One Cause At a Time – Archive

An Archive of Chicago Now One Cause at a Time Posts

Posts Tagged ‘COVID-19

Surviving the Metra Lollapalooza COVID Express

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Lollapalooza officially ends today, and I am personally grateful for a variety of reasons. After all, I was around when Lollapalooza started as a touring show that was merely corporate-sponsored pandering led by a spoiled, entitled musician whose then-latest hit served as a paean to shoplifting. However, coming home from a friend’s showing at the Fulton Street Collective meant taking the Metra Rock Island line home…and dealing with a throng of young Lollapalooza attendees who were…

Well, I live tweeted it, and here’s a timeline for your reading pleasure. And yes, you can offer thoughts and prayers as I express what happened without sounding ageist or entitled.

Saturday, 9:15 pm – I arrive at the Metra LaSalle Street station. The waiting area is filled with mostly adults. It’s quiet, and the 10:00 pm train appears to be on time. Sitting down, I relax and look forward to a relatively peaceful ride home.

Saturday, 9:30 pm – Heading outside, I enjoy the cooler air of a summer evening in Chicago. Nothing seems to be going wrong except for a possible delay in the train’s arrival.

Saturday, 9:40 pm – The first of the Lollapalooza crowd begins showing up, and soon they’re dominating the platform. As you can see by the photos above, none of them are wearing masks. Within fifteen minutes, I decide to double-mask for my own safety.

Saturday, 10:04 pmAs two trains finally arrive, Metra employees encourage a single line to check passes before boarding the train. Lollapalooza attendees force their way through, ignoring directions and waving cell phones in people’s faces. As I board the car, I sit in one of the front most seats.

Four minutes later, I perform a rough headcount: the car contains approximately 30 people, only six (including myself) are over 35. Only four people (including myself) are wearing masks. As public transportation, Metra falls under the federal mask mandate.

Saturday, 10:11 pm – I’m reminded of the irony of attending Raks Inferno on Friday night: the troupe (and home venue Newport Theater) held a limited capacity, vax-only show that turned away two people. Afterwards, on the way home, a throng of Lollapalooza-based motorcyclists defied traffic laws and performed wheelies only seen in high-end action movies. (And which never end well)

I say this because I tweeted that Mayor Lightfoot should have canceled Lollapalooza. After all, reentry should have been more cautious, and businesses should not take precedence over public health…but I digress.

(Yes, my Tweeting takes on a slightly sarcastic tone, but it was my way of documenting what was happening, as well as allowing myself some self-soothing. But I felt it worth discussing in light of current COVID-19 trends in Chicago and the state of Illinois)

Saturday, 10:16 pmTwo Metra employees enter our car and announce that if anyone is getting off at a stop in Beverly (my home neighborhood since I became Mom’s caregiver), we need to move “two cars up”. Ten of us rise and walk through two cars. We ask if it’s the Beverly car…and we’re told it’s the next car up.

Barnard Park, Chicago
Barnard Park – Photo by Gordon Dymowski

We moved through five Metra cars (almost the entire length of the train) in order for the doors to open for us to get off. Although the number of people in each car dwindled, many of them were from Lollapalooza and did not wear masks. None of the Lollapalooza crowd looked sober, and one drunkenly told me I was “fired” and offered a fist bump. I refused. We eventually made it to the front car, and sitting down, simply waited for my stop.

Saturday, 10:29 pmAs the Metra train began its end run towards home, I felt concerned about that evening’s sleep and ruminated on my past. In my past career in social services, I’ve worked in a variety of rough situations (including a St. Louis-area office in the basement of an infamous housing development). I never felt as uncomfortable (or threatened with illness) as I did on that train ride.

Saturday, 10:37 pmAs my train gets closer to my home station, I realize that I smell something a bit…odd, and look at the seats in front of me. Three young women are talking, and one of them is vaping. (I am unsure if this is allowed on Metra trains, but say nothing).

At the stop before mine, two of the women depart the train. The last one – the woman who was vaping – looks at me and says blankly, “I’m lonely.” I keep silent and get up as we approach my stop.

Saturday 11:00 pmAfter successfully disembarking from the train and arriving home, I chose to update Twitter with a note of gratitude. The next morning, I managed to provide a follow-up Tweet. All was relatively well.

