Buildings Reflected on Buildings….
Riding down Chicago Avenue smells like riding down Chicago Avenue. The pungent smells of exhaust, fried food, and garbage combine to create the timeless eau de ville du jour. I am riding from downtown, past the skyscrapers and the little touristy area near the river, then down the pothole and–despite the sun–slush ridden road. I keep pedaling, through West Humboldt Park where a number of people stand on the corner, conducting drug deals in broad daylight regardless of the school two blocks to the east or the cops driving one block to the west. I see some beautiful graffiti along the way, done by kids from the neighborhood, a spray painted sign advertising Bro-In-Law’s chicken restaurant, a laundromat with a sign on the door that says “Free Dry for Customers Who Wash Here, We Stand By This.” I pass the requisite Family Dollar, beauty salons, WIC, tiny bodegas, empty and abandoned churches, a Planned Parenthood without any windows, a couple of sketchy looking daycare centers with metal garage doors over the front that I imagine showing up on the nightly news some short distance in the future (never trust a place called Kiddy Korral, or any place that spells C words with a K, that’s my motto) a couple of fast food restaurants, a wittily named laundromat (Loads of Fun!), a shop with a handmade sign hanging over the old advertisement “I don’t care what society thinks, this is my community”. There are a couple of taco shops, a closed down sports bar with hand painted plywood as a sign.
Everyone outside is black. Many people stand in the middle of the road, waiting for the bus, some people cross seeming to not even notice the traffic. I stop at a gas station to help some girls push their broken down car into the parking lot. We swear and laugh and keep pushing until we get it. I get back on my bike and continue riding west.
Then, abruptly, the scenery begins to change. It seems to start with a row of shops on the right, all low and uniform and in the same building. There is another daycare center, but it looks less creepy, there is a dentist’s office and a dance studio. On the left hand side are tall apartment buildings, the first ones in miles. Then a bike lane appears, and more trees, and the apartment buildings transform into large houses with big lawns. I pass more shops, an Ace Hardware, an upscale Mexican bar and restaurant, a Doggy Massage (!) parlor.
The houses are now enormous, practically mansions. Some of them look like castles. The cars drive slower around me. The people getting out of their cars and hanging out in their driveways are all white. The trees are abundant; it is so quiet that I can hear a church choir practicing the bells as I ride along.
I have traveled from the business sector through the ghetto and into the white person mansion hood. I am confused as to why this is. Why are all of the rich white people living in the nice, quiet, tree-filled part of town? Why are the poor black people living in the treeless, rundown, drug and crime-infested part of town? Why doesn’t anyone ever talk about this, and what role do I play in this? I am financially somewhat poor, but I have an education that has the societal stamp of approval that comes in the form of a college degree. I have massive student loan and credit card debt but I don’t have any crippling or jail-inducing addictions…and even if I did I don’t think I would ever get arrested for them…I can ride through both neighborhoods, the poor and the wealthy, and feel equally acceptable. Do I breathe a little easier in the wealthy neighborhood? Well, yes. I do relax a little more. Is that due to the majority of people sharing my skin color, though, or is it because of the money that these people have on blatant display–what could I possibly have that they would want to take? A shitty $50 bike? There is no one waiting at the bus stops in this neighborhood. I assume that the people who ride bikes here do it for exercise and not to get to where they need to be. They definitely don’t have to ride 15 miles to and from work because they can’t afford public transportation. I pull up in front of the building where my job interview is to take place and lock my bike to the fence, thinking even as I do that it is probably unnecessary.