On content farms

It looks like Google has taken action against content farms, low-quality sites that publish articles about anything and everything quickly, and try to make money from the ads.

I can’t tell yet if this has really affected my traffic any–my traffic can drop or jump 20 percent on a daily basis for no apparent reason. But I support the change.
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Dinosaur hunting

Today I slipped over to Laclede Computer Trading Company for the first time in many years. I was in search of an ISA parallel card. They’re not easy to find these days, mostly because they aren’t particularly useful to most people these days, but I figured if anyone would have one, it would be them.

No dice. But man, what memories.

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Wouldn’t you agree, more income is the answer?

So a friend of a friend came over the other night, pitching a pyramid scheme. He just told me he’d started a business. I figured (and kind of hoped) he wanted to sell me handyman services. Actually he wanted to get me out of debt.

“But I have no debt,” I said. He told me I needed to keep an open mind.

I remember the last time someone told me that. It was two Mormon missionaries. To be nice, my wife and I let him keep talking.

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How to make a really nice $500 computer

Steve Jobs: “We don’t
know how to make a $500 computer that’s not a piece of junk.”

Steve Jobs is either lying or lazy. I’m guessing he just doesn’t want to play in that space. Of course, you probably
already knew that.

Here’s how to make a really, really nice $500 computer. All prices are
from Newegg.Intel Atom 330 motherboard/CPU combo: $82
Kingston or Crucial 2 GB DIMM: $20
OCZ Vertex 30 GB SSD: $129
2.5″-3.5″ HDD adapter: $19
Lite-on 22X SATA DVD burner: $23
Foxconn MicroATX case with 300W power supply: $40
Windows XP Home OEM $90

So there you have it. $403 before shipping. You still need a keyboard
and mouse, but there should be enough after shipping to get something,
assuming you don’t already have one. While this system won’t burn the
house down, the dual-core Atoms are surprisingly quick and more than
adequate unless you’re heavily into gaming or media production. But if
you’re into those things you aren’t in the market for a $500 computer
anyway.

The Intel board is unglamorous but very dependable. It also draws very
little power and runs very quietly. It’s great for word processing and
e-mail, adequate for multimedia, and it’ll play non-3D games just
fine. Other companies are making Atom boards, but I’d stick with Intel this time. ECS doesn’t have a history of producing top-quality boards, and I’ve never heard of the outfit making the other Atom boards Newegg sells. Plus, I think the non-Intel boards have Atom 230 (single-core) CPUs in them. It’s worth paying the extra $15-$20 to get that second core.

The SSD will make this computer outperform many more expensive
computers. But more importantly, it won’t crash. Anyone who’s gotten an
untimely phone call from a relative wondering why the computer won’t
start up and where all those digital pictures went will appreciate that.
A conventional hard drive would cost as little as $40 and gives more
space, but 30 gigs will last a while with a casual user. And the lack of
disk crashes is probably worth the extra money. Between the SSD and the
Intel board, the system will be very quiet, which is probably worth
something. In this era of PCs that sound like wind tunnels, you don’t
really appreciate whisper-quiet PCs until you have one.

The memory probably isn’t totally critical, but when you can get Kingston or Crucial for 20 bucks, it makes sense to do it. They’ve both been around forever and have a long history of making quality memory. There’s no reason to put anything other than a 2-gig stick in this board’s single DIMM slot. The system will take 2 gigs, and 2 gigs is cheap.

The rest of the parts are nothing special. Lite-on makes reasonably good
optical drives and has been for some time now, but if something else happens to be on sale for under $20,
or something else happens to be available with free shipping, that’s fine. You
won’t lose anything by using it. Foxconn cases look reasonably
professional without costing a lot of money, and their power supplies
are decent enough. An Atom board with an SSD won’t tax any power supply very hard anyway. You can buy a
cheaper case if you want, but be sure to read the reviews. Some cheap
cases are made of really light-gauge metal and are prone to cut you.
I’ve never had that problem with Foxconns.

