Street Smart Chicago

Review: Chinatown 5K (July 12, 2014)

-Neighborhood/Suburb, Chinatown, Running No Comments »
Photo: Zach Freeman

Photo: Zach Freeman


Breakdown: “The show will go on!” the race director’s voice booms excitedly from the speakers as groups of runners huddle together under various overhangs and race tents, delaying their inevitable exposure to the pouring rain. It’s just before 8am on Saturday morning and it has been raining steadily for hours with no signs of letting up. And still, almost seven-hundred runners are gathered in Chinatown Square to tackle the Chinatown 5K. Briefly, the rain does lighten just before the official start, but then it comes back full force within a few minutes, making for a very wet street race.

But despite the weather—or, perhaps, because of it—a jovial atmosphere permeates the entire race, with more starting-line chatter and looks of excitement than I’ve seen at any race outside of an obstacle run (where the joviality is almost more important than the run itself). “Maybe we don’t even need to put water in the cups!” remarks the race director, describing the water stations along the course. She’s not far from the truth. I’m completely soaked within seconds of checking my gear (along with my precious umbrella) and approaching the starting line. Read the rest of this entry »

One Perfect Life: An Ode to the Real South Side

Back of the Yards, Bridgeport, Bronzeville, Chinatown, Englewood, Essays & Commentary, Hyde Park, Kenwood, Little Village, Pilsen, South Shore, Southeast Side No Comments »

By Scoop Jackson

“Pharaoh of the Sun/Lookin’ down the barrel of a gun/Y’all know where I’m from.”
—from the poem “Keep On” by famous South Sider Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr. (aka Common)

We call them “pockets.” It’s the best way any of us who come from the South Side of Chicago can describe the drastic ebb and flow of the ‘hoods we live in.

“On the South Side,” real estate agent and South Side resident Chrystal Caruthers says, “you can grow up in a good neighborhood but go two blocks over and I’ll bet the people won’t feel the same.” The block-to-block change. The neighborhood-to-neighborhood shift in dynamics, living conditions and mentality. It exists in other neighborhoods in the country, but not like on the South Side in this city. The same way Chief Keef can weave tales about life on the South Side, Will Smith can come here and hang out on the lake on 31st Street and go write “Summertime.”

Growing up here gives one a perspective of range. Range in the sense of how far-reaching an area can be, how diverse and disconnected and devoted people raised on the same concrete can be. Where oftentimes the kids at Bogan were more dangerous to a young black kid than the GDs or El Rukns who went to Dunbar.

There is more beauty in the real South Side than anyone who doesn’t live here could understand. Through all of the bullshit, all of the incidents that happen on the side of Chicago that gives it the nicknames “Homicide Capital” and “Chiraq,” there exist pockets of life that bring an unmatched sense of pride and joy not found anywhere else in the city. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: Chinatown Centennial 5K (July 14, 2012)

Chinatown, News etc., Running No Comments »


Breakdown: Beginning and ending in Chinatown Square, this relatively small (around 600 participants) neighborhood run is a bit of a hidden gem in terms of Chicago races. With a flat, closed course through a historic neighborhood—runners take off from Archer Avenue and head straight down Wentworth, passing beneath the “Welcome to Chinatown” arches—and unique pre- and post-race parties, it’s surprising that after eleven years this well-run race isn’t attracting a bigger crowd. This year also marks 100 years of Chicago Chinatown, and the Chinatown Centennial 5K (usually just the Chinatown 5K) celebrated by giving away 100 prizes at the post-race party. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Savage Ride

Andersonville, Avondale, Beverly, Checkerboard City, Chinatown, Rogers Park, Uptown No Comments »

Bill Savage/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

“Nelson Algren wrote, ‘It isn’t hard to love a town for its greater and its lesser towers, its pleasant parks or its flashing ballet,’” says Algren scholar Bill Savage, strapping on his bicycle helmet. “‘But you never truly love it until you can love its alleys too.’ So there’s this dynamic in the city between the boulevard and the alley, between the beautiful urban spaces and the place where the garbage and the rats are, and if you really love Chicago you’ve got to love both.”

An English lecturer at Northwestern University, Bill grew up in Rogers Park with his brother, sex advice columnist Dan Savage, and still lives in the neighborhood. “I tell my students, it’s very easy to experience the city secondhand, in books and movies and online,” Bill says. “But if you’re not out there on the pavement, whether on foot or on a bicycle or in a car or on public transportation, you’re missing something.” Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: The Southwest Passage

Bicycling, Bridgeport, Checkerboard City, Chinatown, Loop 1 Comment »

Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

A local ordinance requires that all new developments along the Chicago River include public access to the waterfront, so eventually there could be a network of riverwalks to rival the Lakefront Trail. But for now it takes a little detective work to navigate the waterway by bicycle. I’ve researched a few “stealth routes” along the North Branch, connecting bits and pieces of riverfront path with quiet side streets—you can read about them at Last week I scouted out a fascinating route along the South Branch from the Loop to Bridgeport, but I should warn you that it isn’t completely legal. Read the rest of this entry »

In With the Old: Can Chicago turn the Spice Barrel District into a creative center?

Architecture, Chinatown, Pilsen 4 Comments »

By Jason Foumberg

Chicago needs this. A grouping of four huge old buildings on the Near South Side will become, hopefully, a new Creative Industries District. This district isn’t simply an art gallery stroll, nor is it merely a rehabbed warehouse for artist studios. The proposed redevelopment plan is so big and ambitious—perhaps bigger than any current mixed-use art space in Chicago, 800,000 square feet in total—that galleries and studios will be just a small fraction of the big picture, if at all.

