me an ID badge, but that was nothing. Maybe it's the company philosophy, maybe it's due to the free grits every morning, or maybe it's the beginning of the summer season that makes everyone so particularly friendly, but the people I am working with could not be nicer! Not even two full weeks on the job and I already feel like I'm part of the team! That in itself may be subconsciously convincing me to have a positive outlook on my work, but whatever the case, I am also really enjoying the work that I'm assigned. When it comes to Corporate Communications, I couldn't have asked for anything better! I'm fitting in comfortably, especially having my own (non-mundane) cubicle. And if none of this jumps out to you as incredibly appealing, then I should mention that I arrived in Chicago only days before the Public Affairs bowling party at 10Pin. Here's a link to the swanky-ist bowling ally I've ever been to.

So, considering all that I'm gaining thus far, I'm going to return a little and do a minor promotion for a PepsiCo product. If you haven't already, you have to try Tropicana Pure Valencia Orange Juice. You think you've had juice before, well you're dead wrong!

Bonus Points: What is Cap'n Crunch's real name? Leave the answer in a comment box and you may win something, who knows.

Pictured: Joe Coussan and coworker.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Welcome!

Whether in Washington D.C. or in Dublin, Ireland, apparently LSU Mass Comm students are creating live journals left and right. I just assumed it was my turn to do the same. And what a better way to let everyone know what I was up to here in the Windy City.

In all honesty, I don't know where to begin. Even though I'm only ten days into this internship, there is so much that I want to say that my fingers can't type fast enough. I will, however, give you the basics.

I am currently living at Thomas Beckham Hall on the UIC campus, which is located in the Near West area of Chicago. I conveniently (and apparently much to the envy of coworkers) have a 10 minute bus ride to and from work everyday. Considering how much of a burden traffic tends to be in Chicago, this has quickly become one of my favorite aspects of this summer.

Additionally, I should at least mention that Chicago has been my destination of choice since my junior year of high school. So, with it being a dream of mine for at least three years to see the Chicago skyline, the view I have on the way to the bus stop is only that much more of a blessing (which you can see below).