The other trick with cases is to watch shipping prices. For whatever
reason, Newegg charges more to ship some cases than others, so it could
very well be worth your while to look at cases that cost $5-$10 more.
Shipping could actually make them cheaper.

You can get the proper mini-ITX case for boards like this, but you’ll pay more for it. Unless you need the really small form factor, it makes sense to just use a cheap and common micro-ATX case. The bonus is that you get some expansion space if you want to add another optical drive, card readers for your digital camera memory, or stuff like that.

And XP Home is XP Home. Vista may run on this system with 2 GB of RAM
and an SSD, but seriously, does Vista do anything that XP doesn’t?
Especially Vista Home vs. XP Home? I’ll stick with the old reliable. I
happen to know from experience that XP Home runs very nicely on a system
with 2 GB of RAM and an SSD.

This particular system will perform nicely, will be extremely reliable
(it wouldn’t surprise me if it still functioned perfectly fine 5 or 10
years from now), and depending on the case, can be easy on the eyes. And
if you want to get swanky, you can skip the cheap case, get an $80
Lian-Li and a separate sale power supply, and have a great-looking PC
while still staying south of $600.

Any way you do it, this system will cost more than a $399 mass-market PC. But I think it’s more than worth the $50-$70 premium.

Paid in full.

This week, my wife and I drove to the bank and signed some papers initiating a wire transfer to our mortgage company.

Yesterday, I had the satisfaction of logging into the mortgage company’s web site, clicking on my account, and seeing the words “paid in full.”

I moved into this house in October 2002. Five years and eight months later, I own it outright. Between the house and our cars, my wife and I have paid off nearly $180,000 in debt in those five-plus years.We aren’t completely debt-free yet. We still have some student loans from my wife’s college education.

Some would argue we should have paid those before the house. I opted against it because one of the loans has a very low interest rate (lower than the house), and because the payments are small. If I walk into work tomorrow and find out I no longer have a job (that very thing happened to me not once but twice in 2005), I can easily make those student loan payments. Scraping together enough for a mortgage payment is harder.

But I’ve gotten ahead of myself. Here’s how we did it.

The debt snowball
The trick is to make your minimum payments on all debts, but pick one debt to pay off first. Then scrape together some extra money to pay it off sooner.

In my case, I started with my car. The payment was about $300. I tried to pay at least $600 on it. Sometimes I paid $900. When I got my tax refund, I paid a whole lot more than that.

By mid-2005, I owned the car outright.

By then I was also married, so we turned our attention to my wife’s car. Her payment was also about $300. So we paid $300 plus $600, the amount I’d been paying on the other car. I had a better job that summer, and we had my wife’s income too, so it wasn’t all that long before I realized we had enough surplus piled up in the bank to pay that off too. So we did.

And that left the house. The mortgage payment was around $1,000. So we paid $1,900. When we started making more money, we increased that. In recent months, I’ve been paying $3,000 on the house since I now make quite a bit more than I made in 2005.

Last month, I noticed we were very close to having enough in the bank to pay the house off while still leaving a comfortable emergency fund. I called the mortgage company to find out exactly how much we’d need to do it, and to get payoff instructions. I figured out that every month we didn’t pay the house off was costing us more than $200. So scraping was worth it.

Finding extra money
I’ve always been a tightwad (just ask my family), but in my late 20s I fell into some bad habits. I didn’t rack up debt, but I definitely wasted more money on conveniences than I needed to. I saved a lot of money the last five years or so by packing a lunch and bringing my own coffee and breakfast to work.

Do the math. I used to spend $2 on coffee and breakfast, plus $5-$6 for lunch. Call it $8/day. Figure 240 working days a year, and that’s $1,920.

I figure I whittled my daily food bill down to about $3 per day, so I saved $1,200 per year. That’s $4,800 over the course of four years. That alone allowed me to pay the house off at least nine months early.

