Carl Sandburg. 1878–1967

Chicago

HOG Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities;
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness,

Bareheaded,
Shoveling,
Wrecking,
Planning,
Building, breaking, rebuilding,

Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse. and under his ribs the heart of the people,
Laughing!
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth,half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker,
Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

I live in Chicago, a place considered by many to be one of the most segregated cities in the world. This town is made up of countless very specific ethnic neighborhoods; every race and culture of the world is accounted for here and has its own area of the city where everything that goes on is conducted in the language and custom of that culture.

Its true that there are probably few other places where one can truly see such clearly defined hoods jutted right up against eachother with such clear-cut differences between them. Its also true that there is no denying the racial tension and racist people that can be found here. But that is because most places don't have so many people of so many different ethnicities and cultures.

I think when people speak of how segregated Chicago is they are comparing it solely to New York City, the only other city in the world comparable to this one in most aspects. In this case, the difference between the two is that New York has just as many cultures and races of people but they are all mixed and piled together in most areas of the city, as opposed to here where there are so many neighborhoods dedicated to a specific culture. By that comparison, because of the distinct neighborhoods and divisions that can be found here, I can see how Chicago has come to be defined as 'segregated.'

But to say it is one of the most so in the world or even this country for that matter seems ridiculous to me, because how can you compare it to any other city that has such a smaller population of inhabitants which are comprised of nowhere near as many different races of people. We have the largest population of Polish people outside of Warsaw, for Christ's sake. And they happen to have their own niche here, as does every other culture imaginable.

I don't know why, but as a resident of this city I take the whole 'most segregated' thing as a sort of an accusation, and very personally. Its weird because I really do know what people mean when they say that, but I also feel they are not thinking of things in a greater context. God only knows why things like this even bother me.
Chicago is a city in Illinois which is about 606.1 square kilometers (234 square miles) in area. It is the third largest city in the United States and has a population of apporximately 3 million people (about 2,896,016 as of the 2000 census).

Discovery

In 1673, Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet were the very first Europeans to find the land on which Chicago is built. They returned with five other Europeans, and with the help of friendly Indians, traversed the region that Chicago stands on.

The Great Chicago Fire

In 1871, a fire occured in Chicago. The real cause to the fire is unknown, but there are many speculations (such as one of Patrick O'Leary's cows knocking down a lantern and causing the barn to light on fire). The fire began at around 9 A.M. on October 8, 1871, and by midnight the fire had jumped the Chicago River's south branch. In the end, 300 Chicagoans were dead, 90,000 homeless, and the property loss was $200 million. By 1875, however, Chicago had been quickly rebuilt and little evidence remained of the disaster.

Landmarks in Chicago
  • The Chicago River -- The river was reversed by building a canal.
  • The Sears Tower -- The tallest building in the world, standing at 443 meters (1,454 ft.) in length without the antennas. There is a competetor for tallest building internationally, but there is a dispute as to weather antennas should be counted or not.li>
  • The John Hancock Building -- Chicago's second tallest building, standing at 334 Meters in length. Also, it has 5 x's on each side of the building helping it structurally and aesthetically.
  • Buckingham Fountain -- Standing in Chicago's Grant Park, it is one of the largest fountains in the world

Citations:
  • Text taken from http://www.wikipedia.org (Under the GNU Free Documentation License)
  • Text taken from http://www.nationmaster.com (Also under the GNU Free Documentation License)
  • (2001). Chicago: historical information about chicago. retrieved Feb 05, 2004, from http://www.chipublib.org/004chicago/chihist.html.
  • (n.d.). retrieved Feb 05, 2004, from http://www.aviewoncities.com/chicago/johnhancockcenter.htm.

