Street Smart Chicago

Chasing Temporary Anonymity: Find the Courage to Be a Nobody

Education/Training, Essays & Commentary, Hyde Park 2 Comments »
Harper Library/Photo: Tom Rossiter

Harper Library/Photo: Tom Rossiter

By Greg Langen, MA ’13

Welcome to the University of Chicago. If the manicured quadrangles did not tip you off, you have arrived at one of the most intellectually rigorous and prestigious research universities in the world. But I’m sure you already know this. I’m sure you’ve already looked up the rankings of the school and your particular programs, crosschecked them with the schools that rejected you, compared them with the school that that one kid from your high school got into. If you are an incoming First Year, I’m sure you’re a bit anxious about starting classes, a bit uneasy about those things that you saw on your roommate’s Facebook page. And I know some of you are rapidly wondering where you can buy fresh goji berries or coconut water in Chicago. Don’t worry. I’m sure they’re here somewhere.

However, before you allow the pomp to confer upon you either a sense of accomplishment and/or an obligation to be unendingly brilliant, I kindly ask you to find the courage this year to be an absolute nobody.

Last year, before setting foot on campus, I made the mistake of Googling the notable University of Chicago alumni, assuming that in some absurd and distant way me and say, Philip Glass, were now somehow connected. We aren’t. At all. Read the rest of this entry »

The Air Down Here: Finding Myself in Hyde Park Without Even Attending the University

Essays & Commentary, Hyde Park, Lit, Literary Venues No Comments »

photoBy John Wilmes

At first, I felt like an outcast. I lived against my will in quaint, pastoral places, and screamed about things which no one near me understood. I saw the city as my escape. At first, I merely wanted to belong to Chicago, to belong to it at all.

But once I did, once I’d been paying too much rent and squeezing through the Blue Line for some months, jittery with my sense of inclusion, I grew to want something more. I wanted for my leanings—my preferences for the written, for the expressed, for the over-thought and the intellectually overwrought—to flow freely. For my bibliophilia and existential self-pummeling to be worth something; for them to find a home. I’d long assumed the city was pure fertilizer for the madness I’d always felt, that it was a place for my socio-political yowling to take root, to bloom. This, I thought, was where the alienation I felt through all my suburban life, through all my years in the Big Ten, would be assuaged.

But it wasn’t. I was too surrounded by those merely feigning to feel what I felt. They’d only scheme tragic visions with me until they found a beer, a joint, the correctly musty bar, or the sound of a song that was properly sold to them—at which point they were as opiated as anyone, and closed themselves to the continued crocheting of our dystopian, perversely celestial quilt of the world. I would have to stay up sculpting it myself in Microsoft Word, through any number of failed novels. I would have to fall asleep with my shoes and sweatshirt on, with all of the lights on, with my fingers on the keyboard. Read the rest of this entry »

My Confidants, the Gargoyles

Hyde Park No Comments »
GargoylebyTomRossiter

Photo: Tom Rossiter

Even though they’re everywhere, nobody on campus ever mentions the gargoyles. When I first arrived at U of C, the only offspring of unschooled immigrants to attend an elite university, they were the first thing I noticed.

Hailing from a cookie-cutter suburb where what differentiated the boxy little houses was the color of plastic tile inside (your choice of pink, aqua, or baby blue), I marveled at the hand-carved stone, the unique and imposing presence of the gargoyles. Didn’t anyone else wonder why, for instance, on the street side of  Cobb Gate, four little creatures scamper upwards, but on the quad side, another six scurry amidst the contorting heads and eyes of griffins? Wasn’t anyone else curious?

