The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘Lake Michigan’


Chicago has a number of outstanding parks which provide a welcome breath of openness to the vertical sprawl of the city.  I was fortunate that I lived across the street from one of those, Jackson Park.

The park ran through a good portion of the southeast side of the city and incorporated the last remaining building from the Columbian Exposition, now re-named the Museum of Science and Industry.  It was the usual place that I took my dogs for their daily walks.

Because the park extended to Lake Michigan it was a popular venue for people to come and enjoy their weekends.  Picnickers appreciated the cool breezes during the summer and the well-maintained lawns that the Chicago Park District kept up with great diligence.

It was always difficult for me as a resident during the summers trying to find a parking space because of the inflow of people who came to the park.  But I learned to deal with it.  After all, these were public parks and I understood that we needed to make accommodation for all who wanted to enjoy them.

Some of those who visited on the weekend found their own solution to the parking issue.  They simply pulled their vehicles onto the lawn of the parks and left them there while they picnicked.  The fact that the city had installed “handicapped sidewalks” made access very easy as there were no curbs to surmount.  Of course, the city also posted signs that said, “No vehicles are permitted on park grounds,” but those went ignored.

Having your car directly by your picnic area was helpful in two ways.  It made it easy to unload the food the visitors had brought with them.  And for those who didn’t own a boom box they could simply crank up their car radio for their listening pleasure.  Generally the boom boxes blaring their “Gangsta rap” drowned out the relatively puny car radios.  The weekends always provided the visitors an opportunity to engage in a battle of “dueling cacophonies.”

The city had placed a large number of trash cans throughout the park, none of them more than perhaps twenty feet away from anyone enjoying a summer’s al fresco dining experience.  They largely went unused.  When I would take my dogs for their Sunday morning walk before church I had to watch carefully because of the debris that was left behind, littering the entire park within a few feet of the empty garbage cans.

On these walks I always saw a  few people carrying large plastic bags and wearing gloves, despite the heat.  They would sift through the trash laying on the ground in search of the valuable aluminum beer and soda cans which were the treasure they sought.

In searching the picnickers’ refuse they tended to spread it out even further through the park.  I had to be extremely watchful that neither of the dogs picked up any of the bones that lay all around.

The trash pickers returned early Monday, before the city’s Department of Streets and Sanitation and employees of the Parks Department came through and cleaned up the mess that had been created over the previous two days.  By Monday evening the park was once again immaculate – ready for the next weekend’s assault.

After seeing the same scenario repeat itself summer’s weekend after summer’s weekend over many years my sense of anger about this callous behavior slowly faded away into acceptance that it was going to happen.  The picnickers never disappointed me.

I guess it’s old-fashioned but  I was taught to respect other people and their property – and the parks were the property of all of us who lived in Chicago.  We had laws prohibiting parking in the parks; the City had done its job in providing receptacles for trash; and there was a curfew in the parks which generally was ignored by at least several hours – sometimes until the early morning.

If each of us took personal responsibility for our actions and thought about their implications on others, we wouldn’t need most of the rules and regulations we carry on our law books.  I’ve said before that it’s impossible to legislate morality – or even acceptable behavior.  I learned good behavior from my family, not a book of statutes.

It was the luck of the draw – but I guess I was fortunate.  Apparently many others didn’t fare so well.  Perhaps they had a different game plan handed to them at birth and through their upbringing.  Maybe they think that their mission in life is to turn all the beautiful spots on earth into a garbage dump.

They seem to be well on their way to accomplishing their goal.



Projecting into Lake Michigan off 55th Street in Chicago was a man-made land-filled area that was called “The Point.” It was a place for people to walk and wander on a spring or summer day and was a popular picnic area.

It also provided those of us who had dogs the opportunity to let our gentle friends get in a little exercise, although this was a strict violation of I don’t know how many city ordinances. This was at a time before anyone had thought of the concept of parks in cities specifically designed for these furry companions.

