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For fabulous food, my vote goes to Chicago

  • Written by Joe Boyle

As we wind down to the presidential election, a few things occurred to me about polls. I mention polls because we cannot escape them. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has had a substantial lead in various polls the last month. But a recent Washington Post poll indicated that the race is nearly deadlocked.

So, what gives? I have found that some of these polls are little fickle. They tend to be immediate and respond to recent news events. In the case of the race between Clinton and reality TV star Donald Trump, that means just about every day there are new headlines. Clinton had taken a surmountable lead after reports that Trump had groped various women and had been making disparaging remarks about them as well.

Clinton began to rise in the polls after those reports until this past week. The FBI has indicated they are reopening the investigation into Clinton’s emails. It has something to do with disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner, who is also the estranged husband of Huma Abedin, the top aide for Clinton. FBI director James Comey said Friday that there might be more unread emails from Clinton, or about Clinton, in regards to Weiner, who can’t seem to stop from texting messages and sending lurid cellphone photos of himself to women and girls.

I don’t oppose polls. They provide a barometer of what people are thinking about at a given time.

Last month, we received information about World Food Day, which was Oct. 16. The personal-finance website WalletHub took a survey of the “Best and Worst Foodie Cities.” The criteria for some of these polls or surveys are somewhat vague. Perhaps I should become more knowledgeable about these lists. For instance, I did not know Oct. 16 was World Food Day.

But in terms of food, I would believe Chicago would rank right up there with the best. I think most Chicagoans, even Cubs and White Sox fans, would agree that the food in restaurants and fast food chains would be near the top.

WalletHub compared the 150 most populated cities across 21 key metrics, ranging from “cost of groceries” to “affordability and accessibility of high-quality restaurants” to “number of food festivals per capita” for their list.

According to WalletHub, Orlando ranks first, followed by Portland, Ore.; Miami, Tampa and San Francisco. Looking over the top five, I could see San Francisco in there. I’m not sure why Orlando is at the top. Disney World is there and other themed amusement parks are there. Maybe the quality of food for the amount you pay is a bargain.

So I look over the list from six to 10 expecting to see Chicago in there. But to my surprise, it is nowhere to be seen. The rest of the top 10 includes Cincinnati, St. Louis, Salt Lake City and Richmond, Va. I’ve been to Cincinnati and don’t recall being knocked out by the quality of the food or their prices. St. Louis has a range of quality restaurants. I won’t argue with that.

But so far I have not seen Chicago. For that matter, I have not seen Los Angeles, New York City and Boston. Turns out I have to keep going deeper into this list. Boston shows up at 51st. The food I had in Boston was very good. Maybe it is down on the list because of expense. Los Angeles shows up as 53rd on the WalletHub list. Right after LA is New York City at 54th. Again, I try to reason that the food in their restaurants is too pricy.

But I still have not seen Chicago. I have to continue to go through the list and there it is, at 70th. How can this be? Chicago has expensive restaurants, but it also has reasonably-priced items at restaurants in the city and the suburbs. All you have to do is go through the southwest suburbs and most residents can find a restaurant they like that doesn’t dig too deep into their pocketbook.

Bakersfield, Calif., for instance, ranks higher than Chicago at 56th on the list. And in the case of pizza, name another American city that has better quality pizza than Chicago? I’ve gone to other cities and towns and I’m disappointed in the quality of pizza. I’ve always said that even our more marginal pizzas are superior to what I’ve eaten elsewhere.

I guess it could be worse. We could live in Aurora, Ill., which ranks 145th. North Las Vegas is last on the WalletHub list at 150th.

According to WalletHub, Orlando has the most restaurants per 100,000 residents. But they don’t point out the quality of the restaurants or the overall prices. That’s great that Orlando has a lot of restaurants in comparison to their population, but I believe Chicago can match that.

These polls just show latest fads and trends. Like the presidential election, people will decide what is best. Just pass me a thin slice or a deep dish pizza. I don’t need a poll or survey to tell me that Chicago food ranks with the best.

Joe Boyle is the editor of The Reporter. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

        

        

 

Faith is rewarded beyond the summer bash

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia-NEW

 

My track record has proven that my faith can manifest almost anything I desire. I’ve tested this theory from the supernatural (prayer changes things) to the superficial. A couple of tangible items my faith has relinquished include acquiring ownership of a vacation timeshare for $99 valued at $30,000 and a $45,000 Buick Enclave that I won on a TV show.

I also exercise my faith for trivial items, such as concert tickets. Every time my eyes lock on one of those radio station mobiles, I’ve been known to walk away with something free in my palm. I always believe I’m going to win and as a result, I usually do. But, in June of 2014, things didn’t look like they were going in my favor.

