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The Longest Winter

As my didactic plunge into the unfamiliar world of living and working in a foreign country began to fade in my rear-view mirror, I began a different kind of adventure; that into the warm embrace of nostalgic familiarity – I was going home.

After interning in Amsterdam for 3 months via my Miami Ad School Program, my next destination was set to be Chicago, my hometown. A variety of influences lent themselves to my making this particular choice over something more adventurous… The state of my finances were beginning to poke at my conscious, pushing me toward a more fiscally responsible choice. You see, if I were to work in Chicago, I could live at home with my parents, and forgo that painful monthly pinch of paying rent that would be lamentably converted into some foreign currency. Additionally, after having not lived in the vicinity of home for a substantial amount of time, I was agreeable to the notion of having some long-lost familiarity present in my life again.

The Chicago I came back to very closely resembled the memories of the city I have stored in my neural archives. Although summertime in the city is one of the most wonderful settings that can be found in the United States, my brain seems more apt to retain feelings related to the less favorable winters that invade the city for months that seem like eternities. The 3 months that I came back to live and work in the city happened to be one of the most difficult spans of winter-weather the city has seen in years. Swaths of polar air repeatedly fixed themselves above the region for days at a time, causing temperatures to plunge near the -30° Fahrenheit mark with wind chill. Snow relentlessly blanketed the city, resulting in the constant need to re-shovel footpaths and sidewalks, and the eventual depletion of the city’s road salt supply. In few words, it was the kind of winter that gives midwesterners their strong character and resilient attitude.

Because most of my favorite activities take place outdoors, I have developed a slight aversion to winter after moving away from Chicago for undergrad in New Orleans back in 2005. Since then, I have not lived in Chicago, or any other place with any kind of daunting winter season. In the words of my friend Mac, I had become a “delicate southern flower”. Despite my dubiety, I was determined to attack my 10-week stint working and living in Cold Chicago armed with a good attitude and a willingness to seize any and all opportunities for good times or interesting experiences.

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Frozen ass city

Work

Once again, via my Miami Ad School Program, I was set up to intern at an agency called Havas WorldWide. It is a large agency boasting a vast number of clients spread over its many locations across the globe. The Chicago office produces creative for the likes of Citi Bank, Cracker Barrel, Dish Network, Terminix, and many more. Havas is an agency that is far larger of an entity than I had ever worked for, or seen myself working for. Despite my hesitations working for a company this big (mostly related to my antipathy for feeling like a meaningless cog inside of a big machine), I knew that it would be a learning experience and there would be something to take out of it. In fact, I would say overall, the greatest life lesson that was reinforced by these few months in Chicago is that there is something to learn/take out of any experience, no matter what it is. Additionally, if you enter whatever episode life may be throwing your way with this mentality fully strapped in and engaged, you are likely to have a much easier and more beneficial go of things than if you try to resist the flow or over-control the situation. Don’t fight the river, just make slight adjustments with your rudder and enjoy the ride. I know, this is nothing new. Our mentors of all kinds try their best to force this pill down our throats throughout our entire lives, but we will gain nothing from it until we decide to accept this lesson.

I would be lying if I said there weren’t times during this internship that made me want to do a quick 180º and run as far away as I could. Shortly after my partner and I began working at Havas, it became very apparent that we were not going to be fully utilized as desired contributors to the team situation we were initially set up with. It was quite discouraging at times; I truly felt like I had a great deal to offer, but could not make members of the team recognize my potential contributions. For a while it was difficult to be in the office… I dreaded going into work each morning. I would try my best to make myself available and open to do anything they might need, but often we would sit task-less for a large majority of the day. Eventually we were moved to a different team with needs that could be met on a more structured basis. Despite the fact that we were laying out direct mail for the most part, this move was a breath of fresh air. Everyone on the team was super nice and happy to have the help of extra hands. Very much to the point I was making earlier, I ended up taking a great deal away from the experience, even if it isn’t what I see myself doing as I move forward in my career. There is nothing like laying out direct mail for 7 weeks that will teach you attention to detail and useful shortcuts when laying out any kind of communication.

Another notable facet of my experience at Havas was the couple of weeks where I was pulled in to help on preparing pitches for new business. What began as a general feeling of stoked-ness just to be a welcomed part of another team effort within the agency gave way to some pretty intense workdays that would span 14 hours or more sometimes. It was definitely grueling at times: pounding caffeine and junk food to fuel our marathons of preparing ad comps and campaign presentations to meet a rigid deadline. Still, out of this kind of works comes a feeling of camaraderie… No longer was I on the sidelines; Now I was in the ranks, fighting alongside salaried employees for a common goal. Additionally, when the pitch finally came and went, the feeling of having a normal 9-5ish workday after working the 14 hour shifts over and over again was a natural high that I cannot effectively convey in words.

