Winter 2018

Meg Wolitzer discusses “The Female Persuasion” at Women and Children First bookstore

By Gwen Aviles
Medill Reports

Seating was difficult to come by at the Meg Wolitzer author talk held by Women and Children First bookstore in the Andersonville neighborhood of Chicago on April 24.

The event was crammed with aspiring authors, feminists and aspiring feminist authors alike clamoring to get a look at literary greatness. Those who failed in the game of musical chairs were sprawled on the wooden floor with their Moleskine notebooks, craning their heads to get a peak at Wolitzer in conversation with Greta Johnson, a Chicago-based journalist and WBEZ host. When even floorspace ran low, some attendees plopped themselves on the stepping stools meant for reaching the highest bookshelves, while others leaned against bookcases.

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Chicago CTA performers bring happiness to your commute

By Nick Mantas
Medill Reports

When commuting on the L, we often find ourselves being serenaded by the musical artistry of some of Chicago’s musicians. Whether they’re seasoned musicians or still working on their craft, they always entertain in one way or another.

The life of a performer isn’t always a pleasant one, especially in the life of a CTA performer where the audience never asked you to be there. A ten-dollar license grants your permission to perform as much as you’d like at the designated performing stations that have wider platforms: Jackson Red Line station, Washington Blue Line station and Jackson Blue Line station.

This story looks at this experience from the musician’s perspective and what they get out of the experience to perform for you before your ride home.

Photo at top: CTA Performers at Jackson Station play for hundreds of commuters a day. (Nicholas Mantas/MEDILL)

The Chicago Wildfire: Chicago’s Professional Ultimate Frisbee Team

By Nick Mantas
Medill Reports

Chicago has a professional ultimate Frisbee team, the Chicago Wildfire. Professional Ultimate Frisbee is played within the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL), comprised of teams all across the country including three Canadian teams.

With a large youth movement of the sport in the Chicago suburbs, the Wildfire is reaching out to all parts of Chicago to spread their love for the sport.

It’s early in the season for the Wildfire and they’re looking to make a run for the 2018 AUDL Championship.

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Annual blessing of the Bodega Bay fishing fleet marks a shorter and uncertain salmon season

By Rebecca Fanning
Bodega Bay, Calif.

The Karen Jeanne rocks and sways as Dick Ogg steers out of Bodega Harbor, past the rocky breakwall where surf-casting fishermen wave from their perches.

Behind him, an array of boats fall into line, each decorated with signs and flags, their decks full of fishermen, families and friends. To some this route is a familiar morning commute, the first turn on a many-miles journey in pursuit of albacore tuna, salmon, Dungeness crab or sablefish, depending on the season. To commercial fishermen the harbor marks the safe haven after a dangerous journey. For others, today offers a rare boating adventure – a chance to picnic, take photos and crack open a beer before noon.

AN OCEAN IN TRANSITION

But today is about more than just socializing. It’s day two of the 45th annual Bodega Bay Fisherman’s Festival and time for the annual Blessing of the Fleet, a centuries-old tradition which began in predominantly Catholic, Mediterranean fishing communities. According to tradition, a priest or pastor blesses the community’s fishing boats to ensure a bountiful harvest and safe return to the harbor.

Family and friends on board Ogg’s boat the Karen Jeanne. (Rebecca Fanning/Medill)

Dick Ogg’s slender build, kind expression and his smooth, tanned skin makes him appear younger than his 65 years. He estimates that he has attended the blessing for more than 25 years, though he’s lived in Sonoma County for much longer, moving here with his family when he was 7. The retired electrician once used fishing as a way to supplement his income, but now he’s taken to the water full-time.

“I’m always reminded of guys I’ve known who aren’t around anymore. Things happen out at sea.” – Dick Ogg

Ogg tells the story of a friend who was run over in a shipping lane, and another who passed away out at sea. But death is only one kind of tragedy that strikes the area’s fishermen.

In Bodega Bay, the blessing tradition began nearly 60 years ago and marked the start of a once-fruitful salmon season. But as regulators scramble to protect declining salmon populations, the season has become shorter and shorter. The California Fish and Wildlife announced earlier this month that commercial salmon fishing in this area would open late – not until July 26 –  and would run for barely two months. The late start cuts the commercial season in half, and with it the chance to make a living.

“The salmon fishery has been diminished to the point that there’s not enough money to make it through the season,” Ogg says, adding that Dungeness crab is the only fishery remaining that provides close to enough money to support working fishermen in the bay. And even then the owners of boats often can’t afford full-time employees when crab season slows.

