For my blog readers, you know that Chicago has been a recurring backdrop in “… the life of Riley…” since the beginning of my writing in this forum… and well before. But here’s the proof:
Well, fate has led me back to The Windy City which has nourished me professionally and personally. There are folks here – like my Morehouse best friend Eddie – who I’ve known since college. On this trip, I stumbled into someone my whole family has known since the mid-70s. And there is a long list of associates who I respect and hold dear alongside a short list of close friends who feel like family. It’s been over a year since I’ve been available to accept a Chicago-based assignment as I spent the lion’s share of my 2009 in Atlanta and L.A. And the top of this year blessed me with home-based work in New York City. But just as those local projects wrapped up (giving me room to re-fuel and re-connect with Ant who held down the home front with his work on ‘The Wendy Williams Show’), a call for a month-and-change of work came my way a la Chicago. So, here I am. And I must say it’s been just long enough that I had no problem being displaced yet again from home. This is what the freelance world requires. From whom much is given (in the way of the freedoms that independent client-work can bring), much is required (meaning you must sometimes chase those checks wherever they are being written). And as I always approach the challenges of being on the road with a focus on quality of life, I’m so blessed to have folks in my life who are excited to be on that ride with me. Each and every day of my time here in Chicago was chockfull of work – from conducting interviews; field producing shoots; scripting; screening tons of tape; supervising edits; designing graphics and other concepts; etc… and I have loved every single minute of it. But after the long-in-the-tooth days are done, I commit to reconnect socially and spiritually with the aforementioned friends and family. And what a time we are having.
My Morehouse BFF Eddie & I had a great catch-up at Cheesecake Factory on Michigan Ave (www.thecheesecakefactory.com).
Speaking of Morehouse, who is the proudest uncle ever? While here in Chicago, my Savannah home girl and Spelman sister was the first to send me the news that an Atlanta Journal Constitution article in which my nephew was quoted had hit the newsstands. My nephew Herman Riley is a graduating senior from my alma mater Morehouse (Ant and I will be there to celebrate him in mid-May): http://www.ajc.com/business/colleges-students-use-new-448364.html. The story celebrates the necessary enterprise required for this crop of students to attract work their way inside this national recession. My nephew has landed a gig as a marketing analyst in my current home of New York City where he will be working for a Fortune 500 company. I AM SO PROUD!!!
My work friends Ki-Ki, Ti-Ti, and Lesia have grown – in my heart – to sister status! So, I – of course – spent lots of time with them. It turns out that Ki-Ki and I have friends in common around whom we’ve never spent time together. Her Howard U classmate Shaniqua is a TV anchor and reporter in Seattle. I know her from the National Association of Black Journalists through former-fellow-Board member Jala with whom I’ve bonded over the years via many a career and personal high & low. And we both are STILL STANDING! We were supposed to go to Zapatista (www.zapatistacantina.com) but the line was too long. Instead, we settled on an underwhelming alternative: Utopia International Caribbean Cuisine Restaurant. And though work friend Scott (who used to work with Shaniqua) and I made the best of our catfish dish, it was the fellowship and laughter that reigned supreme at this meal. Jakki gave me my first glimpse of her son Nicholas (She’s gotten married and had a baby since I’ve last been in Chicago. WOW!). Jala showcased her newborn Phoenix Rose, a debut that I knew nothing about until this little beauty did a catwalk (via her carriage) into the restaurant. And Eddie even popped by with our Listening Experience girlfriend Althea before they went to a jazz show. After this dinner and after their show, they invited me to join them at Marche for more chatting and chewing (www.marche-chicago.com). And Miss Ti-Ti and Lesia who had just seen Tyler Perry's latest play “Madea’s One Big Happy Family” (www.tylerperry.com) – a first for Lesia – stopped by and joined us as well (You’ll recall, I saw the piece when it came to NYC a few months ago).
The next night, my Ti-Ti took me to Flatwater Restaurant (www.flatwater.us) - smack dab on the river - which morphs into a Saturday night set with cool people, bottle service, and an awesome mix of music for the steppers out there. We enjoyed that night which segued the following day (Sunday) into a rooftop cookout at one of Downtown Chicago's fab rooftops – both inside a birthday extravaganza for one of girlfriend’s boyfriends. Her buddies became my buddies - from Brian to Alpha, and I also got reacquainted with one of Neyo's producers Askia Fountain who I met at Neyo's compound last summer in ATL while I was field and story producing "Monica: Still Standing". Afterwards, some of us went to Mercadito (www.mercaditorestaurants.com) for supper. FUN TIMES in Chi!