The Best Way to See Chicago

How to Get to the Lake

If you are ever in Chicago in the summer, preferably before it becomes heat-stroke-inducingly hot, please do this: Rent, borrow or steal a bike and head east from wherever you are. Find an intersection. If you are facing a sign which says “X N.”, e.g. “Division, 1200 N.”, turn right and look for addresses. They best be going down mother-scratcher, or you best turn around. Properly oriented, keep going till you hit Lake Michigan. (The Division example gets a bit interesting around 1000 West, but if you want to buy crack this route is primo and you might have the experience I’m extolling in a completely different and better way.) If the sign you are facing says “X W.”, e,g, “Ashland, 1600 W.”, you are either going the dead right or dead wrong direction. The next sign you come to should be less west. If it is, Carmen Sandiego, you’re on the right track.

Be careful, Speed Racer. Urban bike riding is treacherous stuff. You might want pads and a helmet, but you also might want your dignity. Also, some streets do feature handy bike lanes, especially good is Milwaukee. However, Chicago is no Madison, and as our distended, polish-sausage-eating asses attest, exercise isn’t the prime concern of the Daley regime or his average subject. Furthermore, Milwaukee runs NW/SE, and will probably confuse you and you’ll end up in Skokie. So be a man and take a non-bike-laned street and head east like I told you to!

Potential Pitfalls

Holy shit! Cars and busses are nigh 1 foot from my spindly and prized left leg and arm!” I know. Don’t panic. Keep your glassies open and pay attention. Part of the quality of this experience is its potential to end your life. Look at the mirrors of the cars to your right. If you see a change in the light in one of these mirrors, react! That’s a door opening, and it can be your ride ending if you slam into it. The attitude of Chicagoans to bikers ranges from blind indifference to outright malice, so they won’t be checking for your presence and they might be trying to lay you low. It’s up to you to remain uncrippled.

Also, mind the busses. They are the drunken, malevolent dinosaurs of the urban roadscape, and they veer right to devour and regurgitate people at nearly every block with no regard for your presence. Similarly, if you get clever and try to pass a stopped bus on the left, they might well career drunkenly into your usually safe right side. Achtung! Busses are your sworn enemy. Avoid them with sidewalks and with valor.

Now you’re gliding along east and you’re paying attention. Hopefully your muscles aren’t atrophied to the point where you are currently a sweaty, pathetic, aching walrus. If at any point you feel arrhythmia or similarly imminently life-threatening symptoms, wait for your enemy at a bus stop. They will pick your walrus ass up and you can stow your steed on the front bike rack. Navigation of the CTA is beyond the scope of this node. You’ve failed, and now you’re on your own.

Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

To those fleet and lithe few who’re able to navigate Scylla and Charybdis, after about 15 to 20 minutes of riding east you should start to slip into a zen-like trance. It’s really amazing how much is going on in a big city that is usually dampened by the vacuum-seal of your car. Bike-riding : driving :: actually going to Florence : Rick Steves telling you about it. Oxygen starts coursing through your brain. What’s that thudding sound? That’s your heart beating, Ulysses, that’s being alive outside.

Note the wind wicking your sweat, note the architecture of our fine city. Look at the tops of the buildings. Stonemasonry is a lost art and it’s on display. The neighborhoods will generally change from the lower ends of the socioeconomic strata to the higher as you get closer to the lake, and you might notice Spanish signage resolving into comprehensibility. Depending on how far north or south you are, you might pass through the ritzy North Shore. Or Little Vietnam. Or the bustling business center of The Loop. You might see yuppie 20-somethings emerging from gyms and Starbucks in Lincoln Park. If you find yourself on Chicago Avenue, you’ll cross the intersection with Michigan Ave. where all the tourists come to spend profligate amounts at Ralph Lauren and Saks Fifth Avenue, you’ll see an old-timey fire station with firemen lazing outside, smoking. You’ll see the two enormous antennae of the John Hancock building mainlining the sky. You’ll see my school. From pretty much anywhere in the city, within 30 minutes you should arrive at Lake Michigan.

