So now I’ve got the poop on the upcoming reading at Chicago’s Hideout, one of the coolest bars in the Western Hemisphere. On Wednesday, August 10, from 8-10 pm, the line-up will be:

• Syndicated columnist Mark Bazer
• Amy Krouse Rosenthal, author of “Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life”
• John Green, author of “Looking for Alaska”
• Leonard Pierce of UR Chicago
• The funny folks of Schadenfreude!
• A film by Steve DeLaHoyde
• And Claire Zulkey of, who organized the whole megillah.

I’d put in links for everyone, but I’m lazy and am working on a dialup anyway.

For more info, check out:

Be there or be slowly roasted on a spit by your own personal demons.


We were traveling out west a few weeks before the big motorcycle rally in Sturgis, S.D. You’ve heard of it. Like 60,000 bike enthusiasts descend on a little town and drink a lot of beer and probably walk around saying things like, “Hey, cool bike.”

My image of the bike rider in the U.S. is still rooted in the 60s, when they were the last true rebels, the guys who thumbed their noses as sterile, safe living and hit the road, man, to find the Real America. (Okay, just forget about the ending of Easy Rider, and it’s still a potent romantic image.)

If that’s the case, or supposed to be, then tell me why every single cyclist that we saw out on the Plains was riding the same make of bike. Further, tell me why those rugged individualists have the name and logo of that make of bike plastered all over their jackets, hats and, for all I know, thong underwear. It’s easy to make fun of suburban socialites who pay strict attention to labels and claim to “only wear Prada, darling.” Why do we let bikers off the hook for turning themselves into walking billboards for Harley-Davidson? Where’s your individuality, tough guy?

Now, I don’t know motorcycles. But I have acquaintances that do, and they’ve told me, predictably, that each make of bike has different pluses and minuses. Harleys are cool for power, but Hondas and Yamahas are good for other things too. (Obviously, I didn’t pay close enough attention, b/c I ain’t in the market.) But it’s not like Harleys are the everyman’s Lamborghini and the other bikes are two-wheeled Hyundais.

I got to thinking about this from the sheer volume of Harley merchandising crap that we saw at every stop out west. A Harley head bandanna with an embroidered insignia, like Hulk Hogan would wear? $18. Harley watch caps? $15. And maybe I need to get out more, but I had no idea that commemorative shot glasses with something glued on the inside, like a motorhead or a cycle slut or a guy in comically striped prison gear, was such a popular decorative item.

(The same thoughts hit me when I look at NASCAR drivers in their piebald uniforms. Am I really more likely to buy and use SoftScrub because they invested on a patch for this guy’s jumpsuit? But in the drivers’ defense, they do get money for it, which is more than the bikers can say.)

So to all the rugged individualist bikers out there, I say, stand up for yourself. Get a leather jacket stitched with a “Juicy Juice” logo. Wear a t-shirt with Lucille Ball’s face on it. Carry a hat stitched with the logo of a current Broadway show. And next year at Sturgis, just when everyone is good and liquored up, announce to your pals, “Ah, Harley-Davidsons. They’re so, y’know, last year.” You’ll earn my respect, and I’ll even send you a get-well card.


Sorry for the little gap in posting there. It’s been difficult enough to contribute to this blog while the family and I hang out at our cottage in Michigan (actually, what that really means is that, when I’m near my DSL at home, I spend way too much time online). But on top of that, for the last two weeks of July, we all took a road trip to the Black Hills in South Dakota.

That’s right, 3,300 miles with two kids in a station wagon with dodgy air conditioning that gave out halfway through. For those who don’t take real road trip vacations with their kids, I say, you’re a bunch of wussies. For those of you who only take a road trip if you can narcotize your kids with DVDs during the long stretches of Illinois farmland, you’re techno-wussies. With all the backseat fighting, bad songs, license-plate Bingo, Battleship games and utter chaos in the vehicle by the end, road trips bond a family together like nothing short of a infantry campaign.

I approached this trip reluctantly, agreeing to it mainly for the purposes of marital harmony. July in South Dakota sounded like a visit to the fires of hell without the interesting personalities. (On this, I was correct. When we visited the Badlands, it was 115 degrees, and even the park interpreters were wondering aloud what they were doing there.) But once we got a rhythm going, it was a wonderful time. Most nights we camped, by the side of gorgeous water like the Missouri River in Chamberlain, S.D., or the Little Missouri in Teddy Roosevelt National Park in Medora, N.D., or Horse Thief Lake a couple miles from Mount Rushmore. We did add a corollary to our rules of traveling. The first rule, as always, is:

1. Sleep national, eat local.

Now, the second one is just common sense:

2. If it’s over 100 degrees when you’re ready to pitch your tent, go find a motel.

We saw an evening pageant dramatizing the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder in DeSmet, S.D. Went to the Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo in Mitchell. Hit Prairie Dog Town and Reptile Gardens (quite good) and Wall Drug (as tacky as you would expect, but certainly big enough to pass the time). Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse and Devil’s Tower in Wyoming (lots of alien trinkets for sale there, to cash in on the “Close Encounters” connection). The only drawback to the trip was not being able to stay in a campground more than one night (with the exception of Horse Thief Lake). It was exhausting to pack up the campsite every morning in the car top carrier and swing it onto the roof (did wonders for the finish), but there were just too many miles to cover every day.

Another part of my trepidation was related to the current political climate. In the past few years, all the talk has been about Red States and Blue States. South Dakota, of course, would qualify as a Red State. I thought we were venturing into Big GOP Country, b’wana, and would be forced to fend off creationists and flat-taxers around every corner.

But the pernicious effect of segregating the country like that is, it makes orphans out of the people who happen to disagree with the majority in their state. We met and talked with lots of people who lived out west, and they certainly didn’t walk in lockstep with anybody, left or right. They were all in violent agreement that they would never, ever, ever live in a place like Chicago (we figured out there were more people on the north side of Chicago than in the entire state of South Dakota), but other than that, we got along fine. There was a lot less flag-waving than I thought there’d be, even at the rodeo, and I saw a lot fewer yellow ribbons on cars. Maybe it was a function of population density, and in political discussions, density is always important, especially the cranial kind.

So coming back from the Great Plains, after hearing about Lewis & Clark and Gustav Borglum and the sculptor of the Crazy Horse Memorial and all the settlers, I came back with a renewed appreciation of our American heritage.

However, they still drink a lot of crappy beer out there. And buffalo meat can give you some farts that should be covered in an arms treaty.