Although this essay may seem rather over-the-top, there have been genuine concerns about Lollapalooza becoming a superspreader event like a recent festival in the Netherlands. With COVID rates increasing in the city, the Mayor’s press for further vaccinations is a smart move…but holding Lollapalooza was ill-advised. Metra shares part of the responsibility for not rigorously enforcing the rules…

But holding Lollapalooza in the first place was a bad move. In not canceling the show, Mayor Lightfoot demonstrated a greater concern for corporate and business interests than the welfare of the city. She’s scheduled to provide a COVID update on Monday at 10:00 am at City Hall. Don’t be surprised if the evades questions about why she let Lollapalooza go on.

The answer’s obvious.

If you have questions or comments, please leave them below or join the conversation on our Facebook page.

And as always, thanks for reading.


Written by gordondym

August 1, 2021 at 8:48 pm

Caregiving, COVID, and Defining the “New Normal”

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Being a caregiver means having a sense of flexibility and improvisation to balancing caregiving duties, work, and self-care. Dealing with COVID-19 in the past year has been especially challenging with everyday activities being reinvented and reconsidered. As Illinois and Chicago transition with more people vaccinated (including myself), our challenge is to determine the shape of the “new normal.” Here are some suggested principles that can not only benefit caregivers but provide support for the greater community as well.

Our primary guiding principle: Other People Matter – Throughout the pandemic, there have been incidents involving people harassing mask wearers, businesses defying state orders, and even racially motivated attacks in light of the pandemic. Empathy, like compassion, is no ordinary word. After a year and a half of relative isolation and changing social dynamics, perhaps choosing to understand rather than be understood is a more realistic approach to adjusting to post-pandemic life. As our culture shifts towards caregiving across a broader population, perhaps learning to speak to caregivers empathically can be a good start towards approaching others with respect, consideration, and dignity.

Remote Work Should Always Be an Option – Regardless of what some CEOs might proclaim, remote workers are at low risk of “losing their hustle”. In fact, more companies are adopting remote work policies because they can be more effective and productive. As a remote worker myself, I find that I can more easily balance professional and personal matters. For companies who may be reluctant to adopt remote work policies, there are resources like Cultivate Now that provide consultation and insight. (FULL DISCLOSURE: I was a contract worker for Cultivate Now years ago). Managing remote teams can be challenging, but reducing the need for transportation, specific office space, and promoting worker autonomy allows for greater productivity and effectiveness for both caregivers and other employees.

And speaking of “losing the hustle”…

Photo by Gordon Dymowski

Let’s Lose the “Hustle/Crushing It” Mentality – Many individuals often promote the idea of always being “in the hustle” when it comes to generating business, promoting their career, or even in life. Another well-worn cliche is the idea of “crushing it” or focusing solely on the number of accomplishments in a given day. Post-pandemic, it may be wise to consider that both “hustling” and “crushing it” are myths that need to lose their prominence. After all, it is easy for professional “hustling” to devolve into hiding, choosing to focus on the immediate to avoid introspection. Besides, caregivers are masters of the “hustle” in that they negotiate several complex networks of service providers (including health care, elder care, and social services) in order to accomplish major goals. Staying humble yet focused yields much greater rewards.

Let’s rethink how we approach family leave and other self-care resources – Although there are federal efforts to expand family leave, this should not be the only solution for caregivers and other individuals. Male caregivers, especially, are more prone to deny the emotional consequences of caregiving yet experience higher levels of depression. Taking on the stress of caregiving along with other tasks (including self-care) can be daunting and draining for many individuals. Easing access to mental health and support services (including virtual and offline support groups) can provide some comfort to caregivers at greater risk of isolation. After a year of dealing with pandemic-related issues along with caregiving matters, facilitating the use of community-based resources can assist with moving forward into a healthier future.

Let’s be honest: moving back to a old sense of “normal” is neither practical nor realistic. Our culture and everyday rituals have living were disrupted by COVID-19, and moving back towards “good enough” should not be an option. We have a great opportunity to integrate compassion and empathy into our culture after a very prolonged period of disruption and unrest. We have experienced how antisocial, disruptive, and misinformed forces have actively shredded the social fabric. Now, it’s time to begin reweaving that fabric for our community, because we’re all caregivers to each other.