In my first days in this strange place, I nursed my loneliness in crannies atop the Social Science building and Wieboldt Hall where you could buy bad coffee for a few cents and stare the gargoyles guarding Harper Library right in the eye. Dining in Hutchinson Commons with glib classmates from private-school-pedigree stocks, I drew strength from the grotesques banded like rosettes into the stone outside. Before ducking into Bond Chapel, I would schmooze with the mischievous critters frolicking amongst the saintly human faces on the west facade, embarrassed to admit which I felt closer to. Read the rest of this entry »

Mark the Music: U2 and One Man’s Escape From Everyday Life at the U of C

Essays & Commentary, Hyde Park No Comments »
U2 at U Chicago, April 11, 1981/Photos: Paul Sandberg

U2 at U Chicago, April 11, 1981/Photos: Paul Sandberg

By Bart Lazar, AB ’82

Music can be a great diversion, punctuate life’s experiences or be a life’s work. New students at UChicago or new residents in Hyde Park should not eliminate music from life’s major food groups.

WHPK 88.5FM, the university’s and community’s radio outlet, is definitely worth many listens. The music includes indie, rock, folk, blues, jazz, dusties, R&B, classical and live bands, and the hosts are as diverse as the music, including a mix of current undergraduates, graduates, alumni and community members. In today’s world of computer-programmed commercial and Internet radio outlets, it is refreshing to hear an actual human being presenting music and/or information that he/she cares passionately about.

My first day of orientation week, I walked up the elbowed steps of the Reynolds Club and ran into the station’s program director hanging around talking. I told him I had been a DJ in high school and was interested in continuing. He said “great, how would you like Friday afternoon?” Read the rest of this entry »

Those Quirky Kids: The Re-Education of the U Chicago Grad

Education/Training, Hyde Park No Comments »
Photo: Monika Lagaard

Photo: Monika Lagaard

By Erin Kelsey, AB ’12

I graduated from the College of the University of Chicago in June 2012, and I started my job at the University of Chicago one week later. I joined the Alumni Relations and Development (ARD) staff at one of the university’s “schools and units”—which is to say, one of the smaller, independent organizations under the umbrella of the university. In plain language, that means I’m a fundraiser, but not the kind of fundraiser who calls up my fellow alumni to ask for donations.

While I haven’t taken a class in more than a year, my time with the university as an employee has still been educational, as I’ve experienced the vast perspective shift between undergraduates and the rest of the community. That shift was evident immediately: not so removed from my O-Week, I went to new-employee orientation for a long, antiseptic treatment of the school’s history, and I sipped their coffee and waited to hear something new. I didn’t. It was only interesting to see them leave out the unsavory bits of history and how they explained the “quirky student body” to employees who didn’t know Hyde Park. Read the rest of this entry »

Gentlemen’s Club: When Football Came (Back) to the University of Chicago

Hyde Park, Sports No Comments »
Martin Northway (right) in a 1968 or 1969 drill with teammate Jerry Culp.

Martin Northway (right) in a 1968 or 1969 drill with teammate Jerry Culp.

By Martin Northway, X’70

“Isn’t that where all the Reds are?” was a common reaction among my high-school classmates when I told them I was enrolling at the University of Chicago. Even in the sixties, what attracted me to Chicago was its abundance of libertarian scholars—led by Milton Friedman—and the prospect of a liberal arts education anchored by the Common Core. I originally fancied myself an economics major but later abandoned it for less-depressing American history. Mainly, I wanted to write.

The last thing I thought I would do at U of C was play football. But I found myself drawn to the purity it preserved in the sport, unlike the tainted and excessive adulation given by my high school, a national power running up a string of consecutive victories that would stand for a decade. What U of C had was a football club, a stew of undergraduates and grad students of diverse abilities.

U of C had been a power in the Big Ten (originally the Western Conference) under legendary Amos Alonzo Stagg, but ultimately its small undergraduate talent pool could not compete against Midwest behemoths. A last flash of greatness was back Jay Berwanger’s selection as the first Heisman winner in 1935. (I joined his Psi Upsilon fraternity, again an athletes’ sanctuary.) U of C left big-time football in its rear-view mirror in 1939. To some—especially President Robert M. Hutchins—it was good riddance. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Southwest Side Sojourn

Bicycling, Brighton Park, Checkerboard City, Garfield Ridge, Green No Comments »
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The secret path by Bubbly Creek. Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

I must be a glutton for punishment. That’s the only way to explain my decision to scout out a new “stealth route” bicycle itinerary from Bridgeport to the ‘burbs along the Sanitary and Ship Canal last week, in ninety-five-degree heat. This was to be the continuation of a route I reconnoitered last year from the Loop to the Daleys’ ancestral home, hugging the South Branch of the Chicago River—you can read that writeup at tinyurl.com/SouthBranchRoute.

