Street Smart Chicago

Dime Stories: City of Killers

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

“There are nothing but murderers in this room…”
—John Rooney (Paul Newman) explaining just who they are in the world to Michael “The Angel of Death” Sullivan (Tom Hanks), in “The Road to Perdition”

There was a lot wrong with the movie “The Road to Perdition,” but not a damn thing wrong with “Road to Perdition,” the graphic novel by Max Allan Collins. It is a moody, poignant story of the love between father and son, the unforgiving nature of the Irish mob and the primacy of revenge among the Irish—and we are some vengeful motherfuckers.

The movie was far too long, but Jesus was it beautiful to look at, shot all over Chicago and Illinois, as well as bordering states. The Midwest has never looked more bucolic and heavenly than it does through the late, great Conrad Hall’s lens. Sadly, it was Hall’s last film—a noble effort by director Sam Mendes and actor Tom Hanks who, at his best in it, made you believe that he could be a remorseless murderer for hire. He was cast against type, to say the very least. Paul Newman gives what is to be his last film performance and it is a gem, a study in charm and stillness and Irish melancholy. The film is worth watching for his work alone. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Urine—A Lot of Trouble

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The elevator at the Red Line's Grand Avenue stop. Photo: John Greenfield

The elevator at the Red Line’s Grand stop/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

I don’t mean to sound pissy, but the Chicago Transit Authority is having difficulty keeping its elevators urine-free. Some say it’s the agency’s Number One challenge.

Like most Chicagoans who get around by rapid transit, I’ve noticed that people often use the lifts as restrooms. However, the issue really hit home when my seventy-eight-year-old father visited last month. Due to knee troubles, it’s tough for him to walk more than a couple blocks at a time, but he gets around great on a bicycle, and enjoys seeing the Windy City on two wheels.

My dad and I did much of our sightseeing by cycling to my local El station, riding the train downtown with our bikes, and then pedaling to destinations like the Shedd Aquarium and an architectural boat tour. That made for nearly door-to-door trips, requiring less walking than if we’d taken a car there. Read the rest of this entry »

Free Will Astrology: Week of September 18, 2014

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By Rob Brezsny

ARIES (March 21-April 19): These horoscopes I write for you aren’t primarily meant to predict the future. They are more about uncovering hidden potentials and desirable possibilities that are stirring below the surface right now. When I’m doing my job well, I help you identify those seeds so you can cultivate them proactively. Bearing that in mind, I’ll pose three pertinent questions. 1. What experiments might stir up more intimacy in the relationships you want to deepen? 2. What could you change about yourself to attract more of the love and care you want? 3. Is there anything you can do to diminish the sting of bad memories about past romantic encounters, thereby freeing you to love with more abandon? Read the rest of this entry »

Free Will Astrology: Week of September 11, 2014

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By Rob Brezsny

ARIES (March 21-April 19): In the 2000 film Cast Away, Tom Hanks plays an American FedEx executive who is stranded alone on a remote Pacific island after he survives a plane crash. A few items from the plane wash up on shore, including a volleyball. He draws a face on it and names it “Wilson,” creating a companion who becomes his confidant for the next four years. I’d love to see you enlist an ally like Wilson in the coming week, Aries. There are some deep, messy, beautiful mysteries you need to talk about. At least for now, the only listener capable of drawing them out of you in the proper spirit might be a compassionate inanimate object that won’t judge you or interrupt you. Read the rest of this entry »

Linework: Hey

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By Ben Marcus. Edited by Ivan Brunetti and Aaron Renier. (Click on image to enlarge.)


Dime Stories: Of Hobos, Card Games and Bughouse Square

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The Letter 'S' 300

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

“Chicago is the greatest railway center in the United States. No one knows these facts better than the hobo. It is a fact that trains from all points of the compass are constantly entering and leaving the city over its 39 different railways. According to the Chicago City Manual, there are 2,840 miles of steam railways within the city limits. The mileage of steam railroad track in Chicago is equal to the entire railroad mileage in Switzerland and Belgium, and is greater than the steam railroad mileage found in each of the kingdoms of Denmark, Holland, Norway, and Portugal. Twenty-five through package cars leave Chicago every day for 18,000 shipping points in 44 states.” —”On Hobos and Homelessness” by Nels Anderson

Given that Chicago was the hub of the American railroad system, it’s not a surprise that the largest ‘”hobo jungles” were here. The area around North Dearborn Street (Washington Square–better known as Bughouse Square) was one of the safe harbors for itinerant men and women. In the years between 1900 and 1920, much was changing in American life and this part of the city, known then as “Tower Town” because of its proximity to the Water Tower, was known as a neighborhood of bars like the Dil Pickle Club, brothels and gambling dens. It was also the center of the newly realized avant-garde in Chicago. The nascent American art form of jazz could be found here. Although mostly on the South Side, it also had devotees among this crowd of free thinkers. Read the rest of this entry »

Free Will Astrology: Week of September 4, 2014

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By  Rob Brezsny

ARIES (March 21-April 19): I don’t usually do this kind of thing, but I’m going to suggest that you monitor the number six. My hypothesis is that six has been trying to grab your attention, perhaps even in askew or inconvenient ways. Its purpose? To nudge you to tune in to beneficial influences that you have been ignoring. I furthermore suspect that six is angling to show you clues about what is both the cause of your unscratchable itch and the cure for that itch. So lighten up and have fun with this absurd mystery, Aries. Without taking it too seriously, allow six to be your weird little teacher. Let it prick your intuition with quirky notions and outlandish speculations. If nothing comes of it, there will be no harm done. If it leads you to helpful discoveries, hallelujah. Read the rest of this entry »

Linework: Mend the Broken Heart

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By Nalelli Sierra. Edited by Ivan Brunetti and Aaron Renier. (Click on image to enlarge.)


Fall Forward 2014: The Guide to the New Season

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David Bowie’s going to be everywhere this fall in Chicago, and we have no idea if that means the man himself will grace our town with his presence. Most notably, the Museum of Contemporary Art is mounting a blockbuster-style show of a blockbuster-style artist, albeit one we’d heretofore thought of mostly as a musician, as singular in style as he is. Either way, his influence will be crossing genre after genre this fall, with notable performances in dance, film screenings and, yes, underground music events. If he shows up passing the baton with Maestro Muti at the CSO, though, we’ll be suitably impressed. Either way, we’ve got a deep sample of fall events across eight disciplines on the pages that follow. So if your plan is to ignore all that Bowie fuss, we’ve got you covered as well. (Brian Hieggelke) Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: If It Ain’t Fixed…

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Anderson, Mendez, and Lopez/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

The amount of biking in the U.S. more than doubled during the aughts, from 1.7 billion trips in 2001 to four billion in 2009, according to the League of American Bicyclists, a national advocacy group. One of the great things about this boom is that it has created a broader demographic of people who ride.

In a report published last year, the League found that cycling saw the fastest growth over the last decade among Latinos, African Americans and Asian Americans, from sixteen percent of all bike trips in 2001 to twenty-three percent in 2009. The study also found that eighty-nine percent of people aged eighteen to twenty-nine have a positive view of cyclists, and seventy-five percent of them feel that improved conditions for biking would make their community a better place to live.

The recent trend toward fixed-gear bicycles and single-speed bikes with freewheels has helped fuel the growing popularity of biking among urban youth in Chicago and other big cities. These sleek, minimalist rides are affordable, fast and easy to customize, which makes them an appealing gateway to cycling for young people who, a decade ago, might have been more interested in buying four wheels than two. Read the rest of this entry »