Katie’s interview was conducted at Dage’s apartment; Erin and Dage were interviewed during the same session. Katie and Erin grew up as close friends and chose to room together in Uptown after college. They lived in their apartment, the bottom unit of a two-flat at Kenmore and Lawrence, for a little over a year. Dage lived in the top unit. None lived in Uptown at the time of the interview.
Katie hesitates when asked where she feels most comfortable in Uptown but eventually decides on the intersection of Lawrence and Broadway, a corner that she admits “sounds kind of touristy because that’s where all the restaurants and bars are that people want to go to.” The Aragon, a ballroom turned concert venue, is down the street; the Riviera -another concert venue - the Green Mill -an historic jazz bar -and the Uptown Theater -a shuttered movie palace -are also nearby. Despite this area’s popularity with tourists, Katie feels comfortable here because the intersection is large and well-lit and is surrounded by buildings that are, in her estimation, “the prettiest.” This touristy area is a natural gathering place, even for Uptown residents, and Katie is drawn to it’s constant activity.
Choosing the place where she is least comfortable is similarly hard, mainly because there are so many options. Wilson, especially the blocks between the McDonald’s at Sheridan and the “El” stop at Broadway, eventually wins. Whenever Katie walks here, she is followed closely, talked at, and asked for money. If she drives her car instead, these same people bang on her windows. The McDonald’s parking lot is a magnet for fights. The sidewalks here are no less populated than at Lawrence and Broadway, but they are full only of “people that don’t want anything good.”
These disturbances, however, were not enough motive for Katie to move out of the neighborhood immediately. She and Erin chose to live in Uptown because they were able to live in a huge apartment with high ceilings in an old but beautiful building on an equally beautiful street. As an extra bonus, the landlord lived off premise so they were able to enjoy themselves freely.
Her parents were worried but not surprised when she told them she was moving to Uptown with Erin. Katie grew up on the south side of Chicago and, although she was raised to consider the northern neighborhoods in general to be part of the the fancier part of Chicago, her parents had always been wary of Uptown. In high school, she was cautioned against going to shows at the Aragon. Her Uptown apartment was around the corner from this music venue, part of the reason for her parents’ concern. They never had reason to worry, however, since Katie kept them sheltered from the less savory details of her daily life in the neighborhood. Still, they were relieved when she eventually moved someplace more secure.
Katie’s Uptown apartment was a bargain for the rent charged but the expense was eventually more than Katie and Erin wanted to pay for housing. Cheaper living was the first reason they decided to move. A secondary but equally important factor was the grating affect of Uptown’s laissez-faire attitude that makes public disturbance the norm. She became sick of people yelling on the street and wanted to live somewhere she could sleep without worrying.
There was also the frequent disturbance of shows at the Aragon, most of which are attended by people who travel from places outside Uptown. Crowds of white people for popular concerts and crowds of Mexicans for parties sponsored by a local radio station congregate on weekend nights. The crowd and the atmosphere that she had experienced on concert nights was, she discovered, a stark contrast to Uptown’s normal. Typical Uptown is less homogeneous Southeast Asians and Vietnamese and Africans (especially from eastern countries like Ethiopia) make for. what she calls a “totally different mix of people than anywhere else in Chicago.”
Her love of this diverse community and of Uptown’s beautiful buildings trumps Katie’s general annoyance with the noise and the panhandling and the constant confrontation. She would unequivocally move back to Uptown. Her one condition would be reduced rent to compensate for the prevalence of drugs and violence. She maintains a strong affinity for the neighborhood and the only difficult part of returning would be reestablishing that she is not someone to be messed with. There is no point in harassing her because she understands what goes on in Uptown, and she isn’t going to give anyone anything.
More than the harassment, though, Uptown to Katie means means the opportunity to meet amazing characters who she could have become acquainted with only in Uptown. Katie and her friends frequently sat on their porch and invited random people wandering down the sidewalk to come through their gate to hang out. One day, a man from their block simply hopped over the fence with the giant rubber band ball he carried around with him, and started chatting.
This except is from an essay based on Katie’s interview transcript. I will gradually add more to this essay, as well as excepts from other pieces as Ilana and I continue to gather the magnificent stories of Uptown.
Transforming Transcripts to Essays
As part of the process for uncovering the ineffable in Uptown, Ilana and I have been interviewing current and former residents of the neighborhood. We have approximately thirty interviews at the moment, and plan on adding more as our project progresses.
I have been going through all of the transcripts and editing them into a more narrative form. The result is a third person essay filtered through a first person narration that I hope gives a glimpse into Uptown life. As I go through each transcript, certain themes are emerging, and I hope that, taken as a whole, my essays will capture these patterns.