You don’t need to see it to believe it—because there’s not much to look at yet—but the future will spurt from this dust-caked shell of salvage, a sun-baked hulk of hundred-year-old bricks and broken windows. A picturesque ruin, perhaps. This is what condominium developments look like before the granite countertops and cast-iron balconies roll in, but no dream condos will be constructed here, and anyway, the kitchen-table art economy hasn’t gotten us much further than the front room. We won’t be art-gallery squatting in the near future. The near future has a budget, a committee, actually several committees, licensing forms and tax forms and applications, and a dada poem of acronyms—ULI, NEA, LISC, DCA, TIF, CMAP—that sounds like government bureaucracy BS, the type that we like to knee-jerk kick in the nostrils, but this time we’re going to sit on the shoulders of Big Brother. This time he’s got our back. Read the rest of this entry »

Thug Life

Chinatown, Lit, News etc. No Comments »

Raised by real-life gangsters in 1960’s Chinatown, Frank Pulaski has been inspired to compile an art project involving handmade books about gangster life in Chicago. His book, titled “Gangster Lit,” is composed of art and words all cropped and stitched together to tell a visual story. “To my limited knowledge, the three books of ‘Gangster’ comprise the first book-art novel—ever, 84,000 words,” Pulaski says. “There’s lots of book-art stuff out there with plenty of words built into them, but no one has ever made a novel in the book-art form.” With the help of numerous other writers contributing to the project, Pulaski says that the story being told can head in one of any number of directions, all depending on where the next writer wants to go. “‘Gangster’ takes a critical attitude towards most art forms, visual, written or otherwise, asking, ‘What’s all this shit about?’ A gangster stands at the edge and not in the center. A gangster uses his or her head and is always thinking, thinking, thinking…for at the end of the day, it’s all about the ideas.” (Micah McCrary)

Love & Sex: Full Tank of Gas

Chinatown, Love & Sex No Comments »

By David Witter

On this year Valentine’s Day approximately coincided with the Chinese New Year’s celebration in Chinatown. Proud to show off my urban savvy to a girl from Northbrook, our date was set: watch the Chinese New Year’s Parade along Wentworth Avenue, have a great meal in Chinatown and go see a movie.

The parade was spectacular. Dragons, floats and a cavalcade of firecrackers left a trail of shredded paper that blew over the half-melted snow like tumbleweed. We ventured into a rundown storefront restaurant where old Chinese men smoked unfiltered cigarettes, drank coffee and played a Chinese form of dominos. She was a film student at Columbia College, and I knew she would be impressed by the urban scene. It was sure a lot more “real” than the Fuddruckers in Highland Park.

I gathered my limited funds to order a grand meal: a large order of egg fu young, large pork fried rice, Chinese barbeque ribs, moo shu pork and egg rolls. The egg rolls came first and we dispatched them quickly. I thought nothing of it and as the three giant platters heaping with egg fu young patties, pork fried rice and ribs arrived, and went into the bathroom. I took my time washing my hands and grooming myself, hoping that the food and Valentine’s Day aura would pay dividends later. But when I returned I saw the first crack in my plan. Before I left there were six egg fu young patties. One and one-half remained. The ribs lay in a jagged pile of bones, like something out of “The Flintstones.” There was a small serving of fried rice left out of what once had been a heaping platter. Jesus Christ, I was gone for five minutes tops. Did she inhale it?

We ventured in to see a revival of “Pulp Fiction.” Think she was done eating? Hell no. The first thing she got was a barrel of popcorn. As the movie went on, I heard the persistent, “munch, munch, munch” and the ice-rattling, dry-slurping sound from a drained pop. As a film student, I thought she was sophisticated, but I’d guessed wrong. Throughout the movie she would yell out the obvious punch lines and plot twists, usually about five minutes late.

“Oh, the Zed guy is gay! Bruce Willis better watch his ass.” Or, “If Marcellus finds out John Travolta is with his girlfriend, he’s in big trouble.” But the embarrassment was only starting. First, it was belching. Long, loud burps, like the kind 12-year-old boys do to impress their friends. OK, that’s what happens when you gobble food. It serves her right. Then came the <I>other</I> gas.

I detected a slight odor. Maybe the popcorn? Then she began to emit long forays of flatulence—farts that would go on for seconds, emitting sounds like an off-key trumpeter. At first, it was nasty stares from people around us, like the familiar, “sniff, sniff, sniff” followed by giggles. A couple of people began to stir. Then a loud voice blurted out, “Some motherfucker’s blowing farts.”

The film ended, but as she entered my Toyota Corolla wagon, the fart symphony continued. Four hours ago, it seemed like a perfect situation for a conquest, but now all I wanted to do was get her out of the car. Finally, she acknowledged her plight, mumbling something about the stomach flu. I would have felt bad for her but she was the one who turned her fork into a steamshovel.

As I dropped her off, she said something about calling me. I had been dumped before but couldn’t help thinking, “God, I am finally rid of her.” But the nightmare wasn’t over. When I started the car the next day, the odor was embroidered into the upholstery. I took my mom’s dog for a ride and the Golden Retriever furiously dug into the seat, thinking there was some kind of food buried beneath the vinyl. A pine-tree shaped cardboard thing hanging from the mirror seemed to mask it, but only temporarily. On a surprisingly warm seventy-five-degree day in March a couple weeks later, it returned. My roommate entered the car and began the familiar, nostrils flared, nose in the air, “sniff, sniff, sniff.” He looked at me and asked, “Hey Witter, where’s the pizza?”

That was probably my worst Valentines Day. My best? A few years later my girlfriend and I decided to get married in a spontaneous ceremony at City Hall on Valentine’s Day. It was just us, no family or friends. Afterwards we walked to Navy Pier and rode the Ferris Wheel, our first act as man and wife. Since then we have lived happily ever after.