Native Chicagoans all seem to have their own concept of what it's like on the North Side and what it's like on the South Side. For South Siders, us north siders are Cub Fans, quiche eaters and yuppies. To North Siders, a south sider like me cheers for the White Sox, guzzles beer and works for the City. Yes, you read it correctly, I consider myself on both sides of this odd civic debate that has probably been raging since Madison Street sliced the City in half.
I was born at Edgewater Hospital in Chicago on the north side. The hospital no longer exists, but the neighborhood does. Until July of last year, I either lived on the north side - meaning Rogers Park, Lincoln Park, or Lakeview - or Evanston, the suburb that is the northmost adjacent to Chicago. Chicago and Evanston share Howard Street as a border.
Since July, I have lived in the Beverly neighborhood of Chicago, near 107th Street and Longwood Drive. The universal reaction of Chicagoans who hear about my switch from north to south has been similar - "What is it like?" or "How could you possibly adjust?" To those questions, my answer has been equally similar, "It's really not bad. The neighborhood where we live is really nice, the Metra is a block and a half away, I've always been a White Sox fan anyway and the only thing that I don't like is the commute on the Dan Ryan."
I kept my answer the same for a couple of reasons. First, because it's simpler that way; I really didn't want to engage in a lot of discussion with most people about the difference between the north and south sides. Second, since my experience is limited to about 10 months on the south side vs. 50 years on the north, how much could I really relate?
There are a few observations that I think are valid, even after only 10 months. The first relates to restaurants. I'm no foodie and I don't make reservations at restaurants where you have to wait an hour even with the reservation, but restaurant pickings on the south side are definitely slim compared to our northern neighbors. I can't explain it, I'm not a sociologist, but I do know that people on the south side eat and I do know that they have money to spend. So where are the chefs and the restaurateurs who flood Lincoln Park, Wicker Park, Bucktown, and Andersonville with the latest in pork belly, sushi, barbecue, and steak places? Not on south Western Avenue, I'll tell you that.
Another observation about the south side involves food as well; specifically, pizza. I'm a fan of thin crust pizza and the thin crust served on the south side is overwhelmingly better at little, non-chain spots that have been around, seemingly, forever. Milano's on Western, Barraco's on 95th and Chuck's on Western are just some examples. And, by the way, I sure hope Chuck's reopens soon after the fire on April 30th.
My wife, the South Side native, has her own views from visits up to Evanston and travels in and around the north side. She agrees about the restaurants, especially the ability to find good sushi on the south side - impossible. She is not, however, without a solid recommendation for an excellent all around restaurant in our neighborhood - Louie's Chophouse on 103rd Street in Oak Lawn has excellent seafood, steaks and great cocktails.
Food is one thing, living with and getting along with others is something else again. As I said, I was raised in Evanston, a diverse community where Evanston High School is the only public school option and which boasts a population of about 50 % white, 40 % black and 10% other. (Someday, I want to come back as an "other.") Before moving to Beverly, the social contact I remember most was a visit to a south Western Avenue bar to watch the Gerry Cooney - Larry Holmes heavyweight championship fight. For those of you reading this who don't know the history, Larry Holmes was the dominant heavyweight of his day and Gerry Cooney was the "great white hope" of the moment. The fight took place on June 11, 1982 and the hype for this fight was huge.
My friend from Evanston and I went to meet some south side guys we had met in graduate school to watch the fight.
We got to the bar and the beer and wagers were flowing. We met up with our schoolmates who were from the Mt. Greenwood neighborhood, which meant nothing to me at the time. Both my friend and I were rooting for Holmes and getting action for Holmes was no problem in this extremely pro-Cooney crowd. In fact, one of the guys we knew told me when I outwardly rooted for Holmes when the fight began, "You need to keep that down. Nobody in here wants to see a white guy rooting for him." I thought he had to be kidding me.
It was no joke. A few minutes later, one of the geniuses in the bar shouted out, "Kill that ni__er!" Which was followed by a resounding cheer from the patrons. The cheers died down as Holmes kicked Cooney's ass with Cooney's corner throwing in the towel in the 13th round..
Needless to say, I kept my mouth shut, collected my gambling winnings (not a very comfortable moment either) and got the hell out of there.
Like I wrote earlier, I'm no sociologist, but could it be true that some of the stereotypes that make their way north had a basis? Were the Marquette Park riots of the 60's still alive on Western Avenue? Hey, we all have prejudices, but are all white people racist? Of course not, but why do some people seem to revel in it and have no fear of retribution?
Fast-forward 29 years to driving down the Dan Ryan with my African-American wife whose son called her on our way home to inform her that he wanted to go hang out with his friends on a Friday night. "Sure," she said after asking the requisite "where are you going, who are you with, did you eat, who is going to be there" questions. Followed up by the check-in requirement, "Call me at 7:30 when we get out of our exercise class."
Walking out of the gym, my wife checked her phone and noticed that the check-in call came at 7:15 rather than 7:30. "That's odd," she commented, "He rarely calls early." So she called him back.
"Mom, can you come pick me up. I need to get out of here," my wife was told. "Where are you?" she asked. "I'm over near Beverly Park." (Beverly Park is on 103rd Street, just west of Western Avenue.) "Pick me up on 102nd behind the park," he said.
When the tall, dark-skinned 8th grader got in the car, his normally confident, somewhat cocky exterior was markedly different. As my wife said, "he had a look in his eyes that I don't think I've ever seen."
"A bunch of high school guys from Mt. Greenwood were in Beverly Park trying to start fights," he said. "They came up to me with my friends and said to me, 'What are you looking at ni__er? If I see you look at me, I'm gonna kick your ni__er ass.'"
The comments and the scenario were confirmed by his white friend and his bi-racial friend as I loaded a bicycle in my car in a 7-11 parking lot across from Beverly Park. When we got home, I couldn't believe how angry I was. You hear about these things, but they rarely strike home. They rarely sink in. My wife is not very outward in her comments about racial issues. She may have suffered racist verbal attacks in her past, but hasn't told me about it. "This is crazy," I said. "What kind of place is this? Don't these kids have anything to do? They come up here to try to start fights using the "n" word? Are you kidding me?"
Answering my questions, my step-son calmly replied, "Yeah, that's what they do because they don't live in this neighborhood. They just go back home where they came from."
Does this kind of race-baiting happen on the north side, in the northern suburbs, elsewhere? Of course it does. But, as a life-long, minus 10 month north sider, it was never as overt as the south side version. Maybe I just missed it all along and maybe I'm naive. But it is 2011 now and aren't the problems of society just a little more severe and diverse than what was common in the 1950's? Talking to an 8th grader like he's some kind of field slave?
I'm not going to move back to the north side anytime soon, but this kind of behavior makes me think that these kids and their parents need some serious cultural awareness training and that they should remember that what comes around very often goes around.
I grew up and lived on the north side of Chicago my entire life until moving to the south side in July 2010 when I married my lifelong south sider wife. She's black and I'm white. I guess that's important. We now have seven kids between us- my four, her two and our one born on February 1, 2012. I try to discuss events that occur affecting me, her or all of the rest of us. Tweet me at @jkchatz.