As a kid, I experienced the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. And while they were especially cool because my older sister danced in the Opening Ceremonies and my parents and I got to attend the dress rehearsal at the L.A. Coliseum the night before, I also remember that several years later, the remnants of Sam the mascot, the cute little Olympic Eagle, STILL lived on in local dollar stores the city over. Yep. A good ol’ case of Olympic hand-me-downs.
As is the case for any city that hosts the Olympics, the issue is twofold. Prepare your city to be on the world stage--not only offensively, but defensively. Build stadiums or arenas and attractions a la Chicago's World Fair of 1893 and also, very importantly-clean up the ghettoes--just so long as to not attract too much attention for oh, 17 days, and a few months leading up to those 17 days. It is an ironic act of deference to these communities. "If you behave yourselves, you too can partake of an Olympic oven mitt or keychain. But you'll have to wait a few months."
I once lived in a "ghetto". I moved--not because of the neighborhood itself, but because of my slumlord landlords who seemed to think that smoke detectors were a luxury too extravagant for my apartment, and that mice were acceptable roommates. It was the Pilsen area of Chicago. Predominantly Spanish-speaking. And predominantly lower income. For all of its up-and-coming art galleries and hipsters moving in, it definitely was, in many pockets, quite ghetto.
The tatted-up dad opening a can of Sprite and pouring it into his baby's bottle. The very drunk man lying on my stoop and preventing me from entering my apartment. The guttural screams emanating from nowhere in particular in the middle of the night. Yep, Chicago ain't all world class architecture and Magnificent Mile shopping. Yet that is what the world would likely see in 2016.
I used to peer through my 3rd floor window at the always-phenomenal Sears Tower and listen to the car speakers booming and the bottles being shattered below--and ponder all the promises that I would hear from our presidential candidates. Since I had no television, I would listen to the presidential debates and news reports on public radio. I seemed to be in a vacuum as I heard plans for "America"--that by nature included the neighborhood of Pilsen--but which sometimes seemed to have forgotten it.
I have to be realistic. Ghettoes will always exist. But Chicago 2016 would've been a welcome idea for me—if there were a guarantee that there’d be more in it for them. Not just a good wash behind the ears while Bob Costas and his cameras are in town.
And definitely not just storefulls of Olympic oven mitts or keychains.
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