Saturday, September 7, 2013

A night in Chicago

In Wicker Park on this Friday night, lights flashed against the fieldhouse as police cars sat parked in unfamiliar positions, guarding the scene of a double shooting as a house party raged on and pockets of stylish young people walked past, bemused and intrigued. At one point, a Chief Keef song blasted out of the house party's speakers in what seemed like an ironic commentary on the rarity of the shooting that had taken place across the street - unless, as is equally possible, they had no idea anything bad had happened outside the flashing colored lights and sweaty gyrating youth ensconced in their hip, rich enclave.

Shootings happen in Wicker Park, just like they do all over Chicago, but they're different there - much less frequent, more unusual spectacle than depressing daily occurrence. Gangs fight in the park from time to time, but in Wicker Park it seems more like the exception than something common enough to warn your kids about. And the reaction of passers-by to the scene we saw tonight was emblematic of that difference: some gawking, some nervous laughter, some curiosity. But nothing like the tired anger in one woman's voice in Woodlawn, as she loudly railed against the police for just standing around, seeming to do nothing but draw paychecks and shoot the breeze.

She was angry for a lot of reasons, not least of which being that - unlike in Wicker Park - the shooter this time was a police officer. Justified or not, it's not for me to say, but she saw it as part of a pattern: "They're always shooting black people," she said, or something to that effect. She was mad at the police, for being ineffective, for being violent, for treating her neighborhood differently than they treated rich white neighborhoods.

The cops probably do treat her neighborhood very differently. At another scene on the West Side, a carful of police rolled past us and called out - seemingly to us, the only people in the vicinity and certainly the only white civilians - "Another day with the savages!" They don't say shit like that on the North Side, because they don't think like that about the populations they're policing.

But the cops aren't the only ones who change their attitudes when they cross certain borders. I felt pretty ridiculous wearing a bulletproof vest in Wicker Park, a neighborhood I've hung out in hundreds of times with no armor, but I was glad to have the vest on the West Side. Nothing really happened - a bit of a public brawl, mostly verbal, in front of dozens of heavily-armed officers following a shooting - but the scene felt different and I felt different. The surprised curiosity of Wicker Park had given way, just a short trip down Western, to tension and provocation. Throngs of teenagers yelled and massed and stared each other down and scattered and regrouped, on the periphery of the police presence. For their part, the cops let them be, at one point encouraging them jokingly to take their fight across the street, where it would be in another district and another sergeant's problem.

I was spending the night riding along with Pete Nickeas, the Tribune's overnight crime reporter, as he headed from scene to scene, gathering details and color to run down the night's mayhem and tell some personal stories where he could. He's been doing it for long enough to know more than the cops do about their own crime scenes, at least sometimes - pointing out a flat tire on a squad car that nobody, including the officer sitting in the car, had noticed; filling an arriving sergeant in on what had happened and how things were going elsewhere in the district; even waking up the FOP representative after an officer-involved shooting, apparently before anyone else whose actual responsibility that was had gotten around to it.

We saw a side of Chicago that is at once nationally-known and yet largely invisible to many residents of this city, particularly those who don't live in certain neighborhoods or stay up late. To focus on shootings is to miss the point, probably - the statistics tell the tale, crime is down. And yet. "Crime is down," joked the FOP rep once the cameras stopped rolling and all the nighthawks started filling each other in on stories, incidents, tragedies missed over the scanners while photographing another scene. "Crime is they tell me, anyway."

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Capturing a morning

This morning was one of the most spectacular I can remember in a long time, for no other reason than the temperature and the clarity of the air and sky were at some perfect harmonious synchronicity with each other. Like the strings on a viola that vibrate, at a certain frequency and only at that frequency - not a hair too high or too low, or the effect is ruined - in such a way as to sound utterly perfect, resonating with the wood and the air and the other strings and stroking the aural cortex of our brains so effortlessly and harmoniously that the sound is Angelic.

