Street Smart Chicago

The Gypsy Trail: The history and legacy of Rom culture in Chicago

City Life, Northwest Side 2 Comments »

By David Wittercover

A neon sign in the window of the frame house flashes “Readings by Maria,” while a wooden marker on the roadside, lit by a small spotlight, spells out the same message in hand-painted letters. After a quiet knock a short woman opens the door. Her skin is olive and her hair dark brown, but her eyes are blue. She wears a dark house dress, a simple necklace and has a blue scarf wrapped around her hair.

“Are you here for a reading?” she asks. After a quick nod she leads you into the house. A chandelier hangs overhead, illuminating mostly white furniture, some covered by plastic. Black-and-white photos of dark-haired men in fancy suits and pictures of children with dark eyes line the walls. A man talks on a white phone, oblivious to the visitors.

The woman sits at a black and gold embroidered table and opens a box of tarot cards. “Come, sit down. I will read the cards and tell you your future…”

This is the home of a fortune-teller located on Harlem Avenue near Diversey. For many, whether in print, films or gossip, this is the image of gypsies. Others may include women with low-cut blouses dancing seductively, like the one portrayed in the 1970s pop hit, “Gypsy Woman,” or roaming bands of con artists, vis-a-vis the Peter Maas book and resulting movie “King of the Gypsies,” or Stephen King’s “Thinner.” Web sites like gypsypsychicscams.com allege gypsy fortune-tellers dupe unsuspecting customers out of thousands of dollars. Yet while some may fit this image, they are, like any other group, just a sampling of a race of people who have been around for more than a thousand years. Gypsies have been part of the Chicago landscape since the late 1800s, and today you can find them shopping, attending churches and working as musicians in jazz clubs, concert halls and European-themed restaurants throughout the Chicago area. Read the rest of this entry »

Backpacking Buddies: Chicago Adventure Social Club helps travelers find friends

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moxieA laptop, a Europe travel book and a few print-out maps sit on the table at Mercury Café on a Thursday night as Chris Kraj and Jen Petruska plan their two-week backpacking trip for August, beginning in Spain then going to southern France, Switzerland and Italy.

This is actually the first time the two have ever seen each other in person. They met through the online forum for the Chicago Adventure Travel Club, the local chapter of the Global Expeditions Club founded by Kevin Foley and Jeff Kelly. The first chapter of Global Expeditions formed a year ago in Boston and has since grown to forty chapters across North America.

“We found a lot of solo travelers looking for people to travel with,” Kelly says. “We thought it would be a good idea to start a club that uses social networking. You hear horror stories of people who go on group tours…we thought it would be good for people to get together first and meet each other.” Read the rest of this entry »

411: Uncommon Garden

City Life, Edgewater, Green, News etc. No Comments »

Mayor Daley will participate Saturday in the Farm Dedication and Ribbon Cutting Ceremony of Uncommon Ground’s organic rooftop farm. The 2,500-square-foot farm, located above the Edgewater restaurant, is the first certified organic rooftop farm in the U.S. Uncommon Ground owners Helen and Michael Cameron use the farm to produce food for their Wrigleyville and Edgewater locations. “As a child we grew a vast array of fruits and vegetables. As a result, I’ve always enjoyed growing things,” Helen Cameron says. “The minute I saw this enormous, sunny space…I was like, ‘Oh my God, we could grow food up here.'” The farm was certified organic last October by the Midwest Organic Services Association. “To me, it’s perfectly natural to grow your own food in a small space,” Helen says. “We have a climate that works here in Chicago, and you can be very successful growing a great deal of food in the city.”

