Monday, March 20, 2006

Chicago, Not The Musical

In my writing group we try to say something nice before we lean in for the close read. So, first off, people in Chicago are better drivers than Californians. Secondly they have a street called "Wacker." That is amusing.

That said--

Has anyone told Chicago that segregation is over!? Good lord, the ethnic mistrust and prejudice and - at best - WARINESS is as tangible as that horrible face-freezing wind. My (Swedish) grandma's house is on the South Side in a little enclave of university-related folks living in falling down old 19th century Victorians. It's not an all-white neighborhood, but it is compared to every square inch of neighborhood to the south and west for miles and miles. Just going to the local Walgreens felt like I'd stepped into another decade. The looks said 'does that white girl know where she is?'

And the wedding I went to was so white-- 120 people and one person of color (SE Asian) that I saw among the attendees. The wedding band (which was AWESOME) - The Gentlemen of Leisure - was all people of color (by appearances/ speech African-American)and the catering staff was mostly POC (by appearances/ speech Latina/o). The bride was an ex-debutante and her side of the hall was chock-o-block full of pretty white 30-somethings and their successful husbands. It really did feel like I'd been transported to another time.

And then after the wedding I managed to get the one cab in Chicago driven by a guy who is African (West African, by speech) who is a Physicist and who has two discoveries to his name and who takes mortal offense of someone DARE ask him where else he's driven cabs, implying that he is a CAB DRIVER. He insisted I apologize, finally threatening to stop the car unless I apologized. I told him to pull over. I got out, throwing the $16.05 I owed into the front seat and walked off into the 1:00 am South Side. I didn't take his cab number-- I didn't want to make a federal case about it-- it felt like more of that ethnic tension that I'd been sensing, just boiling over in this one guy who feels totally humiliated by his station in life, in Chicago. And how dare this young white woman imply he is a cab driver, when (as he put it) he could be anyone.

Best things about Chicago besides the better drivers, and the one amusing street name? The lake. We went geocaching out by the lake and found a couple in the balmy-for-this-time-of-year 34 degrees grilling up some chicken, sitting in their lawn chairs, watching the lake. It looked very peaceful and romantic. We (my parents and I) found our cache and wandered around Promontory Point, where they got all misty-- that was the park where they romanced eachother the summer they met. That's a good thing about Chicago. There are a lot of good family memories there.

But returning to Oakland I felt like I could breathe again. The life-giving humidity. The sense of (in most cases) ease between a widely diverse bunch of people. Sure we look at eachother sideways sometimes, but we really can't touch Chicago for street static.