Those Walking Friends I Loved To Meet

Many an interesting occurrence can be witnessed walking these Chicago streets. Some are quite funny- but most of them, well, they really are not. And, when you walk as much as I do, you see a lot more of these happenings than most. I have walked home from work every warm clear evening for the last four years, an hour and a half stroll from the North Loop to Logan Square. I walk through assisted living quarters, through fancy town homes, through shopping districts, through rest areas for junkies and burnouts. Through some of the hippest spots in town, too, like those North and Damen coffee shops that everybody likes to gorge themselves in. Industrial areas- south of Milwaukee and Armitage, for instance- and just plain neighborhoods, like Bucktown, Wicker Park, and whatever you call that one north of the gallery district on Chicago. It's not always all that exciting. And I would say that the walks would be outright painful, in truth, if it were not for all of the fascinating interactions I spot or get involved with on my way.

I think that this has to be the greatest city in the world for hustlers. Street people just out and out ask for money for beer in San Francisco, and though this may at first seem funny, it is not an original enough peddle for one to score with around these parts. A good example of the correct way to ask can be found by observing a man named Tony, who I often see on my trek. He is supposedly a recovering heroin addict, but I have seen him around begging for quite some time, so I think that's difficult to believe. A friend and I bought him a sandwich once, and he has been hitting me up ever since. One day, he told me he needed money to go to the store and purchase corn bread and biscuits for breading the pork hocks which were burning on the griddle just as we spoke. His baby and his old lady were hungry, he revealed. And damn it, the practicality of this request struck me, and I was compelled to donate my cash money right then and there. When a man is held responsible for breading the pork hocks, any who would not assist him is a coward, in my book.

I've been stopped twice by this guy who walks with two canes and swears he has run out of gas, so he can't get back to his home in Geneva. This fellow has quite the ruse. The second time he stopped me with his patented request, I told him that I had seen him around before. He quickly rolled up his window, and pretended I did not exist. How wily can one man be?

My favorite con-artist, though, is a fellow I have seen a few times slinging high quality trashed or stolen merchandise, such as videos or athletic gear, around Bucktown. He attempted to sell me some porno once near the Milwaukee-Damen blue line stop. "You see her- are you familiar with her work?" he asked, holding the tapes far too close to my face, as I stood next to an elderly couple. I shook my head no. Then, a woman began to scream at the corner that she had lost her bus pass, so he quickly ran over to assist in her search. She cried that someone had stolen it, but the guy ended up finding the card shortly there after. "Do not cast aspersions on the people around here Madame." he yelled, as she tried to thank him. He returned to me then, and stated- "You are looking at me right now as if I am on drugs. That is because indeed, I am." He left, rambling on about his plan to go to Victoria's Secret and claim that he was with the panty patrol, so all of the women would strip for him. Total, complete genius. On a separate occasion, the man tried to sell me a brand new Canondale mountain bike right in the middle of Western Avenue. Traffic was barreling towards him, so I yelled, 'get out of the street,' or something of that nature. He offered me the bike for fifty dollars, which I of course did not have. He tried to sell me some weed, too, but I was a little short. But I did get to say that I appreciated his salesmanship, reminding him of the time with the adult videos. He nodded, and then rode off on the bike, screaming in the distance that he sold that porno to the next customer he encountered. And he also suggested that I should attempt to 'screw myself,' in words less gentle than I have chosen. Not only did this man have championship style, but championship class as well.

I worked for a short time in Skokie, and got off at around two a.m. The buses stopped running well before this time, and I could never really figure out the Skokie Swift's hours. So, to get to the red line, I was forced to walk through, 'the bum gauntlet,' each evening, near all of the shady businesses by the Howard El stop. Absolutely could not get by any one who would not request my moneys in very unfriendly ways. I developed a walk there, which I still use late at night around town that allows me to view the side walk in front of me as I look down. It features long, quick strides, and is a very effective method of avoidance. Only got shoved once there, and never gave any one any of my cashola. As a matter of fact, I even found a twenty underneath a broken forty bottle near the train stop once. Let's call this paragraph, 'My Small Victory.'