Lake Michigan is a big-ass beautiful lake in the summertime, with the sailboats and the dancing light, with the cool wind and the blueness. There is a bike trail that runs north and south along it for 20 miles called, aptly, the “Lakefront Path.” For your last obstacle before arriving at the lake, you’ll have to cross Lake Shore Drive (Just slippin’ on by on LSD, Friday night trouble bound… – SING IT ALIOTA, HAYNES, AND JEREMIAH!). Do not try to cross this road! It’s a highway and will make you dead. Look for a pedestrian underpass, walk your bike down the stairs, disregard the pungent smell of urine, and emerge to the Lakefront Path. You’ve arrived, Sportsfan.

The Lake Itself

“I thought Chicagoans had distended asses?!? I feel wildly unfit amidst this swarm of hardbody hotties. Who are these people? Extras from Gattica?” I know. The people on the Lakefront Path, running, biking, walking and rollerblading by (What’s the hardest part about rollerblading? Telling your parents you’re gay.), are extremely pulchritudinous as a general rule. They hide somewhere underneath the city during the year and only emerge in the summertime to flaunt their physical prowess along the lakeshore promenade, making the normal feel woefully inadequate. In any event, they don’t care about you so don’t worry about looking like an invader from Corpulencia. Narcissus’s downfall was not due to looking at and mocking the unbeautiful. Enjoy the navel-gazers as scenery.

Now you can choose where to go, north or south. There is an excellent riddle that comes to mind: You arrive at a fork in the road. Twin sisters are standing there. Lost, you ask them for directions. “One of us always lies and the other always tells the truth. You can only ask us one question each, but it has to be the same question.” What do you ask them to find your way? Sorry (the answer is at the end).

Your choice here is of much less moment, north or south are both fantastic rides. I would recommend you look around. Where are the tall buildings at? If you are looking out at the lake, and they are far away to your right (south), riding towards them offers what I think is the most startlingly beautiful view of the Chicago skyline. However, if you go left (north), you’ll find far fewer crowds and lots of cool parks with the occasional tai chi practitioner and a quiet beach or three. If you are closer to the big buildings, heading right (south) will bring you past Navy Pier, a big somewhat cheesy place featuring a Ferris wheel and stuff of that sort. Resist its touristy siren song. You’re better than that. Continuing south will bring you past the new, improbably modern architecture of Soldier Field, and the monolithic black steel and glass behemoth that is McCormick Place. Farther south is The South Side, which is humongous and about which I know little. Sticking to the trail, however, you are in little danger. Of which we cannot speak we must remain silent.

One stop that I would fervently advocate making would be the chess pavilion by North Avenue Beach (1600 N.). Finding this location or any other on the path is made easier by the addresses painted on the path itself every couple blocks. If you have the remotest interest in chess or psychopathology, you should really check this out. The structure itself is a large metal awning shaped like an open clamshell that covers some 20 or so chessboards that are wrought into upraised concrete slabs that serve as benches and tables. During the summer, there are always throngs of spectators and players, some of whom are very good, and some of whom will put their money where their mouth is. This way lies penury unless you, too, are very good (1800+ USCF). You’ll find homeless savants, Russian émigrés, loudmouthed Filipino impresarios, and smarmy businessmen getting robbed blind. Most of the games are speed chess, and the click, click, click of the clocks being punched is cacophonous. If you are female, the environs might also feature an unwanted aside or two about your beauty. It’s generally good-natured and usually subsides shortly, so don’t let this dissuade you from checking it out. A few players play for play, so have yourself a game. It’s probably the coolest place to play chess I’ve ever been, and it’s literally 20 feet from the lake which sprawls out as far as you can see.

Hopefully you remember from where you set forth upon this journey and you can navigate your way back. I hope that after this trip you are uninjured, juiced with endorphins and Vitamin D from the sunlight and exercise, and edified by the mad beauty of Chicago. After a few hours of riding, nothing surpasses a few cold beers and some grilled meat with compatriots. Don’t worry, your computer and television will be waiting for you with open arms on your return.

If you don’t want to know the answer to the riddle, please don’t read further.

The answer to the riddle

Ask them this question: “Which way would your sister tell me to go?”

