Street Smart Chicago

Good Sour Yogurt: Tasting Chicago in a Turkish supermarket in Berlin

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Photo: Benjamin Lytal

Photo: Benjamin Lytal

By Benjamin Lytal

Every Monday this winter, anti-immigrant rallies have been attracting thousands in Dresden and smaller crowds here in Berlin. Maybe it’s some imprecise feeling of solidarity that’s sent me to Öz-Gida, a Turkish supermarket on Hauptstrasse.

I see dried eggplants, in a tall plastic bag like we would use for corn chips. Dried red bell peppers like frail pink scrunchies. But the dried okra: that I have seen before, most likely at HarvesTime. In many ways this market, with its exotic variety of foods, reminds me of my favorite grocery stores in Chicago.

Indeed maybe my coming here has less to do with the protests than with the fact that they have some good sour yogurt.  In Lincoln Square I always served Zdan Middle Eastern yogurt when out-of-towners stayed over for breakfast: I remember how one friend in town for a job interview grimaced when she first tried it.

Why do I remember that?   Read the rest of this entry »

Children of the Fifty-Sixers: Growing Up in Hungarian Chicago

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couch

A young author with her grandfather, who escaped earlier than her father and would occasionally pass through Chicago.

By Rebecca Makkai

Let’s say that, like so many, you were born outside the borders of your own country. Or more specifically, you were born in Chicago in the middle of your father’s fifty-year exile from his country. Say you’re one of those children of the “Fifty-Sixers,” the student revolutionaries who, after their rebellion was crushed (think Tiananmen Square, but with more statues of Lenin) ran across Hungary’s borders and wound up months later, wearing refugee clothes, in Chicago, Cleveland, New York. The Fifty-Sixers were young—young enough to learn solid English, to make careers here, to have children here. Young enough when they arrived that most didn’t head back after the Iron Curtain lifted. A few, like your father, are returning home only now.

If your family were French, or Russian, or Mexican, you’d grow up with at least a filmic impression of that place. But there are no movies, no children’s books set there, no restaurants full of Hungarian food. Just the occasional Olympic swim team. (Technically you’re Transylvanian—from the part of Hungary that’s now trapped inside Romania—but you know that what you hear about that place is the cartoon version.) Your father won’t bother teaching you the difficult and kinless language, because he doubts you or he will ever have the chance to return to the only place in the world where it’s spoken. Your knowledge of Hungary is entirely limited to the parts of it that pass through Chicago. Fortunately, a lot of it passes through Chicago. Read the rest of this entry »

Ambassadors from Other Cities: The Global Culture of Cab Drivers

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Illustration: Dmitry Samarov

Illustration: Dmitry Samarov

By Dmitry Samarov

In 2003 the Public Chauffeur Training Institute was located at Harold Washington College on Lake Street downtown. This was the place you had to go if you wanted to become a taxi or limo driver in the city of Chicago. I was returning to the job after six years of delivery driving, waiting tables, bartending and a few other service-industry gigs—none of which seemed to suit me financially, temperamentally, or in any other way. While I wasn’t a newly arrived immigrant to this city and country like the majority of my classmates, I still hadn’t quite found my place here even twenty-five years after my arrival from the Soviet Union. Cab-driving in America is primarily an immigrant’s job and has been so since sometime in the 1980s when cab companies decided to change from commissioned drivers to leasing. When there were no longer benefits and the entire burden of making a profit was put on the driver, the majority of Americans began to look for employment elsewhere. Few but the most desperate stuck around. It just wasn’t worth the risk. Read the rest of this entry »