Chicago’s Pop chart FM station 96.3, also known as B96, had a mobile at the Walgreens on the corner of 87th and Kedzie Avenue. It was swarming with people attempting to win a pair of Summer Bash concert tickets. I figured whatever prize I gained could take care of the expenses for a much needed child-free evening out for me and my husband, Don.

I hurriedly scribbled my info onto the entry ticket. I had a smolder face as I placed it inside the fishbowl. It was just before 2 p.m., the last drawing of the day. This 20-something dude in skinny jeans was yelling out contest rules. “The form must be filled out in its entirety with accurate information,” he snapped. He was a radio station disc jockey with a drill sergeant personality. Once all entries were obtained, he started announcing winners. I moved to the front, certain I’d be called. Three pair of tickets were awarded and I wasn’t one of them.

So it seemed!

I thought, “That can’t be right. I always win.” Dumbfounded by the upset, I just stood there. The crowd quickly dissipated. Those that remained were the B96 employees and the rightful winners of the drawing. I didn’t leave because I couldn’t accept that my name hadn’t been called. My reputation was on the line, I had assured Don I’d be home with something good.

As I stared disappointedly as the winners collected their prizes, my attention turned to Mr. skinny-jeans. “The address on your contest entry doesn’t match your driver’s license,” he scolded. “Your entry is disqualified.” He then turned to those of us still present and pulled another name from the fishbowl.

Yep -- my name! I was the only eligible contestant because the others present had already won and were filling out prize claim forms. The concert took place at Toyota Park on June, 14, 2014 and included Jennifer Lopez (J. Lo) , Pitt Bull, Austin Mahone, Jason Derulo, Iggy Azalea, Little Mix, Chelle Rae, Icona Pop and G.R.L.

Don and I had no idea who 80 percent of the lineup even was. It wasn’t an ideal date for a couple in their 40s. We were surrounded by screaming teenagers who wept at the sight of some of the acts. We cried too, from laughing hysterically. We got into a groove when J. Lo came on stage though, finally someone from our era. “Next time I’ll be more specific in the criteria I desire when I put my faith in motion,” I told Don.

He and I have been together for 18 years and married for 14. Throughout the years he’s seen God move various times in our lives as a result of my faith. He said, “Your faith gives you special powers, now you just need to hone it and start believing we’re going to be millionaires.”

I have bigger things to believe in God for than money. I have faith that my daughter, Rhonda-Rene, who has a severe language disorder called apraxia, will one day speak effortlessly. I have faith that my siblings, whom I lost connection with after the passing of our mother, and I will reunite and re-establish the closeness we once shared. I have faith that my memoir, “Becoming a Mother While Losing My Own,” will gain international success and perhaps even grace the silver screen.

And while it may appear to many that I’m standing dumbfounded, refusing to accept the reality before me, I will remain immovable in my faith just like I did on the corner of 87th and Kedzie. As long as I don’t move, I will hear the voice of authority call my name and reward me with what I’ve been waiting for.

Claudia Parker is an Evergreen Park mother, author and runner whose columns appear in The Reporter.

 

Businesses make profit and customers get good night's sleep

  • Written by Joe Boyle

The presidential nominees have discussed the state of the national economy – that is when they take a break from calling for a jail sentence for one candidate while the other is accused of not being fit for office.

According to the National Federation of Independent Business, expected conditions over the next six months should improve. However, that as offset by significantly weaker inventories and hard-to-fill job openings.

Conditions in Illinois typically reflect national trends, said Kim Clarke-Maisch, state director of NFIB. She said there is room for improvement.

One way of looking at it is that “we improved from awful to bad,” said Juanita Duggan, NFIB president and CEO. “The bottom line is that small business owners are deeply uncertain about the future, and that is affecting their decisions.”

The NFIB Index of Small Business Optimism dipped 0.03 points in September for the second consecutive month. Increased inventories fell seven points while hard-to-fill job openings plunged six points, landing at 24 percent. Six of the 10 indexes dropped, washing away the rise in expected business conditions.

Small businesses won’t be hiring or building inventories, according to Bill Dunkelberg, the NFIB chief economist. The top issues for small business owners will not be addressed this year, he said. And he points to that heated presidential election as one reason way.

“The presidential election is so divisive that it offers little promise of a bipartisan effort to deal with any of these important issues,” said Dunkelberg.

We have come a long way from the Great Recession, but I agree with the NFIB officials. The legislators in Washington, D.C. are so polarized, Illinois included, that little gets done. Compromise has become a dirty word. The finger-pointing in this presidential campaign has dampened the mood of small business.

But I wonder if there are some businesses that are prospering despite the political climate. And one look at some local suburbs indicates to me that there is one item that is registering high sales. All you have to consider is what most of us want – a good night’s sleep.