Sharron Walker, alias Mary Williams, offered my good friend Mike Wolf and I crack the other day, as we commenced that long jaunt homeward. Got to see my first rock- a very special moment indeed. She also showed us the cards that revealed her alias, her real name, and one which stated that she had just been arrested a couple of weeks before. When I asked who Mary Williams was, she said her, but this fact did not really do her any good. The cops had her actual birth date and social security number on record any way. And that's why the authorities let her pseudonym persist, I guess. Perhaps. Um- I don't know.

A lady my friend Theresa hit with her bicycle on Diversey tried to black mail ten dollars and a pack of cigarettes off of us. Theresa rammed her, and the woman cried, "Oh no!" and fell over, as I ran to help them. When asked if she was okay, the woman screamed, "No!" so I asked if she needed some medical attention. She said no, but felt that she had been wronged- and she expressed this, in those exact words. When Theresa said she would phone the police, the lady said not to, just give her money and some smokes, instead. The paddy wagon drove by just then, so I waved them down. But as I did this, the woman ran away.

Oh, and what about all of the car crashes! I've seen plenty of fine auto wrecks, but the motorcycles running into non-moving cars are always most memorable. Late one evening on Milwaukee, the streets, well, they were filled with one poor fellow's blood. The leather-clad chap broke his leg and lay idle in the middle of the road for quite some time. At first he tried to get up, but then his friends told him this was an idea molded in denial. A scary time- but still, rather exciting. And on another occasion this biker peeled out all over, revved his engine, and then plowed right into the back of this truck sitting at a stop light. He waved to me and the others who stood aghast on the sidewalk as he arose, apparently unscathed. I believe each and every one of us who viewed this affair thought this man to be quite the ass.

Kids often get shit on their trousers, and they bike around, and I, well I see them. This little girl once, who rode by the public housing next to the condos on Milwaukee and Division, wore these pants. And this scene inspired me to write a story called, 'I Love My New Condo,' which has yet to take the nation by storm. And this, this is unfortunate. But not more unfortunate than having shit on your pants.

I have always gotten quite a kick out of the drunkards passed out on the sidewalks. Questions like, 'hey, you dead?' and, 'should I touch him?' occur to me, as I casually stroll by, trying to forget such 'morality.' But one of my favorite missed photo opportunities occurred because of one of these gents, on a temperate Monday afternoon. The man was on North avenue sprawled out on the walk way, with his finger pointed outward- not unlike the mural on the Sistine Chapel. A small boy leaned over him casually, and rested his back on the nearest wall, licking a popsicle. I'm not sure if the resting fellow was the kid's pappy or not, but if so- unquestionably, this boy is the seed of a true winner. That is for sure.

During the lean years (wait a minute, these are still the lean years), I had to walk to work in the morning quite often. This was very much depressing- I was always tired, and the walk seemed so much longer at that early hour. Would arrive at work smelling like wet onions. One morning, however, there was much excitement. Two homeless men got into a brawl over a shopping cart, yelling at each other in a language that I have yet to fully decipher. One of them had a two by four, and he smacked the other in the jaw with it. The guy yelled, "Ma Ca," which I have since deciphered as, 'my cart.' Had to run away quickly from those two.

My friend Eric Bowden often rides his bike to work. We see each other occasionally and wave, usually right around Chicago and Halsted, or Ashland. Once I descended the big hill there and saw Eric stopped, speaking with two women in a convertible. He was gesturing wildly, so I knew this was more than likely not a positive encounter. I crossed the street to get in on the action, and heard one of the women yell, "He didn't get hurt, we got hurt." But I saw that Eric's bike looked a bit off-kilter. They decided to turn in front of him, so he ran into their side and flipped into the car's backseat, bike and all. He said it felt as if he were still riding upside-down there for a moment. He wasn't injured- just shaken up a little- and neither party had much ill will upon departure.

I plan on seeing much more of interest in these streets over the next few years. I don't think I can make it here in the rotten onion forever- some times, I have feelings for these folks I encounter, and that makes the city a tough place to live. I think you would have to be quite callous to stay here eternally. And my walks can be pretty miserable, and somewhat lonely. And the view could use a couple of extra trees, too, I guess. But still, I persevere. I do this thanks to the help of my hustling buddies, the drinking men, the kids who crapped their pantaloons, and the awful, awful drivers. I thank them each and every day, and promise to make that long stroll again tomorrow, in attempts to pay them yet another visit. If it's dry that is, of course.


- Dan Gleason