Lucky Junkie, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Drugs

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By Michael Workman

It’s a sunny early morning in Basel, Switzerland. I’m one of a pair of junkies standing in the heart of downtown near the Kunsthalle, beside a door in the alley that leads two flights up to the Gaslight. It’s a “vampire club” that opens at 4am, and caters to all stripes of service-industry people, including the brothel’s sex workers and professional hard-core partiers, when the other joints start to close. We’re with the pro partiers. It’s a pretty thick crowd tonight, and me and my friend Lukac, bald and decked out in his brown fur overcoat, have been at it since dawn the previous day. It’s not our longest run, either. I’d met Lukac through the Swiss Embassy here in Chicago, who referred me to him when I called researching some business interests in the country. I’ve never met anybody as into cocaine as he is, and it’s not just him, all of his Basel friends are into it. It’s always a drug binge when we’re together. On the first night we met, we downed better than ten bottles of wine, burned through a quarter ounce of decent kush, toasted with some shots. We’ve been working our way all day and night through a few grams of cocaine, feeling acutely wired by the time we share the massive spliff that a sex worker from Argentina hands us on the dance floor and, again later, as we’re walking out. We’re moving all night together, me, Lukac and her friends, talking, our brains completely restricted to rear-brain activities only. It’s a repeat of the narcotized back-room scene at the Lodge from “Fire Walk with Me,” everyone slurring, indecipherable, visibly swaying in a deeply altered drug haze. Read the rest of this entry »

2015: A Corporate Consummation

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By Corey Hall

Greetings, Team Members!

As we begin this New Year, let us remember these new, six items of interest. As long as these Commandments—or friendly reminders, if you will—are abided by, you will, (most likely) be kept in our employ, so that you may continue being the middle man between us and your creditors.

One: As per our conversation, please refrain from gathering in throngs of two or more in areas not monitored by a security camera. While we have the utmost respect for all employees—whose ID numbers we can generate from our database at a moment’s notice—such gatherings just smell too much like team mutiny. If you must have a conversation with someone other than yourself, please conduct it within earshot of your most-recent Team Leader, and please avoid all jokes that may induce anything resembling laughter. Please practice only nuanced, non-offensive humor that, at best, raises eyebrows. You are encouraged to consult any NPR program for an example. Read the rest of this entry »

Burger Time: Life Lessons and Street Life

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WendysBy David Hammond

When you put yourself in challenging situations, outside your comfort zone, the likelihood is high that you might actually learn something. Maybe.

Sometime in 2007

I’m at Blockbuster, dropping off a few videos. As I park the car, I notice a guy approaching.

GUY: You have any spare change?
ME (hustling): Sorry, bro.
GUY: Thanks for nothing!

This passing comment pissed me off. I drop off videos and walk back outside, aggressively.

ME: So, what…like I owe you something?
GUY: What the fuck? All I asked you for was change.
Pause, with Aggress-o-meter redlining; I change my tone. Read the rest of this entry »

That’s All Well and Good in Practice, But How Does it Work in Theory?

Education/Training, Essays & Commentary, Hyde Park No Comments »

By Naseem Jamnia (AB ’13)

When I first set foot onto the quad—actually, it was the Ida Noyes courtyard, stone arches and grassy front—I was a goner. The Core’s opportunities thrilled me, even though the gym requirement totally blew; Northwestern, which I had visited that morning, sucked. What sealed it for me was when my tour guide paused by the Oriental Institute and asked which famous archeologist worked at the UofC.

If only the snakes were just the literal kind.

When we arrived, we were finally faced with our own worst enemy: ourselves. We looked around and saw not mirror images, but our murky reflection cast against the lake. How does admissions choose us, with applications starring perfect GPAs, dozens of extracurriculars, strong goals? We were all the same, though at the time, this was far from being a problem. Many of us felt that we had finally found where we belonged; everyone was like us and yet interesting! We had been the outcasts or nerds, the ones that either dominated class or didn’t speak up because it was too simple. We turned into the kids and the Scavvies; the techies, non-TAPS UT players, always-in-rehearsals; locked up in the Reg or Harper; ha-you-have-it-easy-you’re-not-a-science-majors; stop-complaining-about-crossing-the-Midway-Broadway-is-so-far away—by the end, we couldn’t even pinpoint where we had started because we had forced ourselves to go our separate ways. Read the rest of this entry »

Lonely in a Crowd: A Holiday at the Moomers

Essays & Commentary, Hyde Park No Comments »
Photo: Ashley Meyer

Photo: Ashley Meyer

By Michael Workman

By the time we manage the hour-and-a-half El-train-to-bus junket from Lincoln Square to Hyde Park, we’re already gripped with that particular combination of fatigue and active nerves usually reserved for those nights we’ve spent snorting lines of crushed Adderall washed down with too much booze. But tonight. Well. It’s New Year’s Eve, after all, and there’s plain cause for our anxious jubilation.