My 'brother friend' Chicago Carl & I finally got to hang out after I'd been here working for a week. Not sure why it took so long for us to hang out. But we made up for it. On our first hang, we went to REPUBLIC for a showcase of male and female entertainers - including one who performed - of course - Monica's current #1: "Everything to Me" (with a preamble of the JD/B. Cox power ballad "Love All Over Me"): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pqe93Bct7UU
But of course, there's nothing like the real thing. Did you see Monica on "The Wendy Williams Show"? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eeAYqxcxquQ WOW!
Ant got to say HI to she and her cousin/manager Melinda during that informative visit - including some tea on her participation as a bridesmaid in Tiny and T.I.s upcoming nuptials (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_p4xZuqaQo).
Back to Chicago: Carl – a hairstylist of note here in Chi-town – also takes care of me in the way of ensuring I’m comfortable and accommodated inside my grooming needs. Too, he want to make sure I am not left to my homesick blues (being away from Ant and all. I mean, there’s only so much Diana on YOU TUBE I can click on to cheer me up or sulk in my sadness, though it often helps: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkFj-1OR1rQ ).
Carl also makes sure I get my hair cut and manicures & pedicures (as the budget allows). I know I'm bald, but getting my haircut when I'm on long stretches in Chicago is key a la this past blog entry from a couple of years ago: http://thelifeofriley.squarespace.com/rilys-blog/2007/1/15/-but-i-need-a-friend.html And Chicago Carl always comes through - this time taking me to Derrick Sibley at TIMEOUT AT SHANNON'S (www.timeoutatshannons.com). I love the shop and the energy inside of it. The folks have lots to say about pop culture & politics. And since I’m not shy, I chimed right on in – defending Ant’s and my latest favorite Tyler Perry’s “Why Did I Get Married Too?” (www.whydidigetmarriedtoomovie.com) from the second I got in the chair… during the haircut… and after! It wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea, I understand.
On one night (after a long day of work in edit), Carl took me to PLUSH (www.plushtuscon.com). It was quite the scene as Carl’s and my mutual friend Vince (whose partner Earl is one of Tyra’s glam squad folks) surprised me per Carl’s orchestration. But there’s one surprise that Carl didn’t even know he was choreographing. As we were enjoying our comfort food and a cocktail or two – talking to our neighboring diners General and David (fast friends), one of Carl’s clients Tameka came in along with a group of ladies and her husband. None of us counted on her husband Daniel knowing me, but he did and guess from where and when? His family The Weathersbys and my family – The Rileys – were stationed together in San Bernadino, CA at Norton Air Force Base in the mid-to-late ‘70s. And though we’ve not seen each other since 1978 when my father got re-assigned to Warner Robbins Air Force Base near he and my mom’s childhood home in Savannah, Georgia. Family-to-family (mostly parents-to-parents), we’ve all stayed in touch (a la annual Christmas cards), but the kids really haven’t until FACEBOOK brought many of us back together over the last year. So much so, we’ve seen our ‘adult’ selves in many a FACEBOOK picture. And that is how he recognized me… and WHAT A GREAT REUNION IT WAS! SMALL WORLD, shrinking everyday! (Ironically, I lost my camera again – a sickness I have: http://thelifeofriley.squarespace.com/rilys-blog/2008/8/26/its-good-to-be-black.html and http://thelifeofriley.squarespace.com/rilys-blog/2008/8/26/one-lost-camera-dont-stop-no-blog-entry.html - inclusive of the pix I took of Daniel, Tameka, and me; fortunately, it was in the lost-and-found at PLUSH when I went back the following day).
On another evening, Itika took me to a screening of Russell Crowe’s latest film “Robin Hood” (www.robinhoodthemovie.com). Not really my genre of film, but a date with Itika wins every time – especially when we went to join her friends Su, Reza, and others for cocktails at The Trump International Hotel & Tower's Rebar (www.trumpchicagohotel.com). This crew and I got along splendidly and I hope to see them soon as they promised to take me to dinner – limo service to boot. Stay tuned.
Houston’s Restaurant is Ant’s and my favorite. After it left Downtown Chicago, I took on J. Alexander as a close 2nd. So, Chicago Carl chauffeured me to my staple: prime rib, baked potato, those tasty croissants, and a kir royale the other night! Perfect Friday meal before I got a good night of shut eye after a long day and week.
