Who am I? Unlike Gossip Girl… I am an open book. I have no secrets – or at least, no secrets that I won’t tell you as a new friend. So now that we’re friends, I’m gonna start inviting you in.
My name is Abby Pucker. I am the founder of Gertie and I’m so excited to welcome you to our community.
But first, let me tell you a little bit about why we’re calling ourselves Gertie.
Gertrude Stein was ahead of her time. Born in Pittsburgh, raised in Oakland, and best known for leading the Paris salon scene of the 1920s, she was a queer, Jewish author who brought people together. Stein was an outsider who became an insider. She refused to abide by the rules, and gathered people who “polite society” would never think to introduce to one another — writers, thinkers, actors, painters, and patrons from different cultural clusters.
I’ve been thinking about Gertrude a lot lately. Over the years, I’ve become the de facto social secretary of my friend group, and I've used food and cultural conversations to bring together friends from various social circles. So much so that my good friend and AMAZING Chicagoan Ximena Beltran Quan Kiu used to call me her “little Gertrude Stein.”
But I’ve spent my entire 20s trying to replicate one special, simple project from my senior year of high school.
My high school, Walter Payton College Prep (Payton for short), had two problems: exclusive, segregated friend groups, and empty bleachers at sports games. My best friend Grace and I set out to solve them by forming a new, inclusive cheer squad that would show up for our classmates and provide a space for people to cross paths.
Our first step was outfitting our spirit club in T-shirts. The school colors were not cute — orange and dark blue (Walter Payton… Chicago Bears) — so we made brown and baby blue t-shirts that said G-R-R-R in varsity lettering, as a subtle nod to our Grizzly mascot. Our cafeteria merch booth sold out immediately, and we decided to use the proceeds to rent a bus to carry our squad to away games. We charged $3 per person per game, because we knew our classmates would flake out if they didn't have some skin in the game. From the very first game, we knew it was a success — our bus brought 60 people, and for once, the stands were packed. And at the game, I was chatting up classmates I’d never met before, some of whom are now my closest friends.
Once our spirit club got to know each other, we started hosting other kinds of gatherings. We decorated cookies around the holidays. We played capture-the-flag in the park. We hosted a Halloween scavenger hunt. And we made a Facebook group. At GRRR, we saw each other for who we were as people, not as “a volleyball player” or “a cool girl” or “a nerd.” (Though I’m told Gen Z has retired these labels.) People just enjoyed spending time together.
It was so simple, but people needed something to organize around. And they needed someone to organize it.
In the years since GRRR, I have built friendships that span age, race, ethnicity, gender, and professional sector. I’ve made it a point to unite everyone around three things:
- Exploring our city through cultural activities
- Gathering around great food
- Amplifying unexpected conversations
These are the cornerstones of Gertie.
Just as my high school didn’t invest in “school spirit,” and Grace and I took it upon ourselves to start GRRR, our local leaders in Chicago often don’t have the bandwidth to prioritize the social and cultural fabric of the city… they’re a bit busy and we get that, but we’ve gotta do something.
Honestly, the real need for Gertie stems from our pandemic loneliness. Now is the time to rethink how we gather in our cultural spaces.
Remember how we talked about secrets? Well, this space is about uncovering secrets and strengthening our ability to create together.
Ready for the biggest secret of all?
No one feels like they are being invited. You are not alone.
Gertie is a way to address this. As long as you make the commitment to respond to the invite when it interests you and invite others in, we will commit to sharing everything those “in the know” love about Chicago.
P.S. Follow us on Instagram to meet our contributors and discover our social calendar between these dispatches.