Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Brewing a Dream

There is this coffee shop near my apartment that, effective July 1, will offer free Wi-Fi to its faithful customers. I am ecstatic, and if you could see me now you would see a Sarah Palin smile waiting to sip a cup of Joe while wassailing on the World Wide Web at this local coffee shop.

I would give the name of the java joint I'm referring to, but it is probably irrelevant, especially if you do not live in the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago. But, as a budding journalism student, I feel inclined to write a story that includes detail. Plus, I might as well give you the name of the place, in case you ever, for some strange reason, find yourself in my neighborhood. The coffee shop is named "Starbucks," after a Mr. Starbuck, from what I understand.

Starbucks is a few blocks north of where I live and thus just outside Edgewater’s boundaries. In fact, it is located in the diverse and lively Rogers Park neighborhood, or “Mr. Roger’s neighborhood,” as I call it when I am feeling especially pun-happy. I spent three years embedded in Rogers Park as a student of Loyola University Chicago, as well as a frequent customer at Starbucks. The staff---collectively known as baristas---is generally friendly enough, serving me a house blend called “Pike Place Roast.” Digression---I sometimes mix up the name of the roast, calling it “Pike’s Peak Roast,” for some strange reason pluralizing Pike---as if it is the name of some guy---and then substituting “Peak” for “Place” because the phrase “Pike’s Peak” comes to mind before “Pike Place.” End of stream of conscious digression. This is, of course, neither here nor there for you if you have never visited Rogers Park and the coffee shop I am talking about, Starbucks.

On the eve of Starbuck’s Wi-Fi unveiling, I plotted an awesome article where I plant myself firmly in Starbucks the morning of July 1 and partake in the party before biking north to Northwestern for my 9 a.m. journalism class. But nothing happens in this future story---I just sit and surf the web and invest in Starbuck’s future, sip by sip. I do hope the owners of Starbucks considers opening other locations so that people reading this who don’t live near Rogers Park can still enjoy the luxury of free Wi-Fi and a latte from Starbucks. It is a gem of an offer from a coffee shop that provides pleasant coffee 85% of the time, a solid atmosphere, and cards that offer customers a free music download on iTunes (though I have yet to find out how to actually access a Starbucks free music download---if only Starbucks was a chain coffee shop with more corporate organization and advertising I could maybe take advantage of its promotions. Oh well---there is always time for Starbucks to establish itself as a corporation).

If Starbucks does ever decide to go big, I think it should really go for it. This coffee shop thing might just make it here in the states. I suggest Mr. Starbuck should not just limit himself to opening up a few more branches on the north side of Chicago---no, no, no. Starbucks has more stars in its future than that. What I envision is a really powerful coffee shop. With the right business model, Starbucks could operate a dozen locations throughout Chicago by the end of next year. By 2015, if Starbucks plays its cards right, I think it could spread its brew throughout the Midwest. Don’t laugh---but by 2020, I think Starbucks could even open up an International storefront. I am not suggesting that Starbucks be so bold as to express its espresso in Italy or France or Brazil---it would be way too difficult for the Rogers Park coffee shop to compete in countries where coffee is a religion.

Starbucks should probably start small and branch out to Toronto or another Canadian city. I would say Starbucks could try its luck in Vancouver (British Columbia is beautiful and trendy I hear), but that would require it to have an established base in the Northwest already. Seattle has enough coffee shops---for instance, think of how popular Seattle’s Best Coffee is (the blend served in Subways during the breakfast sandwich time of the day). With a name that includes “Best,” it would be damn near impossible for Starbucks to compete. On name alone, I would certainly choose Seattle’s Best Coffee over Starbucks. Sometimes I even think I should say something to the owner of Starbucks and tell him the name of his coffee shop is not catchy enough to mocha money (make money). But I don’t want to make the guy feel bad---I am sure he is way too busy trying to run a little business to listen to the two cents of a college student who barely tips the baristas two cents after they optimistically pour him a Pike’s Peak…I mean "Pike Place Roast." (Mr. Starbuck found a way to trademark his brew, which is a brilliant, forward-thinking move for an entrepreneur to make).

On second thought, you can keep the name of your store as is, Mr. Starbuck. You actually have a pretty original last name. Maybe one day your coffee shop will be a star that indeed turns a profit, making you a buck or two.