Don’t let other people spend your money
But this is the big one. Everyone has their own ideas what kind of car you should drive, what home improvements you should be making, and other status things that really don’t matter that much.

I drive a 2002 Honda Civic with more than 100,000 miles on it. I know some people look down on that. But the car is still in nice shape, still runs like new, and has never needed anything more than routine maintenance. Plus it consistently gets 35 MPG.

If I had traded that car in after driving it for three years like the marketers say you’re supposed to, it would have slowed down the house payoff by six months. Had we done the same with my wife’s car, we could make it a year.

Frankly I’d rather have the house. In fact, if I could turn back the clock to 2003, I wouldn’t buy the same Civic I bought then. I would have been better off buying an older one that I could pay off more quickly. I could have saved an extra $4,000 or even $6,000, and we would have had everything finished a couple of months sooner.

So what about the cars now? Well, what about them? Remember, I was used to paying $3,000 a month on the house, and that obligation is gone. A year from now, there’ll be enough cash piled up in the bank to buy two cars outright if necessary. Not that I expect to need that, since Civics are famous for going 200,000 miles and beyond. The last time I went to the dealer, they told me someone had traded in a Civic with 500,000 miles on it.

As for home improvements, yes, now it’s time to do some. But why do them sooner? The boob tube tells you to do it to increase the value of the house. But why would I want to do that? So I can pay more taxes? Without me doing a thing, the paper value of this house has risen nearly $40,000 since I bought it, at least according to the county assessor. That means I paid $400 more in taxes in 2007 than I did in 2003.

Unless I was planning to move, there’d be no reason whatsoever to be concerned about property value.

On the other hand, at this point in the life of the mortgage, I was paying more than $200 per month in interest. Now that I’m not paying interest, that’s like getting $2,400 per year for free. That’s enough to finance a modest home improvement project.

But then again, if there’s something else my wife and I want that costs $2,400, we’re entirely free to go after that instead.

In what order should you pay off loans?
This is the paralyzing question for some people. Mathematically speaking, you should pay them off in order of interest. If you have a credit card balance at 19%, a car loan at 7%, a mortgage at 5%, and a student loan at 3%, then you should pay them off in that order.

I’m not enough of a math genius to run the figures, but paying them off in the worst-possible order (reverse order), generally only slows you down by a month or two.

We paid ours off somewhat less than optimally because the student loan is less paralyzing than the mortgage. The minimum payment on the student loans is about 1/5 what the mortgage payment was. When I was out of work, the mortgage was a bit of a struggle to make during a couple of those months, whereas the loans are comparable in size to a utility bill.

If nothing changes between now and then, we can have those loans wiped out in another year. If the economy tanks and I lose my job and my income drops to nearly zero, I can nurse those loans along almost indefinitely, since I have numerous options for making the $1,000 per month it would take to cover utilities, groceries, and those loans.

What about retirement?
Some people argue you should give retirement planning priority over your debts, while others say the reverse. My wife and I haven’t done much for our retirement since we got married in 2005. Frankly I can see the arguments both ways. But we’re still in our early 30s, and now we’re in position to contribute the legal limit into Roth IRAs from now until the government starts making us collect. There’s still time for both of us to pile up enough to retire.

The counter argument is that it’s foolish to invest when paying down debt gives you a guaranteed return. In this economy, given the choice between investing or paying down debt at 6 percent, what’s safer?

While there’s room for criticism if you go either way, either way is preferable to doing nothing. Unfortunately there are all too many people who have lots of debt and little or nothing saved for retirement.

Don’t refinance!
This is another big one. I refinanced in 2004. I got a lower interest rate, and I switched from a 30-year mortgage to 15. The interest rate dropped, but I got nailed for a $2,000 closing cost.

I saved $500 in interest the first year, but I didn’t have the loan long enough to recoup the closing costs.

If your mortgage is the last thing you’re going to pay off and if you can drop the rate, or if refinancing will allow you to consolidate some higher-interest debt, it might make sense to do it, but factor in that closing cost. If you can pay off the mortgage in less than five years, it makes more sense to just pay it off rather than go to the expense and hassle of refinancing.

In my case, if I hadn’t refinanced, I may have owned the house a month sooner.

What about the tax deduction?
Short answer: Forget about the tax deduction. The tax deductions for mortgages are more overrated than Derek Jeter.

Let’s say you’re in the 25 percent tax bracket. I’d have to ask my accountant if such an animal exists this year, but the numbers are convenient. If I’m in the 25 percent tax bracket and I paid $1,200 in interest this calendar year, then that means in return for me paying my bank $1,200, the government is giving me back $300.

Every other time you spend $1,200 and get $300 back, it’s called losing $900.

For the past five years, I’ve been paying a lot more in interest than I ever got back as a tax refund. Eliminating the mortgage won’t completely eliminate my tax refund, but it did eliminate that interest. In effect, by paying off the house, I gave myself a $1,200 raise this year.

So there’s no sense in keeping a mortgage solely for tax purposes. If you need tax deductions, take your tax return to a good accountant. The accountant’s fee is tax deductible, and the accountant will probably find you additional deductions you didn’t think of.

If you’re in a higher or lower tax bracket, it can make a little more or a little less sense, but you’re still trading dollars for small change in any case.

In conclusion?
There are any number of things we could have done differently. But the important thing is we now own our home and two cars outright. It’s possible that doing a few more things might have made it happen a month or two sooner. But if I’d done everything the traditional way, I wouldn’t own the house outright until age 58 (if I’d kept the original 30-year mortgage) or 44 (since I refinanced to a 15-year mortgage). Compared to 11 additional years of paying interest, what’s an extra month or two if I get a couple of details wrong?

Don’t try to do it all at once

I’ve been writing a lot about personal finance lately. I make no apologies for that; it’s what’s on my mind. Something that happened this weekend reminded me of why it’s hard to get on the personal finance treadmill to begin with.

The numbers are big. They’re intimidating. You can’t possibly fix it all right now.

So don’t try to fix it all right now.I had an unplanned incident this weekend. It was unplanned, avoidable, and expensive. Some people will spend $400 at the drop of a hat without flinching, but my wife and I aren’t among them. I wouldn’t let myself get upset over it, but truth be told, I thought about it a lot over the weekend.

Mainly I tried to formulate a plan to make the money back quickly. And making $400 is certainly doable, but most people don’t come up with a way to make an extra $400 in just a day.

And that’s when it hit me. Don’t try to do it all in a day.

It’s like in baseball, when a team is losing by 8 runs the way the Indians were against the Red Sox for most of last night. Usually when a team is down by 8 runs, they’re going to lose because everyone’s going to go up there and try to hit an 8-run home run. But it’s physically impossible to hit an 8-run home run.

The way you win a game when you’re losing by 8 is by getting on base any way you can, and then getting around and scoring any way you can. If enough people manage to do that, they can chip away at the lead and soon it’s a close game again.

And that’s the way I have to approach this unexpected expense. Look for the opportunity I normally wouldn’t bother with. Take snacks to work so I stay away from the vending machine for a while. Chip away at it, whether it’s a dollar at a time or ten.

That trick works with big debts too. I once used a mortgage calculator to figure out the smallest amount of extra money you could put toward your mortgage and still see a benefit. On my mortgage, the amount turned out to be $10. Just paying $10 extra per month every month would pay the house off a full month early. Ten lousy bucks. Up that to a hundred and you can start talking about years.

So that’s the key. Nickel and dime your way out of debt, and then you can be on your way to nickel and diming yourself into prosperity.

Surviving a recession

I saw a link to a short story on Get Rich Slowly called What to do during a recession.

