Dining While Black
Let me tell you a little bit about myself.
I’m an Oak Park, IL kid at heart. I spent my youth afoot the same streets as Hemingway, my memories stained with images of Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconoclastic geometry. I am by the very nature of my beating heart drawn to where the arts, design, style, and rebellion intersect.
I am a traveler. I’ve held residence on two continents. I’ve been left breathless by the staggering beauty of our land from the unconquered swamps of Florida to the untouchable peaks of the cascades. I’ve left a piece of my heart in over 40 countries on this big blue dot adrift a cluster of stars.
I say this to you not to articulate my status, but to set the mood.
I was returning home from a business trip and decided to take a detour and visit our neighbors to the north, Milwaukee. It was a spectacular summer day in the middle west. A late spring afternoon void of clouds, mosquitos, and any single care in the world. I sauntered through the historic 3rd ward below the steel spine, and underneath the brick backbone that anchors this classic American city. A city built on work, sacrifice, and optimism. This neighborhood was rebuilt from the ashes of the great fire of 1892. The old ways of building had to be reimagined, radicalized, and reinvented.
In the spirit of rebirth, I pressed on to the Milwaukee Art Museum. In this postmodern fantasy dreamt by Santiago Calatrava I perused through the musings of the Dutch Masters, Warhol, new and old ideas all under one roof clamoring for an introspective eye. After a few hours at the museum, I began the trek back to Chicago to meet my wife for dinner, buzzing in a state of euphoria as the tangerine sun set red over the horizon.
Needless to say, I was feeling good. Real good as we approached the door at Parlor Pizza Bar. We requested a seat outside and were directed towards the patio by the host. As we proceeded, we were greeted by security for what I assumed to be a standard ID check to assure that we were of legal age. And before I could even withdraw my wallet from my pocket, the security guard uttered those paralyzingly familiar words, “I can’t let you in here with those pants.” As I was wearing a pair of wool pants, I was naturally flummoxed. “Why?,” I retorted. “Because they’re too street.”
I was at the same time mystified, saddened, embarrassed, and enraged to find that a pizza parlor featuring a sports bar and a patio had a dress code. There it was emblazoned across the door, “Business casual, no baggy clothes, no athletic attire.” My wife and I walked outside of the building to view the other patrons. There they were in yoga pants, baggy cargo shorts, flip flops, and backwards baseball caps. There was only one difference between them, my wife, and I. Ancestry.
Today, we are in need of a fire. Living in a post-modern, nearly post-Obama America, we are nowhere near the post-racial fantasy of our father’s generation. Through my travels, I’ve learned that the essence of our humanity is boundless, irrepressible, and universal. Though our customs may differ, our hearts and desires beat as one.
America is our home, and it is worth fighting for. We are new and old ideas under one roof constantly clamoring for an introspective eye waiting to be reimagined, radicalized, and reinvented. I beg all of you to take a second look.