The Chicago guy remembers the neighborhoods as they were. There’s still a part of him that believes so-and-so is full of Poles, Irish, Jews, Hispanics or Greeks.
The Chicago guy tells stories of how things were 30, 40 years ago, expecting and getting interest from the details. How filthy Finkl Steel was when he made runs there in his truck driver days. How the houses never used to be condos.
The Chicago guy has strong opinions on Mayor Daley the First. Strong ones.
This particular Chicago guy was an old cabbie — an indulgence of mine after the Ventra pass was left in the wrong pants. He was of the age where cursing at drivers was somehow adorable, where his talk of Christmas alone because his girlfriend was out of town was somehow sad.
He looked back in the mirror, eyes pleading for contact as he told his tales. He yammered and talked and told me again and again how the guy behind him was an asshole.
He lived in a neighborhood now known for rich young kids. He talked in terms of decades in the way I reference years and people younger than I am talk about months.
His girlfriend is from Mexico and “very religious.” She’s spending the season with family there.
The Chicago guy points out restaurants that used to be, and tells the backstory of when hiked rents priced the place out. He works four to five hours a shift, only when he wants to. He used to work more but baaah, he said, dismissing the concept with a wave of his hand.
The Chicago guy is an increasing rarity in Chicago.
I’ve never bought the notion of outsider vs. insider in the city. Maybe it’s because I’m an outsider. I didn’t grow up here, don’t get to know strangers by asking about what parish they grew up in.
To me, Chicago is a municipality. You live here or don’t. To me, drawing distinctions of grew here vs. flew here is as wrongheaded as going to a restaurant and making loud determinations of who really is an eater.
As long as you don’t put on false airs about deep dish, ketchup-free hot dogs and other annoying Chicagoana (yes, yes, “Da Jewels”), you go right ahead and be from wherever you’re from.
But I’m not a Chicago guy. Someone with a life of CPS, parishes and Daley pater et fils just got very mad reading what I wrote.
The Chicago guy was nice and kind and funny. He thanked me and genuinely wished me well. It made me a little sad when I caught myself thinking of him as a time capsule.
It made me sad that his old neighborhood is now known for young, urbane transplants who will spend a decade here before shooing to the suburbs for kids and better schools.
It made me sad that his old neighborhood is full of people statistically and demographically like me.
I didn’t get his name and his conversation wasn’t of note. He was pleasant and an amusing grumpy. I think my hometown has a culture and identity too, and I’m proud of it. I consider myself a Midwesterner who happens to live in a city that continually stiffs me on taxes and fees but has good food and fun museums so there’s that.
But when I stepped out of his cab because I left my bus pass in the wrong pants, it made me a little sad that he belongs in this strange city in a way I never will.