All you have to do is drive along some main arteries and strip malls and you see them. Mattress stores seem to be everywhere. I was driving along 95th Street in Oak Lawn and saw about four or five in just over a mile. Ken Murphy, the CEO of Mattress Firm, agrees that Chicago has probably too many stores. But the reason you see so many mattress stores is because of a series of acquisitions by Mattress Firm. In the best markets, Houston-based Mattress Firm aims to have a store for about every 50,000 people. Right now, that company exceeds that limit.

But my main question is why? Some duplicate or unprofitable stores will be closing but not right away. I actually confirmed that belief with an employee at a Mattress Firm. This person has been told that stores will be closing within the next year. Most closures will come as store leases end.

It just seems odd that an item that used to be purchased let’s say every decade or so has become so plentiful, and in many cases, profitable. Roughly 9,000 specialty bed and mattress stores in the U.S. generated about $11.5 billion in revenue in 2015, according to a report last year from market research firm IbisWorld.

But again, why is there so many?

A new mattress was an easy purchase to delay during the recession. That resulted in more demand as the economy slightly improved. Industry analysts also said an increase in bedbug infestations may have been the reason for a hike in sales. Mattresses are a high-margin product because stores do not need that many employees. Each location does not have to sell a huge number of mattresses to break even, according to industry analysts.

These mattress stores are profitable for the owners. I don’t know how well the employees do. One facility I went to had a young woman working evenings. I noticed there was not a rush of people coming in. After talking to her, I learned she was the store manager. Of course, she was the only employee. She explained that if a couple of people come in and purchase a mattress, it was a good day for her.

I guess the bottom line is that these mattress stores will continue to be profitable for the employers. I’m not so sure about the employees over time. But I’m all for a new mattress. The economy may be uncertain but we might as well get a good night’s sleep.

Joe Boyle is the editor of The Reporter. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Quest for family photo eventually turns out picture perfect

  • Written by Claudia Parker

the parkers photo 10-13

Submitted photo

The Parker family smile for the camera during their outing to Matthiessen State Park in Utica, Ill.

 

 

Claudia-NEW

Monday marked several observances of Columbus Day with parades, festivals and events to occupy those of us looking to spend our highly anticipated day off wisely. As most know, Christopher Columbus was an explorer said to have been determined to find a direct water route west from Europe to Asia, but instead discovered America.

In lieu of Mr. Columbus’ voyage I took my family and a few friends on an exploration as well. After all, the day wasn’t solely about Christopher, it happened to be my birthday. “All I want for my birthday is a family picture in a beautiful setting we’ve never been,” I told my husband Don. “Starved Rock has a ton of canyons and waterfalls that would make a beautiful backdrop for a family photo.”

I’m one of those moms who like taking fall family photos for Christmas cards. I will spend weeks scouting locations and selecting coordinating outfits while watching the fall foliage forecast to ensure we look magazine publication worthy.

Don’t most of us get our inspiration from magazines? Could someone pa-leez tell my family how they’re supposed to conduct themselves during a photo-shoot? Clearly they haven’t been briefed! “How do you expect us to want to smile if you keep yelling at us,” questioned Don? I swear he asks me that every year. I wouldn’t have to subject them or myself to such harsh conditions if they’d just cooperate. No matter how many times I ask him to refrain, he still points at the lens to instruct the kids where to look. Who wants a picture with his index finger pointing at the camera?

Not me!

Then, as if on que, he closes his eyes on almost every-single shot! What starts off joyous typically turns into a highly stressful experience for all of us. I usually guilt them into posing. “I can’t believe you’re doing this to me after all I do for you,” I’ve been known to scold.

Of course this year was going to be different because it was the only request I desired of them for my birthday. We were dressed in white shirts and denim jeans with an ideal 68 degree day to keep our temperaments in check. The setting was beautiful. There we stood at the foot of the French Canyon at the golden hour, which most photographers refer to as the magic hour because it’s either before sunrise or just before sunset. In our case, it was the later.  

Did I get my photo? NO!

Rhonda-Rene continuously maneuvered out of the frame while Don gave chase during my tutorials to those around me on how to work my DSLR camera. By the time all was said and done, it was too dark to get a viable shot. The pictures came out grainy and out of focus. I didn’t hike back to the car. It was more like a grumpy stomp!

Don was quick to snuff my flame by offering a ‘do over’ the next day at Matthiessen State Park in Utica, IL. “Let’s forget the photo,” I told him. “Let’s just go have fun.”  

Off through the forest we went down several flights of wooden staircases until we arrived at the bottom of a gorgeous, gushing waterfall. Don said getting to it was like auditioning for a slot on the television series, “American Ninja Warrior. “ We had to hop tree vines, and balance walking over creeks on wooden planks and partially submerged rock trails.  