I think I can do a little better. So I’m gonna try.You might not lose your job, so don’t become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The story states that most people don’t lose their jobs when the economy goes south. That’s important to remember. I lost not one, but two jobs in 2005, not the worst year on record but certainly not the best for either of those two employers. I was pretty certain in both cases that there would be cuts and I would be one of them. I couldn’t do anything about the second case because an edict came down from a new CEO to get rid of all contractors, and I was a contractor. In the first case though, yes, I probably made myself a more likely target for downsizing. I wasn’t as bad as the guy in Office Space who got hit by a truck, but if management thinks you think you’re on your way out, they have an excuse to not feel as bad about letting you go. After all, if you saw it coming and you’re not prepared for it, it’s your fault if something bad happens, right?

So if you think you might be on the short list, don’t let anyone know you think that way, and be quiet and discrete about finding your next job.

Work your contacts. When I lost that job, I knew some people who’d asked me at one point or another if I might be interested in opportunities elsewhere. Of course I called them within 24 hours. None of that panned out for me, but at least I got some practice interviewing and some good resume advice out of the deal.

I think it’s a very good idea to ask your friends once a year or so if they know of any openings. In the event of an emergency, it gives you a much better idea of what might be out there.

Build an emergency fund, just in case. Having an emergency fund is also important. When I got hired on at my current job, my boss told me to try to have half a year’s salary in the bank. Some vote of confidence, huh? But the reality of our business model is that we can be forced to make cuts at any time, with no warning. It even happened to him once a few years ago. The upside is that the pay is pretty good and we get at least one or two opportunities to make some extra money each year, so we put up with it.

Six months’ salary can be hard to save, but you should have at least two, and more is better. Sometimes I can find a new job in less than two months, but I can think of two times in my career where my new employer dragged the hiring process out by a month. That was fine the first time it happened, because I still had my previous job, but it really stank the last time, because I’d been out of work a month.

Make a bare-bones budget. I also suggest having a bare-bones budget. Make up a spreadsheet listing the non-negotiable expenses that happen every month (mortgage or rent, car payment, utility bills, car insurance). Then figure the cheapest you can feed yourself for a day. I have a coworker who might try getting by on three packs of Ramen noodles and feed himself for 30 cents a day, but for most people, $3-$4 per day for food is about as low as they can go. Multiply that number by 30 and add that as a line item. Then add a few bucks for gas (it costs money to drive to the store and to job interviews too). It’s much easier to make a budget like this before you need it than when you need it.

You don’t necessarily need to kick into the emergency bare-bones budget the day you lose work, but I did. It helped my savings last longer.

Start saving money now. Knowing where to get things cheaper will help you build your emergency fund faster, and it will help you when you can’t afford to pay full price. Find out where the nearest day-old bakery is. If there’s a thrift store near you, wander into it sometime to see if it’s any good. If there’s a farmer’s market near you, check it out and compare its produce prices to your regular grocery store–and prepare for a pleasant surprise.

Don’t bail on your stocks. This might be the most important thing. When the stock market takes a dive, a lot of people hop on the phone and take their money out. Unless you own marginal stocks, that’s exactly the wrong thing to do. You don’t need to know what to do with marginal stocks when a recession hits. If you own stock in companies that can’t survive a recession, you should sell them now and buy stock in companies that can. I had a relative who made himself rich by investing in boring companies like General Electric and Coca-Cola–companies that sell things that people buy no matter how much money they have–and holding those stocks for several decades.

That money vanished after a generation (and no, I don’t have any of it), but that’s another story.

There’s a financial cliche that poor people run to buy when stores have a sale, but when Wall Street has a sale, they rush to sell.

The thing to remember is that stock prices are purely theoretical unless you sell. So when they go down, you don’t lose anything. If the company still has decent products to sell, its price will rebound if only because vast heards of rich people will come in and buy more of the stock while the price is low. If you have some savings and you know how to stretch it, there’s absolutely no reason for those rich people to be buying that stock from you.

