I've lived in several Chicago neighborhoods the past 10 years. Lincoln Park. Old Town. Wicker Park. Ravenswood. Pilsen. Hyde Park. Streeterville.
My favorite--and the one to which I want to return-- is Streeterville. Plain and simple, there is nothing that compares to the beauty of the juxtaposition of water and architecture in this downtown area. It feels as if you've stepped inside of a dream. Every mental snapshot is more beautiful than the last.
My home was Cityfront Place (Illinois and McClurg, along the river). I walked to work most days--at the Santa Fe Building. I loved my neighborhood strolls to Fox and Obel, Water Tower Place, the old Esquire theatre. Going to visit my friend at 111 East Chestnut. When she moved to 55 East Erie, I lived there with her for a few months, since my lease was up at Cityfront Place, and I was unsure of my next move.
There was nothing to fear. An occasional homeless-looking person sometimes lingered late into the night, but none ever appeared to be a threat. Streeterville was a real life snow globe with beautiful buildings and clean streets--and I was a person who often explored them. When my friend at 111 East Chestnut would urge me to take a cab back to Cityfront, I preferred to walk. There was no reason not to.
Like the time I walked home at 2 a.m. from Armitage and Clark to Illinois and McClurg--because the 22 bus would not come--and I had no cab fare. The corridor along the river-- from the Tribune Building, past the Gleacher Center and the Sheraton and ultimately to Cityfront Place--was deserted. But no biggie. Because that's what you do in Chicago. You walk.
But today it seems that to walk without hesitation in Streeterville, is to be naive. And you can no longer afford to be naive.
The articles I've read are saying that these groups of teens who've been targeting people in Streeterville/Gold Coast-- don't necessarily "take" anything from their victim. But in actuality, the victims are being robbed of something more valuable than a wallet.
I think of one of my favorite bible verses. Which reminds me that our innate right, so to speak, is to live a life absent of fear. But in today's Streeterville, I imagine that this is not so easy to achieve.
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. -2 Tim 1:7
As I prepare to spend the upcoming weekend in Streeterville with my sister and her young son (both from California), I want that "sound mind." I want the Streeterville that I've always known.
Just today, spending time with my mom in a suburb of Los Angeles, we passed through an area that was less-than-manicured. My mom commented, "Some people don't take pride in their neighborhood." I commented that maybe people were more preoccupied with getting food on the table than with landscaping or not littering. It reminded me of my time in Pilsen. Of the indifference I sensed from my next-door neighbors. I only ever met the kids--never the adults--but the kids seemed to be ticked off with me as I passed by them and their pitbull puppy to get to my apartment. I tried to be friendly. Neighborly. But they would have none of it. I didn't press the matter. I'd met other kids like them.
In my days of teaching public school in Los Angeles County, I'd met my fair share. I had a student named Leonard, who was the "most hard core 3rd grader" my principal had ever seen. Leonard's mom was in a gang. Dad too, I think--and he was in prison. Leonard was basically raised by his grandma. This was not atypical in this neighborhood, but that never made it easy to swallow. There was always something so innately wrong about an 8-year old boy with a hardened heart. About an 8-year old boy who was too angry to dream.
When I asked him once, "What do you dream of doing when you grow up? Don't you dream of being a fireman or something?" He responded, "They're all fake." He meant the good guys were all fake. All he knew was violence or harshness in his surroundings--and that had become his norm. He then ascertained that everything else was not real. It was contrived. I told him time and again that just because he loved his father, this didn't mean that he couldn't make different choices than his father had made.
I did my best to pour some love and sense into that little boy. He was stoic. Un-amused. Unwavering. But still, I tried. Once, on a Class Party day, when the students had brought in food to share with the class, I sent him out of the classroom--for continual misbehavior. He would be unable to participate in the party. And unable to partake of his chips.
Moments passed and an instructional aide who'd been walking by my classroom came inside with a message. She said, "Leonard said, 'Tell her that if she doesn't give me back my chips, I'm going to shoot her.'"
I don't know what became of Leonard. I love to dream that all of my Leonards had their hearts softened by something or other and that they learned that niceness is not fake, that sometimes people do want to do good for them, and that positive choices CAN be made. And that lashing out at those who seem to have more than you--will never serve you any good.
I'm no psychologist. Just a person who loves Chicago and hates what becomes of some of the youth in its rough neighborhoods. They are emptied of their hope and of their soul. Then they are filled with ugly substitutes like hatred and bitterness and desperation. And lastly, they go empty it out onto the streets.
And lately, onto the streets of Streeterville.
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