User Error, Gentrification and How I Got Jacked in Chicago



sign from the universe


photo by me via Flickr (click on pic to view more)


I've been in Chicago for one week now and, for the most part, it's been really positive. The day I arrived, George W. Bush left town. That's always a good sign. Maybe I should move back to D.C.? My studies at the Improv Olympic are going great. I figured out the El and have made a bunch of new friends.


Of course, I've got my share of small complaints. It's hot as heyall; the six-way intersections have got to go; and, while it's true that Boston has really bad drivers, Chicago has really deadly drivers. People here treat red lights like ideas they just don't happen to believe in.


The low point, though, was last Friday at 1:30am when I found my car broken into. As is my custom, I can't just tell you the details of the incident. I need to touch on urban development, gentrification, class transcendence and common sense. Prepare yourself.


I have been to a shit-ton of American cities over the course of my life, but especially over the past seven years. Boston (obviously), New York, San Francisco, Portland, LA, Tacoma, DC, Lansing, Austin, Chicago. Even the cities I haven't seen recently, I've experienced through college friends who landed there post-graduation. Almost all of these cities share a major storyline: urban (re)development. The slums are getting a makeover, becoming home to high-priced condominiums.


After the riots of the 60s and 70s, white people left cities. After the crack wave of the 80s, the few remaining bounced too. They fled to the suburbs which became the ex-urbs. Commuting time grew from 30 minutes to and hour to sometimes two hours in each direction. Meanwhile the innercities were largely underinvested and left to decay. I'm not sure what turned the tide -- maybe the excessive commute and distance from a city center became too much or land got more expensive outside the city -- but in the late 1990s, people started talking about the return to the city.


My own neighborhood in D.C. bears this out. My mom packed me and the dog up in the summer of 1991 after the beating, shooting and dealing became too stressful for a single mother with a teenaged black boy. For a few years later, things in the old hood didn't improve, but I've gone back in 2000, 2005 and just a few months ago, and there are now two nice white people from Iowa renting a renovated version of our old basement for the price of the mortgage payments my mom was making.


When money comes back to the city, however, it's not a simple binary transfer from hood to neighborhood. See the recent Americablog post about how the tension between old school and new school can lead to disastrous and deadly consequences.


gentrification of west bucktown - 4


The Chicago Version



I forgot all these things when I came to Chicago. I'm staying with a friend who lives in West Bucktown (2600 W, 1700 N for those who know the lingo), on the edge of Humboldt Park. His landlord was telling me that 10 years ago, the neighborhood was maybe 20 percent black, 70 percent Latino and 10 percent white. Now it's 10 percent black, 50 percent Latino and 40 percent white. Walking around, it doesn't feel dangerous at all, but it just feels a little hood-ish. Anytime your major retail options are no-name groceries that end in "-Mart", check cashing places, auto body shops and laundromats, you're in something more on the hood side of the neighborhood-hood spectrum.


gentrification of west bucktown - 9


There are plenty of boarded up homes and abandoned lots around too.


At the same time, people are selling condos for $200K and even $300K+, and you can't pass a block without seeing some sign promising a new condo unit "Coming Soon" right across the street from the check-cashing spot. The trend isn't limited to pseudo-hoods like west Bucktown either. I got to see some of the South Side, and it's starting to happen there too.


gentrification of west bucktown - 7





So what does this have to do with my car stereo getting jacked? Well, I let my guard down. I haven't lived in a hood in a really long time. I left DC in 1995 and left the place with the shootin in 1989. My friend Glenn said I got soft. I had a removable faceplace on my stereo, but did I remove it? Noooooo. I was no longer living in a world where I assumed people were assholes. I assume politicians are assholes, but not my neighbors.


Why didn't other cars get broken into? Because I was the new car, I had out of state plates, and I had a cheap but nice looking head unit.


at least they broke the cheap window


What Did They Steal?



Oh, and I had let the car sit in the same spot, un-accessed from Sunday through Thursday. So here's how it went down. They broke the rear passenger side fixed window (thanks for breaking the cheapest one guys!) and unlocked the door. Then a thorough search of the car revealed the following must-have list:


  • must break window to enter car ($40)

  • sony head unit ($130)

  • portable TomTom GPS 300 ($600). I know, if it's portable, why did I leave it in the car? to my credit, I hid it in a seat pocket, but I acknowledge the dumbness of that,

  • car chargers for iPod and cell phone ($45)

  • roll of quarters ($10). for laundry? tolls?

  • $10 bill ($10)

  • Tupac CD I hadn't ripped to iTunes yet ($10)

  • the cover for my spare tire with a Deval Patrick for Governor sticker on it ($10). They were trying to take the spare but gave up


All told, that's $865 worth of stuff I lost, but the only real things of value are the stereo and the GPS. The stereo I consider acceptable. The GPS I had disabled by the company that made it.


They left my EZ-Pass/Fast Lane toll booth billing thingy, laundry detergent and most importantly, THE CAR.


They also broke the cheapest window and did a clean job of removing the stereo.


bye bye stereo


Basically, I forgot where I was. I can't just be stupid happy guy with his cool, political, pink t-shirt and iPod blocking out the world and car not moving and valuable shit exposed to the world. It was an expensive reminder but also one that I needed.


So thank you burglars. Oh, and if you mess with my car again, I'll firebomb the whole goddamned neighborhood. :)