I've learned these things since returning to the city that raised me from her suburbs.

Chicago is a museum of architecture. The downtown area is an arena where different styles of building conspire, one against the other. It is also a breeding ground, the quintessential postmodern landscape.
Of the myriad beautiful views, I must say that it is from the corner of Ohio and LaSalle that one can most clearly get a picture of why the city is beautiful. Facing toward the John Hancock Building, one sees residential and office skyscrapers crawling, centipedelike, up the sky. Hancock looks haughtily down upon them in the distance, grand even to these giants with the alien enormity of the Sears Tower looming out of view.
Right across the street is the new MacDonald's, big and artsy and sophisticated in a way that such a banal establishment does not deserve. The Rainforest Cafe as well as the Hard Rock Cafe are well within walking distance. Whimsical buildings add perspective, lessen the gray hardness of the massive skyscrapers behind.
Behind you are old buildings, short and stocky and sweaty with history. Their storefronts have changed dozens of times even since I've been alive. Old dogs, new tricks.

The Tao te Ching says that the Tao is like a river. It sustains all without trying and lays in riverbeds, places where no other would find comfort.
I say that today the train is like the Tao. It moves without concern, upon a track that is covered with piss and rat shit and electricity. It brings anybody, rich or poor, black or white, to wherever they need to go.

Speaking of the train, there are two ways to transfer at no cost from the Blue Line to the Red Line; one is on Washington and one on Jackson.
The Jackson Street transfer is much more modern. It's more brightly lit and better tiled and high tech.
It smells, however, just as much like urine and vomit as the Washington transfer.

Chicago is here because the stockyards would hire anyone. Immigrants running from this war or that who needed employment could work in the massive compound that existed only to kill. It took little basic ability to smash a cow's skull with a hammer.
Because of this the vicious Chicago winter is endured by blacks, Hispanics and Asians, cultures who have been ill-prepared by history. But they stay, they endure.
Now, Chicago had a major hand in the development of jazz and blues and can take nearly sole responsibility for house music.
Culture was developed in Chicago while people in San Diego were on the beach. Culture developed because it was something you could do indoors.
The spirit of Chicago is that of a deer with its leg in a trap. Rather than prance through the glade or chew through its leg, it mixes records. Rather than searching for greener forest, it exports steel.

I have learned much from moving back to the city of my birth. I’ve seen the freedom that poverty can grant every day as I walk back from the California Blue Line stop and I see the bondage of wealth every day when I work at Starbucks downtown. Chicago is, without question, THE postmodern city. It is difficult to tell whether it is so cosmopolitan out of confusion or enlightenment, out of a desire to be many things or a fear of being one.

In the sun, you are the white city.
Beaming and proud, hard in the heat; Sparkling in your ivories and greys.
Stone slabbed, white peaked, you are unrelenting.
But with the moon, you bend down to the lake: warm, caressing.
Reflecting its tones, you are gleaming, glistening, blue.


2 October 2006

I fell in love again.

I saw her way before she'd seen me. Which was surprising, because I was already a couple drinks in, and I had a reputation for being sort of a lightweight. But if she had seen me before she actually walked up to me, then I guess it must have been because she was just as nervous as I was. It had been a long, long time.

She asked me how long I'd been here. I loved that. No basic formalities with this girl - no "hi, do you remember me?" or even "how've you been?" She was so confident in her strides, even when you knew she was chickenshit. I told her I couldn't really remember. Which is usually true. I never knew what day of the month it was, or the week for that matter. I never even kept a watch because I didn't care. When I was seventeen years old I broke every clock in the house one day just because I was sick of time dictating what I did. And I've never really looked back from that moment.

But this was different. I knew exactly how long I'd been here - four months, nine days. I usually didn't care when I got to wherever it was I happened to be, or how long I stayed. But this really was different. I could never forget Chicago. All the little details, all the novelties and little sentimental moments all my principles stood against, the whole facade was dropped here. I can't kid myself in Chicago. I don't think I ever will.