Questions? Comments? Leave them in the space below. Please join the conversation on our Facebook page, or email us directly.

And as always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

May 12, 2021 at 9:26 am

Meet Your Neighbor: Ladder Up & Get My Payment Illinois Coalition

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Despite reports of a possible second round of Economic Impact Payments, many Illinois residents have not even received their first payment. Although $266 billion has been paid out to 158 million households, many individuals who need financial help in the wake of COVID-19 have been unable to access stimulus payments. Recently, we spoke with Christine Cheng of Ladder Up about their involvement with the Get My Payment Illinois coalition.

Can you tell us a little bit about Ladder Up and the Get My Payment Illinois coalition?

At Ladder Up, we give hardworking people access to the tools they need to move up the economic ladder by providing free tax preparation, legal counsel, college financial aid assistance, and financial education.

The Get My Payment Illinois Coalition was formed as a way to help ensure that as many Illinois residents as possible can access accurate and relevant information to secure the federal economic impact payments included as part of the CARES Act that passed in late March. These one-time stimulus payments are worth up to $1,200 for eligible individuals but many of the individuals who need these payments the most are those least likely to receive them. This includes individuals who make less than $12,200 and are not required to file taxes, people experiencing homelessness, people who do not have a bank account, and people who lack access to the internet.

The Get My Payment Illinois Coalition comprises several nonprofit organizations – the Economic Awareness Council, New America Chicago, Heartland Alliance, Heartland Human Care Services, Woodstock Institute, and Ladder Up.

It is estimated that approximately 392,000 Illinoisans did not receive their stimulus payment through the IRS. Can you explain some of the logistical issues and reasons for this delay in payment?

The estimate cited here is the number of Illinoisans who will not receive the stimulus payment automatically (i.e. because they do not have a 2018 or 2019 tax return on file or they are not Social Security, Railroad Retirement, or VA benefits recipients). See this report for more information.

This population of Illinoisans who will not receive an automatic stimulus payment will need to submit their information to the IRS using the IRS non-filer website, which is found at Individuals in this population include those who are below the tax-filing threshold and thus do not have a 2018 or 2019 return on file.

Some individuals within this population have submitted their information through the IRS non-filer site and successfully received their stimulus payments. However, there remain a significant number of individuals who have yet to do so, in part because of barriers including:

  • Lack of awareness that they are eligible for the payment and/or knowledge of how to secure it
  • Lack of access to the internet to be able to submit the information online
  • Lack of a stable mailing address at which to receive the payment (i.e. for those experiencing homelessness)

How has this negatively impacted Illinois residents?

Many Illinois residents were experiencing poverty before the pandemic hit, and many more residents are now experiencing economic hardship due to the economic impacts of COVID-19. These stimulus payments serve to meet basic needs in many cases, and delays in receiving the payment negatively impact people’s ability to provide for themselves and their families.

How is the Get My Payment Illinois Coalition working to resolve this situation for residents?

The Coalition operates an informational website ( and staffs an email help desk ( as well as a telephone hotline (888-553-9777) to address questions. The website highlights payment eligibility and provides answers to many frequently asked questions. It also provides information about safe, low-cost banking options available through the Bank On program and tax help.

The Coalition also provides training for nonprofit organizations seeking to increase access to the stimulus payments for the clients they serve.

We are also sharing our experiences with decision-makers and other stakeholders – highlighting barriers to getting the payment, lifting up potential solutions to these issues, and featuring the stories of people who have had difficulty accessing their payment that we all can learn from.

What steps can people who have not received their stimulus payments take to reconcile this situation?

It will be important for them to first establish if they need to take any action to receive the payment, and if so, which specific action they need to take.

For instance, if someone is not set to receive the payment automatically, they should then determine if they have a tax-filing requirement – if so, they should seek to file their 2019 return as soon as possible, electing to e-file their return if possible as the IRS is experiencing significant delays in processing mailed paper returns.

If they do not have a tax-filing requirement and would not stand to receive a refund if they did file a return, then they should submit their information to the IRS using the IRS non-filer site as soon as they can to register for payment.

There are many unique situations, and we will continue helping Illinoisans overcome the various obstacles between them and the payments they deserve. More information is available at or by contacting the Coalition at or (888) 553-9777.

Thank you for your time!

