Street Smart Chicago

Boze Narodzenie: A Brighton Park Memoir

Brighton Park No Comments »
Ambassador Ryszard Schnepf at a White House credentialing ceremony with President Barack Obama, January 14, 2013. Photo: U.S. Dept. of State.

Ambassador Ryszard Schnepf at a White House credentialing ceremony with President Barack Obama, January 14, 2013. Photo: U.S. Dept. of State.

By Martin Northway

“In Poland, government is a crime,” emphasized my friend Ryszard, whom I had met that fall here at the Daily Grind coffeehouse, just off the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington. Ryszard was a visiting professor in history from Warsaw University. Poland was just out from under martial law, but Ryszard remained a clandestine member of Solidarity, the rising national movement to restore democracy.

Among other things, we talked about the “Black Book of Polish Censorship” restricting journalists. In such a state, it was a part-time job for citizens to gather accurate information that affected their loves. “You are so fortunate in this country to have a free press,” despite its flaws, he insisted.

Ryszard spoke in accented but good, very precise English. Besides an interest in history, we shared another bond—while my father’s family goes back to the beginning of this nation, my maternal grandparents came here from Poland around the turn of the twentieth century. When he and I met, I was writing for the company magazine of the diesel engine manufacturer Cummins Engine Co., three years out of my gig as as managing editor of the weekly Brown County Democrat and two years into my divorce. Read the rest of this entry »

When the Aspidistra Was Flying: Home, Among the Bookshelves, For the Holiday

Holidays, Lakeview No Comments »

By Vincent Francone

Thanksgiving, 1996. The Aspidistra Bookshop was open 364 days a year. If it wasn’t Christmas, the store wasn’t going to close. My family refused to believe this. Who would stay open on Thanksgiving?

I explained to my mother that I would not be coming home that year, that even though the trip was short—just an hour or so from Lakeview to the southwest suburbs—I had to open and close the store.

“Who’s going to buy books on Thanksgiving?”

Not a bad question. I didn’t expect many people to wander in, though few surely would, mostly the oddballs who fit right in among the dusty books and empty beer bottles that littered the shop. They haunted Clark Street drinking endless cups of coffee at McDonald’s and trading conspiracy theories before coming to our store to make my day a bit more surreal. They asked me questions like: “Do you know who really discovered  Halley’s Comet?” But they never bought anything. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Don’t Walk

Avondale, Checkerboard City, Green, Transit No Comments »
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Crossing an offramp at Addison/Photo: John Greenfield

The Illinois Department of Transportation isn’t all bad, but it sure seems that way sometimes. Earlier this year, my blogging partner Steven Vance broke the story that IDOT has been blocking the Chicago Department of Transportation from installing protected bike lanes on state-jurisdiction roads. The motives behind the ban aren’t clear yet, but documents the Active Transportation Alliance obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request suggest that, contrary to the state’s explanation, concern for safety isn’t one of them.

Also this year, IDOT rammed the Circle Interchange Expansion through the regional planning process. The project will make room for more cars in the West Loop’s “spaghetti bowl” junction of the Ryan, the Ike and the Kennedy. While this $475 million boondoggle promises to do little to relieve congestion, it will discourage transit use, and its three flyover ramps will degrade the pedestrian environment and lower property values. Read the rest of this entry »

Greaser Girls: Fixing a New Biker Identity

City Life, Ukrainian Village No Comments »
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Crystal Kimmey and Kamaca Reavis

By Charlie Puckett

Tucked away in a Ukrainian Village alley off of Bishop Street, there are two women in a garage full of horsepower attracting askance glances and stares of jealousy alike. If you are a Ukrainian Villager, chances are you’ve never seen the garage or met Kamaca Reavis and Crystal Kimmey, but you’ve probably heard the engines of their vintage vehicles splitting apart a quiet afternoon, or you’ve heard a friend say, “I saw the craziest thing today walking down Chicago Avenue.” The spectacle your friend’s talking about could have been Reavis and Kimmey and their eight-year-old son idling in one of their vintage BMW sidecar motorcycles at a stoplight.