Though I had to work a little the next day (Saturday), I segued to my Ki-Ki's Chicago home to wrap my brain around the reality that she is somebody's mother and wife. Her kid Nicholas is 1 year old. And I got the luxury of celebrating his 1st birthday with the little man... and his parents - MRS. Jakki and hubby Duane. WHAT A BLESSING! Here Nicholas Ali poses with his mother (right) and her work friend (and mine) Sharvo. Of course, the lovely Miss Ti-Ti had to get in the picture (to the left... to the left...). And at a point, he gave his Uncle Rollo and Auntee Peaches some shine ( That’s Itika and me. Inside joke! LOL!). This, before opening his gifts. He got lots and lots of clothes a la Polo, Puma, etc. as he comes from the stock of label-aficionados (for sure, his mother. SMILE!). But I got him a big ol’ dog from the Disney store. He also is getting ready to get his literacy on with some of the classics – including Dr. Seuss’ “Cat in the Hat” and “Green Eggs and Ham”. GREAT TIMES as the adults enjoyed Ki-Ki’s pasta with fresh pesto along with a well-appointed spread of elegant-yet-hearty appetizers! I joked (kinda) that I wanted some fried chicken wings and potato salad as I am a simple boy with a simple palate from Savannah, Georgia. Her husband Duane echoed my sentiment – proving ourselves kindred as we were meeting for the first time. As a make good, he promises me some fried catfish on a return visit. HEY! LOL!
After a Sunday of screening tape, Chi Carl got me out to play. We did a drive by This Is It hair salon on the West Side to see Pierre & Jeffrey - friends of Carl who I've had the chance to hang out with before in Chicago; then, soul food at MacArthur's; then, cocktails at Kit Kat; followed by Brando's with the boyz - including Vince, Mike, and John. Then, a P.S. at Tantrum to say HI to Miss Jesse and her gal pal D.
Morehouse BFF Eddie & I got some more time in and had late supper at Houston's cousin Bandera (www.hillstone.com). While there, industry buddy and favorite photo-op partner Jensen Atwood popped over to my table to say HI (www.jensenatwood.com/)! He’s always such a pleasure. You know, I had a chance to interview him several years back at the National Association of Black Journalists Convention (www.nabj.org) as he and Patrik-Ian Polk promoted the LOGO show (and big screen sequel) “Noah’s Arc”. He plays Wade, the love interest of the series’ namesake (www.logotv.com/shows/dyn/noahs_arc/series.jhtml). Since our interview, which he says was one of the best he’s done, he always enthusiastically receives me. In this case, when he saw me, he rushed over to Eddie’s and my table. I found out that he was in town – making an appearance at Club Circuit (www.circuitclub.com) a couple of nights prior. In fact, Itika (Ti-Ti) and Chicago Carl were supposed to take me to that spot on Saturday without my knowing it was linked to Jensen. Ultimately, we did not make it. But at least I got to see him at dinner. He updated me on all that’s going on in his impressive career (http://www.youtube.com/user/TheJensenAtwood) – including an upcoming Coors Light commercial and he’s featured in Toni Braxton’s “Hands Tied” video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K6HVKXK8G70. GO JENSEN, GO! Afterwards, Eddie tossed me over to Chi Carl. They coincidentally went to high school together (Whitney Young). Chi Carl asked me to join him at REPUBLIC again for an encore presentation of dragiliciousness. More 'draggy' than 'licious' but what fun Chi Carl and I ALWAYS have. No shortage of laughter and ki-ki-ing when we're together! LOL! And they opened with Diana's "I'm Coming Out"! Always a BLAST!
AMIDST my time in CHICAGO, I had a quick assignment in L.A. Now, you know I made the best of my time there last year; even though, I really wasn’t the happiest while there:
But my stay at the Huntley Santa Monica (www.thehuntleyhotel.com) provided a better look than my last temp digs at an Extended Stay in Gardena, CA – sharp contrast to The Crescent Beverly Hills where I was first put up (www.crescentbh.com). This, though I did have some check-in snafus at The Huntley. And that produced a lovely, complimentary lunch of crispy-skin salmon and sauteed spinach at The Penthouse Restaurant overlooking the beach and the mountains. Quite beautiful! If I’d landed earlier, I might have snagged a cool social experience as Lisa Raye's TV-ONE reality show (www.tvoneonline.com) launch party was popping off at The Standard (www.standardhotels.com). Shout out to my Spelman sister Tosha who helped put it on! I did get to hang with a few of my L.A. peeps for an after after set before turning in and conducting my interview in Santa Monica – all before hopping on a flight back to to Chicago.
My project wraps near the top of May. But I head back to NYC this weekend. I’ll do some work from home on this project while celebrating Ant’s birthday. We've long-planned this exciting weekend. Lots in store – from karaoke to a sneak-peek of “Fences” on Broadway with Denzel Washington (www.walktallgirlproductions.com/). Then, there's the King Tut exhibit at Discovery Times Square Expo (www.discoverytsx.com/exhibitions/kingtut). Stay tuned for that report.
