Friday, March 4, 2011

I Love Chicago

Today is the City Of Chicago's Birthday, started in 1834 so here's an ode to it.
Having finished up with the mayoral elections its time to take a long look at the city of Chicago and not necessarily who will run it. But the first requirement for any mayor of my hometown is that you have to love this town, unapologetically, equally and with some serious pride.
In case if you wondered, yes I love Chicago, despite not living there for the past 3 years and yes I wouldn’t mind being mayor. There’s a lot of history, power & prestige with that gig. Most of us who follow and admire politics dream of ruling that great city from the fifth floor of city hall. Great men have ruled the roost from there, most larger than life, Big Bill Thompson, Anton Cermak, Martin H. Kennelly, Richard J. Daley, Harold Washington & Richard M. Daley.
But back to the city, to be a successful mayor you have to know that city, only then can you appreciate it and begin to love it. My love starts with where, my life started on the south side. I was born on a side street (just like the old Sam & Dave song), 58th & Maryland at the University of Chicago. If you want to start with a great Chicago neighborhood, none greater than Hyde Park, with the U of C, home hood of President Obama (well technically Kenwood), more diversity, culture, parks, beauty and just over all neighborhood goodness than any other area. It’s the ideal big city neighborhood.
The best sunrise in the Midwest is driving east bound on 57th street (coming up to Lake Shore Drive), around 7:10 on a spring morning and seeing the sun slowly get out of bed on Lake Michigan. Used to see that every morning driving to DePaul, never get tired of it, ever. That is Hyde Park and Chicago at its most beautiful.
Then there is Lincoln Park where I went to college at DePaul University, believe it or not, its most elegant in the rain, walk down Belden east from Racine all the way to the lake (yes I have an affinity for water), and see the droplets fall between the trees and the brownstones, urban artwork. But also eat at the Bourgeois Pig CafĂ©, study at DePaul, get stuck in that infamous Fullerton Parkway traffic or deal with the drunks up and down Lincoln Ave on a Friday night but also visit that world famous zoo and just sit on the rocks at the North Ave beach and you’ll start to see what this city is about.
But you really wanna learn Chicago, get on some mass transit, the Metra Rock Island train (affectionally called “The Rock”), and you’ll see it all, downtown, south loop, Woodlawn (where my parents came from), Brainerd, Beverly, Morgan Park and all in between. It’s not all postcard pretty like Lincoln Park & Hyde Park, but this city for the large part, ain’t pretty, but it works and the beauty in that is way more than skin deep.
The CTA Red Line train is the best single route to see real neighborhoods and real people since “The Rock” doesn’t make many inner city stops (though 35th Sox Park is coming), so start at one end at the Old Dan Ryan El at 95th Street, don’t eat at the Maxwell Street Polish stand on 95th & State, (the indigestion is unreal), and ride north. This train goes right down the middle of I-94, at times 8 lanes of traffic (local & express), on either side as you are powered by the 3rd rail down the tracks, 87th, 79th and all the way to 35th Street (US Cellular Field home of the White Sox), you usually roll faster than the cars (especially during rush hour). Then onto Chinatown, 22nd (Cermak ), and down into the subway into downtown, State street is the best stop, right out near Jackson at DePaul’s downtown campus, you come up like a coal miner right into the busy heart of the city.
If you stay on the train it doesn’t come up until Fullerton, and thats Lincoln Park, more DePaul University and then on Addison where the Cubs play, and then its past Ravenswood until the end of the city at Howard. Then you’re in Rogers Park, almost to Evanston, another diverse area, good food, good urban area but like with most of the city, watch yourself, life is fast on the street.
West Pullman is where I grew up, past the historical homes of George Pullman’s former company town, just north of the sleepy bedroom suburbs of Calumet Park & Blue Island and south and east of idyllic Beverly. Yeah Halsted Street is rough, has been for over 20 years at 123rd Street.  119th Street has a great new library and a planned new Salvation Army community center but its no joke around there and especially going east into Roseland.
Go west on 119th Street to Marshfield at 1-57 there is a shopping center with Jewel, Target and other shops. But that will always be the old Libby’s plant.
I grew up back east on Morgan Street, there was a steel mill at the end of the block, International Harvester’s plant was three blocks away on 120th and Dutch Boy’s operations were right at the Metra Electric (Illinois Central), tracks on 121st & Peoria. It was a true working class area, old Polish hood before the change in identity in the early 80’s to a minority based community, then down hill in the 90’s with violence, street gang dominance, drug sales and people not keeping up their houses.
Still on a clear summer day the sun comes through the maple trees on 123rd street from Green Street to Sangamon all the way to the Bishop Park Apartments on Ada, the birds sing and that established community still has some rugged brilliance, just be sure to watch your back as you check it out, homeboys will get you if you’re not watching your surroundings.

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