Friday, September 14, 2007

Roscoe Street

Is this a story about the CTA? Not really. It's not even a story, just some random memories about a place I lived, long ago. The apartment was on Roscoe near Greenview, and the Brown Line elevated train, then called the Ravenswood, was in my back yard. The year was 1986 or 1987. I don't remember exactly.

I was nearly broke, and moved in with my friend Brek in order to save money. He slept in the bedroom, and I was on the couch. We had two fans. Air conditioning was for other people. I remember an entire summer of sweating profusely on threadbare sheets, and waking every time the once-an-hour night train roared past our building. Even so, I slumbered through an audacious tag of our building: LATIN KINGS RULE, with a crown, all in two-foot tall spray-painted gothic lettering right under my open window.

The noise from the Ravenswood train constantly interrupted conversation. I had a friend who lived near the Paulina stop, and when we talked on the phone, he would say "wait a minute" while the train went past his place. A few minutes later, I would say "wait a minute," while it went past me. My roommate and I sat on the back porch with a six-pack of beer and waved at people riding the "El." Many of the older, un-air-conditioned trains with open windows were still in commission. Sometimes a passenger would shout at us. One time, somebody playfully tossed a tennis ball down at us.

The neighborhood, Roscoe Village, was mostly white and working class. An entire building just to the east seemed to house only hillbillies. Two men in the building sat at their third floor window and harassed me every time I walked by. They were always there, day or night. The bodega across the street had very recently been a tavern. Brek's former roommate yelled at a man who was making noise outside the bar after closing. The man finished off his bottle of Everclear, and threw it through the open window, where it shattered against the far wall. I was glad the tavern had lost its license before I moved there.

Mostly, it was a homey, friendly neighborhood. A pizzeria on Southport sold fresh cannoli. In warm weather, people sat on their porches and greeted us. One of our neighbors, a curmudgeonly old guy who always smoked a cigar as he walked his toy poodle Sally, stopped by to grouse about teenagers or our mail service.

Brek, a urban sophisticate compared to me, introduced me to, in no particular order: sushi, Kraftwerk, moshing, Jagermeister, William Burroughs, wearing black everything, Reynan's Bakery (now long gone), and city biking. I owe him a great debt, especially for the sushi intro. Alas, he got engaged and decided to move in with his fiance. I couldn't afford our squalid little slice of heaven on my own, so I left Roscoe Village for a shared apartment in Lakeview. Perhaps it was a special place and time, or maybe being young always makes it so. I don't think I've ever missed a neighborhood as much.

Photo: Joseph Palmer

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