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All That Blurs By
Dre Carlan
 April 04 2024 at 05:03 am
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Time is running out. I need to be at O’Hare International Airport in under ninety minutes. To go that far west, I should first head south toward the Loop and then take the Blue Line. Everything is a blur—, the studio walls, the commotion outside, the last twenty-some years. Everything blurs by. Michigan Avenue is one long, concrete-runway. It reaches the sunset and then some. Police are posted at most corners, beggars escape the wind within random alcoves, and tourists slow down foot-traffic while trying to take the perfect picture. Still—, it’s the epitome of style. Not just because everything is so designer and so glamorous and so chic—, but because it’s what keeps us coming back. The shine, the next step, the possibility that one day we too can say “we made it.” Couples exit expensive restaurants and reach for each other’s arms, interlocking them as they set off down the street toward a taxicab or café. Either way, it’s a charming sight and one that invites us to see ourselves in that exact position. We keep moving. I hear the announcer say that the Michigan & Lake stop is coming up so I pull the cord, stand up, and ready myself to walk toward the Washington station. Once there, I board the Blue Line and sit in the first open seat I see. The speeding train interweaves through the clusters of structures like a massive steel thread. If only I could reach out beyond the sealed windows, my fingertips would be able to graze the bricks themselves. Everything I’d learned from books and movies was reduced down to mere reference points when I finally moved out into the city. Nothing prepares you for the real world like stepping out into the real world. Of course it can be beautiful. Of course the sunshine beaming off of the stage at Millennium Park is perfect. But it can also be cold. The winters are rough. Ice and sleet cover the streets and everything is grey. Not a pure white with freshly fallen snow, no. It’s marred from the tar off the wheels that run themselves over the slush and dirt of an urban landscape. But even then—, something beautiful can be found within it. Something compelling. Like the city is irresistible even in mid-January, even with the dreariness of unforeseeable blizzards, because after all, it is home. It’s where you sleep and shower and see how far you can go without feeling like you’ve been left behind to fend for yourself, since here, everyone fends for themselves. Time keeps ticking. The rooftops drift by in the late afternoon sun. The ones right past the fiberglass, quickly. The ones way behind in the background, slowly. Either way, they all drift by into the recesses of our memories and only reappear once we pass through again. Coded languages are graffitied onto the stairwells of large complexes and ciphers onto the sides of small apartment buildings. They speak of some type of spiritual revolution while prayer flags are strewn through the streets—, fallen and forgotten. I don’t pretend to understand, I just accept it. I begin to think back to yesterday. The scene floods in like waves of scorching sunlight; thick fumes drift up and through the atmosphere as we take our seats, speak in pieces of broken slang, and seek peace itself. This is nighttime—, personified in two people. Stars sparkle in our eyes. The Windy City’s air courses through our veins and makes its way up toward our brains as the name stays on the very tips of our tongues; “Chi…ca…go…,” she says with such elegance. We keep moving. Time keeps ticking. The world keeps blurring by.
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The Lure of City Life
Dre Carlan
 April 05 2024 at 11:05 am
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I’ve always been pulled by the energy and lifestyle of a big city. Nothing really strikes me the same way as walking alongside a nonstop stream of people. May it be the crowds or even the beautiful pandemonium, but there is a lure to it that I can’t exactly pin down. The best way I can describe this are through a couple of excerpts of my time in Queens (aged nine), and Chicago (aged twenty-seven), from a memoir I wrote called A Mother’s Tears, for free here. From Chapter 6 My cousin and her husband drove the entire way there with me in the backseat. They were a nice married couple who I’d be staying with for the next few months. Finally getting to their house in the suburbs, I became more excited about living there. We stayed in a small home on an average street. There was a bookshelf that I’d poke around, seeing what interests they had and trying to figure out why. We’d go outside every few days and I’d take in all there was around me with enthusiasm. As we rode the subways, I stared out their windows at all the graffiti written on the sides of buildings. We emerged from the underground and walked toward the intersections filled with cars and people. There was honking, loud chatter, sounds coming from every direction. With so much mayhem aimed at me, I suddenly felt at peace with everything that’d happened back home. I didn’t have time to think about it anymore—, I was in the city, the Big Apple, I quickly became accustomed to my surroundings. My cousin wanted to stop by a local pop-up shop in a place that was on a lower floor somewhere. We climbed down into a den of confusing commerce one only finds in cities like New York. There were cheap sunglasses that came in neon greens and bright yellows on the folding tables in the center of the room, knockoff purses hanging