#997: The Ride – South Deering to Greater Grand Crossing

October 24th, 2018

Goldsmith Public School is for sale.

The building itself is Standard American Grade School with gray cement lintels over light tan bricks. Art Deco letters stating the school’s name were poured into cement, striving to make it look like the district hired a stonemason.

It’s an Art Deco starter set of a building, a school designed by someone who once heard of Frank Lloyd Wright. The windows are covered now.

There’s a relatively new but definitely crumbling playground around the back. Some plastic is melted, some chains are bent or broken. Some of the padded foam mats that replaced the mulch and gravel of my era of swingsets are missing. I don’t think children come here anymore. I later find why.

I rode this route July 30 and am typing this sentence meant for Oct. 24 late at night on Aug. 4. It’s massively hot outside and my wife is massively pregnant, lolling on the couch rewatching what, based on Clooney’s hair, is an early-season episode of “E.R.” It’s quiet, which I’m not guessing will last many more days for us.

But now I’m back in July, winding tight circles on my bike and taking mental notes about a swingset.

The homes are lovely by the school. It’s quiet but for birds and the hum of a nearby lawnmower. They’re single bungalows, classic beauties that would be sold in a second in my North Side neighborhood so they could be torn down to be replaced with lot-engulfing megamansions.

Here they sit with manicured yards.

It’s gang turf, I read later, and that makes sense. You look at cars, not houses, to determine a neighborhood’s income level. They’re old and few. It’s Jeffrey Manor GD territory, a website tells me. They beef with the Slag Valley set of the Latin Counts a few blocks to the east, and I wonder if I’m embarrassing myself by admitting I’m the type of man who has to google gang names.

I am that man though. It’s Aug. 5 now, just after 6 in the morning. My wife’s asleep, or at least still in bed. I’m watching cloudy skies roll over tree-lined North Side streets.

Chris Wormley didn’t like the gangbanging at Goldsmith School. It wasn’t Goldsmith by the time he attended the Art Deco starter set on Crandon and 102nd, but “AMIkids Infinity High School,” a Tampa-based nonprofit Chicago contracted with to run the old Goldsmith building as a high school for troubled teens after the Richard M. Daley administration shuttered Las Casas Occupational High School in 2010.

Wormley, 17, was stabbed to death in the school on March 1, 2012. A fight broke out as the students were lining up inside the doors to be waved with the metal-detecting wand. Wormley was killed and another kid was injured. The latter kid sued the district and AMIkids for negligence in 2016.

The news trail for what happened to Wormley’s killer dies after two articles — the news stops caring when the press releases don’t arrive — but I find an Illinois Department of Corrections profile of someone with the same name and, I think, face. The inmate has the same swaggery head-cock and goofy stick-out ears as the kid’s mugshot, but with a shaved head, more tattoos and about 40 extra pounds of muscle. He’ll get out in 2045, if all goes well.

I can’t find when AMIkids left the building, but it’s been up for sale since January 2017, offered alongside a slate of Rahm’s own school closures.

Across 96th Street everything changes. The manicured blocks of lovely homes instantly become a dead strip mall of battered signs and vacant storefronts. One of the sliding doors is absently open — nobody even cares. Across the street, men on ladders tinker with where the awning once was on a Dollar General.

Through an underpass, it’s homes again. But here the weeds grow longer. Here the yards are less maintained, and I hear no lawnmowers. Here there are more people walking up and down those streets — old men with four-footed canes and once-stylish hats, women hauling errand bags, a few kids riding summer bikes.

“Time to Save,” the sign over an old… bank? Church?

“Time to Save,” the sign over a dust-coated brick building at 93rd tells me as I turn onto Cottage Grove. The letters are blue, ringed in neon that will never light again.

Here it goes from run-down to straight-up musty. Empty storefronts of different designs, each decade’s stab at revitalization or urban renewal (“Urban renewal is negro removal,” James Baldwin chides from the grave) sitting vacant next to the last one.

Two men sit outside a store with resurrected Frankenstein lawnmowers. One’s wearing a wifebeater undershirt — the only other name I know for it’s the also-offensive “dago T” — and a straw fedora without a band. A cigarette dangles from his lips. He looks like a photo from the ’20s.

I ride on, faster and faster. I’m hitting a stride here, but traffic’s still busy enough I’m worried about getting creamed by a Honda. I race past bus stops and storefront churches, by little girls playing patty cake and men in dago Ts laughing and joking as they stand around cars. I race by because the road is fast and I’ve hit a good pace for cardio, trying not to think about all the stories I’m blaring by.

The laughter of children playing basketball at a summer school makes me smile. They’re about 9, 10. I slow my pace and find a graveyard, where the next story will pick up.

My mind keeps going back to the lovely homes by Goldsmith. It was peaceful and beautiful there, where the child died.

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