Street Smart Chicago

Boze Narodzenie: A Brighton Park Memoir

Brighton Park No Comments »
Ambassador Ryszard Schnepf at a White House credentialing ceremony with President Barack Obama, January 14, 2013. Photo: U.S. Dept. of State.

Ambassador Ryszard Schnepf at a White House credentialing ceremony with President Barack Obama, January 14, 2013. Photo: U.S. Dept. of State.

By Martin Northway

“In Poland, government is a crime,” emphasized my friend Ryszard, whom I had met that fall here at the Daily Grind coffeehouse, just off the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington. Ryszard was a visiting professor in history from Warsaw University. Poland was just out from under martial law, but Ryszard remained a clandestine member of Solidarity, the rising national movement to restore democracy.

Among other things, we talked about the “Black Book of Polish Censorship” restricting journalists. In such a state, it was a part-time job for citizens to gather accurate information that affected their loves. “You are so fortunate in this country to have a free press,” despite its flaws, he insisted.

Ryszard spoke in accented but good, very precise English. Besides an interest in history, we shared another bond—while my father’s family goes back to the beginning of this nation, my maternal grandparents came here from Poland around the turn of the twentieth century. When he and I met, I was writing for the company magazine of the diesel engine manufacturer Cummins Engine Co., three years out of my gig as as managing editor of the weekly Brown County Democrat and two years into my divorce. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Southwest Side Sojourn

Bicycling, Brighton Park, Checkerboard City, Garfield Ridge, Green No Comments »

The secret path by Bubbly Creek. Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

I must be a glutton for punishment. That’s the only way to explain my decision to scout out a new “stealth route” bicycle itinerary from Bridgeport to the ‘burbs along the Sanitary and Ship Canal last week, in ninety-five-degree heat. This was to be the continuation of a route I reconnoitered last year from the Loop to the Daleys’ ancestral home, hugging the South Branch of the Chicago River—you can read that writeup at

Completed in 1900, the canal was dug in order to reverse the flow of the river, to keep sewage from entering Chicago’s water supply. It still carries our treated wastewater to the Des Plaines River, and it serves as the only shipping link between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Like CLOCC Work

Brighton Park, Checkerboard City, Green, Humboldt Park, Pilsen No Comments »

Grant Vitale leads a walkability assessment in Pilsen. Photo courtesy of CLOCC.

“The built environment plays a huge role when it comes to people being able to be physically active, ” says Grant Vitale, community programs manager for the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children (CLOCC). The group, based out of the Lurie Children’s Hospital, is an association of many local, statewide and national organizations working to help kids maintain healthy weight levels by encouraging better nutrition, as well as walking, biking and active play.

The rate of childhood obesity in the U.S. has more than tripled over the last three decades, and in 2008 Chicago’s obesity rate for young kids entering school was 22 percent, more than twice the national average. In some neighborhoods, mostly low-income African-American and Latino communities, over half of all children are overweight or obese. These areas tend to have less green space and higher pedestrian crash rates than wealthier neighborhoods, which discourages active transportation and recreation.

Over the last two years, CLOCC has partnered with the Chicago Department of Public Health on a $5.8 million, federally funded anti-obesity campaign called Healthy Places. The program has focused on creating safe streets and parks, as well as creating healthier schools, eliminating food deserts and promoting breast feeding. Read the rest of this entry »

Confessions from the Welfare State: Lessons learned, and offered, along the American way

Brighton Park, Essays & Commentary, Politics 1 Comment »

By Frank Pulaski

We sat in the restaurant, Huck Finn’s, almost every morning sitting in the restaurant from nine till noon, my father Frank and his friends, George the Greek and Jimmy Figgs, and my uncle Tom, mocking the idea that the world’s highest ideal was work. That work was the gold standard of virtue in society. It was as if you were with escaped convicts, runaways from the labor force. Their eyes were always bloodshot and tearful. Woeful may be a better word. They’d sneak little hits of whiskey into black coffee, watching workers cross the bridge on the way to their jobs. Sometimes, when the restaurant phone rang for a long time, the Greek enacted a little drama. He pretended to answer the phone. Then like magic we were supposed to imagine that we were on break, sitting in the basement of Ford Motor Company, playing cards and drinking whiskey. If you used your imagination, you could almost hear the assembly line roaring overhead, spitting out cars and profits.

The Greek: Hello, yeah, George, right…Hey Frank it’s for you…
Frank: Who is it?
The Greek: It’s Mr. Ford.
Frank: Tell Ford I’m busy. What’s he want?
The Greek: Mr. Ford, Frank says he’s busy, no, Figgs is taking a shit… Can I take a message? Yeah… right… yeah…. Frank, Mr. Ford says he needs more cars… He wants us to get upstairs and crank up the assembly line…
Frank: Yeah, well you tell Ford that if he wants more cars that he can come down here and build them his fucking self.
The Greek: Mr. Ford, Frank says he ain’t gonna do it. If you want more cars, you gotta come down here and build them your fucking self! Read the rest of this entry »