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Box of Whine

(Photo: Sorry, did I wake you? Everyone knows better than a local resident on downtown Chicago noise.)

It’s a train that enters the station with Swiss Rail precision.  Whenever a downtown Chicago resident complains about neighborhood noise, some local wag tells us to grin and bear it.  Among the comments on yesterday’s post about the The Joys of High-Rise Living, we have this gem from “Jim”:

Seriously, where did you come from? You live smack-dab in the middle of one of the biggest metropolitan cities in the WORLD. Yes, you are going to hear noises. Yes, you live in a high rise. So quit complaining about it or move into something that doesn’t have more than three floors.  Your whiney post is just about as bad as people that move near an airport then complain about the noise.

As Kathy Griffin might say, comments like this are like a gift from the baby Jesus to me.  Jim, in answer to your question, I come from New York City, where complaint and disagreement are civic art forms.

In that vein I thank you for your comment which under other circumstances I might take to be a love letter. Fan mail, even.  Five years ago, when I was still full of the piss-and-vinegar of my New York upbringing, it’s entirely possible I would have had a different reply to a reponse such as yours.

Talking to my friend, Back of the Yards baby Rich, last night, we pondered the differing abilities of Gothamites and Windy Citizens to wage and weather campaigns of verbal rebuke against each other.  Were money to be lain on the winner, I’d bet mine on the New Yorker.

Six months into my Chicago tenure, fleeing my ‘L’-adjacent Wrigleyville apartment for quieter Logan Square digs (there’s a trend in that), a Depaul trixie too impatient to drive around the block sat on her horn for five minutes trying to get the movers to shift the moving van out of the alley.  The surprised look on her face as I stood in front of her for my own five minutes telling her in intricate detail how, why, and how big an asshole she was for pulling crap like that (“Asshole.  You.  This big.  Not this big.  THIS big.  BIG mega trixie asshole.”) was astonishing.

In New York, a city where we cut our baby teeth on snark like that, she might have thought I was coming on to her.

Then again, maybe not. I’m reminded of a 1980s short-cut taken through Bloomingdale’s with my best GLYNY pal, Peter.  Shortly before mother’s day, the perfume nazis were out in force at each entrance, mercilessly spritzing scents on those poor souls without the good sense to steer clear.  That included me, as somehow I managed to walk straight into one woman’s pitch.

“Try some, sir!  It’s a great gift for mother’s day.  And after all, everyone has a mother!”

Peter visibly stiffened.  He knew what was coming.

I looked her straight in the eye. “My mother’s DEAD!!!”

It wasn’t true at the time.  But it was enough to send her jaw, face, and spritzer bottle falling to the floor and rolling, embarrassed, under the nearest sales counter.  I think Peter bought me dinner that night.

I hope all of that helps give you some perspective of where I’m coming from, Jim. Now I have a few questions for you, which I hope you’ll be equally kind enough to answer.

Where exactly do you live? Also downtown, or as I more suspect in a far-flung, far-northern, arctic-circle neighborhood where contact with civilized company requires forethought and a full tank of gas in your snowmobile?

Does anything annoy you when you’re settled in on the homestead?  Noises?  Neighbors?  Polar bears scratching at the back door? Hitting the dry bottom of your Wal-Mart-branded box of wine?

Do you think you have a right to complain about any of those things–things that impact your ability to enjoy a good quality of life in your own home?  Do you think you have a right to that quality of life in the first place?

If your answer is yes, why do you think residents of any other neighborhood, downtown or not, don’t deserve the same rights to sleep through the night, avoid dismemberment by wildlife, and have enough storage space for a few boxes of wine that you think you do?

Your comment precedes you, you know.  Back in 2005, as downtown noise was hotly debated in local print and online media, lots of folks from far-flung neighborhoods felt quite at ease telling downtown residents whether and how we should exercise any right to enjoy our lives in our own homes.

It’s a knee-jerk reaction that runs surprisingly deep in this town.  A December 2005 Sun-Times editorial went so far as to suggest downtown residents stop complaining and wear earplugs to sleep through the night in their neighborhood of choice.

I respectfully differed in a letter featured in the paper the same month. I asked Sun-Times editors why they thought residents of downtown Chicago didn’t have the same rights as residents of less touristy neighborhoods like Avondale or Bridgeport.  I’m sure Mayor Daley wouldn’t enjoy a drunken fistfight beneath his bedroom window every night.  Would you, Jim?

Maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree.  For all I know, you’d be out there, too, staggering and trading blows for all you’re worth.  Not that I’m saying you drink too much.

But God knows I’d have to in order to live anywhere outside of downtown Chicago.

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Michael Thaddeus Doyle

I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.

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10 replies

  1. Actually Chicago does have a history of people living downtown. It was just in the 19th Century, so even I don’t remember it.

    And I like boxed wine, only from Target, not Wal-Mart.

  2. I’m reminded of when people ask me, “But you live in Chicago, how could you not like snow?” By the way, I love LOOKing at snow. I’m not so big on TRAVELing in snow. But the point is, just because I’m accustomed to an inconvenience doesn’t mean I like it.

    Everyone in any city complains about traffic. Do they stop traveling then or using city streets? People complain about the weather. Should they find a perfect bio-dome?

  3. Charles, those crowds should never extend across the West Tower entrance. House of Blues security staff are supposed ensure that the line breaks across the entrance so that residents don’t have to wade through the concert line to access their homes.

    Every time you see this, you should contact HOB general manager Michael Lucero at 312-923-2005. Mind you, you’ll get the voicemail of his executive assistant who won’t even repeat his name in the voicemail greeting. Wonder what Lucero is hiding for?

  4. It seems to me that many visitors to downtown don’t realize that people actually live here – that a LOT of people live here. They demonstrate this every time I’m walking home from the grocery store with reusable bag(s) in hand, trying to make it down our often narrow sidewalks, and coming toward me is a crowd of people (often drunk but always clueless) taking up the entire walk and refusing to yield. It’s like they’ve never seen anyone walk home from the grocery store before, as if we all drive to a Dominick’s with a large parking lot.

    And you don’t really want to get me started on the House of Blues lines that stretch along Dearborn, over the bridge, halfway down the block toward State. Try getting past that crowd into one of the entrances to the West Tower – they act like you’re trying to cut in line.

  5. I have long thought that is the explanation, actually. There were always pockets of residents, at Marina City, in long-gone tenements in River North and the West Loop and South Loop, etc. But unlike older, eastern cities, Chicago never had a residential downtown to start with.

    Of course, people have been living down here for decades now, and the residential boom that began in the late 1990s is still ongoing.

    What is more amazing to me is how some locals live in a little box about all that, and refuse to accept downtown for the residential neighborhood that it is. Not is becoming. Fait accompli. Is.

    Of course, many of them, like, I suspect, Jim, just come down here to party in River North and throw up on the CTA on their way back to whatever nabe they hail from. Personally, I’d rather they crank up an iPod, barf in their own bathroom, and save all of us down here the headache.

  6. Ooooh, meow! Shush, listening for the sound of your New York claws to retract. It is a strange phenomenon–that lack of sympathy for downtown dwellers especially from us suburbanites. Perhaps it’s that just recently downtown Chicago has become inhabited by so many residents. I remember when not long ago the only residents were huddled on lower Wacker Drive in cardboard boxes. I guess that’s not really an explanation either. Do you have a theory?

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