More Cities Should Have Color Schemes

I was in Pittsburgh recently, and more than the prevalence of Italian Americans, the palpable racial tension via gentrification, and the fact that their baseball team recently got no hit by Lucas Giolito, the most striking thing about the city was its commitment to its color scheme. Pittsburgh is all about the black and yellow, and I think that’s an admirable thing that more cities should strive for. 

All of Pittsburgh’s major sports teams’ color palettes prominently feature black and yellow: the Steelers, the Penguins, and the city’s AAA team, the Pirates. The city’s bridges (of which there are several!) are painted yellow. Even the college team (Pitt, not Carnegie Mellon, presumably because nobody from Pittsburgh made it through high school trig so they could get into Carnegie Mellon) has yellow golden hues, or straight-up yellow at its most glorious. And let’s not forget the national anthem of partying in early-Obama-era frat basements, which beats Coldplay by a yinzer mile for the title of the greatest ode to yellow.

What’s shocking to me is that there aren’t more cities who have committed to a color scheme. They’re great! They give a city a better sense of unity. They forge an aesthetic and cultural connection between the city, its residents, and its sports teams. And they help define the vibe of a city—Pittsburgh’s black and yellow is brawny and industrial, while Seattle’s wild collection of blue and neon green is pacific and alt. 

But besides Pittsburgh and Seattle, I can’t think of a team with anywhere close to a cohesive color scheme. D.C. comes the closest—it has a strong affinity for red and blue, but the Washington Professional Football Team’s burgundy and gold is nowhere close to the color schemes of the Nats, Capitals, Washington Professional Men’s Basketball Team, or Mystics. And, honestly, red and blue for the nation’s capital? A little uninspired if you ask me. 

L.A. has too diverse a sports scene to be anywhere close to unified, but I do appreciate the hues of gold, blue, and purple among teams like the Lakers, Rams, Chargers, Galaxy, Sparks, and UCLA Once-Relevants. Atlanta also does a good job with its red and black vibes (Braves, Falcons, Atlanta United, and the Hawks whenever their jerseys aren’t create-a-jerseys designed by a 4th grader). 

But come on. How have more cities not committed to this? How have Chicago’s sports teams not done more to incorporate the Chicago flag that half the city has tattooed on its calves? How come only the Coyotes and sometimes the Diamondbacks commit to Arizona’s desert hues? And why can’t Denver get its shit together and organize a cohesive take on its truly spectacular flag and/or Nuggets throwbacks

If a city like Pittsburgh is able to figure this out, then surely Houston can hire somebody to get the Rockets and Texans on the same page as the Astros and Dash (or just return the Rockets to either of these throwbacks, please). Or, for a very reasonable fee, I’m willing to consult with Las Vegas and encourage them to change their colors to “all reds.” 

Thank you for your time. 

I Have Forgotten How to Eat at a Restaurant

On Sunday, I ate at a restaurant for the first time in three months. Three months! This planet has traversed about 150 million miles of its orbit around the sun since I last ate food at a public establishment. So imagine my great dismay to discover that I have completely forgotten how to eat at a restaurant.

Here are a few things that happened when I tried to gracefully reenter the restaurant-going world:

  • I waited 5–7 seconds for the waiter to indicate to me which chair I should sit in, before remembering that I actually get to choose that myself.
  • It took me several moments to register that there was a separate food and drink menu; the drinks are not listed on the food menu, and the food is not listed on the drinks menu. I turned over each menu at least three times, looking for the other items.
  • I stared shamelessly for minutes at other patrons of the restaurant. I have not seen people eating in public in so long.
  • I accidentally ordered a fucking whiteclaw!!!
  • I accidentally ordered a second whiteclaw, and then a third whiteclaw!!!
  • I accidentally ordered six more whiteclaws!!! That’s nine whiteclaws, ordered by mistake!!!
  • My date asked what an atomic elbow was, so I demonstrated on an unsuspecting patron at the next table! I concussed a stranger, because I have not eaten in a restaurant for so long, and forgot the accompanying social norms!
  • I shit my pants four times! Five, depending how you define a pants-shitting! Did anybody else forget that restaurants have bathrooms?
  • I asked for an affogato made with breastmilk! Can you believe that? How embarrassing that I forgot that many restaurants don’t even keep breastmilk stocked!
  • I tipped my waiter a full 15%, even though he had an eyebrow piercing and I don’t approve of that!
  • I got a DUI on my way home—all because I haven’t been to a restaurant in so long!

The Fifth Peg

In 1970, Roger Ebert walked out of a movie he was reviewing for the Chicago Sun-Times and into the Fifth Peg, a folk club in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. Out of “sheer blind luck,” he saw John Prine and wrote the first review Prine ever received.

Today, John Prine is in critical condition with COVID-19 symptoms. And the Fifth Peg is a La Colombe coffee shop, next door to a Freshii and down the street from both a Warby Parker store and the 4am bar where my dad’s Rolling Stones cover band plays sometimes. 