By the Dusk’s Early Light: Waving at Independence

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fireworks-with-fuzzes-and-plane-lights-in-background-738921There is no gunplay from this vantage point, nor threat of it. The self-styled pirates captaining the boats moored in Monroe Harbor, just yards from the barge that launches the fireworks this Independence Eve, are more likely to plunder from the comfort of a trading desk. Just the annoying applause of foghorns bleating from nearby vessels when intoxicated enthusiasm is unleashed by the breathtaking spectacle of explosions in the sky so proximate that you see the ashes fall, and smell the smoke gathering on the water. And hear the thunderous booms of cannons in a historical distance; is this Francis Scott Key’s muse? Then the horn, and the reminder of what our Founding Fathers risked their lives for: so that once a year, the inner knucklehead in so many might be so freely unleashed. And then, as quickly as the premature show begins, it ends, and the quietude of the watery remove returns. On the shore, the millions move away, sirens and helicopter spotlights framing their retreat in a battleground of a twenty-first century. But, here, look, aren’t those kids on that boat over there getting in the water? They’re naked! Ah, freedom. (Brian Hieggelke)

Common Sense: At Full Incapacity

City Life, Essays & Commentary No Comments »

By Jill Jaraczcover

I’ll be on time for my appointment, if I can just get on this bus. Problem is, my bus stop is at Belmont and Lake Shore, the last stop before several routes go express. The express bus is a great timesaver, but it can be its own circle of hell.

In this scenario, which plays out on most express buses that run along Michigan Avenue or LaSalle at all times of the day (and plenty of other routes during rush hour), a bus will barrel up to the stop. As I and twenty other people mob the door, I don’t see anyone standing in the bus yet, so I should be able to get on.

We all slowly trickle on, but those of us at the end of the boarding line start getting smashed in up front. It looks like I’ll be playing “identify the perfume/cologne/deodorant (or lack thereof)” for most of my ride. When I look down the aisle, I see plenty of room in the back of the bus. The standers have decided they don’t want to move past the back door. Heaven forbid that anyone actually goes up the two steps to the back of the bus and stands in the rear. Read the rest of this entry »

Common Sense: A Plea for Less Whining Rich People

City Life, Essays & Commentary 1 Comment »

By Lisa Graysoninterior

Dear Petulant Investing Acquaintance,

I’m so sorry to hear that your portfolio is worth a fraction of what it was last year. Really. I can’t imagine the agony of watching the evaporation of all that spare cash. You were planning to retire at 50, and now you may have to put it off until 55. Pity.

Governor Quinn sends me money every two weeks to help me feel better, and believe me, I’m grateful. But call it a simple lack of imagination, failure of empathy, Schadenfreude, whatever you want: I am tired of rich people whining to non-rich people. I’m talking about non-rich Americans, and we’re still better off than ninety percent of the world, which makes your whining all the more irritating. Sure, some of us are desperate, but most of us are trying to maintain an optimistic attitude because anxiety can lead to high blood pressure and ulcers, and our COBRA ran out seven months ago.

News flash: Most of us didn’t lose money in the stock market. We never had money in the stock market. The closest we might come is a small 401(k) or union pension fund. You don’t hear us complaining about the hundreds of thousands (or millions) we lost—because we didn’t have much to begin with. I’m sure it hurts to have your investments lose their worth. But what about all those years when they were gaining insane value, when you were earning easy money? When everything you touched turned to gold, with little if no effort from you? I figure you’re probably still ahead of where you started. Which is more than a lot of us can say. So please accept my condolences and kindly shut the fuck up.

Common Sense: The Tyranny of Lists

City Life, Essays & Commentary No Comments »

By Rob Patrick

My girlfriend has a list of every guy she kissed from the time she was 14 until she was 22. I have no idea how many names are on that list (or if any are followed by an asterisk). She offered to tell me, but frankly I don’t want to know. And that’s pretty much how I feel about all lists: Keep them to your fucking self. So in the interest of a little Independence Day irony (and after all, what is the Declaration of Independence but a list, albeit a very well-written one), here is my list of lists I loathe.

