National Geographic : 1991 May
CHICA GO IIlcome to the Neighborhood By RICHARD CONNIFF Photographs by BRUCE DAVIDSON MAGNUM ONE MORNING at a place called the Busy Bee, I was having coffee with a Chicago social reformer, an athletic-looking man with curly hair winging out from under the sides of his baseball cap and a persistent glow of youth about the eyes. He was telling me about a cur- rent campaign to revoke the city's electric utility, and I ventured that it was never going to happen. His eyes flashed momen tarily. Then he leaned closer, rising up slightly out of his seat. "Do you know why people come to Chicago?" he asked, as if I had just beamed in from Mars. "It's not the weather. It's not the mountains. It's hustle. Don't tell me I can't ever do something." It was enough to make a franchise of the "No inAm hasast notion c afierce ofits iden utility executive fret for his paycheck. It was also pure Chicago: Enthusiastically combat ive, a little rough at the edges, with maybe an added hint of image consciousness now that many children of the two-fisted blue-collar work force have clambered up into more genteel occupations. It was above all full of Chicago's deep conviction, shared even by social reformers, that here in the breeding ground of such noisy ideas as the skyscraper, the blues, and the atom bomb, anything is still possible. No city in America has a stronger notion of itself, a fiercer sense of its own identity, or a better literature to keep it // alive. As an Easterner (not tJ quite a Martian, but close), I Pter a knew Chicago as the city of Studs Terkel and Studs Lon ronger igan, of Saul Bellow and 0 Nelson Algren, of Upton f tselJf Sinclair's Jungle. I knew it enough from previous visits ' sense to wonder if the tough image was not a bit dated now, a OWn vestige of the city's past ,t manufacturing strength and ity .*. more particularly its reputa tion as a workingman's city. "Brawling" was the word Carl Sandburg applied to Chicago in his famous poem about the city. Outside of its fractious political life and the occasional conversation at the Busy Bee, I wondered how well it applied to Chi cago today, almost 80 years later. Chicago is, of course, no longer the "Hog The streets belong to the people on summer weekends when block parties break out across Chicago. On Lowe Avenue in Bridgeport, neighbors get even closer during the dancing hour.