How to use your computer skills to earn some extra money

If you’re in need of some extra money and you’re computer-savvy, the scumbags of the earth have a deal for you. You see, they load unwitting computer owners’ PCs up with loads of junk, and they can render a new, state of the art computer useless very quickly. That’s an opportunity for you to use your computer skills to earn some extra money.

If you can learn to clean up the mess, you can probably have as much after-hours work as you want.Assuming you’re pretty good at fixing your own computer (don’t go into business fixing computer problems if your computer runs like garbage), cleaning it up is pretty easy.

Keep copies of Ad-Aware, Spybot Search & Destory, Bazooka, and Avert Stinger handy on a CD or USB flash drive. Install the programs and then run them. I run Bazooka first and last because it’s fast and gives a good overview of the health of the system.

Run all of the antispyware programs and let them do their thing. Then run Stinger in case they aren’t keeping up with their virus definitions. Once you clean the system up, update the virus defs (install antivirus software if they don’t have any–AVG strikes a good balance between effectiveness and ease of use, and it’s free) and defragment the hard drive.

Most IT people I know charge about $50 for the service. Have the customer bring the PC to you since a good spyware scan takes several hours. Let Spybot scan overnight, then clean it, then led Ad-Aware run while you’re at work and let it clean.

Keep an extra monitor, keyboard and mouse around so you can just plug in your customer’s CPU and go.

If the computer is in such bad shape you don’t get a start menu, boot it in safe mode and clean from safe mode.

And there you go. An easy side business. Hopefully you’ll have a booming business so fewer people will call me.

My 2007 trip to Chicago

I just got back from Chicago. I used to go there a lot, but hadn’t been since high school. Consider this my travel diary. I don’t expect it to be interesting to most people, but maybe someone else will find it useful.Lodging

We stayed at a hotel in Rosemont. The rates are much better in the suburbs, but to get to the Museum of Science and Industry when it opened at 9:30, we had to leave at 7 am. That’s counting the shuttle ride to get us close to the El station, the trip in the El with a transfer to another line, and a transfer to the bus line. So we were spending roughly five hours of our day traveling to and from the hotel.

Transportation

We used public transportation because parking in Chicago is expensive and it’s difficult to drive there. We may reconsider that in the future. It’s also possible, though, that if we stayed downtown near the things we want to do, we still wouldn’t need a car. The trip to the airport would be longer, but we only make that trip twice.

The CTA tourist pass is a really good deal, and the more days you buy, the deeper the discount. And if you make a mistake and leave the station when you meant to change lines, the mistake won’t cost you any extra money if you have the pass. If you’re paying as you go, it will.

My sister and brother in law used a Water Taxi to go from the Field Museum to Navy Pier via Lake Michigan. That was after we had split up for the day, so we didn’t do the Water Taxi thing, but they said it was a fun experience.

We flew to Chicago. I love flying, or maybe I should say I used to. I’ve flown three round trips since Sept. 11–once to and from Dayton, once to and from Orlando, and once to and from Chicago. The “random” screenings are absolutely, positively not random. I’ve been flagged each and every time. I know why. My name sounds vaguely Middle Eastern (it isn’t–it’s Scottish). As I was being patted down yet again today, a thought occurred to me as well. Why would any Arab use the name “David?” That would be like a member of the Bush family using the name “Saddam.”

My bag set off alarms, so it must have tested positive for something. Other than shampoo or sunscreen I have no idea what, but they weren’t going to tell me what they thought it tested positive for. After all, with a name like Farquhar, I might be a terrorist. Can’t trust those bagpipe-toters.