If your friend was staring, and Kimmey saw it, she may have said this to her son: “Seamus, sweetie, ask that nice man if he doesn’t like the color of my dress or if he’s constipated.” When that eight-year-old kid in a Star Wars X-Wing helmet leaned over in the sidecar to ask the question, that’s the moment your friend probably had his constipation relieved and whispered desperate supplications for the light to turn green. That’s just the kind of neutral response Kimmey is used to throwing out there before she shifts into first and rips away. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital RBC Race for the Kids 5K Run (October 6, 2013)

-Neighborhood/Suburb, Hyde Park, News etc., Running No Comments »

RECOMMENDED RACE

Comer5KBreakdown:

While there are a large number of races taking place in Chicago throughout the year in various northern sections of the city (Lincoln Park, Montrose Harbor and Grant Park come to mind) aside from the two popular halfs (Chicago Half Marathon and the Chicago 13.1 Marathon), there aren’t a lot of racing opportunities south of Museum Campus. The rather lengthily titled University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital RBC Race for the Kids 5K Run, starting and finishing on the University of Chicago campus, provides just such an opportunity. And though it might be a hike for non-South Siders to get to, it’s worth the trip.

With a reported 1,701 participants registered this year (and around half opting for chip-timing), the University of Chicago quad (at 58th Street between University and Ellis) was packed with runners before the race. Setting up base camp in the midst of the impressively historic academic buildings in this location provided an air of illustriousness to the proceedings and a clear boundary for the vendor tents. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Hauling Ashland

Back of the Yards, Checkerboard City, Green, Lakeview, Pilsen, Transit 1 Comment »
A southbound #9 Ashland bus / Photo: John Greenfield

A southbound #9 Ashland bus/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

“It doesn’t matter what you do to the bus! I will never take a bus! I will drive until the state won’t give me a license anymore.” So said an otherwise nice-seeming lady from the anti-bus rapid transit group the Ashland-Western Coalition at a community meeting this summer.

The CTA plans to build a BRT line on Ashland from 95th to Irving Park, providing an El-train-like experience on wheels instead of rails. Think of it as the Gray or Indigo Line. The buses will run in car-free lanes in the middle of the street, with stops located every half mile.

These traits, along with several other timesaving features, will bring speeds up to an estimated 15.9 mph, including stops, during rush hours. That’s almost twice as fast as the current #9 Ashland bus, which the CTA says averages only 8.7 mph, and it’s comparable to car speeds. That’s what’s needed if we want to make transit an attractive alternative to driving. Read the rest of this entry »

The Chicago Manual: Today is the First Day of the Life of Your Mind

Essays & Commentary, Hyde Park No Comments »

chicago-manual-cover3Near the beginning of my third year in the College, I quit the football team and, days or weeks later, wandered for the first time into the Smart Museum. Though I did not notice it at the time, my life changed profoundly, and on the spot. I’d never been inside an art museum; as the son of a physicist teaching in the suburbs, our family visits to Chicago had always been bound for the Museum of Science and Industry, the Field Museum or, most likely, Gino’s East Pizzeria. On display at the Smart that day were the watercolors of Wassily Kandinsky. I can’t explain what, but something fundamentally connected for me in viewing that exhibition. Before long, this econ-major-cum-MBA student was squeezing in as many classes as he could in art history, even convincing Professor Joel Snyder to spend a quarter conducting an independent study course in photography with me before I left for Wall Street. My wife Jan (AB ’85) and I started spending much of our free time in galleries and museums. An interest in all the other arts you’ll see covered in the pages of Newcity soon followed, and a year into my to-be-short-lived Goldman Sachs career, Jan, my brother Brent (AB ’88) and I started this publication. My life’s work connects in a direct line to that afternoon in the Smart Museum back in 1981. Read the rest of this entry »

