Street Smart Chicago

Checkerboard City: Payback for an Allegedly Road-Raging Cop?

Bicycling, News etc., West Loop No Comments »
James Liu, whom the CPD says was not actually arrested. Photo: Ben Raines

James Liu, who the CPD says was not actually arrested/Photo: Ben Raines

Picture yourself bike commuting downtown on Milwaukee Avenue, the city’s busiest cycling street. After you turn south on Des Plaines Street, the driver of a silver SUV starts edging into the bike lane as he tries to illegally pass other vehicles on the right in his rush to get to work.

The motorist is getting too close for comfort, so you knock twice on the door of his truck to alert him of your presence. Unfortunately, he turns out to be an off-duty police officer, and less than a minute later you find yourself sitting in the street with your hands cuffed behind you, and your orange fixie sprawled across the asphalt.

That’s what bankruptcy attorney James Liu, thirty-three, says happened to him on October 14 at around 8:15am, while he was trying to make his way to the office. “As soon as I tapped on his side panel, he immediately started chasing me, driving in the bike lane,” Liu says. “Around Fulton Street he rolls down his window and yells, ‘I’m a fucking cop!’ I just look at him and shrug my shoulders, and then we continue south at a normal speed.”

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Checkerboard City: Training for the Big Game

Checkerboard City, Green, Transit, West Loop No Comments »
The United Center, as seen from the Pink Line. Photo: John Greenfield

The United Center, as seen from a Pink Line car. Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Every time I take the Pink Line to Pilsen and gaze out the window at the United Center, I’m struck by the apparent stupidity of train service that goes right past Chicago’s largest sports and music arena, but doesn’t stop there. The nearest existing stations, the Blue Line’s Illinois Medical District stop to the south, and the Pink and Green lines’ Ashland-Lake stop to the northeast, are both roughly twelve-minute walks to the stadium, long enough to discourage train use. But a new Pink station near Madison and Paulina would be a four-minute hop, skip and jump to the front doors.

As it is, the land use around the arena encourages driving to Bulls, Blackhawks and Bruce Springsteen events. While Wrigley Field, next door to the Addison Red stop, is surrounded by bars and restaurants where fans can spend money after games, the House That Jordan Built sits in a vast moat of parking lots. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Zero North/South

Austin, Checkerboard City, City Life, Green, Loop, West Loop No Comments »

By John Greenfield

Chicago’s Madison Street, named for one of the chief authors of the United States Constitution, runs through some of the most expensive real estate in town as well as some of the most underserved neighborhoods. As the city’s north-south bifurcating street, it forms the Mason-Dixon Line between the North Side and the South Side. Over the years I’ve hiked the entire length of several Chicago thoroughfares in search of fascinating sights and interesting people, so it was only a matter of time until I walked Madison, a relatively short street at eight miles, but one that’s dense with landmarks.

On a warm spring morning I start my walk in Millennium Park, where Madison T-bones into Michigan Avenue, 100 East Sunshine gleams off the Bean as I gaze past the historic high-rises of the Michigan Avenue cliff into the Madison Street canyon, then step off the curb and stride toward Jeweler’s Row. After passing the State Street intersection, Chicago’s Ground Zero, I cross the river by the grandiose Civic Opera House. Soon I come to Claes Oldenburg’s “Batcolumn,” 600 West, a 101-foot-tall Louisville Slugger made of gray steel latticework, symbolizing Chicago’s “ambition and vigor.” Read the rest of this entry »

Brain Gain: Six Ideas Chicago Should Steal from Other Cities

Architecture, City Life, Green, Lakeview, Loop, Pilsen, Transit, West Loop, Wrigleyville 2 Comments »

Rendering of the Dallas park expressway cap via the Woodall Rogers Park Foundation

By Sam Feldman

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and Chicago’s received its fair share. We pioneered the steel-frame skyscraper, the Ferris wheel, and the electric blues, all worldwide hits. We started studying the idea of turning the abandoned two-point-seven-mile Bloomingdale Line into an elevated park in 1998, a year before the High Line was a gleam in anybody’s eye, though it’s New York’s elevated park that’s gotten all the attention. (To be fair, New York’s park does have the advantage of actually existing.)