It was adventurous, exciting and absolutely the most fun I’ve had in a long time. There wasn’t matching outfits, perfectly applied makeup or fancy hairdos to capture a picture worthy of a Christmas card. Nonetheless, we just so happened to capture a beautiful family photo of authentic happiness. I, like Christopher, didn’t accomplish what I set out for, but I absolutely found something more valuable.

Golf wasn’t perfect, but time with old friends was

  • Written by Joe Boyle

The skies appeared threatening as I checked to make sure I had enough golf balls, sun screen and my sunglasses. And I was not going to forget those new golf shoes.

The second annual St. Margaret of Scotland Golf Tournament was held last month at Gleneagles Country Club in Lemont. I decided to participate this year along with my brother, Terry. While I marked off the check list for the tournament, there was one thing I could not change – my golf game.

For nearly a decade, I usually only go out to golf once a year. My brother has sponsored an annual golf tournament just after Father’s Day. We have gone on long weekends at courses in Wisconsin, and before that, Nauvoo, Ill. Those golf tournaments featured relatives, in-laws and friends. The majority of us who tee up are all over the course except for where it matters – the fairway. We have a handful of good golfers that helps make it interesting. The main thing is we have a lot of fun.

For the uninitiated, golf is a difficult game to play if you hardly tee up. Even if I played every week, there is no assurance that I would improve. Golf demands concentration and the ability to use a variety of clubs. You might be able to drive well, but if you can’t make your chip shots or putt, those scores will go up. It is difficult to master all facets of this game.

That’s why sometimes I’m a little apprehensive to go out and golf that frequently, especially with people I don’t know that well. I want it to be an enjoyable day and I don’t want to hold anyone back. But with the St. Margaret’s Tournament, I thought just go out and have fun. The main thing is that it is for a good cause. The funds raised from this tournament go to assist St. Margaret’s.

I attended St. Margaret of Scotland School, 9833 S. Throop St., Chicago, starting in the fourth grade and graduated from there. The majority of golfers also went to the school, along with a few guests who arrived just for the dinner afterward. St. Margaret’s was like a lot of Catholic parishes on Chicago’s South Side -- predominately Irish. But like many neighborhoods on the South Side, demographic changes took place. The surrounding community is now largely African-American.

But many of the graduates of St. Margaret’s from the 1960s and early 1970s still have ties to the parish. Early Saturday afternoon Masses draw some of the graduates from nearby Beverly and other communities. An anniversary celebration was held last year and the parish still holds an annual St. Patrick’s Day party. The parish has also been doing a better job of marketing and drawing back graduates, like me. The golf tournament happens to be one of those fundraisers.

But while my golf game is shaky, I came prepared -- at least sort of. I had a discussion with my brother about having a foursome but ultimately we both showed up that morning two players short. But I was assured by organizers that another player or two will most likely be available. I was not going to worry about it. This was about having fun.

When I arrived at Gleneagles, I began to see some familiar faces. Some may be a little grayer or heavier, but once they smile at you, it is like I’m transported back to my days hanging around 95th Street and Loomis Avenue. I can recall Carole Goeing and Pat Manning -- who I graduated with from St. Margaret’s -- being cheerleaders for sports teams and playing sports themselves. They were also active in various organizations at the school and in the neighborhood.

So, who greets me when I go to sign up and pay for the tournament? Well, it was none other than Carole and Pat. They were were handling all the information, payments and organizing the foursomes. Some things don’t change.

My brother and I were resigned to the fact that we were going to have to be a duo. But suddenly someone called out to us and asked if he can be part of our team. The person was Jody Favia, who had just come in for the tournament from his home in Dallas. He was accompanied by his younger brother, Joe. They both grew up in the old neighborhood. Terry and I said sure. We now had our foursome.

While sitting in our golf carts waiting to tee off, a slight drizzle started to come down. I may have had a hat, sunglasses, sun screen and new golf shoes, but I did not have an umbrella or jacket. Dave Curley, who I grew up with and went to St. Margaret’s with, noticed my dilemma and offered me a hoodie to deal with the elements. I have to remember that jacket next time. Fortunately, the rain stopped.

The one advantage of this event was that it was a scramble tournament, or best ball. You use the best ball hit by one of the foursome. It moves the game along faster and helps us struggling golfers. Terry and I agreed that if it was just us two, it would have been a long afternoon.

How did we do? Hey, we made some nice shots. We contributed. But it turns out Jody Favia, who I haven’t seen in about 40 years, plays about four times a week back at his home. He told me he shoots in the 70s. And that explains why we were one of the winners at the end of the golf tournament, shooting one under par.

What was our winning gift? We received more golf balls. Maybe that’s an omen. I think I’m going to play more golf this fall. I just have to remember to bring a jacket.

Joe Boyle is the editor of The Reporter. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .