#850: Barricades

November 15th, 2017

There is a spot where the dollar stores no longer have chain-link fences and concertina wire rounding their roofs.

There’s a place along Illinois Route 1 — Halsted Street to Chicagoans — where the dollar stores just become dollar stores, no extra security needed in metal and mesh. Then there’s a place further north where they disappear entirely.

There’s a place on Halsted where the churches have their own separate buildings, where the name of the pastor is put on digital billboard across from chain fast-food restaurants and gas stations, not painted on the side of a brick storefront in as close to Old English font as they could get with a can of spraypaint.

And then the churches disappear too.

People walk up and down and across these streets no matter the latitude of wealth. Old ladies pull shopping trolleys behind them and grumpy-looking men check phones for whenever it is that damn bus is coming. Young men wander aimlessly for something to do, whether they’re in Roseland, Englewood or up-and-coming Bridgeport.

Their pace is faster in the wealthier area. Their skin is lighter, too.

The barricade between the wealth and poverty seems to be moving south — the Englewood Whole Foods is up and running, feeding both mouths and fears of displacement. But the true boundary seems to lie at the Union Stock Yard Gates in a neighborhood sociologists have tried to call “New City” since the ’30s, but really we all know it’s Back of the Yards.

It’s tucked off Halsted, down an industrial strip that kept just enough food processors and manufacturers to smell lightly of bacon in the rain. Kidnapped on its own island in the roadway, kept for history but isolated enough that the damn thing doesn’t block traffic, the stone gates thousands of men walked through each day stands silently. No one walks through anymore, at least not unless they’re trying for a photo opp or to get closer to the firefighter memorial for a disaster I’ve never heard of.

These men slaughtered countless cows, pigs, sheep — whatever ritual sacrifice it took to make a city of millions bloom. Now their gateway sits in a corridor of bacon smell and metal firemen, a barricade between poverty to the south and the new bars and restaurants to the north.

People try to say there are no barricades. People try to say there’s nothing stopping others from crossing the invisible lines between wealth and poverty, between classes and cultures. It’s just a matter of gumption, moxie, hard work and belief in God and free-market capitalism.

I believe people can better their lot. I believe work can pay dividends. But I see those barricades bright as a noonlit sun. There is a line between the supermarket and the bodega, between megachurch and the mini one.

There’s a line where the trendy bars start and another where the dollar stores have razor wire.

Can those lines be crossed? Yes. Sure. Maybe. To pretend those lines weren’t built, that’s a feat I’ve never quite managed.

Now a tour of the North Side

And a look at the city from above

And a text-based roleplaying game about riding the CTA

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