Completed in 1900, the canal was dug in order to reverse the flow of the river, to keep sewage from entering Chicago’s water supply. It still carries our treated wastewater to the Des Plaines River, and it serves as the only shipping link between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Circular Reasoning

Checkerboard City, Loop 1 Comment »
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Michael Edwards with the “Give” sculpture at The Gateway/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

The State Street shopping district has come a long way since the seventies and eighties when the strip featured a motley assortment of discount stores, theaters showing exploitation flicks, adult bookstores, strip clubs and flophouses. The thoroughfare has bounced back since the 1996 State Street Revitalization Project, which put in the classy Beaux Arts fixtures we enjoy today, and is once again a vibrant retail corridor.

But the Chicago Loop Alliance, one of the downtown chambers of commerce, is always looking for ways to attract more visitors to That Great Street. One of their key strategies is “placemaking,” taking underused public spaces and activating them with facilities and programs that encourage folks to hang out, relax and socialize.

The chamber’s Pop-Up Art Loop program turns empty storefronts into temporary galleries, which are promoted with monthly art walks. Earlier this summer the CLA and the Chicago Department of Transportation installed tables, chairs and planter boxes in an existing plaza on the median of State between Wacker Drive and Lake Street, now called The Gateway. Last week “Give,” a fourteen-foot-tall circular steel sculpture by Chicago artist Dusty Folwarczny, was installed at the foot of the plaza. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: The Dick Van Dyke Effect

Logan Square, Loop, River North No Comments »
greenfield-biking2

The author in Dick Van Dyke mode and roadie apparel./Photos: Steven Vance

By John Greenfield

I first heard about the “Mary Poppins Effect” back in March 2011 from local bike blogger Dottie Brackett, also known as The Martha Stewart of Chicago Cycling. “This is basically the idea that drivers are nicer to women bicyclists riding upright bikes with dresses and flowing hair,” she wrote on her site Let’s Go Ride a Bike. “Who could be mean to Mary Poppins?”

On the other hand, it’s believed that motorists are less likely to operate safely around people wearing bike-specific clothing, bent over drop handlebars on a racing bike. “A cyclist dressed ‘normally’ looks more human to the driver,” wrote Dottie’s Massachusetts counterpart Constance Winters, who coined the term for the phenomenon on her blog Lovely Bicycle two months earlier. “The more ‘I am human! I am you!’ signals we give off when cycling, the more empathy a driver will feel towards us. Dehumanization, on the other hand, makes it easier to cause harm to another human being.” Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Organic Mechanics

Bicycling, Bronzeville, Checkerboard City, Green No Comments »
Tonaa Jamerson, center, fixes a flat with a friend. Photo: John Greenfield

Tonaa Jamerson, center, fixes a flat tire./Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

As I pedal up to the Bronzeville Community Garden, 51st and Calumet, on a Wednesday afternoon, smooth R&B drifts from a sound system and folks are gathered around a table made of colorfully painted repurposed wood, gazing intently at a chess game. Planter boxes hold a variety of greenery, including tall stalks of corn, and an old bathtub covered with a swirling mosaic design sits full of soil that’s ready for planting.

Soon a group of ten teenagers will show up on mountain bikes to make improvements to the garden and do free bicycle repairs for community members. They’re apprentices with the Greencorps Chicago youth program, a project closely aligned with the Chicago Department of Transportation’s new Divvy bike-share system.

The planned coverage area for Divvy’s first 400 docking stations stretches from 63rd to Devon, including a number of low-income neighborhoods like Bronzeville, and CDOT has applied for funding to further expand the system. However, many Chicago communities won’t be getting bikes during this first round of installations. Read the rest of this entry »