Text message. 5:39 p.m. Wednesday, March 1.
I’m here. It smells amazing. You’re both lucky I’m a nice man and will wait for you.
Response. 5:43 p.m. Wednesday, March 1.
I’m on the bus. It smells like the bus.
You do notice the smell first.
It’s warm and filling, the type of smell where “aroma” seems a better fit for a word than “odor.”
It smells like rice and chicken, sweet potatoes and hot sauce with peanuts on top. It smells like cilantro and beans and mushrooms and barley and maybe a little of the beers and whiskeys being pulled in the front room.
The laughter’s what you notice next.
Wednesday after Wednesday in the winter months, people gather at an old watering hole in an industrial district by the north branch of the river for Soup and Bread. Before I get into what “Soup and Bread” means, I want to explain what I mean by “people.”
I mean everybody.
Leather-clad punk rockers mingle with elderly gay couples and young families wrangling passels of little ones. At one table, a man reads Superman comics out loud to his wide-eyed son. At another, early 20s scenesters look pretty for the Insta. A woman bounces a baby on her knee at one corner of the Hideout’s bar. The tattoo-and-nose-ring brigade bullies a different corner to down the liquid wares and outdo each other on bands they know.
From infants to the aged, people come to this bar from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesdays from January to the end of March for three things: soup, bread and community.
“Some people tell me it’s a mental health break in the middle of the week,” Soup and Bread creator Martha Bayne said amid the chaos.
To get down to nuts and bolts: Soup and Bread is a weekly free meal at the Hideout bar by the maintenance lots for the city’s fleets of cars, vans and dump trucks. The Hideout’s a hip little dive and live music venue in a ramshackle 1800s house turned shanty turned bar turned punk club turned community hot spot. You can see lectures here, or rock out at shows. You can get blitzed at the bar or, on Wednesdays between January and March, watch local families, kids and hard-ass punks laugh and down hot, warm soup cooked up and served by local restaurants, caterers, schoolchildren, home cooks and anyone else wanting to be part of the scene.
The meal is free. You pay what you can, either tossing cash in a basket at the door or by making a tax-deductible contribution on their website. The money goes for local soup kitchens and food pantries.
At the Hideout and at a smattering of ad hoc events in other American cities over the last eight years, Soup and Bread has raised more than $60,000 for Chicago-area food pantries as well as the Greater Chicago Food Depository, the New York City Coalition Against Hunger and Western Washington’s Food Lifeline.
I’ve known Soup and Bread creator Martha Bayne for more than three years, but just met her in October.
In 2013, I wrote a story for this site about a fundraiser she was running to cover the medical bills of the owner of a coffee shop I frequented at the time. We did the interview by phone. Over the years, she and I would trade emails about various projects she was organizing. A clown show. Veggie Bingo. A literary journal she co-organized that I submitted to. A reading I co-organized that she submitted to. A haunted house based on housing market and public health issues of historically lower-income South Side communities.
We had traded emails for years, but it wasn’t until I showed up at her haunted house this fall that I realized it — I don’t think I’d ever met this person. Martha’s sort of like that. She creates community. You’re in before you realize it.
Martha Bayne is not one of a kind. Martha Bayne is not magic or a Disney princess whose very presence gathers spontaneous acts of civic pride, community involvement and possibly choreographed dance numbers.
She’s a woman who works her ass off on projects that bring people together. She does the work we all say we could do to create the sense of community we all give lip service to wanting.
We talk and whine about urban isolation. She gets some folks together and asks who wants soup.