Sunday, February 17, 2013

South of No North, North of No South

As of September of this the year of our lord 2013, I will have lived in the north side of Chicago for twenty years.  That’s almost half my life.  That being the case, one might conclude that I am now unquestionably a northsider.  Sure, why not?   Well… I can’t always say as much, since the south side (southwest, to be exact) roots run deep.  There are considerable differences between the two areas, though really, once you peal away the superficial, not so much.  Having spent time in both areas (though, to tell the truth, I have barely explored a lot of the real south side, at least not as much as anyone claiming to be a Chicagoan should), I've noticed a lot of the same bullshit, just presented differently.  For example: baseball separates the north and south side, represented by the Cubs and Sox.  Both sets of fans are equally obnoxious to me, and I could give a fuck about baseball these days, but I will say that the complaints about the Cubs fans (they’re a bunch of drunken yuppies) and the Sox fans (they’re a bunch of drunken tradesmen) seem pretty similar to me. 

Other differences: southsiders can’t imagine driving up north as, they fear, there is no place to park.  I admit, it is a problem, but one you get used to.  Now, this bothered me less in the glorious years before Daley screwed us with his parking meter privatization (I’ll never forgive him for that), but I feel that the parking, or lack thereof, is a small price to pay for living up here.  Anyway, I live in Rogers Park, which, I admit, is no parking paradise, but it’s hardly as bad as Lakeview or Lincoln Park.  And, while we’re at it, my neighborhood is hardly the yuppie-laden land my south side pals might imagine.  It’s pretty blue collar, has some crime, some danger, some fun, some great places to eat and drink, and, in many ways, feels like home.  Clark Street from Devon to Howard reminds me a bit of Archer Avenue.  But I don’t know that my south side connections get that, mainly because they never come up here.  I realized long ago that if I wanted to see my family (with the exception of my mother and stepdad and brother, who have come up many times) or my old friends, I would have to make the effort because they sure as shit were not going to.  I can count on one hand the times my extended family (love you all) has come to visit and I can count on two fingers the number of times my old friends (miss you all) have made the trek.  But that is my fault, of course, for defecting.  (Not to sound bitter or anything.  I know they all kids and jobs and lives that busy them.)

Again, parking is the issue, but another factor might be the actual length of time it takes to get up here.  Okay, I get that, but really, the drive is not so bad.  I’ve done it many times, sometimes more than once in a single weekend.  (I might ask some people to look up the word reciprocity in the dictionary.)

I don’t want to pick on my south side buddies only.  Many of my north side friends have also expressed misgivings about the south side.  In fact, I get a lot of questions along the lines of: “Is it violent?” and  “Will I get mugged?”  I remind them that I grew up in the southwest suburban area near Midway, not in the heart of Englewood, but to these northsiders, everything past the Loop is a ghetto. 

The problem has to do with representation.  The most recent example is the Showtime program, Shameless, which I have been digging lately.  While it’s good, skuzzy fun, it exists in a fantasy of Chicago, despite being mostly filmed here.  The show takes place on the “south side” which is never 100% defined.  One character referred to her neighborhood as Back of the Yards, which seems consistent with many of the street names mentioned on the program, though, in reality, the show is filmed on 21st near Kedzie.   No matter—the actual location of the characters is not terribly important—this is fiction, after all—but there are numerous references to the “north side” that make it sound, again, as if everyone up north lives in a giant condo and has gobs of disposable cash.  The north side has plenty of shitty areas (Uptown still gets a little hairy at times), but not in the universe of Shameless.  It’s just too easy to write tales of the divide between these two parts of town, thus, when a character goes north to visit someone, the obvious choice of location is the Gold Coast.

And while we’re on the subject, there are a ton of areas excluded by the north/south split, mostly, the west side, which is never really discussed, as the Bulls and Hawks belong to everyone.  And the south side itself is composed of many different neighborhoods.  To say you are a southsider could mean you live in Bridgeport, Kenwood, Englewood, Hyde Park, or Hegewisch, for example.  So, just as the southsiders tend to cling to easy ideas of what goes on up here, the northsiders do very much likewise. 

A while ago, I posted online about my life since moving up north.  I mentioned that I used to eat steak burritos, White Castle burgers, and Italian beef sandwiches fairly regularly when I lived south.  Now I eat tofu, Thai food, and drink kefir for breakfast.  These were easy classifications, and my last trip to a Dominick’s on the south side netted me some kefir, couscous, and a fair amount of foods that I would have considered yuppie crap years back.  There’s even a Starbucks or two!  It may be happening slowly, but my old blue collar neighborhoods are going the way of the latte.

This is all to say that none of it matters.  If where you live is how you define yourself, well, there’s something wrong with you.  Not to say one ought to be complacent about or indifferent to their surroundings, but while I recognize the greatness of my city, I see how different its many pockets are from each other, which makes it hard to say I am a Chicagoan since I am really only familiar with a fraction of this town.  Okay, a few fractions, but I know better than to let such silly definitions (northsider/southsider) define me.  Nevertheless, it is somewhat inescapable. 

My old boss from the Aspidistra once told me he never would have hired me if knew I came from the south side.  When I moved here, my old pal John D.P. told me to make sure my shoelaces were tied while walking around Wrigley Field.  The tag line for the Southtown Economist used to read, “People Up North Just Don’t Get It.”  I saw a guy once on the El wearing a shirt with “US Cellular, where there’s more drive-bys than line drives” printed on it next to a Sox Sux logo.  And god knows there are far more Cubs Suck shirts worn around US Cellular.  Dear lord, how can a city so divided stand?