#895: Quickly, the Corn

February 28th, 2018

He was quick through practice, not intent.

There was no pressing need to dump the cheese and slather the mayo inside the cup so quickly, but after years of standing on street corners doing just that, that’s how fast he did it. He shook out the squeeze bottles of hot sauce and chili powder quickly as a matter of course. He grabbed a steaming ear of corn on the stick, carved off the kernels as per my request and tossed away the naked cob quickly because quickly is how it’s done.

And when the man with the mustache, dark baseball cap and radio slapped with a “This American Strife, From Englewood, Chicago” sticker handed me a Styrofoam cup of elotes from the cart parked on Milwaukee Avenue, he did it quickly.

The best tamales come from someone’s grandma or a guy walking through bars with a cooler. The best tacos come from storefronts where the “Open” sign is more prominent than the name. And the best elotes come from men with mustaches selling food from a cart on the first walkable day in Chicago.

In a better world, yesterday would have been considered ugly. It would have been cold and windy hot-tea weather. Blanket weather. Do a crossword puzzle and fall asleep in a chair weather.

But for Feb. 27, a dip into the 50s with a slight breeze felt glorious, and the city knew it.

Bars tentatively opened back doors to winter-hid patios. Men with presumably unlicensed food carts quickly dished elotes, chicharrones and other culinary delights. A few stores even ventured to prop their front doors open, justifying the move as luring foot traffic, the breezes sweeping clear a winter’s worth of dust a side benefit.

And people walked. Kids ran down the street. Grown men stood and chattered. The young and fashionable of this current cool kid hot spot had to try a little harder not to let a smile show as they aloofed their way down the sidewalks.

Logan Square has a feeling of a last hurrah. Each walkable day sees a few more cool bars, a few fewer taquerias and bodegas. Botanicas where witches tell fortunes and sell candles with saints and virgins on the bottle sit next to luxury dog grooming pet emporiums, organic and natural of course. A greasy spoon with a Spanish name and everyone speaking Spanish is next to a boutique with a French name, where I’m guessing no one speaks that tongue.

As for the block after block of empty storefront, it’s not hard to guess which cultural lane their inevitable tenants will fall in.

It’s been like this for years, of course. I’m offering nothing new by crying gentrification. My only addition to this tale happening across the city is a challenge.

Eat an elote from a cart. Buy a taco from a place where the “Open” sign is more prominent than the name. Buy a beer at a somewhat scary dive bar where the people turn out to be really nice. We can talk and whine about gentrification and neighborhoods not being as cool as they were when we were immortal 20-somethings, or we can be active citizens spending our money to build the community we want to see.

I don’t know how much $2.50 worth of corn in a cup will stave off developers’ millions. When money sets its eyes on a neighborhood, it tends to get what it wants. But I’m under no obligation to help. I can support small, local and delicious.

In part it’s for them, in part it’s for me. I want walkable days to come with the taste of elote, while they still can.

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