We would like to thank Christine Cheng of Ladder Up for her time and input. If you have comments or know an organization we should feature, please suggest them in the comments section below or via our Facebook page. (You can email us via this contact form)

And as always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

July 12, 2020 at 11:02 am

Caregivers, COVID-19, and Rethinking “Normal”

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Nothing could have prepared me for what my mother said that Thursday afternoon. As her caregiver, I had grown accustomed to unexpected health issues.  She had been experiencing some severe issues which included a sore arm and back pain; she and I had both agreed that she might have had a small heart attack. So Mom did what any other person would do: she contacted her primary care physician for a check-up. After all, she was heading that Friday for an echocardiogram anyway…but Mom surprised me with a statement after she got off the phone.

“My doctor wants me to go in for a COVID-19 test,” she casually announced.

She changed her schedule, and on Friday morning, underwent a nasal-pharyngeal test for CVOD-19. She was told that if she was positive, she would receive a call from the Department of Health; if she was negative, she would get an email to consult her online chart.

She received the email late Saturday morning; she was negative.

Caregiving for Mom has been a challenge, working through issues around compassion fatigue and caregiver burnout as well as other life issues. Although I was relatively confident she would test negative (Mom’s only outings were for specific medical tests, since she relies on telemedicine for her regular “visits”), this experience left me a bit disconcerted. My mother had a liver transplant ten years ago and takes immunosuppressing drugs; her other health issues make her particularly vulnerable to potential infections. So that Saturday, I went out for a walk to clear my head and (potentially) pick up some needed items. Soon I put on my mask and headed out…and I regretted the decision.

People in my particular neighborhood congregated in front of the local Starbucks maskless and not conforming to social distancing standards. Worse, I was given strange looks as if I were somehow “violating” some unspoken social norm. Only one couple, as I approached one of my potential errands, cared enough to wear masks, and shared a casual hello. Luckily, one of the businesses I needed to engage in had a sign that declared “NO MASK NO SERVICE.”

On the way home, I stopped by a local restaurant offering to-go only service, and thankfully the staff and fellow customers were all wearing masks. But the experience started me thinking about my past experiences as a caregiver during the current COVID-19 crisis…

As the state slowly begins transitioning to Phase Three of the Restore Illinois plan, many people have engaged in questionable behavior. Memorial Day video showing people congregating in public without any regard for public safety. State legislators filing lawsuits and even suggesting removing Governor Pritzker because the state is “not moving fast enough.” Conspiracy theories about how COVID-19 spread and how it is being used for perceived political advantage. All of these things remind me of how some people when they hear that I am a caregiver, make remarks that are inappropriate like “There’s one caregiver in every family” or “You’re a saint.” (Many of them are outlined in this AARP article on caregiving). These behaviors and attitudes, like many recent behaviors around COVID-19, suggest a particular attitude towards those who are more vulnerable in this pandemic:

“Better you than me; you’re more expendable than I am”

No matter how they excuse or rationalize these statements and actions, the truth remains that they sting. “Essential workers” and health care professionals, like caregivers, are neither saints nor heroes; they are doing their jobs and trying to survive a difficult time. For every statement of empathy, people who avoid responsible behavior during COVID-19 are showing a lack of compassion. With almost 100,000 dead in the United States and nearly 5,000 in Illinois, those wanting things to rush into “normal” are missing the point. For those of us trying to remain relatively “normal”, that goal may not be realistic.

So a humble suggestion: we might wish to consider rethinking what “normal” means, and that “normal” springs from the premise that we are caregivers for each other. Perhaps it is overly idealistic, and there are legitimate economic concerns that are driving reopening the state earlier. However, for those who believe that their “freedom” is being compromised, consider that freedom always balances personal responsibility with the greater good. Not wearing masks through a pandemic is like arguing that wearing seat belts is a personal choice: safety measures protect the greater community as well as the individual. Adopting physical and social distancing practices may be inconvenient, but given Wisconsin’s “second spike” of COVID-19, it may be the wisest strategy for our state’s citizens.

Getting back to “normal” has been at the top of my mind since becoming my mother’s caregiver, and I have had to accept a different sense of “normal.” The week after my March birthday, I was surprised to receive a coffee mug at the last public event I attended. It was unexpected and not given as a birthday gift, but that mug now has special resonance for me as a reminder of what I consider “normal”: the gentle realization that kindness, compassion, and honesty may come in small moments, but are always significant in practice.