I didn't really know what to say, so I started asking about a couple of people from back in Virginia I was genuinely curious about. I guess nobody's story turned out to be anything unexpected when you consider the character that made it up. The people I expected to get knocked up early got knocked up early. The people I expected to drop out of college dropped out of college. The people I expected to work hard as a middle class white collar worker to get fruitless satisfaction out of it...well, you get the picture. Except maybe Donnie. I guess I just never really expected anything out of Donnie because I didn't really like him too much. I still felt sorry for him though, because the guy had the worst luck in the world. But I just couldn't help but not like him in the first place because the guy was just so incredibly unimaginative. All he ever talked about was starting his own winery. When it came to dreams and ambitions, or just anything aside from schoolwork or other people, it was always again and again with the damn winery. He was just such an unambitious guy, and he never followed through with anything, and I guess it was just kind of hard to respect him for it. But whenever he failed at anything else, he always fell back on the Winery idea, and by god that's exactly what became of him. He's not rich or anything, he's still making 5 figures annually, but he's certainly doing alright. I felt happy for him when I heard it.

After I'd run out of little side topics, I just sort of braced myself. I didn't know what else to do. It would've been easy enough to talk about shit noone really cares about until we got tired and drunk and went our separate ways. But I knew she would eat me alive, or worse, bore me to death. You never ever try small talk with Charlotte. It's honestly easier to just face the music.

"I'm not exactly looking for closure or anything," she started in. It was such a point of no return for her. I felt the obligation to take it easy on the poor girl. "But I guess what I need to know more than anything is whether or not you have any regrets."

Hell of a way to phrase it. Of course I have regrets. Jesus. It was so irritating I almost threw up the classic cold and stoic nature, and told her hell no I didn't have any regrets, and I only wish I had a chance to do it again. But no. I know I've grown up since the last time I saw those quiet emerald eyes. And it's time I proved it to myself, if noone else. It's time to tell the truth before I can think about it.

"Yeah. I always had regrets. The day I left, all I could think about was regretting I had ever put myself through that again. I was in that car for eleven hours straight, and it was all I could do to not kick my own ass for not having bailed sooner. I let myself love and hate it all too much before I'd gotten out, and it hurt like hell at first. I knew it would. And I tried to be spiteful. I tried to say 'I told you so' to make myself feel better, but I was only talking to myself. And it hurt like hell anyway.

"I got over that pretty quickly though. I had a lot of distractions around me to keep me from dwelling on it too much. After the first few days I had to focus more on basic survival needs than abandoning everything I ever had. It was a hell of a year, really. Once I'd kind of gotten my feet on the ground though I started to think about it more and more. And I really felt bad about it, because I knew how much the whole thing meant to you. And I just shattered everything. It felt so out of character for me to feel bad for someone who I didn't really feel deserved it. But I did anyway. Honestly, it's not like you were the first or the last that I completely abandoned. But I don't know, it just felt different this time. It was just so unceremonious - no flowers, no telling your parents about it, no cuts, no scrapes, no dramatics, no endless skies, no endless seas. I didn't even have the decency to recite the lyrics to Freebird or anything. And again, it's not like you were the first, and it's not like I haven't done it since to girls who were even better people than you. And I didn't ever feel bad for them. But I felt so bad about you.

"Maybe it was you. And you were the one who made the difference. Maybe it was me. Maybe it was the time period I was in. Maybe it was just us, and something about the relationship. But it didn't ever feel like it. And that's why it was so damn weird. But for the longest time, I felt like I owed you so much, because I'd taken so much away from you. And I think that's the answer that you're really looking for. You're not a bad person for it. It's just your nature. You want me to feel so indebted to you. And you want me to feel like I would do anything to make it up to you, because I know you haven't given up on this and you probably never will. I felt like that for a long time.