But other cities have some good ideas too sometimes, and every so often we should glance around and see what might be worth stealing. We’ve made a good start with the recent announcement of a 300-kiosk bike-sharing system arriving by next summer, an idea we stole from Washington, DC, along with our new transportation chief Gabe Klein. But there’s a lot more we can rip off. There are areas where we haven’t been keeping up, or we’ve been making small plans, or we just haven’t taken the lead. Some of these ideas would cost money, but some of them would make money. Some of them might be immediately popular, while others could take some convincing. Some of them won’t happen—but some of them will. Read the rest of this entry »

411: Haymarket Rioting, as Planned

Chicago History, Events, West Loop No Comments »

Striking laborers and plotting anarchists crowd Haymarket Square while policemen attempt to keep the peace. Suddenly, a pipe bomb explodes on the police line from an unknown source. Thus began the Haymarket Riot, which is still considered the day in which the Chicago Police Department lost the most officers it ever has in a single day. Consequently, this will also be what occurs on April 30 at 2pm with Paul Durica’s fourth reenactment, which he plans to “remind us that we all share in the legacy.” To do this, the Pocket Guide to Hell teamed up with the Illinois Labor History Society, the Version Arts Festival, Haymarket Pub & Brewery and the Fulton River District Association, enlisting the help of Chicago’s historian Tim Samuelson and musician Jon Langford, who will perform the song one of the convicted anarchists sang in his jail cell. Just like on his walking tours, Durica sets this reenactment at the actual site of the original Haymarket Riot—Randolph, Desplaines and Halsted—which demonstrates his goal of “reanimating spaces and connecting past and present.” Considering the current state of labor affairs in Midwestern states like Wisconsin, this connection should not be difficult to find. Volunteers will don period hats and badges, and everyone is encouraged to wear a costume. In fact, everyone will become a participant by acting either as a policeman, an anarchist, a laborer or a curious onlooker. For more information, visit (Elizabeth Kossnar)

Getting Personal: Field Notes gives a vintage flair to modern marketing

News etc., West Loop No Comments »

In an unassuming building in the West Loop, past a call box, up a few stairs and behind a strangely industrial metal door, lie rooms filled to the brim with boxes upon boxes of small notebooks, varying in color and page style, but each shrink-wrapped package bearing bold words on the cover: Field Notes.

Field Notes started as a partnership between Aaron Draplin, a Portland, Oregon artist, of Draplin Design Co. and Coudal Partners. Coudal Partners began as a traditional creative design and ad agency, but rethought their strategy after businesses started cutting their marketing and advertising budgets.

“We took a step back and tried to figure out if we wanted to chase client-based revenue, or start a couple of businesses on our own,” Michele Seiler, of Field Notes, says.

One such business was Field Notes, which began as an online fixture (, selling and shipping packages of simple notebooks, inspired by vintage 1930s and 1940s farmers field notebooks. The cover is a neutral brown, and the book itself is thin, perfect for stowing in a back pocket for whenever needed. Read the rest of this entry »

Bummed Out: How Skid Row went from “The Land of the Living Dead” to cappuccinos and condos

Chicago History, West Loop 2 Comments »

By David Witter

It’s a Friday afternoon and two young men from the suburbs are looking for a place to crash later that night, after hitting up the bars in Andersonville and Uptown. A friend recommended The Lodge Motel at Foster and Sheridan. Yet as they drive by it all they see is a vacant lot. Looks like nobody figured to tell them it was torn down to make room for a new Dominick’s.

Time ticks away. They search for the nearest hotel on their iPhones and see the Wilson Men’s Hotel at 1124 West Wilson. Across the street is Truman College, but the area around it is no ivy-filled campus. People hang out on the street corners. The homeless push shopping carts filled with Aldi bags. A man with a pockmarked face lays sprawled out across a nearby bench, face down, arms and legs dangling on the sidewalk. This is the outside. Entering the Wilson, the lobby smells of forbidden fumes. They take a quick look at one of the cheaper rooms—a pen, eight by ten feet with no ceiling, with walls elevated off the ground, making it susceptible to theft and a continuous onslaught of noise: arguing, muttering, swearing, snoring and shouting at all hours. There is no shower, only a shared bathroom at the end of the hall. They leave the place in a half-trot and don’t stop until they get to The Green Mill, a jazz club a few blocks north at Broadway and Lawrence. Shocked and out of breath, they mutter, “Damn. That was Skid Row.”