The temperature was in the upper 60s, after a long hot spell, and something about everything felt like fall, but not just fall - fall pregnant with possibility, fall promising a future, the fall of a decade ago for me - getting on a bus to go to class in college, going to work on a campaign, going off to build something I didn't know the future of yet.

The crisp air and the sun made me remember how fantastic it is to be alive.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

RIP, Douglas Engelbart

Watch this video of the aptly-named Mother of All Demos and see how clearly Doug Engelbart saw the future coming, and then went out and built it for us:

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Winning isn't everything

Maybe Rick Reilly's right that the Cubs haven't won a World Series in over a century because Wrigley Field is so great. He's almost certainly wrong about that, but let's grant him the point. Does that mean the Cubs should allow billboards along the outer walls of the stadium, blocking the view from nearby rooftops?

Hell the fuck no, Rick. That's a terrible idea. I'm a fair-weather Cubs fan, I'll admit, but I'd like to see them win a Series in my lifetime. But I don't give a damn about the profit margins the Ricketts family gets from owning the Cubs (and if my current employer, the Tribune, still owned them, I still wouldn't care), and I don't think being a Cubs fan obligates me to. And as a resident of the city of Chicago, I care a great deal about the beauty and, yes, horror of horrors, tradition of Wrigley.

Look, it's a beautiful stadium and a great place to see a game, and the city north side entire benefits from that to some degree. It's not like I care about the rooftop owners either, but more billboards around the stadium - or anywhere else in the city - is hardly a desirable outcome.

I'm sure the facilities could be upgraded, and that would be a worthwhile improvement. By all means, build a better clubhouse and weight room and all the rest, as Reilly recommends. But let the improvements stop at the invisible stuff that the players need and maybe makes the fan experience better - we don't need more ads anywhere, let alone in one of the last great public spaces in America uncluttered with advertising.

The Ricketts family didn't buy any random baseball team with a generic corporately-named stadium. They knew what they were buying when they bought it, and they're extremely wealthy in spite of all the minor inconveniences leveled upon them by owning one of the greatest franchises in American sports. They can afford to pay players enough to win a World Series without making Wrigley just like every other ballpark in the country, so they should do it, and if they wanted a better deal on a stadium with no soul they should have bought the Sox.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Reggie Rose is right, kinda

Having watched the Bulls get destroyed by the Heat last night, it's not hard to understand where Reggie Rose is coming from: even with a healthy Derrick Rose in the lineup, these Bulls don't really seem like they can beat the Heat, and that won't change until Bulls management adds a couple more pieces, or one legitimate all-star, to the roster.

It's not surprising, but it's still gratifying, to see some fire in the bellies of those closest to Chicago's most beloved athlete: Derrick Rose's window of greatness, like all superstars, is finite and closing, and wasting even a single season is tempting fate. So you want Derrick's older brother and manager to be itching for him to play, surrounded by the best lineup money can buy.

But you've also got to look at the big picture, in order to understand how that lineup can possibly come together. And for that, there are two key pieces of data to observe: first, that Derrick Rose - his game, his story, his personality, everything about him - is a once-in-a-generation Chicagoan. Somebody like him may never come again to this city or this league, and that means that as important as it is to have a sense of urgency, it's equally important to think about the arc of his entire career. The Bulls franchise is now built exclusively around him, and if he's not going to be at full capacity, there's no point in trying to make a run for a title this season. So it made sense to trade Omer Asik, and to not make any rash decisions before the trade deadline, and every decision John Paxson and Gar Forman make should be oriented to building a long-term championship team around their superstar.

The second interesting piece of data is the fact that the Bulls, for the first time in franchise history, are going to pay the luxury tax this season. Why now, why this lost season? I don't know quite what to make of this, though I suspect it's not entirely intentional - their biggest stars are playing on contracts probably too big to make them easily tradeable - but whatever the reason, if it indicates that the Bulls have gotten serious about paying for players, that plus the long view they're taking on Rose is ultimately a very good sign for the future. So calm down, Reggie.