View From Afar

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DALE SUDERMAN
So, folks from Kansas will be visiting Chicago this month. Or at least, that is the claim of the Prudent Tours advertisement in the Free Press.


En route they will visit the Herbert Hoover Presidential Museum in Iowa-home of the first “compassionate conservative.”


In Chicago, they will visit the Board of Trade and museums. They will take the elevator to the top of the Sears Tower.


One can almost see the top of the Sears Tower from my apartment. Maybe I will hang out the window and wave at my fellow Kansans.


I haven’t been to the Board of Trade or Sears Tower in decades. (But I have been to the Adobe House and seen historic Peabody in recent months. Tourism is the process of seeing the neat stuff somewhere other than at home.)


Tour busses don’t come to my neighborhood. Like most Chicagoans, I live in a village or neighborhood not much larger than Hillsboro.


My village is so obscure it has no name. Ukrainian Village, Wicker Park and West Town-places with class and rising home prices surround me.


Holy Innocents is our neighborhood Catholic parish. They have added Spanish and English services to their traditional Polish base. If you can hear the church bells at Holy Innocents, you are part of my village.


We have two laundromats. I distinguish them as the one run by “the lady with the big nose” versus “the one run by the Korean lady who reads the Bible all day and never smiles.”


The best gossip is at the Demar Restaurant. The men, at what I think of as the “farmer’s table,” wear bib overalls. They are retired union members. (A Thai restaurant has just opened in the neighborhood-joining the Mexican and Puerto Rican diners.)


We are a changing neighborhood. The old wooden row houses built in 1890 are either being rehabbed or torn down to be replaced by town houses costing over a quarter of a million dollars per apartment.


Our new neighbors don’t hang out on the sideway at night. They come out to walk their dogs or do in-line skating in the early morning or evening.


They order groceries on their computers. I saw the Webvan dropping off groceries followed by a homeless garbage picker pushing a grocery cart. (At the end of the day, a good “buggy pusher” can have picked up enough junk from our trash cans to earn almost $100. Oddly, he earns about as much as the fellow driving the van.)


Most of my old neighbors are known by their language and occupation. There is the Polish contractor, the Mexican auto mechanic, or the crabby old lady who feeds snacks to Lucky, our backyard dog.


My village is increasingly peaceful. A few years ago we were the no-man’s land of rival drug gangs. I remember being at a backyard barbecue and hearing gunshots. Each of the parents looked up to see if their kids were inside the yard and out of any possible trajectory and then returned to eating. Now popping sounds are usually just kids shooting off firecrackers.


I can even play the “Mennonite Game” here. My best friends live across the street-she is a Yoder from Hesston and her husband is from Wayne County, Ohio. They met at Goshen College.


My village has no real claim to fame. The writer Nelson Algren lived down the block until he moved to the East Coast in the 1960s. The Spilatro brothers-Mafia hit men-lived on Amour Street until they were murdered and buried in a cornfield in Indiana. The gas station on the corner-with cheap gas of questionable quality-was used for a scene in an obscure Chicago movie called “Hellcat.”


If the Prudent Tours bus stopped by my apartment, it would be the most exciting event in recent neighborhood history. The guests could come on up and have coffee and cookies. They will need to “Excuse the dust-but we are installing central heat.”


I’m in the phone book. Give me a call when you are in town.

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