"But now that I'm here, I feel so different. I've seen so many people, and I've done so many things since then. I've cried a lot since the last time I saw you. But it was all for freedom, because now I know what that really means. And I know the price we pay for true freedom. I know what I am, and I know what I've done. And I'm not a bad person, and neither are you, and I don't know that it would make a difference if we were. Is it you, is it me? That's a stupid question. Neither one of us lost control, because I don't think we ever had it in the first place. And that's what was killing you in the first place. So now I know, that what happened wasn't right, wrong, or indifferent. Because there's no rules to this. All of this. Any of this. Life, and all of it. There's just what happens. But do I have regrets? Yes. Yes, I have regrets. They're just different regrets. I regret that I never even tried. I regret that I gave up on you so quickly, and that I was so eager to just jump in a truck and drive until I died. But I never did die. And now that I'm here, well, I'm here. And you're there.

"But does that mean we should ever try to backtrack? Is that what you came in here for? You want me to just move back to Virginia with you. You want me to die in that small town with you for punishment of what I took away when it still meant something. Well, just because you miss something, doesn't mean you should ever go back. Don't pretend it would be the same as it was before. It's not worth it. Not to you, and not to me."

She was silent the whole time. She listened. She was patient. I loved her for that. She finally spoke. "I don't even have to defend myself. I mean, it's like, with every argument you make, you develop a counter argument for me, and then you defeat it. It's like you're having a conversation for me. And that got soooo annoying to so many people I saw you around. I loved it. I still do love it. But god, do I hate that it has to be coming from you.

"You see right through me. And I hate it, and I love it, and it feels so secure, and so truthful, but it's the truth that hurts so much."

And that was it. All this time, and all this rambling, just to find the answer why here. It was her. It really was because of her that I fell so damn hard for the whole thing. That's what made the difference. She was a city person. Not just someone I could relate to, but someone who thinks and feels on the same level that I do. Everything else just seems so weak and strange or otherwise unnecessary when you finally feel like you're not alone. And that's what makes it so hard. It's so easy to think you're in love, when in reality, it's just that you're not alone. And there's nothing more overwhelming in the world than that feeling. Not even love. You come to expect love as you grow up hearing about it in fairy tales and pop songs. You never see this part of life coming.

It was so hard to speak, but I did it anyway. "I made a lot of mistakes. But I know where I am, and I know how I really feel. And it took something like Chicago to bring it out of me. But I know I'll have to leave you behind, Charlotte."

She sighed. "Well, there's no point in being miserable about it anymore. But there's no point in being detached either, or in trying to keep touch. It's like we've lost all our influence over this because we already know how it's going to end. And it's strange, that isn't really sad, but it still makes me feel so defeated."

"Don't ever cry because it's over," I said. "Smile because it happened."

She scoffed out a smile. "Talk about out of character..." It was so sassy and beautiful it almost made me crawl out of myself right there. And then it was gone just as quickly as I came. By now I had moved on from the bourbon to just coffee, and I stirred it slowly.

She stood up and grabbed her coat to leave. I tried to pretend like I wasn't watching her. She finally approached me, and kissed me on the forehead. It felt so familiar that I couldn't feel anything emotional about it. "I didn't ever expect to see you again. But I knew as soon as I woke up this morning I couldn't ever win you back. It's so obvious how much you've changed. And for all the busted stuff you've left behind, I just happened to catch you in a transitional period. Which, for you of course, is a period where you're not moving at all.

"But I know where you're coming from now, and it doesn't matter whether I'm content with that or not, but I think I am anyway." She smiled. She raised her eyebrows and threw her hands out at her sides. "All things go," she said. It felt like she'd said it a hundred thousand times, all in the same fleeting, self-echoing motion. All things go.

I didn't watch her walk out. But I felt it. I kept stirring my coffee. I wasn't thinking though. Except about the last thing she'd said. For the first time since I'd abandoned her, I didn't regret a thing. All things go. Hmm. That's Chicago for ya.

 

 

 

 


....I fell in love again.

 

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- inspired mostly by the Sufjan Stevens song, to which the lyrics are referenced here several times.

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