A short, pink-faced man lifts his head from down the bar. In a gravely voice he tells them, “Skid Row? You think that place is Skid Row? Kid, you have no idea what Skid Row was….” Read the rest of this entry »

Paper Trail: Documenting a career in social activism

Politics, Uptown, West Loop No Comments »

“You can’t really create a credible way of moving ahead, ” says Doug Dobmeyer, “unless you know the path.” Dobmeyer, a longtime Chicago social activist, has lined this “path” with more than thirty years of research and work with Chicago’s housing issues and emergency social services. Now the Special Collections department at the UIC Library has acquired the Doug Dobmeyer Papers and will have an opening reception April 8 at 3pm. The papers document the many organizations that Dobmeyer participated in, and include media coverage, reports, administrative records and correspondences. Dobmeyer, who among many other efforts spent several years running the homeless shelter in Uptown, talks about the steps the city has made toward improving the quality of life for the homeless, “In the 1980s, when I was the director of the shelter, we had city government sending out inspection teams trying to find reasons to close us down. And since that time, and I will credit Mayor Washington, the attitude of City Hall is totally different.” Dobmeyer is quick to warn, however, that the solutions are still evading us. It is with collections such as the Dobmeyer Papers, he hopes Chicago will be able to truly make progress on such a serious issues as homelessness. (Peter Cavanaugh)

Wing It: West Loop Gets Hot

Events, Food & Drink, West Loop No Comments »

A man stands huddled with a group of his friends in the middle of the crowded Bailey Auditorium with sweat pouring down his face. “I like spicy foods but this wing is evil incarnate, ” he says wiping tears from his eye with barbeque stained hands, to his girlfriend who’s chugging an MGD to quell the burning in her mouth. Read the rest of this entry »

Blood Bath: Cobra Lounge welcomes a little sin

Events, Love & Sex, West Loop No Comments »

toolFriday the 13th and the small stage in the back of Cobra Lounge is decorated with adorable pink hearts of various sizes. A closer look reveals the red-inked words written across the hearts: “Your mom has a really pretty mouth. Sorry about the crabs. It ain’t gonna suck itself…”

The Sinstress Sideshow is hosted by the oh-so-beautiful Miss Maya Sinstress, who is endowed with the kind of large yet amazingly perky breasts romance novelists make millions fictionalizing. Throughout the night, Miss Maya and her girls continue twisting fantasy into a frighteningly sexy reality.

There’s the classic Bettie Page-alike, who shimmies around stage in slow motion. A duo performance depicting date rape is a huge crowd favorite, though it’s Miss Maya herself, sashaying across the stage with large feathers skewered through various parts of her flesh that leaves mouths agape. Hard to believe how sexy removing blood-stained spiked feathers can be.

But pasties, corsets and mini petticoats just can’t compare to the Reverend B. Dangerous. Wearing smeared greasepaint all over his face (think the late Heath Ledger in “Dark Knight,” but dirtier), and a tattered ringleader jacket, the Reverend immediately brings to mind a Pentecostal Snake Handler. Now subtract the snakes, add sharpened nails, power tools and a staple gun and you have yourself one crazy Southern boy.

The show begins with him stabbing a screwdriver into his right nostril. Ouch doesn’t even begin to describe the moment he takes a handheld power drill and drills into the center of his nose. A mix of awe and nausea flows over the audience when Rev. Dangerous pounds two nails into his face with a hammer.

He invites guest assistants from the audience up on to the stage. Several cringe and flat-out refuse, including a man well over six-feet tall and weighing a good 400, maybe 500 pounds. But the brave ones go up and join him. They staple his shirt to his biceps, and stand on the back of his head, forcing his face into a pile of broken glass.

Surprisingly, blood doesn’t spurt everywhere. It gushes a bit, drips a lot and causes thick globs to form on his self-promoting tank top. When he removes the hole-ridden shirt, thick nipple rings hang from his man-boobs. Naturally, Rev. Dangerous takes a metal chain, attaches it to a metal briefcase, and clips the opposite ends of the chain to each nipple ring. The Reverend straightens his back and swings the briefcase round and round.

But even this isn’t as bad as the heavy video camera he has tied to a bungee cord. Piercing his tongue with the sharpened hook of the cord, and ignoring the blood that fills his mouth and stains his teeth, he lifts the camera a few inches off the ground, and swings that round and round.

“This ain’t any of that Criss Angel bullshit up in here,” the Reverend reminds. “That motherfucker can suck a cock.” (Khaveri Campbell)