from the walls—, it seemed that someone could get just about anything they wanted at a very discounted price. My cousin took her time looking around at all the knickknacks on the glass shelves but I was quickly getting bored. There was more commotion outside —, I wanted to be apart of it. Slowly, I backed away from my adult chaperone and started to climb the stairs toward freedom. I exited the shop and was back on the street. I looked around me and took in the atmosphere. There were so many skyscrapers—, each towering higher up than the last. The sun’s rays reflected off the upper windows and blinded me from fully seeing the buildings’ peaks. The cars two feet away weaved through the traffic like fluid. People passed by in large groups and they all seemed to be in a hurry to get somewhere fast. I knew I was at home here—, not just in this specific city, but any city. I needed it; the beautiful frenzy which can only be found in downtowns the world over. Suddenly I felt a tug at my arm and was spun around to come face-to-face with my cousin, who looked a bit distraught and very annoyed. “Don’t ever do that again!,” she berated me. From Chapter 10 My mom and I took the seven-hour train into Union Station. Once there, we exited onto the concrete platform and headed up the steps toward the front doors with the entire Windy City waiting for us on the other side. “I’m home,” I said with a widened smile. The sun shone down on our shoulders and life was everywhere. The people circulated throughout the city’s streets and back alleys like blood cells do within pulsing veins. The buildings all seemed to grow taller towards the sky the closer we’d get to them. They surrounded us in a way only a downtown metropolis could. The commotion coming from all angles sounded like an industrial symphony—, gorgeously layered and strangely peaceful. With all of that around us, I was most excited I could live out the experience with my mom by my side. The L-trains thundered on their tracks up above—, sparks flying off in all directions. We climbed the stairs toward the Brown Line and were on our way to the northern neighborhoods. Lincoln Park was just as beautiful in person as it was in all the pictures I’d looked up the months before. Anything I’d need was a stone’s throw away. I could finish all of my errands within a single city block. One-off shops and chain stores were scattered throughout the streets, bikes and cars intermingled in a way I hadn’t seen back in Michigan, and people of all types walked in flowing waves of movement. I knew I’d found my element. Far from the rehabs and halfway homes of a near- decade prior—, I was finally feeling pure happiness. My mom and I walked down Diversey Parkway with our suitcases in tow and reached our destination within twenty minutes. What was once a rundown hotel with people overdosing in its hallways was renovated into a brand new apartment building. A small two hundred-square-foot studio on the fourth floor is where I’d sleep for the next year of my life. We got the card-keys from the front desk, rode the elevator up a few flights, and walked into an empty space smaller than the size of most kitchens, let alone a full living area. There was no furniture so we each took a corner and slept on the hardwood floor that first night. It was truly one of my favorite memories we’d ever make. The small radio we had with us played Top 40 pop songs as we disinfected everything we could before finally ordering dinner and letting ourselves enjoy the rest of the night and week afterwards in the big city. My mom left shortly thereafter with a tearful goodbye and I was back to being by myself in a new home. From one room over, I’d hear my neighbor singing show tunes. On Wednesday nights, the walls would shake from the powerful music down in the bar below. Things were tight in that small studio. The tiny closet was overflowing with clothes, underneath the bed slid a case full of shoes, and the desk-shelf combo took over half the room. The near-claustrophobic conditions made moving around tough, but once I was on the other side of my front door, I’d walk down the hall toward the elevators with confidence. I was still living in my dream city. No matter how small the space was where I slept, showered, and ate—, I’d do it all with a smile. I started getting used to my situation. The twenty-four-hour store right across the street was perfect for late-night ice cream runs. The cleaners around the corner began knowing me on a first name basis. Everything was as it should be. Slowly, I learned the layout of my new surroundings. I’d be able to stop and get groceries or pick up new bedsheets at the major chains or a pack of cigarettes from the liquor store all while walking home from the L-train. Everyone I’d pass on the street seemed to have the same type of smile—, deep down, they knew everything was interconnected somehow, in someway; the check-out ladies, the taxi drivers, the servers, bartenders, and beggars—, we were all apart of it. An energy that was always right beneath our feet, trapped under the concrete like a circuit encompassing the entire city, we felt its hold on our lives as we continued sailing through the waves and ripples of our everyday decisions. Which corner should I turn down? Which train should I take home? Who will I sit next to and what conversation may spark up which could possibly change my life forever? These were the types of questions which ran through my mind and I loved every minute of it. Fate had brought me here and I felt its grasp on my heart with each choice I made.

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