Monthly Archives: February 2012

Urban Rider – a poem


My aging legs and I approach the Red Line “L”.

How steep are the steps tonight?

How close is the train?

Hurrying, not fleeing, I case the street characters.

Quick through the turn-style,

I pull myself up the steps.


The Red Line poses its promised questions.

Too full?

Too empty?

Cubs game tonight?

Scary dudes?

Weirdoes . . .?


On the platform, the train, three stops away,

And a quarter-inch high,

Translates to 4 minutes distant

I check my fellow travelers –

Join them under the heat lamps?

From the look of them, No.


Like Wild Bill Hickock would

Sit back against the wall

In the saloon.

So he could see everybody’s eyes

Until one night he forgot.

I think of Bill tonight.

I enter the train car

Like Wild Bill did the saloon ,

I study the faces, the layout, the attitude.

But I soon forget about Bill

And scout a quiet corner to read

My back to them, offering easy pickins’.


Am I imagining the disembodied voices getting louder behind me?

I admonish myself

 “Don’t jump at every sound.”

I can almost feel them gathering now,

Surrounding me, mocking, admiring my stuff, leering,

“Hey how much did you pay for that?”


Then the shouting voice pierces and startles.

I struggle to read.


Look up.


Look up.


That voice,

So close

I don’t look.

Got to be cool, Urban Rider.

Show no anxiety.

Ears open.


At Addison, the car is filling.

The volume of that shouting voice

 Drowns out everyone in the car, and I look.

 It thunders from the 70-something black man,

“You aint sat down since you got on!”

 “Who? Me?” the tall young tourist turns.


“You are a patient man! Standing there the whole ride.”

“How tall are you?” “Six-five,” is the edgy answer.

“How old a young man are you.” “Nineteen,” eyes darting.

My stop is next and I don’t want  

To think of what came

Of that little drama.


The subway escalator climbs to the street ,

To brighter lights, wider avenues and broader minds.

In the movie of my mind that I carry forth,

They, the old man and boy, embrace,

The young man bent almost double

To reach the old man’s arms.


Setting the example for the urban riders,

Surprising even themselves to learn

They have taken a step to a higher place.

I return in reflection to the L – and look back,

Fooled and surprised, knowing

Most anything can happen.


 By Larry Ambrose


Chicago Quotable

“I give you  Chicago. It is not London and  Harvard. It is  not  Paris and buttermilk. It is American in every chitling and sparerib. It is alive from snout to tail.”

H. L. Mencken

Headscratcher – Receipt, please



Overheard: Encounter

Where: The next window at the Chicago TransitAuthority Customer Service office, 567 W. Lake Street

Who:    A passenger and a Customer Service clerk

P:      The Transit Card I bought the other day has no rides on it. I’d like a replacement.

C:      Do you have a receipt?

P:      They didn’t give me one.

C:      I can’t help you if you don’t have a receipt.

P:      But they never even offered me one.

C:      I can’t help that. No receipt, no replacement.

P:      OK, OK. I need to get around. I’ll buy a new card. Here’s $20.

C:      Thank you.

P:       I’d like a receipt please.

C:      We don’t give receipts.

P:      What!?! OK, I want my money back.

C:      I can’t do that. It’s already been rung up.

Around the Town – The Beach That Was

It was an amazingly warm day in an already-balmy January, so I decided to take a walk to Trader Joe’s for some bananas. As I’ve learned to do,  living in a 12th floor condo I stuck my hand out the window to feel for myself. It didn’t feel as warm as I’d remembered 50 degrees was, so I put on a sweater under my mid-heavy parka and hit the bricks.

The sun was high and warm and I opened the parka and sweater, daydreaming of spring and summer beaches. The blue sky, the cool Lake Michigan breezes and me in my beach chair, just getting into a good book. My walk took me past Fairbanks and Erie where two eighty-something year-old buildings were being demolished.

G. W. "Cap" Streeter

The cranes and bulldozers had reached the basement level and were removing all traces of the last eight decades. I don’t know what I expected to see but I peeked through a crack in the fence surrounding the site. They were moving tons of  – sand? Somehow very fine beach sand had gotten beneath two old buildings located at least a half-mile from the lake. “Sand?” I thought to myself. Then I remembered, “This is Streeterville. ”

I knew the neighborhood was named for George Wellington (Cap) Streeter and that he was an enterprising old rascal who piloted his boat up and down the lake front in the 1880’s, peddling everything from lumber to liquor, but I didn’t know that much about him.  A trip to the Encyclopedia of Chicago revealed that one moonless night Cap’s boat got hung up on a sandbar near the shore of what was then called the “Sands”, an accumulation of sand and sandbars north of a  pier built in 1834 at the mouth of the Chicago River. Chicago being what it was at the time, a population of squatters soon gathered and a vice district grew up on the Sands. The vice dens were eventually wiped out, but thanks to Cap Streeter, they got a new start when an ever-larger sandbar grew around his stranded craft and swelled to 180 acres. Cap was soon doing a land office business in most everything, legal and illegal. Mrs. Streeter even set up housekeeping on her own houseboat in the Sands.

With this development vice had moved offshore and would prove to be quite a lot more difficult to root out. In those days Chicago was often equated with the Wild West, so it was fitting for Cap to decide that, because his boat had established the “island” it was on, it was therefore outside the jurisdiction of Illinois. He vowed to fight all  efforts to evict him and his “Deestric of Lake Michigan”. Threats flew back and forth until the whole affair escalated into gun battles before the authorities finally charged Cap’s fortress and ripped it down. His days as Emperor of Streeterville finally ended as he was carted off to prison.

If the city was never fond of Cap Streeter, the news hounds certainly were. Throughout the years of his reign he was the darling of the news business. And his statue, erected a couple of years ago at the corner of Grand and McClurg is our constant reminder that any given walk  around our town can end up in an intriguing history lesson – and a nostalgic trip back to the wild west.

Below: map of the current Streeterville neighborhood

English: Streeterville map

Image via Wikipedia

The New February Puzzler

One of the great events in Chicago history was the 1893 Columbian Exposition. Known as the White City, the World’s Fair was known for its many attractions, sites and personalities.

Your Puzzler for the month of February is:

Who or what at the Fair was the most popular attraction?

Enter your answer as a comment below. I’ll publish the solution next month.

The White City

Good Luck!