Monday, August 26, 2002

The Road More Traveled

It should come as no great surprise that I have a significant attachment to the city of Chicago. After all, I was born here, have lived here all my life and, barring something unforseen like landing a film critic position in Santa Fe or Seattle or some other town whose name begins with "S," will likely stay here for a good while longer.

But it will probably seem at least a little odd that I have an attachment to one particular street in my city. It's not a street I've ever lived on, though I've lived within easy walking distance of it my whole life. And it's not a "great street," as Sammy Cahn once dubbed a certain downtown thoroughfare, but it's a street of historical importance that bisects the city and runs from its northern edge to its southern border, cruising through just about every economic, social, political and ethnic stratum in between.

It's the longest uninterrupted street within a city's limits in the world. That's right--not just the state or the country, but the whole frickin' world.

It's Western Avenue.

It could be that I like Western Avenue so much because I know that its name comes from the fact that it used to be the western border of Chicago. So if you stand at the corner of North and Western, you get an idea of how small Chicago used to be. (Don't ask me why, if there's a North Avenue and a Western Avenue, there's no South Avenue. Maybe there was one, but its name was changed to honor some local political hack.) Or it could merely be familiarity: I've walked on, biked on, ridden by bus or car on Western Avenue all my years, including a four-year stretch in which I rode it to and from my high school, Lane Tech, just about every day; I was on a southbound Western Avenue bus when I heard that John Hinckley had tried to kill Ronald Reagan. Or maybe it's just cool to live near a street that has more used car lots and bars (a bad combo platter) on it than anywehere else on the planet.

But whatever the specific reason, Western Avenue has always played an important role in my life. Still does.

I grew up around Ukrainian Village on the Near West Side, and my mom still has a house in the area. I try to be a good son and visit once a week, and I usually take the Western Avenue bus back to my own neighborhood. Thus, I get a weekly tour of signposts from my younger days:

Like the Hi-Fi Video at Augusta, where I rented my first three videos when I got my first VCR: Day of the Dead (unspeakably awful flesh-eating zombie flick), The Hidden (passable sci-fi flick with lots of loud rock-n-roll on the soundtrack) and Sex Star (a, um, handlotionvideonasty);

Or Robert Clemente High School at Division, named for the Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder who, in addition to being a perennial All-Star with a Howitzer for a throwing arm, collected his 3,000th career hit in his last Major League at-bat (he died in a plane crash while on his way to help disaster victim right around Christmas 1972);

Or the El station at Milwaukee, which was recently rebuilt almost from scratch, only retaining the terra cotta Art Deco facade from the original station;

Or Margie's Candies at Armitage, where the Beatles came for sundaes when touring the U.S. in 1964--and where developed have tried to grab the land so they can build some fugly condo development (so far, they've failed);

Or the bank parking lot right across the street from Margie's, where the Oak Theatre, a family movie house in Mom's youth and a porno house where Marilyn Chambers danced in mine, once stood;

Or just off Western on McLean, where Grandma's cottage still stands, though not for long from the look of it--its windows are covered in plywood, and with the small properties tend to get swallowed up on the North Side, I fully expect to find some concrete-block monstrosity in its place sometime soon;

Or the Golden Nugget at the three-way intersection of Elston, Diversey and Western (an intersection with some of the worst traffic jams in all of creation), where my best friend from high school and I spent many a 3 a.m. solving the problems of the world over meat loaf and bottomless cups of coffee, and where my family and I went for dinner after my father's wake;

Or the police station at Belmont, which sits where Riverview Park used to stand;

Or the aforementioned Lane Technical High School at Addison, where four years of my life felt a lot more like ten;

Or the Penny Lane Lounge, where the CD box has lots of Beatles (duh) and the vodka-and-tonics keep coming at you till 4 a.m.;

Or Welles Park, where fun can be had on an August afternoon just by standing in the freshly minted gazebo (or is it a music pavilion? I'm not really sure) and watching the soccer boys bounce balls back and forth with their floppy-haired head while small children make the water fountains jet out endless streams of droplets onto the parched and dusty baseball diamonds.

Western Avenue runs for miles south and north of the section descibed above, of course, but this is the stretch I know the best. The one I've traveled most of my days. The one I remember the most about. The one that always leads me close to home, both then and now.

Friday, August 16, 2002

What's My Motivation in This Scene?

Okay. Yeah. I know. I haven't updated this site in a while. The last real "update" I wrote, in fact, was about my iMac, Polly Jean, blowing up on the 3rd of July. (The essay that followed it, Hot Child in the City, was a repost of something that was supposed to appear here the week before, but, for reasons that still escape me, didn't.)

But I can't blame my lack of attention here on poor PJ: she's been reasonably well behaved since she returned from the Apple Store, even though the scanner software is still fucked up and I can't find the CD so that I can reinstall it (hence the same picture of Lottie that adorned my last post here--get used to her, 'cause she may be there a while).

Nor can I blame the dust gathering here on the weather. Sure, it's been hot enough to fry eggs on the pavement (and some bacon and sausage to go with 'em), and I don't have AC. But neither do a lot of other people, and they still get their shit done.

The only excuse that comes close to being legit, in fact, is that it's been busy as hell at work of late, and that takes a lot of energy out of me. But when you get down to it, that's all it is--an excuse. These Web site updates aren't literary masterpieces; in most cases, they're an hour or two of solid typing, followed by a few minutes of HTML coding and a few more minutes of uploading (when I can concentrate long enough to actually get it right--I suspect "Hot Child in the City" was initially lost through my lack of uploading ability).

That's it. Really. Why do you think so many people have their own sites on the Web--sites that don't sell or buy or do any damned thing other than spit opinions into the great void?

So. Why, then, have I not gotten off of my ass (or, more literally, on it) to say something here?

Don't really have an answer for you. Emotional inertia. Mental calcification. Stuff. Pick one.

The point is, I've been lax in keeping this poor thing going, and "not feeling up to it" isn't much of an excuse. I'll try to be more diligent--and, one hopes, entertainingly so--in future.

That's all.

No. Really. That's it. That's all I have to say.

Really. I'm not kidding.

Why are you still here? Don't you have someplace to go? Something (or someone) to do?

What? You don't? Really? Huh.

Guess things could always be worse. I'd just rather not find out how.