Friday, March 8, 2019

History made: the WGA finally hangs out here

It's been a couple years since I first passive-aggressively complained about the Writers Guild of America East (WGA), which is the east-coast version of the Writers Guild of America West (the seemingly more trendy version, where Conan O'Brien and other Hollywood heavyweights grew beards or whatever as the WGA West went on strike and got lots of attention and forced multimillionaire talent to, *gasp*, write their own stuff). Then I followed up with a less passive-aggressive post about the WGA East, where I documented my failure to get an event in Chicago.

During those two years, I've sent detailed, aggressively whiny emails to the WGA overlords in New York, first getting no response, then eventually getting a response, then actually meeting a couple live human beings who bothered to come here, who were subjected to my venting about how New York-centric that ridiculous union is. So, after several years of having absolutely *no* events in Chicago, we finally had an event tonight. Which makes this day historic: for the first time, the WGA has actually made an effort to leave Manhattan, stop in flyover country, and organize an event, right here in Chicago.

It was a social event and celebration of contracts for The Onion and WBBM-TV. I thought some TV people would be there, but there were none, and I have no idea why. But the room was filled with Onion people. First of all, I didn't know The Onion was based here, and I didn't know it employed so many people. And someone told me their office was nearby, so it was easy to get to the bar. Since I was the minority (because I was one of only two people from WBBM Newsradio), I figured that since The Onion is a creative site and they had just had a victory, they'd be friendly and quirky and interesting, especially since we're part of the same union. So I tried to talk to people, with mixed results. I approached one group and asked them what they did, and asked if it would be okay if I took a picture to post here. No dice. They broke apart and gave me uncomfortable sideways glances. So I returned to the two non-Onion people I knew and planned another intervention.

Shereen Mo and Margaret Larkin
Shereen Mo and I, two of the only WBBM people there (symbolized by the super-bright light above our heads), during a break from my Onion-attempting socialization. The guy behind Shereen is an enthusiastic Onion union guy who[m] I didn't approach because he seemed busy circulating among his Onion compatriots.

Surely these creative types would want to meet someone new such as moi, and while I planned my next attempt at peeling the Onion, I took some pictures of the general scene.

The Onion staff in Chicago
Hipsters? I report, you decide.
The Onion staff in Chicago
I didn't sit at that empty table or anywhere else for that matter. And is a knit cap a hipster thing?

I took random pictures while the Onion groups seemed self-conscious and avoidant, though I managed to have a couple brief conversations with people who managed to segue away.

The Onion staff in Chicago
One of many Onion clusters at the event. I may have scared off one of these women when I intensely complained about union dues and bad wages, but the guy in the white hat marks a bit of foreshadowing.

I retreated once again, returning to the two people I knew, one of whom was someone I'd just gotten to know after sending him combative emails and having a one-hour conversation the previous day about various issues (thus I've calmed down, don't worry). He also happened to be one of two people I was consistently able to talk to, which made the event seem less like a high school cafeteria.

Chris Aiken Writers Guild of America East
Chris Aiken from the WGA, the person who was ready to talk whenever, creating a welcome space in the midst of a bunch of people whose tribe was theirs.

Eventually, after being one of only two people from WBBM, a third person showed up, news writer Mark Friedman. After I chatted with him a bit, I told him I was going to make another attempt to engage Onion folk in conversation, and something actually happened...I met two people who were friendly and wanted to talk, in spite of the fact that I was outside their orbit.

Joshua Patterson and Bryan Petcoff
Joshua and Bryan: glad to participate.

Joshua Patterson and Bryan Petcoff are producers at The Onion, and I had a great time talking with them. After Bryan left to tend to his dog, I talked to Joshua for a while about how great Chicago is, his hometown, Burbank, California, his interests and pursuits, including Feeltrip Records. Thus I did end up meeting someone who positively confirmed The Onion image, and talking to him about his life in Chicago reminded me of what the city was several years ago: a place to do lots of creative things and to explore while not spending a ton to live.

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