Friday, January 23, 2009

Life Is Good Here, But What About There?

It's getting to be late January here in Streeterville. On the 14th floor it all looks very pretty. It was 32 degrees at the Mini last I checked. The lake is melting off, with just a few little iceberglets floating here and there. Currently the lights at Navy Pier are brightening the early evening sky. Down at street level it's another matter entirely.

The novelty of snow and cold temperatures has worn off by this time. Coats and hats and gloves and the prospect of once again walking into a frigid blast of air off Lake Michigan have started to wear on people. Cabin fever has begun to set in. People are openly talking about vacations to warmer climates sometime soon.

The snow has been on the ground long enough now to lose the initial crisp white beauty. There are virtually no stretches of snow that have not been walked on by someone or something. The piles of snow along the edge of the sidewalk have spots of yellow where the dog walkers have paused. (Yes, Frank Zappa did admonish us "Don't eat the yellow snow.") The piles of snow along the edge of the street where the snow plows have pushed them have taken on a dirty gray and black color. (Insert a heavy sigh here.)

In Streeterville you're never far from a smile. It's a 3 block walk from the headquarters on the 14th floor to The Magnificent Mile. There are always tourists and out of towners with smiles, happy to be here and spending loads of money, to be paid off later. In the neighborhood there are lots of ladies in fur coats with doggies with sweaters (Some with booties.). Life is good for these. Warmth is only a flight to the Bahamas away, or Miami, or somewhere. There are some people you see walking their huskies or other long-haired dogs, all of whom are ecstatic to be in the cold and snow they were born to inhabit. That would be happy, smiley dogs with smiley owners in their very best winter attire.

Every weekday I drive to the outpost in Back of the Yards on the Southside. Life is not nearly so happy among the inhabitants there. When I exit the Dan Ryan Expressway, the difference is obvious. No dreams of a weekend in the Bahamas here. No fur coats or sweater-wearing happy doggies here. Tourists and out of towners are carefully steered clear of this place. They might encounter poverty, black people, people who only speak Spanish, drug dealers, prostitutes, run down houses and junky cars, and a whole lot of very angry people.

The anger you encounter in poor neighborhoods is amazing. When you're a white guy from a neighborhood full of BMWs and Mercedes and assorted Lexus, Porsche, and younameit expensive cars, life is good, even if you're the only one around driving a 5 year old Mini Cooper. It does have heated seats. In Back of the Yards people are angry, angry, angry. They're angry about being poor, angry about having to stand in the bitter cold and wait, wait, wait for the f.....g bus, angry about having a drug and/or alcohol habit, angry about having a relationship with someone who just got out of prison and hasn't a clue how to avoid going back, angry about seeing white people on their way to work in a nice car, in nice clothes while they can't find a job to save their life.

When you become aware of all this anger, it is instructive to drive down the street and just look to see if you can see a smile anywhere. Often the first smile you encounter is when you reach the outpost where you work. The recent campaign and election of Barack Obama to the Presidency had the theme of Hope. I would like to offer all of these angry people some hope. I realize the federal government has to tackle wars, terrorism, the economy that's in the toilet, and a great many things just now. Well I have a proposal. I think they ought to add anger to their list of things that need to be addressed. There are a great many people in this country who are very angry, to the point of going over the edge. Their anger needs to be addressed. How? Treat the root causes, not the symptoms for a change. They're poor. Their lives are shit. They're really pissed off. They see wealth all around them and none of it is their's. We need to help them get a piece of the cake and make their lives a little better so the violence of their angry,angry lives doesn't spill over into Streeterville or Mount Prospect or Osage or anywhere else in America where life is good and you forget about the shit that a lot of people's lives are.

Well, that's the proposal. Now let's see the experts find a way to deal with it.

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