“I have some bills that aren’t going away,” says one of the crew members on Ogg’s boat.  He tells me about his fear of a less-than-lucrative salmon season and his plan to seek summer work in Alaska’s more fruitful Bristol Bay or as a tuna fisherman in his native Atlantic waters off the east coast.

He says he’s not planning to wait to find out how the salmon yield. He’s already contacted several commercial fishing vessels in hopes of hopping aboard.

For now Pacific salmon join red abalone and Pacific halibut on the list of closed California fisheries. This year marks the first-ever closure for recreational red abalone, though the commercial fishery has been closed since 1996 and other abalone species placed on endangered species lists.

BLESSING WHAT REMAINS

Right now, Ogg is fishing for black cod, a sustainable white fish often called sablefish, considered a best choice or good alternative by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s seafood watch. But black cod quotas are limited, and the real money still comes from Dungeness crab, a declining industry.

As the boat turns the bend, dense waves crash against Bird Rock, a local landmark named for the persistent birds that land on its surface, their white waste leaving a kind of organic graffiti on the gray stone. The skies are a brilliant blue, but dark clouds linger at their edges, a reminder of the dangers that lurk in open oceans.

Out on the water the harbormaster radio announces the start of the ceremony. The priest leans over a woven flower wreath and the prayers begin.

On board the Karen Jeanne, the crew goes silent, necks craned as all listen to the Lord’s Prayer, reminders of fishermen past and a few references to Jesus and his admiration for fishermen.

Ogg steers the boat closer to the action. “I could use all the blessing I can get,” he says.

As storm clouds cover the sun and boats speed back to the safety of the harbor, the priest blesses each boat, scattering holy water from a gold chalice into the salty air. Before he’s fully docked, raindrops speckle Ogg’s glasses and guests duck into the cabin, reminded of the uncertainty of nature and life on the water.

Photo at top: Fisherman Dick Ogg steers his boat the Karen Jeanne to the Blessing of the Fleet ceremony on Bodega Bay. (Rebecca Fanning/Medill)

Local candy store takes customers on a sweet adventure

By Loumay Alesali
Medill Reports

Customers at Windy City Sweets come for the variety of handmade fine chocolates and candies, but they also get a unique experience.

Store owner John Manchester builds strong relationship with shoppers through a welcoming customer service, making small conversations and having holiday or special-occasion-themed candy.

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Syrian refugee women building a new life in Illinois

Loumay Alesali
Medill Reports

The journey of Hanan Fayoumi and her four children from Damascus, Syria to Rockford was full of struggles and unpredictability.

She left her home with her husband and kids after violence escalated in 2012 and went to her parents’ big house in a safe village. They stayed with all of her siblings and their families who fled their houses too.

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These women of color in Chicago are shattering gender and racial stereotypes through improv

By Jonathan Skinner
Medill Reports

At the Annoyance Theater, a place known for celebrating more absurd brands of comedy, Matt Damon Improv is doing something that shouldn’t be absurd, providing a place for women of color to perform freely in the acting community. Their variety show tackles social, racial, and cultural issues every Sunday Night at 9:30 pm.

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Cuba’s contradictions

By Holly Honderich
Medill Reports

HAVANA – A cab driver earns more in one day than a doctor does in a week. Monthly government ration cards provide only enough rice, coffee, eggs and milk to cover basic needs for 13 days. Education is free, but tens of thousands of teachers have abandoned the profession because of poor working conditions and negligible pay. Daily life in Cuba is stained by contradictions.

When President Raúl Castro steps down later this year, it will be the first time in six decades that Cuba will not be led by a Castro. His successor faces a country struggling not just to live up to the soaring ideals of the 1959 socialist revolution, but also to realize more earthbound goals: put milk on the shelves, provide a living wage and restore a missing sense of opportunity to the national narrative.

“We expect nothing,” said Leslie Alemán, 25, who lives with her husband Jorge in her parents’ Havana home.

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The private sector brings change to Cuba

Loumay Alesali
Medill Reports

For years, Luis Manuel Rodriguez made vaccines for a living. He liked his job, but he didn’t earn enough to support his family and improve his life. Attracted by the money available in the tourist industry, he quit his job as a chemical engineer and became a waiter in a popular brewpub.

Eight years later, the brewpub thrives in the beautifully restored Plaza Vieja in Old Havana, where tourists keep the convertible Cuban currency flowing in restaurants and bars.

It is only the tourism sector, Rodriguez said, that holds out the possibility of a living wage.

“Our economy is on the bottom,” he said.

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Photo Gallery: Portraits of Cuba

By Giulia Petroni
Medill Reports

From Havana to Matanzas: away from 1950s Cadillacs and souvenirs of Che, these are the people we met, the streets we walked.

Photo at top: Havana, Cuba. (Giulia Petroni/MEDILL).