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.

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


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