My final word of advice for Starbucks is to look at every small growth as a victory for the company. Do not dream too vast a dream, thinking you can open up 5,886 stores worldwide anytime in the near future. I like to dream to, but I understand it is generally slow growth that marks real progress. Also, try to stay clear of illusions of Wall Street, and a company volume of 17 million (that would be staggering for a coffee shop, wouldn't it?). Instead, set your sites on a realistic goal. Go for the gold you can get---brew ten lattes an hour and make enough money to hire an extra barista. I know Mr. Starbucks, from the little I do know about you, you are a philanthropist at heart. That's noble, but before you give an extensive portion of your earnings to charities or developing countries, or establish some kind of Starbucks Foundation (a theoretical non-profit organization you want to establish), first aim to make enough money per month to pay rent to your grouchy Rogers Park landlord.

I can’t wait until Starbucks finally has enough capital to open up more locations. It would be grande to return to my hometown of Milwaukee and enjoy a cup of Starbucks while surfing the web for free. What’s next? After a cup of coffee and a pleasant morning buzz, anything seems possible.

Alas, here is the real deal on Starbucks plan to offer free Wi-Fi and other features to stoke up customers (the joke is officially over):


Friday, June 18, 2010

My Labor Story Abridged

It’s my birthday I can blog if I want to.

Greetings friends,

I turn twenty-two years old at approximately 3 pm central standard time today. Currently, I’m gliding back to Chicago on an Amtrak train; we are approaching the station (I only have about five minutes to spit out a blurb before I am no longer able to say I’m on the train…and I really want this blog to be genuine. Inevitably though, by the time I actually post this, I will have already excited the train and train station, making the content of this blog archaic). If only I had Wi-Fi EVERYWHERE I go.

Searching my mind for a story with spirit…nothing jumps out immediately. Perhaps I should share a short anecdote about the day I was born. This is approximately (but not really) how my mother tells the story:

She was in labor. She knew I was kicking and screaming to make my way into this world---I had apparently had it with my nine month stint in her womb. My mom called her doctor June 18 1988 in the morning, but I guess he had the day off. Her doctor told her that the contractions probably didn’t mean that I would come that day---he said to wait on it and that I would come out later in the week. Plus, the doctor apparently had to mow his lawn (to this day I like mowing lawns…connection?).

Anyways, it is now midday June 18 1988 in this story. My mother and father rush to the hospital; my brother stays with our Aunt Pearl who conveniently lived next door to my parents at the time and welcomed the idea of babysitting seven year old Bill. I am still in the womb (though somehow typing on a blog twenty-two years later, reflecting on this day). From this point on, the story becomes a blur. I escape the womb and start screaming and feeling all gooey. A nurse holds me and presents me to my mom. I am still crying---maybe I smile a bit?---but I am free! Still, when my mother clutches me in her arms and rocks me back and forth, I know that I am loved. Thanks for putting up with incredible labor pains mom! And thanks for the care you will provide for me (remember it is still June 18, 1988).

This story is finished because I have arrived at Union Station in Chicago. I hope you enjoyed this little ramble from me to you.

Wishing you peace within and without today,


Monday, June 14, 2010

Stanley Cup Spirit in Chicago

Greetings friends,

After watching a spirit-filled World Cup match between South Africa and Mexico at ING Direct Café near Chicago Ave and State Street, I casually sauntered south toward Michigan and Wacker later Friday morning. My girlfriend had informed me earlier of the massive Blackhawks parade that would swamp the city (she didn’t tell me it would swamp the city). Liberal estimates put the crowd at nearly two million–––at the very least, hundreds of thousands of fans made it out to the parade. Some people were rowdy, others were more mild and reserved, but almost everyone in attendance was star struck, captivated by a group of talented young men who earn a living playing hockey and making so many Chicagoans ecstatic.

From my view across the river outside the Tribune tower I stood a block and a river away from the main attractions, the Blackhawks and Stanley Cup. Over a million Blackhawks fans joined me, crowding the streets near Michigan and Wacker and extending a radius from at least several blocks in all directions and hundreds of feet high. I'm referring to those fans who stuck their heads out of local office buildings and apartment high rises to witness the parade.

The weather cooperated insofar as the rain held off–––but the humidity pestered the standing crowd. I overheard one fan say, “It’s beastly out here.”

Still fans wanted a piece of the action and were willing to endure the muggy, sticky-hot conditions for a chance to see their favorite NHL team hoist the Stanley Cup.