Because in this pandemic, nobody is expendable.

What are your thoughts? Please leave your comments down below or join the conversation on our Facebook page. Please note that all comments are moderated.

As always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

May 27, 2020 at 8:40 am

COVID-19, Caregiving and Compassion

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As my mother’s caregiver, I have learned how to handle various aspects of life including job seeking, freelancing, self-care, and creativity. In the midst of the current coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic, I find myself reflecting on the lessons I am learning about self-discipline in isolation and self-care and how these impact my caregiving effort.

One of the greatest ironies that I perceive is that my own tendency to self-isolate and keep my distance has served me well when it comes to my social distancing efforts. Dealing with an immunocompromised mother (due to a liver transplant and anti-rejection mediations) has increased my awareness and sensitivity around preventing potential complications. My own efforts towards self-care had increased before the pandemic with an increased motivation to care for my physical and mental health. (Like many other male caregivers, I can drift into depressive episodes if I am not careful). My social activities have increased slightly, but are still erratic: given their professional and personal responsibilities, touching base with others can be challenging but I am experiencing an increase in connection).

Photo by Gordon Dymowski

Photo by Gordon Dymowski

However, this “leveling of the playing field” has also lessened the obvious stress and strain on my caregiving efforts. Recently, I had to run two short (but critical) errands on a quarter-mile stretch of a major street. Except for the occasional dog walker, the street was devoid of cars and pedestrians. Walking down that stretch on a Friday afternoon had an eerie, silent quality which had a calming effect on me. Both venues that I visited had a moderate number of patrons, many of whom were rushed to acquire what they needed and get home. Having time to spend on personal and creative efforts has helped alleviate the perpetual fear of missing out that comes to me regularly as a caregiver.

One of the most powerful effects of being a caregiver during the COVID-19 pandemic is that I have a greater sense of empathy and compassion towards others. It is not just an effort to pay the kindnesses shown me forward, but to actively and assertively express that compassion. Self-isolation and social distancing may presently be the most compassionate acts towards others, but being able to show (and receive) smaller kindnesses can be rewarding. It’s never easy; last week was especially challenging since I served as an election judge for the 2016 primary; had several events cancel at the last minute, and an effort to run an online screening did not go rather well. Despite my desire to last out in anger, keeping my cool and remaining calm comes more easily from a compassionate approach.

Photo by Gordon Dymowski

Photo by Gordon Dymowski

Compassion as a caregiver can be challenging, especially when dealing with negative or obnoxious behavior. On the lighter end, many people do not know how to speak to a caregiver so dealing with those lapses in judgment can be annoying. But on the other end, with many people taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic by hoarding hand sanitizer or buying out supplies from a Dollar Tree can be especially infuriating. (Especially since many caregivers deal with relatives who may have intestinal or digestive problems). However, compassion in challenging times comes from the smaller kindnesses of friends. Unexpected gifts both physical and emotional, ranging from an unexpected video chat to a surprise coffee mug, provide plenty of fuel for being compassionate as a caregiver.

We are living in uncertain, disquieting, and anxiety-provoking times. This is not a feel-good solution, and should not be read as a dismissal of those facing especially challenging times. One of the greatest lessons that I continue to learn as a caregiver is that compassion may not always be easy, but it is extremely necessary. 

I would enjoy hearing from others and getting their perspectives: please leave your comments below or join the conversation on our Facebook page. If you wish to comment privately, use this email contact form.

As always, thanks for reading and stay safe!

Written by gordondym

March 24, 2020 at 8:07 pm

Coronavirus/COVID-19 Information and Resources

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[UPDATED 04/08/2020 – if you know of other resources, please email us directly with a link]

As news about the spread of coronavirus (or COVID-19) increases, many people are concerned about the impact of this virus on our professional and personal lives. As a public service, we’re providing various fact-based resources about coronavirus to break through myths and misinformation. You are more than welcome to link to this post via social media.

We will update this list as we find more resources and fact-based information about the spread of coronavirus; you are more than welcome to contact us via our Facebook page or email contact form.

Written by gordondym

March 11, 2020 at 11:54 am