Side Projects

One benefit of limited recreational options due to cold weather’s merciless strangle-hold on the outdoors is that it makes working and trying to be productive much easier. Curling up with a hot coffee in front of a laptop becomes more enjoyable when the air outside feels akin to icy knifes: stopping at nothing to locate and penetrate any exposed skin. The work I was doing at Havas was fine enough, but I always feel driven to chip away at projects that I pursue for enjoyment in my spare time. I started a poster series of simply illustrated cities composed in black and white of simple lines and shapes. Here is Chicago

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Commuting from home in Oak Park to downtown Chicago caused me to become even more fixated on the CTA Elevated train lines than ever before. Riding the rails to work while listening to music, checking out the icy city scenery, and even doing some benching on the go (there are a couple of freight train lines that run parallel to the transit route for a few miles on the way downtown from the west suburbs where some great graffiti gets laid up) quickly became my favorite part of the day. I was always excited about the daily impromptu art shows I would enjoy on my way to work. Some really top notch graffiti rolls through these lines on a regular basis, and I have mentioned before, I believe it was seeing these beautifully decorated train cars passing through town as a child that sparked my interest in this kind of art from the beginning. I started documenting as many of the best cars I would see and enjoyed this activity wholeheartedly.

Fatige x Avert x Bozak on a refrigerated boxcar Fatige x Avert x Bozak on a refrigerated boxcar
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Riding the trains every day incidentally led to another creative endeavor as well. With my proclivity for mischief fully intact but hindered by the conditions outdoors, I looked for other avenues of subversion and expression. I found a medium that suited me in the built in ad space in the CTA cars. I started playing around with some small-scale adbusts — switching out advertisements for my own images and messages.

"Will you be mine on the elevated line?" Installed around Valentines day “Will you be mine on the elevated line?” Installed around Valentines day
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After experimenting with my stealthy switch-a-roos for a while, I began noticing my installations were riding far longer than traditional kinds of graffiti would in the same situation. Just goes to show how easy it is to blend into a situation if you can match the look of what people are used to seeing in that place. Slap an easily downloaded logo on something and all of a sudden it’ll look like it belongs there. 🙂 You can see read a bit more about this particular endeavor over on my Behance.

Life

Living in the inexorable embrace of this winter, so sure of itself, became alarmingly comfortable for me. The unspoken outdoor countdown taking place in this kind of weather, morbidly hinting at a completely frozen state if you’re to linger too long, tends to make the indoors gleam with a new coating of contentment and safety. In other words, just being indoors with friends or family has the potential to become a more complete source of satisfaction when the conditions out-of-doors are so unfriendly. I very much looked forward to gathering with my family after work, or friends on a weekend, and just surviving together under one roof. I am already fondly looking back at the semi-regular gatherings we would orchestrate at the favorite BYOB taco spot after a long week. Reveling with friends over fairly priced tacos and my IPA of choice made time stand still — in the good way. One favor that this brawny winter did for me was bring me to feel closer to my loved-ones than I have in along time; both related by blood or otherwise. For this I thank the -30º temperatures.

On the flip-side of succumbing to the warm, indoor havens generated by Chicago Winters, is the feeling of triumph that comes along with staring those icy winds in the face, and going forth to do your business in spite of them. Doing anything becomes a mission in this kind of weather; even the most simple day-to-day passings must be approached with a militaristic sensibility. Layers of winter clothing become a uniform that must be bravely and carefully donned before any kind of outdoor activity. Once or twice a week my desire to exercise would build up to maximum capacity and I would decide it was time for a run. These antarctic voyages onto the cold, empty streets of Oak Park were a time for contemplation and meditation. Afterwards I would feel clear, reset and like I could easily buck any hurdle in my path. A few times during my time in Chicago my restlessness swelled to dangerous levels, and had to be released in the way that only certain forms of expression can provide. Once again I would seek the company of the steel titans, where they rest together away from the eyes and thoughts of the general public they serve so rigorously. There I would find the impossible silence that I often long for; exacerbated even more by the muffling qualities of snow. Amongst their towering metal bodies, life comes back into the correct perspective. I am reminded how small I really am, and how meaningless my problems are to the whirring apparatus of the universe. All one can do is continue to create somethingness out of nothingness — stuffing messages into bottles and tossing them boldly into the void. It doesn’t matter if anyone ever sees them… Now there is something in one more place where there once was nothing.

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Frozen metal night

I wrapped up my time in Chicago with some big plans on the horizon. I would soon be leaving on a road-trip that would take me through New Orleans and out to San Francisco where I am to complete my schooling. Once again I will work hard to keep my head-up and oriented in the direction of meaningful experience and connection. Stay tuned for more words and images from my adventures hosting the Live Gallery at Buku Music and Art Project in New Orleans for the 3rd year running, and my subsequent experience living and exploring San Francisco. Enjoy some icy images from my time in Chicago below; despite the inherent discomfort, cold weather can make for some pretty photogenic scenes.

One Comment

  1. Vera Ryder

    Love your photos! I’d like to share this with my son Michael. Any chance you could email to me? I’d really appreciate it.
    Thank you,
    Vera

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