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Common Sense for Chicago 2010

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Nothing but simple facts and plain truths

Independence Day, the time we set aside as a nation to commemorate our founding, remains a worthy notion, regardless of whether you think it’s degraded into nothing more than a long weekend of sweaty, boring barbecues, or an opportunity for the politically obnoxious to invoke the images of our revolution (patriots, tea parties, etc.) while trampling on all of its values. For no matter how you feel about our nation’s current course, America remains founded on ideas and that is worth celebrating. For some, that means whooping it up on our city streets with their newly liberated firearms; for us that means celebrating the aesthetic of conversation, the free speech, that sets our nation truly apart. And thus, our annual edition dedicated to its unfettered exercise. We hope it moves you, one way or another. (Brian Hieggelke)

Godiva’s Only a Chocolate: Skeptical reflections on Chicago’s Naked Bike Ride

Bridgeport Rising: The consequences of the whiteout of a neighborhood’s changing face

Bloggin’ in the Neighborhood: Making the hyperlocal hype a reality

Upward Mobility: A plea for escalator etiquette

Weather or Not: Nothing but blue skies from now on

Train in Vain: The new dynamic of CTA intimacy

Godiva’s Only a Chocolate: Skeptical reflections on Chicago’s Naked Bike Ride

Essays & Commentary 9 Comments »

The map from chicagonakedride.org

Common Sense for Chicago 2010

By Hugh Iglarsh

It was late and I was tired and cranky, as I rather reluctantly drove a stranded friend to her downtown hostel when my desire was for home and bed. I had just attended the opening of the Green Party’s new Chicago headquarters in Logan Square, and had been exhilarated by the energy and sense of community flowing in the humble storefront on Fullerton. But I had used up my finite supply of sociability, and looked forward to a quick trip to the Loop and then blessed rest.

It’s in your weak moments when the city turns against you. I and my even more exhausted passenger found ourselves in a hopeless gridlock at North and Damen; making a U-turn, I tried Division Street going east, but the results were no better. Ashland south—sadly the same. Grand Avenue east—finally, despair and surrender to fate. I had become an involuntary participant in the World Naked Bike Ride-Chicago. Motto: As Bare As You Dare. Once-familiar streets had turned into postmodern cattle crossings, blocked by a monster herd of flesh-baring cyclists, mainly but not exclusively of Gen X vintage. Most wore a little something—thongs, cardboard beer cases, body paint—but a significant minority were as naked as the gnats they resembled to my fatigue-heavy eyes, as they flashed en masse through the traffic lights. And as though possessed of some diabolical collective psychic ability, the snaking line of riders seemed to intuit my path and destination, foiling my every attempt to outflank it. Read the rest of this entry »

Bridgeport Rising: The consequences of the whiteout of a neighborhood’s changing face

Bridgeport, Essays & Commentary 1 Comment »

Common Sense for Chicago 2010

By Jeff McMahon

In the last decade, Bridgeport has emerged as one of Chicago’s most diverse neighborhoods. But the rainbow blossoming there has gone largely unacknowledged, and may even be threatened, by purported egalitarians who continue to stereotype Bridgeport as the racist backwater it once was.

In 2008, a DePaul University study listed Bridgeport as one of Chicago’s four most diverse neighborhoods, characterizing its demographics as “extreme diversity.” That promising designation arrived thanks not to the hipsters who have pushed the frontier of gentrification south from Pilsen but thanks to a spiral influx of people of varied race, class and orientation, who seem to have imported not only difference, but tolerance. Read the rest of this entry »

Bloggin’ in the Neighborhood: Making the hyperlocal hype a reality

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Common Sense for Chicago 2010

The blog is the medium of the modern age. Often and stereotypically it can be a highly individual form of expression—a single person laying out their thoughts, emotions, pictures, or what have you. But there’s another kind of blog, a community-minded organ of hyperlocal news and opinions: the neighborhood blog. In some cities these blogs are a dime a dozen, but unfortunately in Chicago they’re few and far between.

