Saturday, August 13, 2005

Brief Home Chicago

On Saturday, Eric and Dave drove me halfway Chicago, to East Lafayette. I'd been here before when I was 21, an age when I thought it important to break up road trips to party in university towns. About twenty minutes after boarding my north-bound bus, we stopped again, probably so some of the thugs in back could get down and smoke a rock. Not that I blame 'em. You need it to deal with the complete absence of any feature on the landscape to draw your attention. Flat flat flat. (But it still beats the shit out of Kansas, where the landscape is so dull [despite William Least Heat-Moon's great book] that I once got ticketed twice in a half hour speeding across it.) Second only to windmills, billboards were the highest things on the horizon, often carrying deep messages about "Abstinance until Marriage," and "Reverse Vasectomy Procedures." Cause and effect and cause and effect. This went on until Gary Indiana, Gary Indiana, when Chicago's southern, poorer satellites began. A lot of billboards here shot through the heart of the black demographic, with ads that D later told me he found racist. He for one, ain't "Lovin' It." But Gary was keeping it real, with nice homes lining quiet suburban streets, flanked at both ends by typical scenes of economic despair. Lotto kiosks and bars were especially prevailant, one of the latter carrying a sign saying that they sold "Gary's coldest beer." How do you quantify that?

D and Braver met me at the bus station and we drove north along the crowded beaches of Lake Michigan. We found ourselves down here again the next day, in front of Lincoln Park, where we wandered awhile, passing dozens of young parents unnecessarily and quite harshly scolding their broods. Cafe Brauer offered great seating from which to watch the varieties of human expression. Who needs "March of the Penguins" anyhow? The beach was another great vantage point. There are an incredible number of nationalities in Chicago, whose varied behaviors no doubt causes most Americans to quickly think, "Other." In Japan, one of those "freaks' would be me.

Saturday night, we went over to DePaul University to meet Braver's 25-year-old cousin, a professional drummer currently playing two shows a night at something like $800/week. (I hid my envy well, I think, breaking none of the lucky fucker's phlanges. {Ooh! Good band name!}) We had subs at Potbelly, then crossed the street to down pints. Heading to the john, I ran into a guy I knew at Univ. of Arizona. Weird. Afterward, D, Braver and I went to a larger bar jammed with college age kids. It was too packed/noisy to talk, so we simply swivelnecked to look at the local talent. This got old for me in about 27 seconds. I was by no means looking for company, but the attitude in that place was ridiculous and unwarranted. (Is this "baby-doll" dress trend nationwide, or only here? It's a terrible look either way, from the Lush Mama line at Victoria's Secret.) In my cups, I got annoyed at the whole thing, and left quickly. (In hindsight, I should've relished the irony of a meat-market in Chicago. Upton Sinclair lives!) I remember why I always hated places like that, even back in college. We caught what turned out to be the last train. After shuffling our feet for a half-hour on a busy platform, we realized we'd missed our connection. Braver spent the time talking hoops to a spacey amateur boxer. When our train didn't come, we decided to walk the last mile home. A really tall girl joined us, no doubt finding safety in our numbers. It turned out she was a 20-year old varsity volleyball player at Northwestern, abandoned by her friends. We talked awhile with her, but as I was tired and it was nearing three, I went up to D's to crash. D and Braver drove her the rest of the way home. Fifteen years or so ago, one of them would've tried to pick her up, but instead, in their latest role as husbands and dads, they lectured her on the dangers of going into the dark with strangers. How times change...

Most of the weekend we spent walking Evanston and the area around Northwestern U. We drank pints at the same Irish pub twice. One night, we watched "Shaun of the Dead," a film that deserves all the hype it has gotten. Brilliant. And Chappelle, plenty of Chappelle. In college, it used to be Playstation, but now we compare some of the more bizarre web sites we've found. And in between these things, we talked, about old times and new, trying to find common ground among three lives now grown up and spinning in different trajectories.

Monday, Braver flew back to Phoenix. That night D and I went to an open-mic near campus. The crowd was mostly teenaged, listening to the high-school balladeers and their guitars, ignoring the old-timers and their overblown poems. Where were the freaks, the flavor? I know it's around, having read about the scene in long dead punk 'zines and in the journals of Aaron Cometbus. Hell, I'd been at shows here myself. But this trip, it was as vanilla as the ice cream in my root beer float. Chicago, despite it's multi-ethnicity, seems devoidedly lacking in multi-culturalism. Like a TV dinner tray, everyone here seems seperated into their own monolingual ghettos, the Irish, Poles, Greeks. I guess I forget that this is how things work in the Midwest and on the East Coast. I've grown accustomed to the jambalaya mix of western cities. Or more appropriately , I thrive on the hunt for foreign flavors while wandering Tokyo or Kyoto neighborhoods, an alternative to the washoku land of the 'Nog.

My last morning in town, I took an early morning swim in the calm waters of Lake Michigan, the latest body of water in a growing list of those which have engulfed me. On the beach I watched the young mother brigade begin to roll their tykes to the water's edge, listened to their varied accents, and looked beyond to the neat, pricy middle-class homes from which they'd come. The face of this country has changed rapidly during the decade I've been away. Myself being caught between two cultures and belonging to neither, I encourage the change, the variety. But I can't help but feel sad about one thing. When you add all the colors of the spectrum together, you tend to wind up with white.


On the turntable: Bonny "Prince" Billy, "Master and Everyone"
On the nighttable: Roy Parvin, "The Loneliest Road in America"

1 comment:

Tom said...

I can clearly picture large parts of that one, Ted.