“If the Stanley Cup goes by here, I’m not gonna miss it this time,” a middle-aged man said while holding his manual focus camera over his head to gain a better view.

People used various photo taking devices to capture the moment. Some people snapped pictures with cell phones, others created images using wallet-sized digital cameras, and still others utilized more traditional manual focus cameras–––the type of camera that seem to most intimately capture photographic moments.

When the city busted out the tickertape, I knew we were in for a special celebration circa old black and white footage of World War II veterans returning from Europe to a sea of screaming loved ones. From Towes to Chelios to Kane to Seabrook, people in the streets advertised nearly every Blackhawks player.

Climactic, Batman-esque music echoed north my way from the stage on Michigan and Wacker. For a second I thought I was sitting in line waiting for a rollercoaster ride at Six Flags theme park. A loud boat horn bombed our eardrums right after the singing of our national anthem. The horn sounded like the post-goal horn that floods the United Center during Blackhawks games.

During the presentation part of the parade, a man tried to make a mad dash down the Michigan Avenue Bridge. Cops immediately handcuffed the excessive fan.

I interviewed a man while standing in a smaller crowd watching from a distance the conclusion of the parade ceremony. The middle-aged, Hawks-jersey wearing man, Don More, was markedly passionate about his Blackhawks and about the potential effect they might have on young people. Don was only seven-years-old the last time the Stanley Cup came to Chicago. He remembers the victory inspired him and many of his friends to take up hockey as a hobby. The 1961 Blackhawks victory “encouraged even more kids to play hockey,” More said.

More praised the young Blackhawks team for keeping their cool and staying focused enough to “get the job done” during the often tense moments of Stanley Cup finals play.

He hopes that more people will be able to watch future Blackhawks games. Currently, home games are blacked out. He sees this as detrimental to maintaining a sizable fan base.

More offered a “Field of Dreams” kind of philosophy for controlling access to Blackhawks games: “Open it up to people and people will come,” More said.

There has been talk among avid National Hockey League commentators and fans alike that this young Blackhawks team could form a Bulls-like dynasty for years to come if they stay together and continue to skate and shoot in harmony. “I’d like to see them build a dynasty,” More said.

But More did voice one concern: “The only thing holding them back is the salary cap,” More said. If the players decide that a dynasty is what they desire, More thinks it is not inconceivable to see all or most of them cooperate and take small salary cuts to keep together a unit that won the 2010 Stanley Cup in an impressive six games.

Here is an article from Chicago Now that considers how the Blackhawks can keep enough of their players to continue contending for years to come.

After talking with More, I wandered around a little bit to look for someone else to interview. My wandering proved unsuccessful. Still, I managed to get one dedicated fan’s perspective on the Blackhawks.

Before my downtown parading ended, I, along with the rest of the crowd, received a final surprise ending to the festivities: fireworks soared through the air and sounded as loud as canons; they were lit a short distance from where I stood near the Michigan Ave. bridge.

The playing of “Chelsea Dagger,” a song written and performed by the British band called The Fratelli’s cued me that it was time to leave the parade. The song became a theme song for the Hawks this season (read more from I heard a man on the street sarcastically humming the song as I walked down Michigan Ave. Though the song was catchy after the first hundred or so listens, I could not help but chuckle to myself, agreeing with the sarcastic man on the street: I hope the Blackhawks choose a different theme in their quest for the 2011 Stanley Cup.

peace and Go Hawks!


Friday, June 11, 2010

Mandela Message, World Cup Begins

Greetings friends,

Football fans and players are kicking and screaming in Johannesburg and around the world. The World Cup is underway!

(image from BBC Sports)

I found a link on BBC Sports this morning of a video featuring Nelson Mandela's voice dubbed over music and video images from South Africa. His message was clear: he envisions a nation where black and white South Africans can live together in harmony, a “rainbow nation” at peace with itself and the world.

“We shall build a society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity,” Nelson says in the video.

Click here and scroll down the page (midway down, right corner) to view the entire Mandela video.

From an economic and organizational standpoint, a successful World Cup will go a long way to prove that South Africa and the continent of Africa can successfully host an event as massive as the World Cup. This is the first World Cup played in Africa.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter is confident the World Cup will be a success.

