#810: Guilt Trip

June 30th, 2017

I’m on a train now, heading south.

I’m scribbling into a little red notebook to transcribe later at work hoping the boss doesn’t notice. My destination isn’t far into the South Side. 1600 South, a toe past Roosevelt, on a section of Michigan that’s nice and built up but on a mile no one would call magnificent.

It’s for work, but this trip is my biggest dip into an entire half of the city in months. This four-blocks-past-Roosevelt jaunt is another reminder in my constant humiliation: My Chicago blog sucks at covering the South Side.

I’ve done some. I’ve sat sipping tea in a little old lady’s Auburn-Gresham kitchen listening to tales of bike rides and heart conditions. I’ve walked the collection at the Stony Island Arts Bank, watched the drum circle at Jackson Park. I’ve done a few dozen more that some friends will cherry-pick out to tell me I’m being too hard on myself.

But as my life gets fuller, calendar gets richer and day job gets more spiritually rewarding, this site has become less an uncovering of untold Chicago stories and more a running narration of my commute.

I’m transferring now, waiting at the Fullerton platform. An old white man in a Rascal scooter just honked a little piggy novelty horn to clear his way. Morning construction of a new condo building proceeds apace in the background.

I was born to live in Bridgeport, a friend told me. But how would I know?

In part these thoughts are due to my current read, “The South Side,” by WBEZ’s Natalie Y. Moore. It’s a heavily researched yet personal account of what made the South Side what it is, from the economics of housing segregation to the steadfast neglect of developers and investors. The book is wonderful. Her history of the P. Stone Nation gang was excellent too.

What I like most about Moore’s newest book is her candidness about her role in the region. She’s open and hones about the guilt she feels as a black gentrifier, about the absolute bath she took during the housing collapse, about her confusion and almost anger as a teen about the first time she saw a group of white people on the Red Line stay past “their” stop. (They were heading to a Sox game.)

I’m a white person on the Red Line right now. Here’s my confession about my role in things.

I’m how segregation happens.

I’m not fishing for affirmation or even that down on myself. I’m pretty great. But segregation doesn’t come from cartoon supervillains twirling their mustaches and cackling about restrictive housing covenants. It comes from people like me, whose urges to explore life find themselves subservient to inertia and sloth.

An object at rest on the North Side stays at rest on the North Side.

A Chicago storyteller I admire compares it to the moving sidewalk at the airport. If you do nothing and just stand there, you’re still pulled toward a destination. You have to walk against it.

I haven’t been, or at least not running fast enough.

But I will. I swear somewhen, somehow, in the fewer than 200 stories I have left, I will do better by the South Side.

The train’s pulling out of a station. The next stop is mine.

Read about the little old lady

Read about the arts bank

Read about the drum circle

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