Street Smart Chicago

Dime Stories: The Scavengers

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

The great Charles Bowden passed away last year. He wrote a great many articles and books about the border, the one we share with Mexico. In the years since NAFTA passed there have been hundred upon hundreds of women murdered in and around Juarez–a great many of them maquiladora workers. A maquiladora is an assembly plant, or factory, that hires thousands of women and pays them stoop labor, shit wages to do piecework–sewing, circuit boards, and other close work that require small, deft hands.

A great many women from as far away as Central America flocked to the border for jobs. So NAFTA managed to impoverish two cultures. The women of the maquiladora plants and the American union worker, and some big American companies outsourced jobs here to avoid paying a living wage to union workers: Levi’s, Motorola, IBM, Black & Decker, GM, Cooper Tire, among others. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Uptown Cat Girl

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

More than thirty years ago, New Orleans crept into my work and she never left. My heart is perpetually divided between my home of Chicago and my home of New Orleans. It is a place for which I have nothing but unconditional love.

When I first got there, it seemed everyone around me was a lot freer than I was, as odd as that sounds. It was a crazily sexy place with grownup women who were frank and forward about what made them happy. It was hot, so there was always a lot of sweaty skin and poetry and music. It was like entering one of those snow globes without the snow. It was Spain and France preserved in architectural amber. It was history. My friend Charlie Neville told me about Congo Square which along with Storyville, was the birthplace of jazz. He also had me read “Up from the Cradle of Jazz,” Jason Berry’s essential history of New Orleans music. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: It’s Spring

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

Well, it’s over, the fat lady has sung and the kinder, more sensitive Rahm has won another term. Chuy Garcia ran an honorable, honest campaign and honorable and honest gets you shit, and shoved in it—when it comes to Chicago politics.

No big deal. Baseball season started and it is still colder than a nun’s ass on Good Friday. On opening night the Cubs forgot that, after all of that Old Style, people would need to take a leak and started filling their beer receptacles with the personally brewed amber fluid. Jesus, shut it down to one bathroom and the whole park turns into “Lord of the Flies” in a blue ball cap.

Such are the pleasures of spring in Chicago. Not that my White Sox had it any better. Jeff Samardzija and the Sox bullpen got shelled in their first game in Kansas City 10-1, therefore making it hard to harass Cub fans about the rivers of piss over at the friendly confines. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: The Long Cruel Line

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

The Union Stock Yards have been closed since 1971. The century of suffering, human and animal, still bears much  historical currency. We are still thought of in literature as “Hog Butcher for the World.”

Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” brought great change in the meatpacking industry—until this great novel, nobody inspected the meat we ate. Six months after “The Jungle” was published, the U.S.D.A. started inspecting the slaughterhouses and the meat being issued by them. It was a grimy, filthy business; the Armours and Swifts built threadbare shanty-towns for their workers, mostly Czechs, Poles and Ukrainians. The conditions were so unsanitary that workers often brought home blood-borne diseases on their clothing and skin—there were no wash stations or showers. At one point the infant-mortality rate was so high that one out of three children did not live until their first birthday.

It was a cruel life imposed upon generations of immigrants, all the while building great fortunes for the Armours and Swifts. I write this because I realize this has always been a city of great cruelty—to people, to animals—and somebody always profited from this suffering. It’s a little late in the game to be surprised by this yet, still, I am. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Transit Platforms

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, City Life, Dime Stories, Green, News etc., Politics, Transit 4 Comments »
Rahm Emanuel and Chuy García. Photos: John Greenfield

Rahm Emanuel and Chuy García/Photos: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

As I’ve discussed with noted Rahm-hater Tony Fitzpatrick, the talented artist and storyteller whose column occupies the other side of this page, there are many issues to consider when deciding who to support in Chicago’s April 7 runoff election. These include jobs, education, crime, privatization, transparency and ethics, to name a few.

However, we shouldn’t overlook the importance of transportation when choosing whether to reelect Mayor Emanuel, or anoint his challenger, Cook County Commissioner Jesús “Chuy” García. The need for a safe, efficient transportation system is a huge factor in quality of life for all Chicagoans.

With that in mind, here’s a comparison of how the candidates differ on key traffic safety, walking, transit and biking issues. Note that this article does not represent an endorsement of either candidate.

Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Invasion of the Rahmbies

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

Since coming out for Chuy a couple of weeks ago, I’ve encountered no small amount of hostility from the Rahm supporters—the “Rahmbies” as I like to think of them. They can rationalize any inequities brought forth in the last four years because the shuttered schools, the ubiquitous gunfire, potholes and unplowed streets—these things don’t directly affect them. That’s where we live now: Rahm, in four short years, has made this an Us and Them city. A city of wealthy one-percent types, and then there is the rest of us. We’re useful because we can fix their cars, bus their tables and deliver their groceries.

The poor? I think he and his pal Rauner just hope they go away. Emanuel took a page from what then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg did to New York, and now Manhattan is an island of the wealthy and the people who do their dishes. The poor and the creative class were scattered to Brooklyn, Queens and Jersey. Emanuel, Bloomberg, Rauner and their ilk are succeeding in building a culture glaringly divided by economic class, and it is more pernicious than the machine politics we’re used to. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Mayor Garcia?

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

A funny thing happened on the way to the coronation of Rahm. People started to remember their street not being plowed, the furious murder rate, the shuttering of schools and the indifference signaled to our poorest citizens. Yep they remembered. Unlike four years ago, Rahm now had a record to run on and a great many people find this record wanting. Good on you Chicago.

Jesus “Chuy” Garcia is woefully underfunded he does not have one-tenth of what Rahm has; but with a lot of help from Bob Fioretti and Willie Wilson, he had enough to force this race into a runoff.

Mark my words Garcia is infinitely more likable than Rahm—he doesn’t carry himself like a smug, condescending automaton. There is a real human being in there who, four years after becoming a citizen, ran for office because he believed freedom demanded participation. He came in with Harold Washington and for a time helped change the way people thought about Chicago politics. Even with the seventies porn-‘stache, Chuy is capable of a genuine smile that isn’t just politics. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: The Real Face of Obamacare

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

Chances are, the most defining achievement of the Obama administration is the passage of the Affordable Care Act, i.e. “ObamaCare.” After a long battle, the bill that was eventually passed was gutted by Republicans and Democrats alike. The point is that it passed. The reactionary among us want you to equate ObamaCare with a black, yellow or brown face when, truth be told, the greatest beneficiaries of ObamaCare are white baby boomers.

As much quarrel as I have with Guantanamo, drones and the continuous warfare, I must admit to anyone who will listen that Barack Obama saved my life. Without the Affordable Care Act, I would not be here. And I am sure it warms the cockles of your heart to know that my ample white ass was able to purchase health insurance. The true face of ObamaCare is ME. Male, mid-fifties, overweight, with one pre-existing condition that excluded me from the luxury of being able to buy “normal people” health insurance…. anywhere. I went for nearly two years without any health insurance. Insurance companies are particularly offensive to me because they pretend to give a fuck about you. I don’t know who to hate more, big pharma or insurance companies. Big pharma at least admits they are pigs and are in it for the money. What is odious about the insurance industry is that they pretend to care about you and yours: Right… I got your “good neighbor” right here, swinging. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Godspeed, Mr. Cub

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

An older man rolled a baseball to a troublesome little kid at a country club one day. The older man, his skin touched by a half a century of playing the boys’ game in sunlight, was Ernie Banks and the boy was my son—and he still has the ball.

It is widely known that I have not ever been a Cubs fan. But staring out of this window in a hospital room, baseball seems a million miles away right now and winter has decided to add to its cruel toll our greatest baseball player. Even if you were not a Cubs fan, you were an Ernie Banks fan, because Ernie embodied the very thing that Sox fans claim to hate the Cubs fans for: He loved the game. Let’s play two. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: Dust Radio

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

As you may have heard, Tony Fitzpatrick had heart surgery last week. But our fearless columnist was prepared for just such an occasion, and filed this piece from his personal archive a few hours before going under the knife. We’re hearing good reports from the hospital and expect Tony will return to these pages in fighting form very soon.

By Tony Fitzpatrick

In his lifetime, the Texas-born guitarist and songwriter, Chris Whitley was, from time to time, criticized for the surreal turns his lyrics would take. His initial audience here in America thought he was a blues-folk rocker when they heard “Living with the Law,” his freshman effort for Columbia Records. It would not have been a bad assumption. There was plenty of Robert Johnson and Texas-radio kinds of sounds on that record; lots of dobro and grit, gravel and tumbleweed. It was a record of austere and American loneliness. It is one of my favorite records of all time for the very reasons some find it oblique. There is nothing easy about it. Read the rest of this entry »