(August 1, 2015)–My name is Michael Benami Doyle. I’ve written Chicago Carless since June 2005. My blog began as a look at life in Chicago through the newcomer eyes of a non-driving, expatriate New Yorker. It became the place I chronicled the difficulties, joys, and ultimately satisfaction of learning who you are as an adult in a place where all the assumptions you grew up with don’t apply the same way anymore. And how to navigate forward.
Along the way, I loved and left downtown Chicago, wrestled through life with ADHD, converted to Judaism, and connected with my life partner. I also learned how to love the world beyond New York City, endlessly tried to answer the question why I left my hometown in the first place, and experienced the unexpected blessing of reuniting with my NYC family after 20 years apart. So there’s more joy, love, and gratitude on this side of the past decade than at the beginning of it, and the journey is all in these virtual pages.
As a Blogger
I’m a trained urban planner and transit advocate. In 2003, I fell deeply in love with Chicago and after several attempts to stop flying here every two weeks, finally decided to make Chicago my home. I arrived not knowing how to drive, and used my planning skills to examine things about Chicago that people who grew up here usually take for granted. I’ve always said the only New Yorkers who don’t appreciate the Windy City are the ones who haven’t been here yet.
My blog has been featured numerous times for coverage of civic and social-justice issues by local and national media including Romenesko, Jay Rosen, the Chicago Reader‘s Michael Miner, the Chicago Tribune (which called me a “Newsmaker of the Week” in September 2006), the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Magazine, Time Out Chicago, the Detroit News, Centerstage Chicago (which called me a “born-again Chicagoan”), NBC 5 Chicago, Chicago Public Radio, WBBM Newsradio, the WVON Cliff Kelley Show, the former Chi-Town Daily News, Gapers Block, Chicagoist, and Rich Miller’s Capital Fax Blog.
Among those issues:
- Widening the debate on neighborhood noise in downtown Chicago;
- Forcing the Chicago Transit Authority to cancel a holiday crackdown on homeless riders that would have ejected people from the ‘L’ system in sub-freezing temperatures with no support alternatives;
- Helping win the removal of ill-conceived homeland security cameras installed atop Millennium Park’s Crown Fountain;
- Calling out the national Trust for Public Land over a racially insensitive marketing campaign for Chicago’s new 606 linear park;
- Supporting the Chicago Children’s Museum’s right to self-determination;
- Getting Macy’s to replace erroneous wayfinding signage carelessly designed and installed throughout their flagship State Street store;
- Giving my fellow Chicagoans an insider’s perspective on Marina City’s Gary Kimmel scandal; and
- Covering of alleged price-gouging by Chicago’s Intelligentsia Coffee–including a guest spot on the nationally acclaimed LGBT news-and-features podcast, Feast of Fun.
(My original masthead from 2005.)
In 2009, I was a charter blogger for the Chicago Tribune’s ChicagoNow blog network, writing the blog-roundup column, Chicagosphere. (My posts can now be found here on Chicago Carless.) My examination of substandard conditions for staff bloggers at ChicagoNow during my tenure there (“The Past Imperfect of ChicagoNow“) became a national media item and was the most-discussed topic ever on Chicago’s leading headline news site of the era, Windy Citizen.
My writing has also appeared on About.com (where I produced the “About Brooklyn” site at the turn of the millennium), Gapers Block, Huffington Post Chicago, InterfaithFamily.com, the Kenneth Cole “Awearness” Blog, Time Out Chicago, Jewcy, and in the pages of the Community Media Workshop annual Chicagoland media guide, Getting On the Air, Online & into Print.
As a Strategic Communicator
I’m the principal of BENAMI MEDIA, a strategic communications and positioning shop that helps socially minded individuals and organizations tell their stories, grow awareness, and make change happen via campaign-based consulting services, one-on-one coaching, or ongoing retainer-based support. (Browse our services or connect with us to talk about how we can partner with you on your next project.)
I honed my sense of urban equity and social justice in the undergraduate and graduate planning programs at Hunter College of the City University of New York, and serving four years on the central staff of the New York City Transit Riders Council, two of them as associate director. I sharpened my strategic media skills through continuing education at Chicago’s nationally noted Community Media Workshop.
As a consultant or a partner with other boutique communications shops, I’ve worked with numerous community groups, nonprofits, and labor unions in Chicago and at the national level. During Election 2006 I received public accolades from the AFL-CIO and celebrity host Roseanne Barr for my grassroots video interviews shot for the groundbreaking video blog, 7 Days @ Minimum Wage. The project, conceived by Washington, DC-based progressive PR firm Massey Media–with my searing interview with single mom Jessica as its centerpiece (part one, part two)–helped win minimum wage increases in Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, and Ohio.
For my full professional profile, connect with me on Linkedin.
As a Jew by Choice
In 2010 something happened that changed my perspective on life. Unexpectedly, I began a journey of conversion to Judaism, and officially joined the Jewish people in May 2011. As I asked in my conversion essay, how many different ways are there to write that you’ve fallen in love with something that you never knew that you’ve always been? Or as my lifelong New York friends put it, “It’s about time you figured it out. We always knew.”
I’m the rare Reform Jew who likes to swim in the traditional end of the mitzvah pool. I wear my kippah (yarmulke) full time. Sometimes I wear my tzitzit (strings.) But I also believe that it’s no one else’s right to determine your Jewish choices or your Jewish legitimacy. I was affiliated with a Reform synagogue for four years. In 2013, I began and paused rabbinical school. In 2014, I entered the realm of unaffiliated post-denominationalism. Like the majority of American Jews, my partner, Ryan (on his own Jewish conversion journey), and I are waiting for the right synagogue to come along. Shul politics being what they are, we’re not sure that will happen in Chicago, and we’re not in a hurry, either.
I have been honored to receive numerous emails from around the world from Jews by Choice and those on or considering Jewish journeys. Those emails have been among the greatest blessings of my writing this blog, and I am happy to connect and compare life notes, offer encouragement, or lend an ear. I was also the co-founder of Chicago’s Jew-by-choice discussion group, the Ruth Roundtable, which was used as a model for a sister group in Washington, DC in 2013.
As a Family
Like many people, I was raised in a challenged household. What our lack of means didn’t take away, the substance-abuse problems of my older siblings often did. After my mother died in my mid-twenties, I became estranged from my siblings to find my own emotional serenity. By my mid-thirties, I assumed I would never know my family again.
Then in 2015, following a family tragedy, my adult nephews sought me out and in the blink of an eye, after 20 years we were a family again. A family that’s white, and black, and Christian, and Jewish, and law-abiding, and sentence-served, and sober, and some challenges are more enduring. And as Ryan told me after we traveled to Queens to be together with them, they’ve never met a stranger.
In the communications field, this is what we call a buried lede. And my life is transformed once again. And I feel like the luckiest man in the world.
So we remain in Chicago, while we dream of New York and Los Angeles. And the future, as Natasha Bedingfield sang, is unwritten.