There were two ways to get to The Point. The first was by a metal bridge on 57th Street which took the sojourner safely up and over the traffic that flew down South Shore Drive. That was actually the more convenient way for me to go.

But as my dogs got older, I was concerned that they were putting excess strain on their leg joints and they always seemed to want to go down the stairs in a hurry – as though to get the experience over with. I could see myself flying down these stairs either head over heels or, at the least, inelegantly seated on my rear.

So we began using the 55th Street tunnel entrance. This ran under South Shore Drive and while there was no fear of falling down twenty metal stairs it also had some drawbacks.

First, there was always water which had extruded from Lake Michigan on the floor of the tunnel.

Second, it was extremely poorly lit with just a few small incandescent bulbs on either side illuminating the way. This proved to be particularly dangerous at night when we discovered that it was a favorite venue for drug deals and one rape.

Third, the only bathroom facility that was near was on The Point itself – but it was much closer to the Lake Michigan side than it was to the street. As a result, people who had planned poorly on attending to their needs had obviously used its relative seclusion for that purpose as the odor that filled the tunnel attested.

We learned to hold our breath, walk quickly and try to avoid liquid of any description that was in our path. And when we returned home, I always had a bowl of warm water and clean towels at the back door to wipe my dogs’ paws.

One day, much to everyone’s surprise, the City had decided to do repair work to the tunnel. The reason for the surprise was that those of us who lived in Chicago’s 5th Ward had elected and continued to re-elect the only “Independent” of the City Council’s fifty members, Alderman Leon M. Despres.

The Alderman frequently got into heated debates with then Mayor Richard J. Daley. One time while Alderman Despres was speaking, Daley turned off the Alderman’s microphone and continued with the agenda for the meeting that Daley had planned.

Daley was famous for his verbal gaffes, e.g., “Da police is not heah to create disorda. Da police is heah to preserve disorda” – uttered during the bashing of protestors outside the 1968 Democratic Convention held in Chicago. I mention this to give you a sense of the man’s views. He could no more be classified as a radical liberal than President Obama could be construed as an ardent capitalist.

Although it was not “official policy” it was very obvious that the City, at the Mayor’s behest, left the 5th Ward at the bottom of the list when it came to making improvements. While I’m sure that Daley’s sense of empathy towards Hispanics revolved around their turning out at the polls and little more – even the poor Hispanic wards got more attention and more benefit from the city than we did.

Well, for whatever reason, the decision had been made and our tunnel to The Point was to be refurbished. The rehab took a little over two months but the city did a really great job.

They replaced the old lighting with fixtures and bulbs that threw far more illiumination; they scrubbed the sides of the tunnel removing all the graffiti that had been painted on them over decades; and they replaced the pavement in such a way that Lake Michigan had to find other places into which it could seep. Going to The Point was even more fun – especially since it had become much less of a health and safety hazard.

Several months after the tunnel was re-opened, I was walking Tristan and Josh on a beautiful Saturday morning. As we went into the tunnel there was a new piece of graffiti which had been added. The author must have had a large budget for spray paint as he or she had written this large piece using violet, yellow, green, blue, orange and red paint. It read:

I can’t help it! I just can’t help it! I know that Richard J.’s watching me. The mayor is watching every move I make. And it’s starting to make me feel paranoid!!!”

I remember guffawing as I read this, my voice echoing within the tunnel. I remember Tristan and Josh looking at me as though they were thinking, “our human’s gone loco.” The reason for my laughter was that the first thought that came to my mind was that Alderman Despres had an artistic side which he had expressed on the walls of the tunnel.

But then as I thought about it I dismissed the idea. The Alderman was too intelligent and too classy a person ever to deface public property. He was a man of sincere belief and conviction. He was a visionary and must have been extremely brave to survive all the 49-1 votes he endured during his career representing us.

Alderman Despres passed away in 2009 at the age of 101. He never wavered from his principles or his heart-felt beliefs. He was not a politician but was a statesman.

America could sure use people of his caliber now.


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