I went searching for an unfamiliar neighborhood to write a story about and I found a place I’ve been a half dozen times.
There are cars here now, vans. “Complete Lighting Service” on the side of one white van. “1900 N. Hubbard St., Chicago.” A cell phone tower at Ferdinand and Wolcott.
I stood naked in there. I stood naked in the field now a parking lot for work vans. For my first World Naked Bike Ride, before they moved the staging ground closer to Oprah’s. I stood naked while hippies painted a pepper on my then-20-something chest.
It’s the staging ground for the Chiditarod too, for the costume contest shopping cart race where I’ve spent the last five Marches, the last three as a volunteer.
I’ve been wild in here. I danced drunk and naked on the roof. I’ve been sedate in here. I’ve been sober. I’ve dressed as a Canadian in here, dressed as the guy from Duran Duran.
I’ve hung up signs along this wall saying crazy things about the Chiditarod. I’ve stood on this corner and yelled at drunk people at 9 a.m. while dressed as a cowboy.
On the corner of Wolcott and Hubbard, I see signs I’ve never noticed before. Are these new? Did they just put these up? Or did every time I’ve come here, I was so distracted by the scene — nudity or carts or costumes or wildness or alcohol — that I never noticed it was always a business.
Standing in a doorway, a little doorway down the Hubbard side of the building, full of signs that say “Maurice Hood Fine Tailoring,” “Complete Lighting Electrical Janitorial,” “Advanced Event Group, Inc.”
I took a picture of a bunch of cart racers dressed as Chicago buildings here. How did I not see those signs? Were they gone? Did I miss them?
How is this place I’ve been so many times so unfamiliar when it’s calm?
I’ve nailed down tarps on this little grassy area I can see through a chain-link fence down the Hubbard side. I’ve helped carts push over these plywood boards that run over a large tree root by the gate. I look through the grassy area to the house that sits just west of the yard. I’ve seen people stare at the WNBR nudity from that building.
The place across Wolcott says “Stage Rental, Film and Video Production, Photography, Production Offices, Events.” How have I never seen that before?
A van says “Paintcraft.” Paintcraft?
There’s a tower in the distance, atop the building across Wolcott. It looks like the bottom half of a long-dead water tower, the bowl of the tower taken away. How have I never seen that?
We looked at the spectacle and don’t see the places we’ve been, don’t see the places we’ve drunk and danced and wrangled cart teams.
It was a business all along.
One very cool about letting people use their stuff.