Neighborhood blogs are a great asset for those areas lucky enough to have them. They keep neighbors abreast of local goings-on that metropolitan newspapers can’t help but overlook, and they do it at a speed that community newspapers can’t hope to match. Some are partisan, like the inflammatory Hyde Park Progress, which posts both neighborhood news and tirades against local NIMBYs. Others are more apolitical, like Uptown Update, which sticks mostly to development updates, crime reports, events and other news of local interest. But they all help foster a community in what could otherwise be just a collection of people, streets, and buildings. Read the rest of this entry »

Upward Mobility: A plea for escalator etiquette

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Copenhagen Metro/Photo: Stig Nygaard

Common Sense for Chicago 2010

In a diverse population like ours, we all want different things. Some people want to cast votes for a President Palin; for them, we have secret ballots. Some people want to eat restaurant food in their pajamas; luckily, there’s takeout. And while some people prefer to bask motionless on escalators, reveling in the thrill of this mechanical stairway to heaven, other people want to please keep moving.

Until I moved to Chicago, I believed the escalator dilemma—how climbers of the moving staircase could possibly coexist with the exhausted, the contemplative and the lazy—had, like the challenge of cheap lo mein at home, been solved. Standers to the right, movers to the left. Sometimes, maybe, you have to say, “excuse me” to a wayward traveler, but you can do so with righteousness, because you have etiquette on your side.

Other cities get it. New Yorkers separate, the standers huddling to the right, the climbers marching, single-file and unencumbered, to the left. D.C-dwellers have got it down. Muscovites manage to wordlessly sort out their seemingly incompatible ascent styles, as do Londoners. The good people of Chicago, though—O, corn-fed, oblivious Chicago!—clump together in contented gridlock with alarming regularity, a perpetual human barricade barring forward motion. A single “excuse me” is powerless against this immobile crowd. Read the rest of this entry »

Weather or Not: Nothing but blue skies from now on

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Photo: Tom Harpel

Common Sense for Chicago

As a native San Franciscan, I may be biased, but I doubt I’ll get many naysayers booing down this proposal: better weather in our beloved city. You may think the CTA, the public schools and the local government are a disgrace, and I won’t hesitate to agree with you there, but I say: let’s fix the problems we can solve!

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “I know my bus never comes in the morning, and the aldermen are corrupt by the dozen, but surely—surely!—those can’t be insurmountable problems, like wind and snow.” But that’s where you’re wrong. Wind and snow—and rain and tornadoes, for that matter—aren’t insurmountable, and I have the evidence to prove it.

Look to our compatriots of the well-earned reputation for corruption and crappy weather—the Russians. Last fall, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov wanted to stop snowfall in his city. The only thing stopping him was concern from neighboring towns. Moscow’s neighboring towns are called The Golden Ring. Some of the most picturesque in the country, they’re a favorite among tour guides. We’ve got Gary. Read the rest of this entry »

Train in Vain: The new dynamic of CTA intimacy

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Common Sense for Chicago 2010

The CTA started introducing its new breed of trains this spring, bringing jarring changes to the typical morning commute. Passengers got to experience a much shinier and cleaner, smoother trip. But what changed most notably was that special type of cozy awkwardness that tends to accompany the ride.

The train follows a New York subway-style layout, which is said to allow for more standing room. Instead of the two-to-a-row layout, you’re lined up longitudinally. Now, you don’t have to sit next to someone you don’t know, intimately rubbing elbows, or experiencing terrifyingly loud snoring, with the potential that your shoulder could soon become your neighbor’s pillow.

