#347: The Man Without a Neighborhood

July 16th, 2014

It starts like this:

A couple. New place. A search for a new corner bar. A Stephen King-ish discovery on the level of a “pet sematary” out back or that you are the caretaker, have always been the caretaker.

“Hey, babe? Google Maps says we’re not in East Ukrainian Village after all.”

Google Searches. Yelp. Wikipedia listings of street names and boundaries. Sarah Palin jokes about being able to see East Ukrainian Village from our house.

An inevitable conclusion. An inexorable, unavoidable, undeniable, binding, doomed, pat, Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus Third Edition Copyright © 2013 by the Philip Lief Group conclusion.

“Huh. I guess we don’t live in East Ukrainian Village.”

A question:

“So where do we live?”

Neighborhoods. These little regional nicknames that rule our lives somehow. They act as shorthand not for lots and streets, but for people and crime.

In this shorthand, Lincoln Park will give you Trixies. Logan Square will give you hipsters. Auburn Gresham, poverty and a bullet to the head.

The reality is a lot more complicated. When I taught afterschool science programs, the best school with the brightest, funniest kids was at 115th in Pullman. Meanwhile, the instructors would give sympathy and advice to whomever got stuck with the entitled little Nettelhorst brats in Lakeview.

I’ve gotten kind smiles in Englewood, sneers in the Loop. Of these 1,001 tales, my favorite love story comes from Woodlawn. The biggest pricks, college kids from Evanston on a Lincoln Park pub crawl.

There’s no false equivalence here: Some neighborhoods will get you killed.

But each neighborhood has its own mixture of tedium and terror, pride and dismay, total douchewangs and kindly old ladies down the block. The ratios just vary. The ratios are what will get you killed.

Pill Hill, The Patch, K-Town, Bowmanville. Streeterville, Bucktown, Rogers Park, Roscoe Village. Englewood. The Gold Coast. A network of 77 to more than 200 nicknames. More than 200 little shorthands for “this is what the people are like there and here’s how likely it is to find a job or a gang.”

History clinging to some names, developer malarkey clinging to others. But the names are defined by one factor — what the people who live there call a place.

It ends like this:

So what’s it like not to know your neighborhood? Not to know where you fall on these varying mental maps except for the official community areas (and who goes by those, anyway)?

Your guess is as good as mine. We decided to call it Noble Square and went off to dinner at our new corner bar.

Comment on this story (and mention your neighborhood)

That love story I mentioned

The college kid pricks

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