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.