In the above BBC article, Blatter said, "Everywhere, one can feel, I hope, that this World Cup is very special, the first on African soil. We find ourselves in a position of indescribable anticipation."

There is unfortunately an incredibly tragic fact from the BBC Sports story that makes Friday June 11 bittersweet: Nelson Mandela did not actually attend the opening ceremony because he was at the funeral of his thirteen-year-old great-granddaughter. She died in a car crash on Thursday, driving home from a pre-World Cup concert of all things. The family tragedy comes at a time when Mandela’s country is celebrating the years of struggle black South Africans like Mandela endured to achieve a position of political freedom.


Me (Bob) reflecting on the World Cup, Mandela's loss...

As I was sitting in a coffee shop in downtown Chicago watching the opening ceremonies and sipping on a $1.00 cup of coffee (thank you ING Direct Café!), a thought came to my mind. It might be cliche, but...Moments like the opening ceremony of the World Cup, or the opening ceremony of the Olympics prove that nations can indeed transcend rifts and differences, if even for a short period in time. I felt content and a bit reflective watching the end of the World Cup ceremony, knowing I was mysteriously connected somehow to the millions of other people around the world watching the same game. I thought of my college friend Francisco now living back in his hometown, Guadalajara Mexico; his country played South Africa in the inaugural game of the Cup (and tied the host country 1 to 1). I imagined myself in Mexico, watching the game with Francisco and his friends, perhaps sipping a Corona and cheering on players who represent the collective hope of millions of people.

Yet, I also can't help but reflect on the tragedy that hit the Mandela family this past week, only days before the World Cup. The car crash that killed the thirteen year old Mandela girl makes me uncomfortably aware that amidst every moment of intense celebration there exists the possibility of incredible pain. Imagine what Nelson Mandela is going through right now, the inner stirrings of a man who is probably overjoyed to see some of the fruits of his remarkable labor, and yet at a loss, coping with the death of a granddaughter who had so much more life in front of her. The tension of life, the drama that simply comes with living, manifests itself in an especially haunting way when someone dies young.

Tomorrow, I plan to watch England and the United States face off in each country's respected first round World Cup match. As much as I know I should cheer for the United States, I have a special place in my heart for the English---I spent for weeks in that country last summer living near Liverpool and Manchester bumming around Britain (I also did a week of volunteer work in between leisurely living). So I may very well drink a pint tomorrow and care little about what team actually wins the game, instead basking in the realization that millions of other people are also participating in some way in a spirit-filled sporting event. We just have to watch out for those rowdy Manchester fans---they might become spirit-filled after drinking too many spirits.

Enjoy (responsibly) watching the World Cup if you plan on doing so. And perhaps keep in mind the step forward this year’s Cup symbolizes for the host nation.

Nelson Mandela’s final words in the World Cup video offer a message of hope for future South African generations (and for generations from all nations and cultures who seek to work toward peace). He says, “The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement.”

It is my hope that our world can continue to experience those metaphorical sunny skies Mandela describes–––and also my prayer that Nelson Mandela and his family will be filled with peace in this most bittersweet moment, one of triumph for South Africa and one of incredible loss in the Mandela family. May his great-granddaughter Zenani smile along with her family in a place filled with the peace Mandela has worked so tirelessly for in this life.

Cheers and peace,


Friday, June 4, 2010

Healing Journeys

I figured the best way to begin this blog is to post a pilot story of sorts---an article that demonstrates my aim in publishing "Stories with Spirit."

After having a mastectomy, going through chemotherapy and enduring thirty-five radiation treatments, Jan Adrian still did not feel fully healed. Sure the treatment she received worked to combat her breast cancer---but she desired a more holistic healing.

With the help of friends in the health field, Adrian started a non-profit organization called "Healing Journeys" that organizes conferences which offer a variety of healing techniques---emotional, physical and spiritual---for effectively combating cancer and terminal illness. Prior to receiving her breast cancer diagnosis, Adrian spent seven years providing conferences for medical professionals on how to heal a patient from within. Adrian---a trained social worker---had something to offer the medical field, and the organization Healing Journeys is the embodiment of her holistic healing vision.