I’m thinking the next time, we should consider Amtrak. Chicago is a 45-minute flight from St. Louis, but the TSA told us to get there 3 hours early because of security. Figure 3 hours sitting at the airport, whatever time the plane has to sit waiting to take off, the time in the air, and the drive to the airport, and you’re up over the 4-hour mark. Amtrak is about 5 1/2 hours. It’s longer, but it’s a lot cheaper (I found a rate of $88 for two adults round-trip) we won’t get as much guilty-until-proven-innocent treatment, we can carry more baggage, and as far as I can tell there are a lot fewer silly restrictions on what we can take. Since my wife is a diabetic, we have to keep some food with us at all times, which meant we had to buy a bunch of food at the only place within walking distance of the hotel. The quality of what we could get wasn’t very high, and the prices were double or triple what we would have paid close to home (think $5 for a box of Cheerios). And we had to throw away our leftovers since we couldn’t put them in our carry-on luggage. I guess there’s a bomb recipe somewhere that calls for Cheerios and apples. Oh, wait. No, bringing outside food in might hurt the airport’s profits. But we’ll call it “security” because that sounds better.

Driving is an option, of course, but I can’t drive to and from Chicago for $88 in a Honda Civic.

So I’m thinking Amtrak, and put the savings toward staying in a hotel in a less out-of-the-way place.

Things to do

As far as things to do, the City Pass is a good deal. For $50, you can go see the observatory, the Han*censored* Building viewing deck, the Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum, and the Museum of Science and Industry. If you see four of those, you more than pay for the booklet. Plus you don’t have to wait in line. That can save you a couple of hours per attraction all alone.

We’d buy the City Pass again.

Where to eat

What’s the point of going to Chicago if you don’t get pizza, right?

We tried Gino’s East one night on a tip from a friend of my brother in law. Of course it’s good. The place has been around since 1966.

But we got to talking pizza with the bus driver as we were en route from the Museum of Science and Industry to the Han*censored* Building. He told us to try Giordano’s. As luck would have it, there was a Giordano’s within walking distance of the hotel.

Now that I’ve done some digging, I think Giordano’s was the place we tried back in 1989 on our second trip to Chicago.

I liked them both. They were both distinctive, and neither is something I should eat on a regular basis if I want to continue to weigh about 145 pounds. But on a future trip I wouldn’t mind eating dinner at one and then doing dinner the next night at the other.

I remember the very first time my family went to Chicago was in 1985. We wanted to get Chicago style pizza, and somehow or other we stumbled on this place called Perry’s. I have absolutely no idea where it was. I found a website for a place on Devon Avenue in Park Ridge by that name that’s been around since 1967, and the menu features the Gutbuster, which I vividly remember Dad pointing out to me on the menu in 1985. So it’s possible this was the place.

Being our first experience with Chicago-style pizza, Perry’s is now a family legend. And you know how legends go. They get bigger with each passing year. I think within a couple of months the pizza in our memory had become a foot thick, or at least six inches. And nothing we’d had before, and nothing we’ve had since was half as good.

Part of me would love to find Perry’s again, but part of me thinks it would be best to just let legends be legends.

For lunch, a good choice is the nearest hot-dog stand for a Chicago-style hot dog. Let me preface this by saying I normally do not eat hot dogs. I don’t care much for the taste, and I know they’re one of the least healthy things on the planet for you to eat. But I liked these. A traditional Chicago-style dog has onion, tomato, pepper, pickle relish, mustard, chile pepper, and celery salt served on a poppy seed bun. If you put ketchup on it (the person at the counter won’t), the ghost of Mike Royko will come haunt you, and he’ll undoubtedly have some other disgusting ideas for things you could have put on the hot dog instead.

I wouldn’t eat them on a daily basis due to health concerns, but I’ll eat one every time I go to Chicago from now on.

Shopping

There aren’t many places on the Magnificent Mile that I can afford to walk into, let alone shop at, and I’ve never been much for shopping anyway. I hear Chicago has lots of really great train stores. I stayed away from those, putting my short-term financial goals ahead of my hobby.

But if you like to shop, there are tons of places to do it.