Our shadows stretch up the walk ahead, slowly splitting and shrinking beside, then behind us as we make our way up the 5500 block of Hyde Park Boulevard to Moomers. Not the ice cream from Michigan, but the Hyde Park institution, named after a founding tenant’s beloved feline pet, a name passed down, same as the hideout that preserves its legacy, tenant to tenant, generation to generation.

I’m with Cinnamoan Smidge, who I’ve been dating-slash-sleeping-with on and off again between bouts of mutual, relationship-ending, suicidal indulgences for roughly the last nine months. We’re here tonight because a friend of Cinnamoan’s rang up about the party, with whom she keeps texting as we stroll, finally locating the correct house number. And there it is, marked right on the buzzer, “Moomers,” it says, plain as day. We buzz, I count half a dozen heart beats, and we’re admitted. Inside, we’re greeted by Tyrone (not his real name), a young, wiry-framed guy in suit jacket and fedora who administers the place. Hugs and handshakes, and we slip out of our jackets and scarves, depositing them on the already-crowded coat rack just inside the door, opposite the large, dormant Tesla coil. Read the rest of this entry »

What Rape Culture? A Conversation with Kate Harding and Anne K. Ream

Essays & Commentary 3 Comments »

Newcity6.19

Rape is everywhere today. Pick up any newspaper, any magazine—the new issues of Rolling Stone and In These Times, a recent Time magazine cover story, this publication—and you’ll see high-profile coverage of the rape-culture crisis in America. From the alcohol-saturated dormitories of our citadels of higher-education to the shadowy confessionals of a pedophiliac priesthood to controversies over HBO’s top-rated “Game of Thrones,” gender-based violence is certainly not a new issue. But perhaps the amount of attention being paid, not just from the media but even the president of the United States, an outgrowth of the unwillingness of its survivors to remain silent any longer, represents its twilight, or at least movement in the right direction. Anne K. Ream and Kate Harding are both Chicago writers, activists and, both rape survivors. Ream is the founder of the Voices and Faces Project, a nonprofit committed to documenting the stories of those who have suffered gender-based cruelties, and the author of the new book “Lived Through This: Listening to the Stories of Sexual Violence Survivors.” Harding is a prominent essayist and lecturer on body image and rape culture and the author of the forthcoming book this December, “Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture—and What We Can Do About It.” We conducted a spirited conversation over much of a week via email on this most universal and urgent of topics. (Brian Hieggelke) Read the rest of this entry »

Hack Attack: In Taxi vs. Uber, the Drivers Are Sidelined Says an Ex-Cabbie

Essays & Commentary, Transit 2 Comments »
hail.2jpg

Illustration: Dmitry Samarov

By Dmitry Samarov

A lot has been written in the last couple years about ride-share services like Uber threatening the livelihood of cab drivers. In most of these articles Uber, Hailo, Sidecar, et al are pitted against local taxi companies like Yellow and Carriage. What is rarely made clear is that none of these companies—ride-share or traditional taxi—actually employ any drivers. So while they fight it out in the courts about regulations and who can and cannot get what part of the transportation market, the people doing the actual driving aren’t being represented by either side.

In 1993—when I became a cab driver—calling a taxi was a simple business. You picked up your home or office telephone, dialed your favorite cab company, and waited outside for your ride to arrive. A cabbie had two choices for picking up fares: troll the streets for passengers or “play the radio,” which meant turning on the two-way and submitting to the whims of his company’s dispatcher. Picture Danny DeVito in “Taxi” for an idea of the types we had to deal with. Read the rest of this entry »