Friday, March 30, 2007


Last Monday I was scheduled to shadow the PAWS presenter at a meeting of D.A.W.G (Dog Advisory Work Group), which was to take place at Larrabee near Division. Since I'd have to leave straight from work, I did the CTA Trip Planner and wrote the instructions and address in my day planner.

Of course the Red Line had problems so I missed my Division St. bus. The Trip Planner said it took four minutes for the bus to reach my destination; adding the ten minutes it would take for the next bus, I figured I could probably walk it in fourteen minutes, and headed out.

Those of you familiar with Chicago know that I was headed for the (mostly) former site of the infamous Cabrini-Green Housing Projects . While most of the buildings have been torn down, some still remain, some empty, some not.

I walked down Division to Larrabee and turned south, as I thought I was supposed to. I walked past vacant land, then into a strip of shabby stores and a deserted project building. I had been through this part of town by bus before and remembered that it didn't look good, but it wasn't until now that I realized I was at Cabrini: I recognized a particular shot from the opening credits of Good Times, which had been set here.

I should add that it had been a very warm day, so all I had on was a tomato-red corduroy skirt and bright-orange cotton sweater. I stood out like...well, like a white woman with a job in Cabrini-Green. I had covertly slipped my grandmother's antique watch into my pocket.

Let me point out that this is not an overreaction; Cabrini is to dangerous housing projects what Exxon is to oil spills. And yet, I was intrigued. This was the neighborhood referred to by the Evans family of my childhood. This was JJ's Ghetto. I wanted to get to that street that had the straight shot to the Hancock Tower so that I could experience standing exactly where the cameraman for the show had stood, make a connection in some way because most of the buildings were going and, as bad as this place was, it's still the passing of an era.

But it was starting to get dark, people were starting to stare, I realized that the building numbers were going in the wrong direction, and I needed to turn around.

So I headed back and crossed Division. More desolation on the other side with one project building in an empty expanse. Because it was warm, there were people hanging out; in the front, around cars. And the building numbers had skipped over the one I was looking for.

I was getting confused and a little nervous, although not really scared; nobody was acting in any way threatening (if anything, they were clearly amused at my obviously being lost); still, it was a bad part of town, I was far from home, and having been mugged has made me realize how fast things can happen. Then I realized that the Chicago Police station on the corner was the location I was looking for. (DUH!) I went in, and yep, there it was.

The meeting was very informative; DAWG does a lot of work with courtroom advocacy and with educating prosecutors on the finer points of animal law. They are very cool. The big target is dog fighting, which is big and on the rise, with younger people getting in on it, and more women as girl gangs increase. I met a lovely older couple who were originally from Mass: she from Woburn and he from Framingham; they had moved to Chicago in the '60s. Because they are retired they do a lot of courtroom advocacy work, which is showing up as a representative of the community to reflect concern about a case. It's a big thing here; you wear a badge and simply are present, acting as a face of the community that the judge and other court staff are accountable to. Since hearings and trials take place during the day, you see a lot of retirees taking this on.

All of the pizza was vegetarian. My people.

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