April 26, 2000


Chicago: Bad Neighborhoods

written by
Lynn Trenning

























For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.

aired on WFAE, April 26, 2000

You haven't been in a bad neighborhood until you've stared Chicago's Robert Taylor Homes in the eyes of their burned out, fire scorched windows. My sister and brother-in-law and I took a trip in a taxi from downtown Chicago to the Museum of Science and Industry on the south side. It cost 14 bucks, and as a Chicago homegirl, I was embarrassed at both the monetary excess, and our tourist like aversion to the public transportation system I've ridden since I was a baby. As the taxi dropped us at the imposing, white pillared landmark, I noted a City Bus and convinced my fellow travelers to follow me on a public transportation adventure back to our hotel after our visit. They humored me.

We left the museum with heads swamped with information including submarine effectiveness, aircraft carrier expertise, and knowledge of how a human body looks when cross-sectioned. I knew we were in Hyde Park, an eclectic and safe neighborhood, home of the University of Chicago. And I knew we had to take the bus to a train. Our awaiting bus driver was fairly hostile. A native Northsider, I was out of my area of expertise, but the driver said the bus went to the train, and I believed him.

We were the only passengers for the first several stops. We wended through curving Boulevards peopled by a United Nations of ethnicity, restaurants and cafes with food from Thailand and Korea, plus the everpresent deli sporting signs for Vienna hotdogs and Italian Beef sandwiches. The bus filled up. All but one of our fellow passengers were black. I felt really white. We pulled up to the train line and I walked to the front of the bus. "I'll tell you when we get there sweetheart," my driver said. Apparently there are two southside train lines, and this wasn't the right one.

And then we crossed the line. The line that separates the "I don't really know this territory but I am not threatened by my surroundings" from "If I get off the train here I could quite possibly be shot." The pleasant sidewalk cafes decreased, and then disappeared. And the storefronts were empty. The only places of commerce were check cashing facilities and a really run down Popeyes Chicken franchise. And then I saw my train line. It was the subway that ran down the middle of the Dan Ryan Expressway, known to natives as the Death Ryan. The Robert Taylor Homes loomed like vandalized dominoes on the horizon. Two passengers had eyes as wild as lassoed mustangs, and the bus reeked of drugs.

I've driven down the Death Ryan 50 times and witnessed those folks waiting for the train in the aisle separating north and south and wondered how it felt. And then I was on the platform. It was broad daylight. I wished I had a cigarette to create a pretense of tough city girl know how, and counter my expensive leather jacket. We paid our fare. We avoided eye contact. I thought, "I have no business being here." And then I thought, if I have no business being here, no one has any business being here. Who deserves to be at a location so rife with poverty, so forlorn with hopelessness, so overcome with litter, devastated former residences, and failed businesses that the word hope is a mockery of what humans can expect?

The ride was uneventful. I was embarrassed of my new leather coat that I had been so proud of moments before. My diamond ring, modest among my circle of friends, seemed a beacon of vulgarity. I belonged on that train as much as anyone else who rides it every day. I am human. We are human.

~ Lynn Trenning

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