Every now and then the city (life) feels familiar and known and comfortable and predictable. That's not all bad. It's not really good either. But every now and then, Chicago (life) surprises me. Like it did a few nights ago - when I was asked to judge a rap battle in the rain.
The story is I was walking home from the train and noticed a group of five or six younger "kids" in front me conversing with this man. By 'kids' I mean, I couldn't tell if they were high school or college. At a glance, I suspected some sort of scuffle goin on because, well, that isn't unlikely on Belmont Avenue in the evening (or daytime for that matter). However, as I began to side-step off the curb to get around them, one of the kids turned my way and said, "Hey! Wanna judge a rap battle?!"
I continued walking a couple steps more until my brained processed what he'd just asked. And then I found myself turning back and asking, "Are you for real?"
"Yeah!" he smiled. "They're about to go right now," he said pointing behind him to the man and blondie in the Bulls jersey with a rim around his neck.
I can't explain the car rim.
But I can tell you that what I witnessed in the rain, on Belmont Ave was one of best experiences I've probably ever had.
Bulls guy went first. While his words were few, they were deliberate. I was impressed and thought he held his own. The man - we'll call him 'Preacher man' - followed him. And man, did he have hip hop soul. He was almost singin' the blues in his raspy voice. It was a tight call; so they went for a second round.
Preacher man asked if we had any spare change and motioned his cup my way. "I'd appreciate anything ya got. I thank ya kindly," he said holding it out.
All the kids contributed without a word.
And they went into round two of this rap battle. Bulls guy nailed it with an old school Michael Jordan reference. But Preacher Man sent it home with an "Oh, but at least. I don't walk the streets. With a rim around my neck." Once he finished, they all looked at me for a decision, and I was like, "I have to give the win to him," pointing to Preacher Man.
The group let our their "ohhhhs" and laughed - looking just as entertained as I obviously was.
(I was grinning from ear to ear.)
Preacher Man motioned to the Bulls guy and was like, "Yo, are you in school?" he asked still smilin'. "Yeah," Bulls guy replied. "Northwestern." "What are you studying," Preacher Man asked. "Engineering," the blondie responded. "...And rapping," he slyly grinned.
The man laughed his hearty raspy laugh we'd come to know in those five minutes on Belmont Avenue and said,"That's ok. Ya gotta start somewhere. But remember! Remember. It's not where ya start. It's what's in ya heart!"
These kids got it.
These kids got it.
"Do the rest of y'all go to Northwestern?" he continued. "Yeah," they replied in unison.
"Do you do community service there?" his voice taking a serious tone.
"Yes. We do," they responded, almost straightening up - like they were preparing to recite their resume.
"'Cuz y'all just did some to tonight," Preacher Man said succinctly.
"Really," he said, eyes widened.
"Thank you. And God bless."
"Thank you. And God bless."
And then he turned west and walked off.
I didn't even know what to do after that. But standing next to this group of rain-soaked Northwestern students, I said "that was one of the best things I've ever seen. My cheeks hurt from grinning so hard." I told them that it made my day.
They just smiled and started to walk away.
And just like that, it was over. That converging of worlds.
Little did they know I actually love hip hop. Little did they know they reminded me of my younger brother who would have loved to have witnessed the same thing. Little did they know I was craving some wonderful to work its magic.
Earlier in the week I stopped in the Unabridged Bookstore to browse ( - actually, I was hoping I'd find a 2013-14 planner - no luck, folks). A book cover caught my eye as I was scanning the New Non-fiction shelf. Help, Please, Wow, by Anne Lamott.
I love her work, but didn't know she'd published a new book. So of course, I took a closer look, and read, "... It is these three prayers – asking for assistance from a higher power, appreciating what we have that is good, and feeling awe at the world around us – that can get us through the day and can show us the way forward ..."
It sometimes feels like a discipline - to appreciate. Especially the hard things.
But sometimes it's easy. Like that rappin in the rain thing. That was a Wow. That was good. And I am grateful for it.
Cheers and love to ya,