November 12, 2014


I’m in the midst of making plans for a dinner date with Carley, a 17-year-old girl who I’ve never met before.

But let’s start at the beginning.

During the first Ei Meetup in September, Victor explained the concept of la dérive: an unplanned journey, a passage through varied surroundings that ultimately allows for new perspectives. Then, he told us to go on one. For 40 minutes, we were to go wherever our senses led us, and capture our experience along the way.

I set out from the coworking space where we were meeting, and gingerly walked down the street, eyes wide open and trying to take in as much as I could of the world around me. I came to a beautiful building and noticed a lot of plaques on the wall, which was covered in lush, green leaves.

One plaque was from 1972, for “outstanding effort toward the beautification of the city of Chicago.” Another, from 1981 designated the locale as one of the “Top 10 Working Environments in America.” A third sign gave historical context and stated, “When you step inside Flair House’s doors, you feel as if you are stepping into another century…” Being interested in well-designed spaces and workplaces, my curiosity was piqued. I felt as if I were exactly where I needed to be. Before I could second-guess myself, I reached out and rang the doorbell. Immediately after, doubtful thoughts came flooding in — what was I doing? What was I going to say?

A woman answered the door. I sheepishly explained myself, saying something like, “Hi — I’m sorry. I just thought this building was very beautiful and I was wondering if I could take a look inside?”

To my surprise, she didn’t turn me away. I was brought upstairs to an older man dressed in a suit. I gave him a quick intro to Ei, as well a brief version of my life story.

“Sit down!” he exclaimed with enthusiasm. He introduced himself as Lee Flaherty, and proceeded to tell me the history of the building, how he bought it and renovated it, and that it used to house his company, Flair Communications. Then, he showed me all around the building and told me about his granddaughters, especially mentioning Carley who is currently a senior in high school and will soon have to choose a college to attend. He said he would have to introduce us so that I could provide some input on the matter.

The most interesting part of the building was the beautiful sitting area on the second floor, which he named the Frances Room, after his mother. There are painted windows on the wall, which show a view of six houses. Lee explained that he wanted his mother to have the best neighbors possible, so the houses were based on the real homes of notable Chicagoans, including Marshall Field, George Pullman, and Robert McCormick.

We also went up to the roof, which had a breathtaking view of the city. I could hardly believe I was there. I left to return to Ei, with a plate that Lee gifted me, as well as a business card, promising I would email soon.

Later that day, on my way home, I noticed that the street, Erie St. was also the “Honorary Lee F. Flaherty Way.” A Google search confirmed that Lee was influential and widely recognized for his professional achievements, as well as for founding the Chicago Marathon and revitalizing and naming the River North area.

Now, weeks later, he has reached out, true to his word, to arrange a dinner between Carley and I. And so my dérive continues.

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