One Perfect Life: An Ode to the Real South Side

Back of the Yards, Bridgeport, Bronzeville, Chinatown, Englewood, Essays & Commentary, Hyde Park, Kenwood, Little Village, Pilsen, South Shore, Southeast Side No Comments »

By Scoop Jackson

“Pharaoh of the Sun/Lookin’ down the barrel of a gun/Y’all know where I’m from.”
—from the poem “Keep On” by famous South Sider Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr. (aka Common)

We call them “pockets.” It’s the best way any of us who come from the South Side of Chicago can describe the drastic ebb and flow of the ‘hoods we live in.

“On the South Side,” real estate agent and South Side resident Chrystal Caruthers says, “you can grow up in a good neighborhood but go two blocks over and I’ll bet the people won’t feel the same.” The block-to-block change. The neighborhood-to-neighborhood shift in dynamics, living conditions and mentality. It exists in other neighborhoods in the country, but not like on the South Side in this city. The same way Chief Keef can weave tales about life on the South Side, Will Smith can come here and hang out on the lake on 31st Street and go write “Summertime.”

Growing up here gives one a perspective of range. Range in the sense of how far-reaching an area can be, how diverse and disconnected and devoted people raised on the same concrete can be. Where oftentimes the kids at Bogan were more dangerous to a young black kid than the GDs or El Rukns who went to Dunbar.

There is more beauty in the real South Side than anyone who doesn’t live here could understand. Through all of the bullshit, all of the incidents that happen on the side of Chicago that gives it the nicknames “Homicide Capital” and “Chiraq,” there exist pockets of life that bring an unmatched sense of pride and joy not found anywhere else in the city. Read the rest of this entry »

The Tox Lab: When U Chicago Was in the Chemical Weapons “Business”

Hyde Park, Politics No Comments »

ToxLabConnecting the dots is what an academic does. On September 10, Richard Neer, a University of Chicago professor of art history with a sideline in cinema, sent out an email with the subject line “Chemical Weapons Research at Chicago.”

The recipients of the email belonged to a listserv connected to the Committee for Open Research on Economy & Society (CORES). Founded by U of C faculty in 2008 to challenge plans for a Milton Friedman Institute, CORES was concerned with the “symbolic endorsement” by their employer given to the late economist’s politics. Neer signed a petition in opposition to the Institute, which blended with the Becker Center on Chicago Price Theory in 2011 to become the Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics.

A similar alarm was sounded in 1979 when the university bestowed the Albert Pick Jr. Award for Outstanding Contributions to International Understanding to Robert Strange McNamara, then president of the World Bank. Campus protests prompted university president Hannah Gray to write her guest the day after the black-tie gala: “I hope you will accept my apologies, offered both personally and on behalf of the University, for any discourtesies or awkwardness to which you may have been subjected.” Read the rest of this entry »

Prom Date? Highly Anticipated Food, Drink and Music Venue The Promontory Marks the Calendar

Food & Drink, Hyde Park No Comments »

DSCF0496The seemingly endless construction on 53rd Street is finally showing signs of completion and, before the year is out, Bruce Finkelman and Craig Golden, who between them are partners in some of the city’s most acclaimed venues, from Finkelman’s Longman & Eagle and The Empty Bottle to Golden’s Evanston SPACE, will have the doors to their newest project open. A two-story restaurant, bar and music venue combo in the works for almost two years, The Promontory will introduce more than a little North Side flair to Hyde Park.

Come December, patrons will be able to enjoy a modern hearth-style menu coupled with an artisanal drink selection, all the while having immediate access to a stage that will host a combination of local musicians and the indie/alternative tenor one expects to hear at The Empty Bottle. “I have a feeling it will be an honest reflection of the things we like to do,” says Finkelman. “Both from a musical and resto standpoint.” Read the rest of this entry »