1. “To Do” lists—I once read a children’s book about an anal frog and a toad who are best friends. One day the frog makes a long list of things to do—wake up, eat breakfast, visit Toad, etc. His whole goddamn life is that list, and he checks off each thing he does. Then the wind blows his list away, but he can’t chase it because chasing the list isn’t an item on the list. And without that list, he can’t function at all. I know people exactly like that frog. They wake up, sit with a cup of coffee, and write their “list of things to do today.” They even buy notepads with pre-printed numbers, which is typical of people who need lists. Not only are they forgetful and neurotic, they’re also lazy. Read the rest of this entry »

Common Sense: Tax Downtown Drivers

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By John Greenfield

It should be easy to travel Chicago, especially the Loop, without a car. The flat grid makes walking a breeze. We’ve got over 100 miles of bicycle lanes and more than 10,000 bike racks. CTA, Metra, taxicabs and even water taxis and pedicabs offer eco-friendly options for getting downtown and around town.

So why is the Central Business District clogged with cars that foul the air and endanger walkers and cyclists, while transit faces perpetual budget shortfalls? Answer: while the City of Chicago fails to invest in green transportation (Federal money paid for those bike lanes and racks, and the city spends a measly $3 million per year on the CTA), it continues to encourage driving, especially downtown.

Mayor Daley lifted a longtime ban on new Loop parking garages and built Millennium Park on top of a three-level garage with room for more than 2,000 cars. Recent zoning changes force developers to provide a parking spot for every housing unit. The Traffic Management Authority has changed traffic signal times to favor cars over pedestrians, and removed crosswalks on Michigan Avenue and Lake Shore Drive, making it easier to drive and harder to walk.

Instead, Chicago needs to start discouraging driving and promoting healthier modes by charging motorists a toll for the privilege of driving into the Loop, and using the cash to fund bike, ped and transit projects. Read the rest of this entry »

Common Sense: Dear Art Thief

City Life, Essays & Commentary, Wicker Park No Comments »

By Damien James

I spent more time than I’d like to admit wondering what you were thinking as you walked the halls of the smART Show in the Flat Iron building between 10:30pm and midnight a few weeks ago. I’m curious because in that time, you managed to swipe one of my drawings right off the wall and abscond with it.

My initial reaction, not surprisingly, was anger. Intense, red piping-hot anger. “What the fuck!?” were my words, to be exact, extra emphasis on the “f.” Who steals art at a small neighborhood show? From an “emerging” artist? (“Emerging” = “starving”) Even more, who steals a piece of art that’s already been sold? Now, I know it was small, and as you passed by maybe you thought it would fit perfectly in your bag or pocket or whatever, but did you not see the sticker above the drawing that said “sold”? Could you not have chosen a piece that hadn’t already been paid for? Because you see, some artists who do shows in the Flat Iron, especially in the halls of the Flat Iron, are struggling; they’re artists who are desperately trying to carve out some tiny, peaceful existence. We’re trying to do something good, to make and share something outside the ever-present web of invasive insanity-breeding consumerism. I get (but don’t condone, of course) stealing an iPhone, an X-Box, cash; but a drawing? Not only did you steal something I made, but you took money out of my pocket. And I’ve got other people to take care of beside myself. So: what the fuck!? Read the rest of this entry »

Garbage Run: Picking up the trash in Washington Park

City Life, Green, News etc., Running 1 Comment »

trashrunnersOn a mildly warm, sunny day on Chicago’s South Side, a group of six avid runners and their mascot dog, Sadie-a chocolate lab and spaniel mix-gather together at the corner of 59th and Cottage Grove. The group’s organizer, Paige Troelstrup, pulls out trash bags and latex gloves, giving one of each to everyone.

The Chicago Trash Runners, as the group is called, was organized by Troelstrup when Jeremy Litchfield of Atayne, an environmentally conscious athletic-apparel company based in Virginia, suggested she start a trash running group in Chicago. This gathering at Washington Park is the second meet-up for the group; the first was last month at Belmont Harbor. Read the rest of this entry »