Established in 1994 as a registered non-profit organization, Healing Journeys emphasizes the importance of healing the entire person on a number of levels. But the organization understands the journey toward healing can be awfully painful. Dr. Michael Lerner, a featured speaker at the upcoming Healing Journeys conference at the University of Virginia, encourages cancer and terminally-ill patients to identify and accept the negative feelings they have toward their illness. "And then there are the is much more healing to allow yourself to feel whatever it is that is coming up in you," Lerner says on a YouTube video posted on Healing Journey's website. Lerner is president and founder of Commonweal, a health, environmental and educational center in Adrian's home state of California.

Lerner mentions in the video that some patients feel disease is some kind of judgment against them. This sad but true fact is something that Healing Journeys seeks to combat. Perhaps feeling of judgment come from distorted religious beliefs (i.e. God is angry at the person with cancer), or an overall frustration with a life-threatening diagnosis.

Healing Journeys aims to meet people in their most broken state, at a place where they feel troubled and especially scared. Lerner offers hope that underneath the anxiety, a patient can find the truly positive way to living in relationship to all your feelings.

He knows what it feels like to be in a life threatening, anxiety-filled situation. Several years ago Lerner had a heart attack. After recovering, Lerner says he looked at life with fresh eyes. He had what he describes as a profound rebirth experience. His wife said he spent three months after the heart attack rearranging rocks in his garden. "The whole world seemed new to me," according to Lerner.

Healing Journeys is all about bringing people to a similar turning point. The organization hopes to transform people by helping them look at a life-threatening illness as something other than a disease. The title of the organization's popular workshop, "Cancer as a turning point, from Surviving to Thriving" succinctly sums up the focus of Healing Journeys. The workshop, a two-day event that is offered free of charge to cancer and terminally-ill patients and their loved ones, as well as health professionals seeking insight into how to better heal the people they care for. Adrian and Healing Journeys have already put on twenty-six times workshops throughout northern California. They are expanding to provide free workshops in other parts of the country.

In addition to offering suggestions to workshop participants on how to better deal with their diagnosis through physical and emotional healing, "Cancer as a Turning Point," discusses the possibilities of pursuing spiritual healing. Lerner calls spiritual healing another dimension of healing a terminally ill patient, but says he does not privilege the language of spirituality. He maintains that in healing work professionals need to be able to translate spiritual and secular language.

Though Lerner himself seems to value the use of spiritual language when or where it is appropriate, he believes any person seeking (or providing) sincere healing is motivated by a genuine and positive source. "You can tell by watching [people who prefer to not use spiritual language] that they live in the Spirit, whatever they call it."

In the healing profession, there is no excluding someone, regardless of what they believe or who they are. Lerner feels that anyone who seeks healing ought to be shown an open window into the many dimensions of healing. As a medical professional, he sees himself more than simply a person who works to fix an ailment of the body." Healing is what we fundamentally do," Lerner says.

Click here to read Healing Journeys' vision and check out the organization's upcoming events.

may you experience peace within you and without you,


Where to Begin...

This blog, in a nutshell, is an opportunity to explore the various ways that spirituality enters our social realm. I am not looking to create a purely religious blog, though inevitably some of these postings will deal with organized religion. I do not claim to have all the answers to any one's problems, or to even claim to have any answers to any one's problems. This is not a self-help blog promising fulfillment in a constant following. Also, I do not want to commit to a particular ideology and stress a particular viewpoint. This is not to say that the blog will be purely objective at all times; this would be damn near impossible for anyone with an ounce of emotion.

What I do aim to provide in this blog are stories and articles that capture a positive spirit, a spirit that (or who) works actively in and between people of goodwill. Further, I want to share, when possible or relevant, insights from my own spiritual journey---one that is in the constant process of becoming.

Perhaps this blog will provide space on the web where you can feel good about the content you read; perhaps it will challenge your own beliefs or open your own mind and/or heart. Perhaps this blog will be useless and you will only read it once and then never ever come back again. Whatever the case, I hope that you have some feeling---positive or negative---toward this blog. For a life lived without a grain of self-reflection is hardly a life worth living. If I was forced to live a non-reflective life, I would fantasize about being a comfy Dell computer---or, better yet, a Mac Book Pro---sitting in a posh downtown retail store waiting to be bought and given at least some purpose.

As it is, I, like you, am a human being and consequently an evolving person. And---this is where you may or may not agree with me---I am a spiritual being with a desire to pursue and engage in the sacred, the interconnected but invisible reality that points all of us toward the infinite and great Mystery, the source of all life and our origin---what many people call God. If you would like to explore stories with spirit, you are invited. All are welcome.