Street Smart Chicago

Protect and Serve: The Guardian Angels still prowl

City Life, Transit No Comments »

Blue-line riders witness peculiar sights on a regular basis, but a quick glimpse outside of their window just past the Jackson stop on this Thursday evening offers one serious head-scratcher: eight men donning red berets simultaneously kicking and jabbing into the air. Before the onlookers can observe anything more, the train skirts by, but the Taekwondo-like training session continues. “Right cross, round house, round house, left elbow strike,” the training leader says, explaining the move step by step, and the rest of the guys, lined up two by two, strike accordingly, some even whispering “pow!” to accentuate their effectiveness.

Thankfully, these guys are on our side—the Chicago chapter of the Guardian Angels, a volunteer-based organization founded in New York City in 1979 to combat crime by patrolling the city, attempting to defuse testy situations and protect the citizenry from harm. The Chicago chapter is headed by Mike Fuentes, who can clearly multi-task. Upon the patroller’s arrival at the station, he immediately starts a job interview with a new recruit and outlines the evening’s itinerary, all while being filmed by a documentary crew from DePaul (he also perks up at every possible fishy sight or sound, as if the assignment was hardwired into his brain). Fuentes lays down a few rules: don’t show up intoxicated, no weapons of any kind, always cooperate with police, don’t flirt. “Chances are if you weren’t wearing the red beret and t-shirt, she wouldn’t think you’re cute,” Fuentes says. Aside from the Guardian Angels’ t-shirt, which features an eye inside a pyramid that dons heavenly wings, the preference is for black-dominant clothing. “You can be Bruce Lee, you can be Chuck Norris,” Fuentes says. “But if you’re wearing yellow shoes or a pink shirt, when you get on the streets, you’re gonna get a lot of people who are gonna try to test you.”

After the training session, the patrol officially begins. This is a diverse group of Angels—African-American, Caucasian, Latino, college students, middle-aged, big and muscular, thin and lanky—and each has a code name: 914, Jinx, Iceman, Tut and Tow Truck. “Thanks for protecting,” one rider tells Fuentes as the group boards the Red Line towards Howard, and he responds with a polite “You’re welcome.” The guys roam from car to car, looking for the obvious (drunken tirades) to the not-so-obvious (a hidden weapon), as Fuentes uses hand signals to communicate to the his teammates. But this is a quiet evening—no mishaps to report—and thus, a successful evening. They’re not always like this. Fuentes says after one of the Bulls championships in the early 1990s, the Angels had a run-in with a gang, leading to a showdown between the two groups just as the police became involved. “One of the guys pulled out a gun and started shooting at us, and the cops are like, ‘Get down!’” Fuentes says, explaining that he and Tow Truck charged the group as the gunman shot at them five or six times. “I’m thinking, ‘Damn, I haven’t been shot yet,’ so I ran faster.” (Andy Seifert)

Common Sense: Forget the Flowers

City Life, Edgewater, Essays & Commentary, Green, Transit No Comments »

Chicago is being touted as a green city, but if you look at the facts it’s a bunch of crap. We’ve got the organic bars and cuisine, even some pricey eco-friendly dwellings, which is all just peachy, but what about those fucking potholes? I live in Edgewater, close to Devon, and every time I’m in a car there’s so much bopping up and down, I feel like I’m traveling in a horse and buggy. And the Red Line is a fucking nightmare. Read the rest of this entry »

Common Sense: No Room for Kicks on Route 66

City Life, Essays & Commentary, Transit No Comments »

Ever been stuck in someone’s armpit while jammed between a giant baby stroller and a year’s worth of two-ply that somehow makes the bumpy packed bus route along Chicago Avenue soothing? If so, my dear neighbor, you must be the fool carting the toilet paper or the baby stroller onto a packed rush-hour bus, all aboard Chicago’s Westbound Route 66. ??Aboard this cutthroat commute the bus driver won’t tell you to wait for another bus because you won’t get a seat, let alone a handle or even a corner to hover. Plus, neither you nor the driver has the common sense to remember yesterday’s grueling journey. Read the rest of this entry »

Common Sense: Block 37, Where Are You?

City Life, Essays & Commentary, Transit No Comments »

We all know the CTA, for the most part, is a mess. In the last few years, the system has began to choke on its own negligence—derailments, slow zones, investigations, budget crises and threats to cut bus lines (all coming at a time when more and more Chicagoans are turning to public transportation as a means to avoid skyrocketing gas prices). But never have the CTA’s—and Daley’s—disregard for civic necessity became more apparent than with the recent Block 37 debacle.
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To El and Back: Andy Seifert takes on every CTA stop in one weekend

City Life, Transit No Comments »


