Yesterday morning, my 9-year old son came into my bedroom at 4:15am complaining he heard thunder - a reference to the possibility of rain that might cancel our obsessively-scheduled bus rides through the city we take every Saturday. Groggily, I sent him back to his own bed. But then I heard the "thunder" - it was gunfire, 3 or 4 blocks away.
Keep in mind, I live on Chicago's northwest side - the bungalow belt, the area reserved long ago for civil servants who wanted a more suburban-like existence within Chicago's urban confines.
Yet, one-hundred yards from my door is the charred pavement from a car that was lit afire in the middle of the night two weeks ago. Two years ago, a car was directly in front of my house in this state - I guess you can call that improvement.
My favorite spectacle was in July of this year, when a 5-man, bullet-proof vested police team arrived across the street at 7:30am - in time for my mother-in-law and her new boyfriend (of 89 years, I must add) to look from my breakfast table at the arrest of my youngest and obviously, dumbest, neighbor as he was hauled away for the murder of another young man using his car as a weapon.
My least favorite sighting was the bubbled-over remains last summer of another young man, stashed in a car sitting innocently enough, a block away.
There is something wrong with this picture, especially if any 9-year old is anywhere near it.
I read in the NY Times today a story about El Salvador's gang problem. They have 60,000 gang members "in a country of just over 6 million inhabitants". Ironically, Chicago's gang affiliations run around 100,000 out of a population of just under 3 million.
In saying that, our gang affiliations are little more than a cover for rampant drug sales, the cost of which is seen in our citywide murder rates and hushed-up in our surrounding counties' drug overdose deaths. The source of our drugs is close to El Salvador, but the cartel leaders' yachts aren't exactly riding along Lake Michigan, even if their profits are made off the backs of our most deprived and depraved citizens.
I've spent the past few years constructing a documentary on a cover-up in the case of John Wayne Gacy. He and his victims are long dead - I get that - but many of the players in his case are still Chicago's power-brokers and corruption is continually bequeathed to the next generation of politicians. Chicagoans need to wake up to the actual costs of these transactions, as they're stacking up.
You'll be happy to know, my son and I took our bus ride - there was no rain.
Along Michigan Avenue, the potted plants were a divine spectacle as long as you didn't see the homeless hawking lungers next to their improvised beds. The sidewalks were clean enough for tourists and SEI-union strikers alike, and the views through Millennium and Grant Parks were stunning, once a flash mob was broken up by police.
Heading south along King Drive and west on Garfield Boulevard to Midway Airport, every other apartment building - some beautiful, 19th century brownstone shells - is boarded up, many as a result of predatory lending practices from our city's formerly, foremost bank institutions. The gentlemen in the seat behind us talk about the friends (plural) they've had to bury in the past few months because of gun violence and for those in the know, we're able to witness an open-air drug market on the periphery of a park.
By the time we got home to sit in our backyard - my son jumping on a trampoline while I trimmed back the morning glories - our little corner didn't seem so trepidacious. But in the back of my mind, I know better.