I rode to Oak Park the other day for an event in a mansion.
I took the Green Line to get there, rumbling and bumbling a path out of the Loop, west west to the West Loop artist lofts and condos springing up on the old Skid Row, west west to the highways, train tracks, the vestiges of when we had industry and jobs humming a community alive with bustle and hustle.
The stores came then, the glimmering glintering shinies advertising checks cashed, predatory practices to keep the poor poorer. Then homes, stately once, keeping the fight alive just to stay standing. Homes got sparser on city blocks, homemade gates of corrugated steel protected a few backyards, a smatter of burnt and boarded husks memento moried the community’s vital bits.
Then, snap. It was lovely.
The snap of a finger, the flip of a switch, some other metaphor for something instantaneous, the grim and grit of Chicago vanished the moment that train crossed Austin Boulevard. In the move from Chicago to not, past the marker of one form of civic governance to another, past the line where one little tribe protects its own and one big conglomerate lets its darker-skinned neighborhoods lie fallow, snap, it got nice.
On the train, in my little metal cocoon, the move was jarring. Litter-clad lots with nothing on them but a single run-down house or two became new construction, repairs and rehabs to the big shopping mall where I would eat at a TGIFriday’s before the show.
The streets are lovely, Victorian manors and ruby-flowered trees. A bit of F.L. Wright, a bit of E. Hemingway and H. Simpson.
Across that single boulevard, in the snap of a finger or the crack of a bone, poor became rich, city became to suburb, the land of resilience became the home for a pleasant enough people who had no concerns to be resilient from.
Poet Malcolm London, who grew up in Austin, once wrote “Don’t tell me how horrible things are but then go about your lives as if nothing has ever happened,” identifying my crime before I committed it.
I rode to Oak Park the other day for an event in a mansion. Protected in a metal cocoon, I saw everything and learned nothing.