- My cousin Kea is officially IN THE NAVY… and now stationed with her husband in San Diego. SO PROUD OF HER and all she’s accomplishing on this AWESOME JOURNEY! GOD BLESS YOU and ROCK, CUZ!
- CHECK OUT THESE SITES FROM MY BOY TOYCE (left)
- www.VIPlister.com which features topical information such as Entertainment, Fashion, Grooming, Fitness, Travel, Dining and special features for the SGL audience.
- www.ClubVIPlister.com which feature National SGL Nightlife Listings, Social Networking and much more.
- My boy RON DONOVAN continues to do his thing in the shoe department. He was in ATL recently and continues to show his wares – from segments I’ve hosted to ESSENCE, THE VIEW, and TODAY (www.rondonfoot.com).
- My girl Renee E. Warren (of Noelle-Elaine fame – www.noelle-elaine.com - right in pic below) has taken on a new venture BlackTV247 News. It offers both a 10 minute newscast and a 3 minute news brief on a daily basis, Monday through Friday and reporting on the top stories and events, featuring segments covering national and international news, business, politics, technology, entertainment and sports, all specific to the black community. To maximize viewing convenience, viewers have constant access to the BlackTV247 News archives and the broad range of relevant news stories identified by the BlackTV247 News editorial team on a daily basis. WATCH NOW: WWW.BLACKTV247NEWS.COM
- So I hear that Delores (AKA Button) – the wife of my dear friend and colleague Keith Walker (www.mediaprocess.com) – has been a "closet" artist for about nine years. She paints on canvas by way of acrylic & mixed media. Her work has been on display at Gallery Guishard in two separate art shows with great success.
- Delores is now one of Chicago's best up & coming artists. And she will be premiering her work at the Prairie Avenue Gallery May 8, 2010 (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Chicago-IL/Prairie-Avenue-Gallery/76629936938?v=wall). Photographer Preston Thomas will also be showing his provocative B&W photography. Fun, music, drinks and amazing art work awaits you!
For more information and to RSVP, go to http://nappycafe.com/getrandom/ . CONGRATS, BUTTON!!!!
- You folks know of all the work I do with LIVE OUT LOUD – the nonprofit organization dedicated to connecting LGBT youth to leaders in the LGBT community through events and programs at area schools and universities (www.liveoutloud.info). I have spoken in many NYC-area high schools over the years… and always participate and support (if not attend) the annual fundraiser. Well, I’m on the host committee (though from afar this year), which means I’ve made my financial commitment. And I want to invite you to join me in contributing to the annual Young Trail Blazers Gala which takes place Monday, April 26. It’s always lots of fun; there’s a great silent auction; and you can see the students who benefit from the fundraising accept their scholarship awards. You can order tickets here: http://www.liveoutloud.info/gala_2010.html.
- MESSAGE FROM MY FRIEND MICHAEL K. WATTS
Donation Link: http://aidswalknewyork2010.kintera.org/michaelkwatts
Please sponsor me for AIDS Walk New York!
I have registered for AIDS Walk New York and am very excited about the event! I want to do as much as I can to make a difference in the lives of people living with HIV and AIDS. I have set an ambitious fundraising goal and I need your help in order to reach it!
Link to my personal donation page: http://aidswalknewyork2010.kintera.org/michaelkwatts
AIDS Walk New York, the world’s largest AIDS fundraising event, benefits GMHC and over 30 other tri-state area AIDS service organizations. GMHC is the nation’s oldest and most comprehensive AIDS service organization, serving approximately 15,000 people living with HIV and AIDS and their families each year, and countless more through its prevention and advocacy work locally and nationally.
Even though there has been success with drug treatments that are prolonging some people's lives, they don't work for everyone. These treatments can also take their toll physically, and for many cause awful side-effects. I am also concerned that so many young people in New York City are getting infected. There is a dire need for comprehensive prevention programs and services that target youth in their language. And above all, there is still no cure in sight.
I would really appreciate your help. Please sponsor me for AIDS Walk New York. Just click on the link below to visit my personal fundraising Web page. It’s fast, easy, and safe to make a donation online with a credit card, debit card, or paypal! After making your donation, you may be able to double your donation with a matching gift! Please consult your human resources department, or use the matching gift search engine on the AIDS Walk New York website, to find out if your company has a matching gift program!
Thank you for supporting AIDS Walk New York and for helping to put an end to this epidemic.
Michael K. Watts
Follow This Link to visit my personal web page and help me in my efforts to support AIDS Walk New York
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