SOUTH LOOP — When Carlos Matallana peppered the South Loop with fliers seeking his missing bag and offering reward money, he was less concerned about the MacBook in the bag than the sketches tucked into one of its side pockets.
Matallana, a Pilsen-based artist who often leads classes for teens, had been working for more than a year on a project called the "Manual of Violence," a comic book meant to help youth "find a solution to violence from their own perspective."
The project, funded in part by an Individual Artist grant from Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, includes Matallana's hand-drawn illustrations.
So when he realized last week after having dinner at Reggie's Rock Club that the black leather briefcase had gone missing, his focus was entirely on his lost artwork.
"I didn't know if I had taken out the suitcase and left it on the sidewalk while I was feeding the meter, or if I left the car unlocked and someone just opened it and found it," said Matallana, who admitted he was distracted by his 4-year-old son.
The loss left him "up all night trying to organize everything and make sense of what I had at home, and what I have on the cloud, because I have some script sections in the cloud," he said.
After realizing he'd lost a substantial amount of original work, Matallana used his sketching skills to design an attention-grabbing flier that read "Black Suitcase!! Reward $$$" which he plastered all over parking meters, bulletin boards and sign posts.
Robby Glick, who owns Reggie's, 2105 S. State St., offered the restaurant as a drop point, "no questions asked," which Matallana put on the flier, along with the promise of a reward for the return of his artwork.
'I Saw This Black Case'
Meanwhile, while Matallana was hanging those fliers, Katrina Zanderson, a bartender at Augie's in Lincoln Park, was calling every phone number she could find on business cards inside the briefcase she'd grabbed at 21st and South State Streets to try to track down its owner.
"One of my best friends works at Reggie's Rock Club, and I was going to go meet her for lunch," she said. "I was just driving around looking for a parking spot, and I saw this black case sitting on the sidewalk.
"I've lived in Chicago my whole life, [and] usually when you see that, you kind of look along to see if there's a homeless person nearby and that's their camp spot," Zanderson added. "But it was a nice case right by the bus stop, and I just thought, hmm. I looked around and didn't see anybody. I didn't want anyone to think I was stealing it, but I was running late to meet my girlfriend, so I just threw it in my car and covered it with a blanket. I had work that night, and honestly, it skipped my mind until the next morning."
An amateur artist when she's not slinging drinks, Zanderson rifled through the bag and noticed "a notebook with all this artwork in it, and, being on the more creative side myself, I saw all of these wonderful pieces and all this hard work put into it" and knew she had to help it find its way home.
"I found this little blue business card with a smiley face on it that was different than the other cards and had a phone number on it," she said. "I called that and left a voicemail like, 'Listen, I don't know whose number this is, but this is the only contact information I have in this whole briefcase. I have your stuff,' then I left my contact info," she said.
"I felt like, 'OK, I kind of did my part here.' I hadn't seen any of the fliers Downtown," she said.
'A Wonderfully, Full-Circle Karma Situation'
Matallana said he received a call Saturday around 3 p.m.
"It was not a Chicago number, it was from a different state or something," he said. They said that they found the suitcase. I was just shocked that it ended up on the North Side.
"It had everything. Everything. I just still can't believe it," he said.
The two connected, and Matallana met Zanderson at Augie's to grab his bag.
"He was like, honestly everything was in there, the last two years of work was gone," she said. Matallana told her a bit about his work, and invited her to an upcoming art show.
"The fact that he's doing that is so inspirational and awesome," Zanderson said. "It's really cool that now he's able to continue. The relief, and the happiness that he had in his voice when he got my call — it felt really nice to ease his distress."
"In my opinion it was just a wonderfully, full-circle karma situation," Zanderson said.
She said she's looking forward to checking out his art show soon.
When she sees the final "Manual of Violence" project, Zanderson might be surprised to see her story featured somewhere within it.
"The 'lost and found' fliers that I drew, I'm going to put in the book as well, because it's just an amazing story," Matallana said.
He said the experience is worth memorializing because "I just realized that you've just got to trust in people."