Saturday, December 29, 2007

from Chicago: city life

In the late evening, I take a walk up and down Clark Street. I tell myself exercise will be good for me after the stormy ride into town.

But it’s Chicago the way I remember it from my student days: biting cold. Sometimes I think big cities feel cold even when it’s hardly freezing outside. Chicago, New York, Warsaw – I lived in these before I came up to Wisconsin. And they all felt dismally cold from November onwards.

Inside a Starbucks, a guy sits and draws cartoons. You do cartoons? – a friendly type asks him. He ignores her. She shrugs and leaves.

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I pass a place called the Cheetah Gym. I go inside to poke around. Week passes? Sure, we have week passes. Wonderful. I’m yours. Hand me a towel and tomorrow I’ll start pushing weights.

Late at night, I eat a wonderful meal at Brioso to celebrate my gym days ahead. The city is kind, the city is bright…

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…and most importantly, there’s a parking spot right in front of the place on Foster Avenue, where I’m staying.

Saturday morning. My family is pushing for an early wake up. So that we can get breakfast at Pauline’s. You’ll like it, you’ll see.

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I do like it. It’s a diner, a little kitschy, but very true to the neighborhood corner, where there’s been a place dispensing food for many many decades. And, the old guy who owns it now is determined to pick up dated stuff (how retro!) to fill the interior. More importantly, he is bent on serving fresh foods: Michigan eggs, no more than five days old! Potatoes, peeled and panfried fresh each morning. And so on.

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My kind of place indeed. The waitress is happy to chat, I’m happy to listen.

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And the blueberry pancakes on green plastic plates are outstanding.

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We walk back to Foster and I look. And I look again. No car. Stolen? Really? Towed? But why? I checked the signs: no parking M – F, daytime, or when there are two or more inches of snow. Last night, there may have been a quarter of an inch here, probably less.

I call the city.
The old Toyota? It’s here, impounded.
Where’s “here”?
North Sacramento.
Where is that?
By Chicago Avenue. Look at a map.
How much to get it back?

Bring $160 and a license.
In cash?

I said $160. I don’t care how you carry it.

Oh. One of those. Hates her job. Who can blame her.

I get myself to North Sacramento and the City Pound. No fancy building here: I make my way to two trailers, filled with angry people on both sides of a dirty counter.

I want to appeal, but the appeal information person is out to lunch. At 11. Wont be back for a while. Besides, all he’ll do is give me a date two weeks from now when I can get my fat ass over to the courthouse (she didn’t say it, but she wanted to).

We go around this several times, getting nowhere. It’s not her fault. It’s none of these people’s fault. The sign saying “no parking at night on Foster in the winter at all,” or words to that effect was far from the signs that gave me permission to leave my car there. These people didn’t put up the signs. They merely impound cars.

I sigh, pick up the appeal info, pay up and go to claim the car. I can’t resist a photo: there is the Sears tower, in the distance, far from this desolate lot with a hundred cars plucked out of the streets of Chicago.

No photos! – a burly guy shouts at me.
Says who? I shout back. I lived in Poland with hostile service people all my growing years, I stopped being pushed around by them when I was thirteen.
No photos! Put that camera away!
It’s a public place! I can take a photo. Leave me alone.
You want your car, right?

Oh, he’s one of the many many men here who actually are in control of the old little Toyota. I put away my camera.

Get in the white van. They’ll take you to it.

Three burly men ride along with me. The city of Chicago keeps burly men employed. I suppose that’s a good thing. Better here in the dirty white van than on the streets of the city.

I told her, no photos. Make sure she gets it.

Hey, it’s my car, I can take photos.
They laugh. Sure you can!

I get in my blue car, slam the door. There’s not much to photograph here anyway, in the far corner of the lot. Just the jail number on the window. The car, in shame, dumped in this desolate place with high fences and a remote gate.

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I drive it out. The guard is all warm and fuzzy now. You watch the parking signs now, hear? He grins. I glare. And I note the ticket pasted on the windshield. Another $100 owed for a winter parking violation. Two appeals before me, both most likely futile. City life is like that.

It’s time for me to put my energy into something other than getting angry at poorly positioned Chicago parking signs. I walk along Clark Street enjoying the spirit of the place.

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And I make my way to the Cheetah Gym where I spend a good hour and a half exercising next to very fit guys in spiffy gear (having myself borrowed too-large tennies and boxer shorts for the occasion – who knew I would join a gym for the week).

City life. I like it so much except when things go wrong. Not the deep country, nor urban places are gentle on the person in trouble. You want hassle-free? Move to Madison. A commercial for my town: parking bullies getting to you? Come home to Madison, where we tow your car around the corner and parking tickets are cheap.