Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Short Burst Series- 3 for 1, chicago style



I've recently read a great book. Unbelievable, really.

It's called Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets, by Sudhir Venkatesh.

The book is non-fiction, documenting the author's life as a University of Chicago grad student and the "project" that he takes on, which in the beginning is basically "what is it like to be black and poor."

No, this is not going to be going on and on as an intellectual exercise in literature, as some of you may (hopefully not) fear. Don't worry.

This guy, the author, just a kid from the 'burbs, really, basically walks into an apartment building in the Robert Taylor Homes with a clipboard and a questionnaire. As you can imagine (or not), the building is run down, dirty, dangerous. Typical for the projects. A bunch of gang bangers are acting as " security detail" for the building. Needless to say, the author is detained, hassled.

The story begins, then. What happens is that Venkatesh actually develops a bond, a friendship, really, with the gang's leader. They start hanging with each other. Daily.

For years.

It's unbelievable, like I said. This was an actual, functioning, underground society, with it's own economy and hierarchy, both within and outside of the gang. It's not like anything you could imagine, unless you've had first hand experience (I certainly don't, although I may or may not have some degenerate friends that may or may not have crossed those lines, though I can't be sure, wink wink.)

And at one point, the author actually IS in charge of the gang for a day. Meaning that he was the one to make all of the important decisions for the leader to implement, which were all about the economics of the projects and the drug business, and how all of the people in the community are intertwined as a result; relationships, friendships, where your loyalties lie. It's not just about ass whooping and drive-by shooting, as one might expect. Far more interesting, to be sure.

So that's it. It's a good book, a quick read, and one of the most interesting stories you could come across.

********************

Parking meters.

Hate them.

A lot.

I've complained on these pages before about the mayor selling off the city, and I'm doing it again. I've read in today's Sun-Times about the "boycott" of meters that is seemingly going on. Carol Marin is the writer, and she tells of all of the empty spaces available in traditionally congested areas where parking is a challenge, usually.

Is the public actually taking a stand on something, for a change?

I've noticed myself, and it's no surprise, really. Last week I did this gig downtown around Dearborn and Huron. The Gold Coast (aptly named). It was a Thursday, usually a big going out night in Chicago. I had my pick of spots up and down the block.

I also needed, I believe, 7 quarters for the last 35 minutes of "pay time" (I parked at 8:25. You only have to pay up until 9:00. A stroke of luck!).

Pick me up by my ankles and just shake the change out. It's quicker and easier.

Maybe.

********************

I made an unprecedented appearance, yesterday, in Traffic Court.

Glorious.

That's the only word to describe it.

It started off in typical, post 9/11 fashion: Please line up against the wall (for the x-ray machine and metal detector). Take all of your belongings out of your pockets and put them in your coat or purse. Take off your belt. Take off your hat. Stand single file.

Is this traffic court or O'hare?

The officer in charge of keeping "order" was almost like a carnival hawker, barking out the rules over and over and over and over.

And over.

I stood in this line for an eternity (ok, maybe 15 minutes). Of course, there were plenty of people in line that still didn't get the memo (equal criticism is my motto), asking if they needed to put their coat through x-ray. People were actually oblivious as to what the purpose of this line that they were standing in was.

After the (in)security check, I go to my courtroom, check in, and take a seat. Another deputy is barking orders for conduct in the courtroom. Basically, sit down and shut up. Take off your hat. Turn off your phone. No talking. Ah, the feeling of civic pride becomes overwhelming.

Did I mention that this was BEFORE court was in session?

Once the festivities started, things moved seemingly very quickly and efficiently, with each case lasting just a minute or two. Most cases were dismissed because the officer that wrote the ticket(s) was not in court.

Aren't we in a budget crisis, Mayor "I'll sell your soul, too" Daley? Shouldn't these officers be in court for the coffers to get nice and fat?

My case was dismissed AND my officer was there. Funny, huh? At first, I was pretty irked because my cop was the only one that showed up.

The only one.

I went to court banking on the cop not showing. Everyone said, "Oh, you gotta plead not guilty. The cop probably won't show up. You'll get off just for the effort."

Great.

However, in the city that works, it seemed as though the cop had to go do his. Work, that is. You see, since I pleaded "not guilty", that means that they have to give me a trial, not just a bench decision. The trials occur after all of the bench decisions are done. So the trials are at the end of the day. I can only assume that the officer did not want to spend who knows how long in traffic court so that I could get my trial. After about 45 minutes sitting in there, the officer gets up, says something to the city's prosecutor, and then leaves. My name is immediately called again.

"The officer does not remember the incident, so the city has decided to drop the charges," says the judge, his beady little eyes peering at me over his glasses.

Success. He gives me my license, and I'm outta there. The city does not get my dough.

Not picking me up by my ankles.

This time, anyways.

They'll keep trying, though.

So it goes...

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