Saturday, January 8, 2011

Dispatch from The Bento Box

Though past prime lunch hour, and more like 1:15PM, nearly every table except the one next to mine was occupied at The Bento Box , 2246 W. Armitage, this past Friday.

The cozy storefront space, with natural lighting pouring onto simple blonde wooden tables covered in Bento Boxes of steaming food, is a perfect spot for a business or personal lunch.

Late in the day this past November I'd 'speed-popped' into The Bento Box, where its owner, Rick, pictured with ladder, was getting ready to convert the front of his catering space to The Bento Box. (More on Rick in Chicago magazine.)

Now, Rick was working intently in the kitchen, visible through an open window common in Korean restaurants like the window installed in the long closed Su-Ra (now covered with a painting at Yuca Cafe, where Su-Ra once was) and I was just a citizen with a community e-newsletter writing illness on a lunch break from running a mad number of errands which I felt like needed to get done before Armagetajobagain hits Mon. Jan. 10. There was a table leg sticking out of my purse. It was from this table that I'd been meaning to 'put back together' since May of '09 when it fell apart during a move. Between jumping into the abyss which was initially the uber-modestly-chamber-supported Street Scene and then the indie Pipeline, and shoving the table into the back of a storage closet, I'd all but dismissed the table until I had to fish something out of the closet recently.

Seized by a desire to repair the table, my plan had been to eat quickly, take a hopefully under-the-radar snapshot of the delicious and filling compartmentalized assortment of fresh vegetable and lime leaf curry with cucumber table salad, pictured, and then scurry along, to 'pop ins' at local shops, wandering and permit-peering, capped off by a final destination of Home Depot, where a friendly clerk couldn't help me but suggested I try Ace Hardware or True Value. I then walked in the snow from Home Depot to the hardware shop across from Second City in Old Town, but they couldn't help me either, and said if I don't have luck at a place called Croft I'm out of luck. (Though I did leave with $4 worth of epoxy just in case I want to continue destroying the antique like I already maybe did with the Gorilla Glue adventure back in '09.)

But back to The Bento Box!

So, there I was, alone but not lonely at The Bento Box. I had the latest issue of Streetwise magazine to keep me company, and I was reading the letter from its new publisher, who'd likely be my boss if I keep up this scurrying around the neighborhood nonsense full-time, hence the 'Final Friday' of freedom.

It makes me feel like a failure that I haven't figured out a way for the Pipeline to be a sustainable business, or that I'm more of a writer than a truly effective hyper-local publisher, that we live in a country where health insurance is not available to all, and those who want medical coverage or believe it to be important must devote 40-hours each week to a structured cube farm, but I digress. There's a point here, yes! So, I was fully enmeshed in Streetwise when Martha Ring of @properties walked in with a friend.

I know Martha not first as a Realtor, but as one of the organizers of the Bucktown Apple Pie Contest, which we covered in the Oct. 11 or 12 Pipeline but I can't seem to find the archive for, though here's a video interview of Martha and one of her co-organizers.

Martha and her friend were waiting on another friend, so they merged their two top table with mine. One of Martha's friends wondered if I'd maybe like to snap a photo of her steaming dumplings, which I did.

My belly full from lunch, washed down with not just any Diet cola, but the fancy Boyland brand that I believe other local places like Birchwood Kitchen offer, I paid $20 with tip and continued on. The total was $16-something, a bit pricier than I'd usually spring for on a lunch, but I've been more celebratory than usual these days. If I were a smarter person I would've kept my receipt and expensed it because I've just spent 90-minutes on a Saturday morning photo editing and writing about a lunch I had yesterday, in hopes that the images will inspire other folks to try out a Bento Box for themselves too, because that is the point of The Pipeline:

To maintain and sustain a communication pipeline that will inspire participation and interest in the local economy...

To not write anything too snarky or salacious but to still be interesting and informative enough to warrant a read, or a glance amid the myriad of blogs and publications out there...

To be authentic in tone as well as style...

To serve as an e-publishing platform for not just my own tired voice, but voices from many other contributors, as well as links to other voices and stories.

It's a calling, an obsession, the bane of my existence, or a pride and joy depending on my mood. And I'm going to keep on doing it in 2011. This is my most pressing and urgent resolution, along with moving toward a more balanced life. Even Phlash just told me on the phone that I need to have more fun, that I can't be so serious all the time, that I more or less shouldn't keep stopping potential relationships before they even begin, under preemptive grounds that I won't have any time for them.

According to So You Say You Want a Resolution, which I read in the print version of RedEye, the best New Year's Resolutions, as in the ones which are most likely to stick, are not made for other people, but for oneself.

"It has to be about you," the expert said.

If I said I was doing the newsletter for readers, I'd be lying to myself. If I said I was doing it for the money, I'd definitely be lying, because there is very little money in this field.

I do the pipeline for myself. Because it makes my life seem and feel less important. And all of us need to feel less important, no matter who or what we are in life. Throwing myself into the ever changing dynamics of an urban neighborhood, and chronicling its development and stories and its people is what gives me a sense of purpose far beyond the one any 9-5 job can offer. That's why I refuse to tell people what I'll soon be doing.... because I don't want a job to define me.

We are living and breathing byproducts of our experiences and decisions, a part of all whom we meet. The Pipeline is a way to share my journey with others. To be of use to a corporation is one thing. It'll feed me, blah blah... But to provide local information and the occasional insight of use to hundreds of people is something more special and worth the energies invested into not just hanging onto it, but fighting for it too.


  1. We all have to do something for ourselves and if Pipeline does that for you, then it does. A very reflective and honest issue, as always, which is why even though I'm not there anymore, I enjoy reading. Real bummer that I won't get to try The Bento Box anytime soon. I love how everything is in it's place and what you ordered looked fantastic.

  2. Thanks, Mindy, I agree.. I lov=e the compartments as well.