But then again, not experiencing that is almost like not riding the El at all. The traditional seating arrangements allow for a special, albeit bizarre adventure. But with this new design, you’re sharing your discomfort with the person on the other side. And you’re doubly discomforted, sandwiched between your fellow passengers. Read the rest of this entry »

Confessions from the Welfare State: Lessons learned, and offered, along the American way

Brighton Park, Essays & Commentary, Politics 1 Comment »

By Frank Pulaski

We sat in the restaurant, Huck Finn’s, almost every morning sitting in the restaurant from nine till noon, my father Frank and his friends, George the Greek and Jimmy Figgs, and my uncle Tom, mocking the idea that the world’s highest ideal was work. That work was the gold standard of virtue in society. It was as if you were with escaped convicts, runaways from the labor force. Their eyes were always bloodshot and tearful. Woeful may be a better word. They’d sneak little hits of whiskey into black coffee, watching workers cross the bridge on the way to their jobs. Sometimes, when the restaurant phone rang for a long time, the Greek enacted a little drama. He pretended to answer the phone. Then like magic we were supposed to imagine that we were on break, sitting in the basement of Ford Motor Company, playing cards and drinking whiskey. If you used your imagination, you could almost hear the assembly line roaring overhead, spitting out cars and profits.

The Greek: Hello, yeah, George, right…Hey Frank it’s for you…
Frank: Who is it?
The Greek: It’s Mr. Ford.
Frank: Tell Ford I’m busy. What’s he want?
The Greek: Mr. Ford, Frank says he’s busy, no, Figgs is taking a shit… Can I take a message? Yeah… right… yeah…. Frank, Mr. Ford says he needs more cars… He wants us to get upstairs and crank up the assembly line…
Frank: Yeah, well you tell Ford that if he wants more cars that he can come down here and build them his fucking self.
The Greek: Mr. Ford, Frank says he ain’t gonna do it. If you want more cars, you gotta come down here and build them your fucking self! Read the rest of this entry »

The Wagon: Living with the dead weight of body bags

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Illustration: Sanya Glisic

By Martin Preib

The dead seek the lowest places in Chicago: We find them in basements, laundry rooms, on floors next to couches, sticking out of two parked cars or shrubs next to the sidewalk. It is more than gravity that pulls them down, for in every dead body there is something more willfully downward: the lowest possible place, the head sunken into the chest and turned toward the floor.

No matter the cause—an accident, a murder or, as we cite on the Hospitalization Case Report, natural causes—all bodies express this downwardness when we remove them from the cavern they have created merely by their presence, by their being.

Some cops, like me, circle the periphery of the room before we encounter the body, making small talk with other cops guarding the scene, slowly putting on our gloves, unnecessarily doublechecking that our path is clear, anything to avoid the inevitable bending over the body and touching it, shaking it from this descendance it insists upon and bringing it back into our living world, where it must be pronounced, photographed, identified, prodded, stripped and categorized. Read the rest of this entry »

Fit to Govern: The real litmus test for candidates

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Sheila Simon: Will she "ex sell?"

By S.L. Wisenberg

Now that Governor Pat Quinn has chosen Sheila Simon to be his running mate, we may not be hearing much more about his erstwhile sharer of the slate, Scott Lee Cohen. But it’s been hard for me to forget Cohen, who (in case you’ve already forgotten) dropped out of the race after his ex-girlfriend said he was unfit to hold office. She had accused him of threatening her with a knife. His ex-wife had accused him of violence, adultery and attempts to force sex.

My own love life has been less dramatic, luckily and happily. Still I’ve been wondering whether my exes would think I was fit to be lieutenant guv.

I’ve managed to acquire a number of exes; I was 39 when I met my first and only husband.

There was Michael, not his real name, whose love letters and Dear Jane letters I was going through the other night, because he’d just popped up in a dream. Based on these letters, I imagine that he would tell the voters that I was living in a fantasy world. That’s what he told me: he was ten years younger and said that it was crazy for me to think that we could live together. I don’t even know if I should call him an ex, our relationship was so short-lived. I used to think that literary agents had the shortest attention spans known to humans. Now I know that they come in second, after 19-year-old males. Read the rest of this entry »