Life comes at you fast. But, re-reading Ebert’s review and thinking of the destruction that coronavirus has wrought on a personal and civic level, I’m struck by just how deeply the people and places in our life are intertwined. 

I like to think of a person or a place’s meaning both vertically and horizontally. Take the vertical meaning of an address like 858 W. Armitage, Chicago, IL 60614. Maybe today you passed it on a social distancing walk through a Lincoln Park neighborhood suddenly void of $2,000 baby strollers or designer labradoodles. Just a month ago you could have taken a date or a friend to coffee at La Colombe, sitting outside on an unseasonably warm day as you watched your fellow Chicagoans walk past. 50 years ago, that La Colombe was a packed folk venue where word of mouth led people from Steve Goodman to Ebert to come together and listen to a mustachio’d mailman sing about a guy who died because he couldn’t see through all the flag decals he stuck on his truck. And that venue, with a bar down one side and apartments up top, had been around since 1885—built a decade after the Chicago Fire but four years before the neighborhood was annexed by Chicago. You can think about John Prine’s meaning vertically too: You can draw a straight line from Hank Williams and Bob Dylan to Prine, and then extend Prine’s influence out to just about any songwriter today who picks up an acoustic guitar. 

Both Prine and the place where Ebert first saw him have horizontal meaning too. At the time Prine was performing in Lincoln Park, the wealthy and mostly white (even then) neighborhood existed in a complex urban context. There was the poor and mostly black Cabrini-Green housing project next door to the south, or the more integrated Lathrop Homes to the northwest. Just a year before, the Young Lords had held protests against gentrification in Lincoln Park and the CPD had assassinated Fred Hampton on the West Side. The Hancock building had just gone up a few miles to the south of the Fifth Peg, and meanwhile the city’s factories and stockyards were looking down the barrel of a decade of deindustrialization. Prine, too, could be defined in the context of what was going around him. Ebert did just that, contrasting Prine against peers who sang “adolescent acid-rock peace dirges” or “narcissistic tributes to themselves.”

We understand a neighborhood like Lincoln Park in part based on what it isn’t: it’s not Wicker Park, it’s not Hyde Park, etc. We understand a singer like Prine in part based on who he isn’t: as Ebert noted, he was way more Hank Williams and Bob Dylan than Roger Williams or Phil Ochs. And, right now, we’re experiencing this quarantine based on who we aren’t with: the friends, loved ones, and strangers whose company we never knew we could miss so badly until it was taken from us. 

Coronavirus will be a key point in our vertical memory. We’ll mark time based on what happened before or after the pandemic. The same way that Prine could probably mark his life based on what happened before versus after he got his first review. And I’ve never felt so crushingly aware of the horizontal space between us—the video chats with people who I would ordinarily see in person (or never think to video chat with in the first place), and the great effort it now would take to reach them. 

John Prine wrote perfect music for when you’re down and alone. And he wrote perfect music that has, and will continue to, bring people together. 

When I woke up this morning
Things were feeling bad
Seemed like total silence
Was the only friend I had


Just give me one thing
That I can hold on to
To believe in this living
Is just a hard way to go

No matter when he passes—and we know that now isn’t his time, like so many others—he’ll live on in our memory. And his music will help us try to bridge the physical and emotional gap that separates us from one another. 

Snotty Urbanite Weighs In On Who Gets to Vote

It should be a legal requirement of citizenship that you have ridden the subway during rush hour at least once.

I understand that this is a radical view that promises to disenfranchise about 2/3rds of the country. That is only one of the plan’s upsides. The way I see it there is no greater way to integrate someone into American society than to expose them to the raw, soul-flaying experience of trying to get home amid a sea of angry office workers.

The other day when the trains were backed up, and I was waiting on the fifth completely full train to pass, a man shouted down the tunnel, “Come on baby, don’t be afraid.” He said that to a train. We didn’t feel weird about it. We agreed. That train was our baby too, and we needed it to come and open itself up to us. In that moment we were all united in our desire to sweet talk an inanimate object—and that unity of purpose to accomplish the impossible is what this country is all about.

Of course this country is also all about extreme competition. This essence is captured when the train doors open and you have the opportunity to lunge into the doors like it is the last helicopter out of Saigon. It is likely you will cut off between 1–10 elderly people or children. True patriots don’t feel guilt. The ability to move around the city belongs to taxpayers.

Now that we’ve practiced the great American values of ambition and competition we come to our final virtue—tolerance. When you are in a metal tube that contains roughly 10 pounds of human flesh per square inch, you will ask yourself questions that no one else is asking. Questions like “hey, if I took my backpack off we could probably fit a whole other person in here.” They will be asking themselves their own questions, like “I wonder if everyone here has heard Old Town Road. I better make sure.” At first you will want to scream, but there is no room on the train for that kind of outburst. You will need to accept that every commuter is a monument to solipsism.

In time, you will be too.