Thursday, December 15, 2016

At peace amongst the noise: Mike and Corey

In the cacophony of empty chatter, the voices of Mike and Corey stood out to each other. Whether amongst the blaring music at a mutual friend's house party or the buzzing background noise of Wrigley Field, this pair found that they would just rather listen to each other.

"We both liked having someone to talk with," Mike told me.

I met Mike and Corey and their two children, Dylan and Kennedy, for a holiday-greeting-card portrait session in the Cook County Forest Preserves. Kennedy plays soccer at her school, but Dylan is a left-handed pitcher at his. The boy has become a follower of the White Sox, which has become a source of consternation in the otherwise Cubs-aligned home. I interviewed them back before the World Series began; Mike is a native of Youngstown, Ohio, but he told me prior to Game 1 that he would cheer for the North Side over the Cleveland Indians.

"I live in the shadow of Wrigley Field," he told me. "I grew up a Tribe fan, but I live here now."

As a single young man, Mike landed on the North Side when he moved to Chicago; he made friends, and started attending parties at their houses on the weekends. Through a confluence of connections, he kept hearing one particular voice at some of those gatherings — and the voice was connected to a particularly lovely face. Corey's.

Corey looked at Mike's face, and immediately saw...some guy's face.

"He was nice," she said of that ker-plunk first impression.

But Corey was raised in a family of Cubs disciples, and Mike had bought into a season-ticket package with some friends. Upon learning this, hanging out with him became a larger priority.

"I wanted your season tickets," she confessed to him during our interview.

Even during the ugly, 100-loss seasons that preceded the 2016 world championship, Wrigley Field is usually a crowded and buzzing place on game days. Mike and Corey tuned it all out, though. Once they got together, even the crack of a bat got relegated into the background.

Mike and Corey have followed each others' voices for a long time now.

"That ended up being a lot of what we do, is just share a story," Mike told me.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Hancock High School's graduation: "We go for everything"

National Honor Society members Selena Antunez (speaking) and Valerie Diaz deliver the Reflection speech

I've photographed plenty of high school graduations before, but they've all be out in the suburbs. Watching a group of genuine city-of-Chicago kids take the rite of passage into adulthood was something different — and worth seeing.

A father greets his daughter as Hancock's Class of 2016 walks into the theater
"Many of us here come from households who don't have as many opportunities as other people might have," National Honor Society member Valerie Diaz told her classmates. "Some of us are undocumented, while others are fighting money problems. Yet many of us will be the first to graduate from high school in our families.

"Many of our parents told us 'Ponte las pilas,' which literally means put the batteries in,'" she continued. "After everything that has happened, we are all in the same room because of what we have accomplished these past four years."

The Merle Reskin Theatre
Maximiliano Gomez and Jessica Herrera: the closing speech
Valerie Diaz (speaking) and Selena Antunez

"We just proved ourselves today by walking down this stage, so it’s time we go for everything they said we couldn’t have" said Jessica Hererra. "Now it’s time to take action. We are the voice of our people and of future generations, so it’s up to us to see what we do."

Juan Melendez

Michael Zapata

"We don't know we have unconditional love until we need it," Selena Antunez said in the Reflection speech.

"I learned that everything we do doesn't only affect us but the people around us, too. We have all learned to appreciate the people who care for us a little more, now that we are all grown up."

Complete gallery

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The groom would like to share a few words

"I love our story," the bride told me. But it was the groom who told most of it.

The tradition of Donaldson's family. I'd never seen a dollar dance like this.
Donaldson had more to say about Scarlett than any groom I've ever spoken with. He started with the moment when he knew he was in love: At a mutual friend's wedding reception, when Scarlett brought him a glass of water.

"There was this sweet voice behind me, she said 'Oh, I thought you might be thirsty,'" Donaldson recalled. "Then I heard the bell going off, ding ding ding, this is your wife. It was all over a glass of water."

Well, there was a bit more to it than that. A lot of it happened while they were Skyping and baking.

Donaldson and Scarlett met through mutual friends Vinesh and Simi, and the couples shared a mutual headache: The ladies lived in Chicago, the gentlemen in London. For New Year's Eve 2012-13, Vinesh flew to Chicago to celebrate with his then-girlfriend, and Donaldson came along because...he's young, single, handsome, why not?

Donaldson spotted Scarlett, and was smitten right away — but she was seeing someone at the time. Donaldson the gentleman eased back...but Scarlett remained on his mind, across the pond.

Easter 2013, an engaged Simi flew to London to see her betrothed, and told Donaldson that she wanted to show him some photos of a nice young lady back in Chicago. Uh...Donaldson wasn't all that interested in checking out some girl in the colonies...until Simi forced one photo upon him.

It was Scarlett, who was free again. And Donaldson was still that smitten.

He gained sole possession of the key to Scarlett's heart: cyber-baking.

Through Skype, the two started cooking things at the same time, from their two apartments' kitchens. To accommodate the time difference, Donaldson would get up at 6 a.m. on Saturday mornings, while Scarlett stayed up past midnight on Friday nights. The groom quickly came to enjoy the early alarm setting.

"I was like 'Oh my gosh, this is so cool.'"

They e-mailed each other ingredients lists in advance. Donaldson once forgot the butter for a cake they were making. His did not come out well.

When Vinesh married Simi, Donaldson came back to Chicago, and made a point of spending time with Scarlett during the reception. This is where the glass of water and the dinging bells happened.

I got almost all of these details from Donaldson — the most conversational groom I've worked with so far. He proposed in October 2014, and Scarlett had this to say about that night: Once he started to kneel, he did not need to speak another word.

"As soon as he went down on one knee, I said 'Yes.'"