A nostalgic walk through Wrigleyville made me that much more grateful that I call Rogers Park home.
I had an appointment in Wrigleyville this morning, so I hopped on the Red Line to Addison and walked a few blocks south on Sheffield. Since it was such a nice day (humid, but not nearly as hot as what was forecast—or maybe we were just benefiting from "cooler by the lake"), after my appointment I decided to stroll up Clark Street to the McDonald's by Wrigley Field. (I'm on a very frugal budget right now, so grabbing an Italian at Al's or stopping in any of the umpteen bars that line Clark for a burger and chips was out of the question.)
That particular stretch of Clark Street is sooooo different during the daytime on a non-game day. Very tame and somewhat nondescript. I window-shopped briefly at Strange Cargo and enjoyed walking past one empty bar after another. The Cubs got their butts kicked in DC today. The only people wandering around the ball park while I was there were touristas—and maybe a few suburbanites.
I paused at the building where The Wild Hare & Singing Armadillo Frog Sanctuary used to be: I spent many a drunken night in that bar, grooving to the constant reggae beat and wishing I could have seen Bob Marley there. The sign was gone and the building has yet to find a new tenant to replace what I saw as a Wrigleyville institution. (I didn't hang out so much at Sluggers or John Barleycorn—wasn't much into the loud, rowdy yuppie crowds at those establishments.)
After lunch at Mickey-Ds, I strolled back over to the L and headed toward home.
The train was fairly crowded with a broad slice of humanity that time of day. I made eye contact with a young man in a suit, spit-shined shoes and a briefcase tucked behind his legs. He was kind enough to remove his headphones. Did you have a job interview? I asked. He told me he was doing an internship through Truman College at the Willis building, that they had to dress professional. I smiled and assured him he looked VERY professional and wished him luck finding a job eventually. He smiled shyly and put his headphones back on.
Somewhere at around Granville I looked up and noticed the guy sitting across the aisle from me quietly throwing up all over his shirt. His buddy looked alarmed but also like he wasn't sure what to do. I had earlier heard him tell the up-chucker, who had a large, blue rectangular piece of soft luggage wedged between his knees, "When we get to Howard we'll have to transfer to another train to go to Evanston." I surmised the puker was visiting from out of town and maybe he ate something bad earlier—or had motion sickness. Whatever, I left them to figure out what to do next and found a seat at the other end of the car. Gross! The young man in the suit and I exchanged a look as I walked by, but he stayed put.
The puker and his buddy got off the train at Loyola. He was sitting with a dazed look in his half-closed eyes, watery vomit covering the front of his button-up shirt like a bib. I tried to muster up a "poor guy" thought in my head but I was mostly just grossed out.
It was when we crossed over Pratt that I finally allowed myself to relax and breathe a little easier. I'd lived at Pratt and Lakewood for 7 years in the BEST apartment I've ever rented in the 20+ years I've called Rogers Park home—and I was even a condo owner in West Ridge for a few of those years. It was a typical long, narrow Rogers Park-style apartment: three bedrooms (the back bedroom had a little bedroom on the other side of the bathroom that I used as a home office), two baths, hardwood floors with an old-fashioned combination lock safe in the hall closet. I had a storage locker in the basement big enough to fit all of my boxes and my bicycle and there were coin-op washing machines and dryers down there that worked REALLY well. Rent was so reasonable I don't think I ever paid more than $350/month for my half of the rent (had a few different roommates while I was there). This was in the 1990s.
The best part, which anyone who's lived in Rogers Park can appreciate, I had a parking space in back after my first year for something like $25/month. And my best friend and her boyfriend moved in across the hall after I'd been there for a couple of years.
I'd probably still be there if the building owner (a really nice guy named John who lived in a single-family home less than a block away) hadn't finally decided to sell the building. Although I was offered first right of refusal for the condo conversion, I was a student and worked as a bartender at the time, so I didn't have the $250K laying around to buy the place. *sigh*
Anyways, once I got to Pratt I felt like I was "home." The brick buildings and architecture were all so familiar. A little north of there are a few painted lady Victorian homes that I admire absentmindedly whenever I pass them on the L. The tree-lined streets looked tidy and clean from where I was sitting. The Heartland was comfortable in its familiarity.
I usually ride to Howard. I live a block north of that station. Today, though, I had to stop at the Rogers Bark Pet Salon on Jarvis, kitty corner from Charmers Cafe, a low-key coffee shop at the corner of Jarvis and Greenview. Alderman Joe Moore's office is in the little strip mall across the street.
On the recommendation of a good friend, I'm trying out a new specialty dog food for my beautiful lab with ugly food allergies. Hill's Prescription Diet suddenly discontinued the food I'd been feeding Mickey safely for years, so we're back to square one. Solid Gold has a gluten- and grain-free product without preservatives (it uses tapioca and quinoa for fillers) that Rogers Bark carries.