Jackson – Red: Miss Flow is grooving at 8am, her Arizona Iced Tea bumping along with the bass that pulsates from her Crate amplifier. A Karaoke version of Alicia Keys’ “No One” echoes throughout the subway as Miss Flow brings it hard to six utterly uninterested riders, their hands holding up their faces in a futile effort to stay awake.
“Good morning, ev-ray-bahh-dee,” Miss Flow sings, still in Alicia Keys’ mode. “Happy Friii-day, enjoy your daaa-aaayyyy, yeah yeah.”
Though nobody really seems to dig Miss Flow, she’s apropos of the subway and a friendly beginning to my weekend, to my upcoming ordeal. For the next two days, I will ride to the ends of every track the CTA offers, take in every station and every train I encounter, and watch people do and say foolish, outlandish things. Everybody has their own “El story” that they effortlessly come across. I want to find a couple for myself.
The goal: Ride to and stop at every single El station over the course of two days while documenting the individual behaviors of typical riders to the shocking actions of…well, other typical riders. I also have two secondary goals: 1) Figure out why the El is such a haven for insane conduct, and 2) Don’t die. What follows are observations and encounters from my weekend, which was coincidentally on the 116th anniversary of the El’s first service.
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Have a Car-Free Summer: Two If By Sea, a pair of ways to take the river

City Life, Green, Loop, Transit No Comments »

For office workers who need to get from downtown Metra stations to their jobs elsewhere in the Loop, a ride on a water taxi provides a pause that refreshes.

“It’s so peaceful,” say Patrick Giordano, an attorney who practices energy law. “And the environmental benefits are very important.”

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Have a Car-Free Summer: Metra-sexuals, No one needs a license for love

Bicycling, City Life, Green, Love & Sex, Transit No Comments »

It might seem like living car-free would make dating difficult. But as Tom Cruise and Rebecca De Mornay’s steamy El-train scene in “Risky Business” shows, alternative transportation can actually rev up your love life. Here’s testimony from Chicagoans who really get around.

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Have a Car-Free Summer: Did someone say something about the price of gas?

Bicycling, City Life, Green, Transit No Comments »

Next month, I’ll mark four years of car-free living. The first year was one of adjustments, of fine-tuning my transit practices to a mix of CTA, walking, taxis and car-sharing. But over time, I’ve come to enjoy new ways of living in and around Chicago without the burden of a vehicle. This summer, for example, I’ve made a commitment to bicycle-commute at least one day a week, even though I have a monthly CTA pass. I plan to explore golf courses accessible via public transit, and have enjoyed traveling to and from family barbecues in suburbia via Metra, where I’ve been able to enjoy a beer or three, even on the train, without concerns about mixing drinking and driving. Speaking of which, I hear the price of gas has topped $4 a gallon, but haven’t had the chance to experience that one myself…

We’ve put together some insights into having fun in the city this summer without pumping the tank yourself, but really, it isn’t hard. Just combine your train schedule or a bicycle with your imagination and you might just find yourself joining me among the car-less. (Brian Hieggelke)

An Exodus to Zion

Life Around the Edge

Metra-sexuals, no one needs a license for love

Two If By Sea, a pair of ways to take the river

Have a Car-Free Summer: An Exodus to Zion

Bicycling, Green, Transit No Comments »

By John Greenfield

There’s a bunch of state parks near Chicago accessible by commuter rail and/or bicycle including Indiana Dunes, Chain O’ Lakes and Kettle Moraine. But the easiest, oddest camping trip you can take without a car is a weekend excursion to Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, hometown of the band Local H, near the northeast corner of the state.

Strap your gear to your bike and catch Metra from the Ogilvie Center, 500 West Madison, or points north ( Alternately, you could bring a backpack and hike two miles from the Zion station to the campground, but a set of wheels is useful for sightseeing.

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Car Free: A year without wheels

Bicycling, City Life, Essays & Commentary, Green, Transit No Comments »

By Brian Hieggelke

“Sod the streets at once. Rip up all city streets with jackhammers and use the junk-asphalt (after melting) to create a huge parking and auto-storage lot on the outskirts of town, preferably out of sight… All public movement would be by foot and a fleet of bicycles, maintained by the city police force.”
—Hunter S. Thompson’s platform for his run for Sheriff of Aspen, Colorado, 1970

My cell phone rang at the office early one morning. A colleague, May, was calling to tell me she’d be quite late to work—her car had broken down on South Lake Shore Drive, in the far left lane, and she was waiting for a tow truck. Her day was off to a rather harrowing start.

A few minutes later, June, another colleague, rushed into the office, wide-eyed and upset. Her morning had been much worse. On her way to work, another driver had nearly run her off the road. When June swerved around to avoid a collision, she ended up in front of the other car. That driver lost it. Deciding she’d been cut off, she pulled up beside June, nearly running her off the road, and started screaming, “I’ve got a kid in here.” Moments later, she bumped her car into June’s, then fell back and started ramming into June’s car until a police officer, who’d seen the whole incident, interceded. “Lady, that’s road rage,” he scolded the vehicular aggressor. “I could arrest you for attempted murder.” Instead, he booked her for battery, and told her to find a relative to pick up her kid. She was going to jail.

Although I sympathized with my co-workers’ plight, I don’t ever have mornings like this. I no longer own a car.
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