Thursday, May 05, 2005

The Smell of Victory: Pungent and Loaded With Carcinogens

There's a firebug loose in my neighborhood. In the past month this wiseass has torched garbage cans on four different occasions, all within two blocks of my apartment.

Before leaving for work yesterday I ran into an familiar face from Puffer's who works as an arson investigator for the Fire Department. He was searching the alleys with a dog for evidence of incediary devices. He didn't need to look for kindling as every garbage can in the alley could qualify.

It's the first time in my nearly six years living here that I felt any semblance of concern about living in Bridgeport. I'm not jumping to conclusions- after six years in the same neighborhood one tends to have vested emotional and economic interests.

Still, even if it's some "idiot teenager" like Vic suggested it isn't fun to know that you can go to sleep one night and wake up before dawn hustling out of your home in not much more than your skivvies because some stoned dumbass likes the cool sounds galvanized rubber makes when it burns and melts.

Overall I guess I'm lucky. I visit Wicker Park and there's always a bulletin posted in shop windows the with an artist sketch of the latest sexual predator du jour. And Bridgeport doesn't have the endless screaming debates about gentrification that never seem to end in Bucktown and Liquor Park and are just now starting to rise in Pilsen.

The obvious symbol of near South Side gentrification is University Village, erected over the still fresh ruins of the old Maxwell Street Blues and Market District under the joint spearheading of the University of Illinois at Chicago and our democratically elected Janitor With A Vision, Richard M. Daley. It's townhomes and condominiums stand as a physical symbol of the conformist hive collective mentality with which yuppies are generally- and accurately- branded.

Travel down to 22nd Street and Halsted and you'll find a less obvious example of the genrification problem: the Skylark Tavern. Gentrification, like many aspects of life, is a lather-rinse-repeat vicious circle:

  • Ambitious-but-poor artistic class move to depressed neighborhood for affordable rents and freedom to follow their artistic muse.
  • Ambitious-and-well-heeled businessmen buy property and businesses, essentially hedging their bets that coolness factor of ambitious-but-poor artistic class attracts well-heeled-but-not-artistic-worker drones to depressed neighborhood.
  • Well-heeled-but-not-artistic worker drones purchase starter homes or hastily constructed lofts in depressed neighborhoods, displacing both Ambitious-but-poor artistic class and working-class ethnic types who were also living in neighborhood.

A qualifier: I personally love the Skylark. It affords me an option besides Puffer's to get a decent beer in the neighborhood without having to take three trains and a bus to the far North Side. But sometimes I walk in there and a feeling comes over me, like the people in the bar are waiting for the flood to come. I heard constant updates in my initial months living here about the Skylark opening. It took four years before they could open their doors. Once the rumor mill stopped I knew I could trust the information I was hearing.

Now the owners of the Skylark aren't naive businessmen. They also own the Rainbo and used to own the late lamented Blue Bird on Clybourn, if memory serves. It just seems that the atmosphere in the place is forced, like they're waiting for the Rainbo crowd to come down.

And it's usually places like the Skylark that fall in the second wave of investment in the gentrification cycle. I'm hoping they realize their innate cooness and stop catering to the Wicker park crowd. This is a great neighborhood on its own.

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