From Rogers Bark I cut through Elite's lot and wound up on Ashland, a short block south of Rogers. I stopped at Dubkin Park to admire the flourishing raised-bed gardens that had finally taken hold. When the garden beds were first constructed, a wire mesh fence with a gate separated the garden from the rest of the park. The fence isn't there anymore.
Dubkin Park was a known druggie hangout. I used to take Mickey there during the day because it was fenced in and I could let him run around off-leash (before the raised beds, of course; I don't take him there now). One of the volunteers from the neighborhood is a professional landscaper and he did a LOT to clean up that park. He told me there was an old, moldy red sofa behind a clump of bushes he had pruned back radically by the train tracks. The bushes were so thick you couldn't see it. (I never noticed it.) My neighbor said crackheads used to do drugs back there and crack whores turned $10 tricks back there.
Well, when the garden was put in and the park was cleaned up (the couch is long gone), there were some people who weren't too happy with the changes, so they kept tearing down the garden fence. The metal fence posts were bent over, sometimes the wire fencing was cut. And then a volunteer would come in and fix it—only for it to be destroyed again.
This went on for months—maybe as long as a year—until one day I happened to be walking by and saw the fence was entirely gone! But the wooden-framed gate to nowhere remained. Wish I'd taken a picture; it was pretty funny looking. It was a solid gate, with a latch; wooden 4x4 posts on either side. But, since the fence had been taken down, it was now just a gate standing in the middle of a park. I heard from other gardeners that the first few people who planted in those raised bed had pretty much all of their produce stolen. And so it went. Change was slow and sporadic and was rebelled against again and again.
Today, under the late summer sun, the gardens looked full and lush. There were sunflowers and tomatoes and greens and flowers galore. Knowing what the space had gone through to get to what it looked like today, I had to take a minute and just appreciate it in all its green glory. Even the garden gate was gone; all that was left of the ill-conceived fence and gate were the 4x4 posts—standing sentry.
From Dubkin Park I zig-zagged through the alley on Ashland to the Howard Street bus/train depot—also known as Gateway Plaza. I remember when I used to be able to drive up Paulina all the way to Howard Street. It was a great shortcut that kept me off Clark and all of its insanity. No more. Buses only. And foot traffic.
I ran into my friend Jill, who was on a "job-hunting" field trip with her clients: group home residents with developmental disabilities. When one of her charges told me I was "sweating like a dog," I didn't mind. I said, No, because dogs sweat like THIS! and pantomimed a panting dog. I'm sweating like a perimenopausal woman, I told him, laughing. Yeah, she's sweating like a human, another member of the group said, knowingly.
I'd seen Jill's son, Blake, on the L the other day with his buddies. They were on their way to the beach. I took a picture and wrote a brief blog post. I gave her the URL so she could see the picture of her son.
By then it was definitely getting a little warmer. And, as had been pointed out repeatedly, I was perspiring freely. I still had to stop at Dominick's for a few things and I know Mickey was eagerly awaiting my arrival for his afternoon walk.
So, I moved on, got what I needed at Dom's, stopped to rest for a minute and return a phone call at the in-store Starbuck's before beginning the last leg of my walk, weighed down with dog food and kitty litter, among other things.
During my entire trip, other than the puking guy and a woman who was talking waaaaay too loudly on her cell phone on the ride down to my appointment, I didn't encounter any of the thuggery or panhandling or general misbehavior I read about all the time on EveryBlock.com, a neighborhood-oriented social networking site I frequent. Even the two women with a little girl in front of me at the Dominick's, who held up the line for a couple of extra minutes because they didn't have enough money, didn't get on my nerves. I asked quietly how short they were, prepared to help if it was only a buck or two, but the woman pulling a loaf of bread out of the shopping bag said no, they'd be OK.
When the other lady apologized for holding up the line before they headed off I was able to say, "No worries. Been there, done that." They were grateful for the understanding and I got to feel magnanimous for a moment.
Nope, nothing really happened to put me on edge or make me feel unsafe. When I do encounter panhandlers, I acknowledge them, look them in the eyes and usually say, "I'm sorry, but I just can't help right now." I usually get a "Thanks, anyways" or a "God bless you" in return. I don't recall a single instance of being harassed or followed by persistent beggars.
I pushed the shopping cart along the sidewalk to the atrium, where I unloaded the cart and steeled myself to haul my groceries home by hand for the final couple of blocks. A gentleman heading for the gym was kind enough to hold the door open for me as I headed into the home stretch—without incident.
Another few minutes and after huffing and puffing my way up the stairs, I was finally home. After all the walking and reminiscing and perspiring I did, I sure was glad to be there. And so was Mickey.