Hyde Park Cowboy Attempts To Own the Street
5300 Block South Kimbark
People who fantasize about Chicago as a Presidential City worthy of the global spotlight might interpret the tons of furniture moved to curbs after every snowfall as a sign of collective generosity, gifts made by regular people for the benefit of the less fortunate, the furniture-deprived, or to anyone with a pickup who can collect all the free junk placed on the asphalt altar as a sacrifice to the snow god.
If you need cheap lawn furniture for next summer, or maybe a few sawhorses for your basement shop, or maybe some milk crates for your kid's college dorm, or a usable ironing board, or a step ladder for the attic, or you just want to make a donation to the Salvation Army or to the guys that drive the scrap metal trucks down the alleys of Chicago, you can always find what you need by cruising many of Chicago's neighborhoods.
Take My Furniture! It's Free!
After hanging out in Chicago for awhile, however, visitors might be disappointed to learn that all that furniture on the street is not meant for the needy.
Instead, using junk to claim a shoveled parking spot fits right into an ethically dubious tradition of getting what you can for yourself from the public domain, with a Sopranos-style edge.
Not that different from passing a kitty around the office at Christmas to make sure the boss can buy something nice for his wife, bribing the Alderman, or making sure your unqualified kid gets a padded job with the City.
The Parking Ticket Geek says it better than I can:
Street parking is first come, first serve. No matter the season, no matter the conditions, no matter if you happen to have your junk out on the street. No exceptions.
It's like standing in line, or waiting your turn. It's something you should have learned in kindergarten. It's a societal tradition that is so deep, so ingrained, it trumps this so-called Chicago tradition of using trash to save your parking spot.
I'm happy to say that Hyde Park, the Presidential Neighborhood in the Presidential City, is mostly free of this cranky vigilante behavior. In contrast, apparently, to Richard Mell's 33rd Ward, the neighborhood that gave us conjugal *&@#&% pottymouths Rod and Patti Blagojevich.
[See transcript of Federal wiretap for deleted obscenity].
Even so, I've found a few cases of people trying to import the primitive "dibs" custom to Hyde Park. Just two instances so far, but they are so conspicuous in their meat-headedness that they are worth highlighting.
Take the note found on this lawn chair left at the curb near the southeast corner of Kimbark and 54th, in front of a student rental building:
Dubious Claims and Vague Threats on Kimbark
Because the anonymous owner of the above lawn chair is in violation of City Code 10-08-480 (hat tip again to Parking Ticket Geek at the Expired Meter), he or she will have to do better than make woolly and unattributed references to John Locke's Two Treatises on Government and the philosopher's idea of Usufruct to dissuade me from appropriating his or her lawn chair for donation to the back alley scrap recyclers.
Locke's theory worked nicely to dispossess Native Americans of any rights to North American land, but unfortunately it does not supercede Chicago City Code.
Anyone want to get that chair before I do?
Finally, here's a case of someone with the trappings of a conscience, as befits the landed gentry of Hyde Park: the ladder leaning against the inside of this homeowner's fence is occasionally left standing on the street, but then stored out of reach when the parking situation eases up.
Much more discreet. After all, this stately home is exactly 3.0 blocks from President Obama's Kenwood mansion. One wouldn't want to be too much of a meathead in a place where the world might be watching, would one?
[This post also appears at Hyde Park Progress]