Broadway Avenue, Chicago – Part 1 – Introduction and Lakeview

I thought I’d breathe some life into the blog with some personal-experience writing.  Not like a “birth of my child”-type thing, and not a fire-breathing post about racism or libertarianism.  Just a 5-mile walk on a rainy day – or the first mile or so at least.

Just what might seem like a very boring task (but one I hope to make interesting): today, I walked the entire length of North Broadway Avenue, in Chicago, in the rain, in about three hours (including three stops – coffee, a bookstore, and lunch).  This is an area a couple of the other bloggers have spent some time in, so maybe this will be a trip down memory lane, as well as Broadway, for them.

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This crosswalk represents, give or take, the southern terminus of Broadway, at Diversey Parkway, about 600 West and 2800 North on Chicago’s address grid.  Broadway branches off from Clark and heads down a hill to the northeast, and runs almost five miles, ending at Devon (6400 North, 1200 West), where it merges with Sheridan Road (or more properly, gets renamed Sheridan after Sheridan turns right onto it).

In my head (not sure about Chicago’s neighborhood designations), Broadway’s southern start at Diversey marks the boundary between Lincoln Park, to the south, and Lakeview, to the north.  One of the sometime-writers on this blog (emphasis on the sometime) once lived just a few doors north of the storefront – Stan’s Donuts – visible across the way on Clark.  So I spent a good amount of time right around this intersection in 2000-2001.

[Brief anti-social tirade.  Stan’s Donuts (nee Jamba Juice).  This is one of those allegedly hip places that, somehow within like 5 minutes of originally opening up, already had 5 franchises in Chicago.  It is the sort of place that a certain kind of midwestern exurbs-raised person calls “a Stan’s” (emphasis on the “a” – pronounced as “uh”, not “long-A”).  That “a” bugs me to no end.  I can handle “a McDonald’s,” “a Walmart,” etc. etc.  But “a Stan’s?”  My Adorno-trained critical-theoretical snobbishness  bristles at this utterance.  Something about the infinite replication of the same under late capitalism – and when it’s McDonald’s, I’m fine with that.  Because McDonald’s has no pretensions to not being mass-produced crap.  Stan’s though?  Something about places in this city (and I’m guessing elsewhere) requires everything to be doubled and tripled, to comfort their clientele – like, this place is hip, but not too hip for us not to be an insane corporate behemoth… hence “a Stan’s” – there are several more, that “a” says, and they’re all exactly the same and “like, so good.”  I resent the company – Stan’s Donuts – yes, for conducting its business like this, like the business plan, faux-retro neon sign and franchising potential was imagined even before the donuts themselves – but I resent the consumer who says “a” even more.  Like their whole existence (and mine, since they spend more money than I do) has to be drawn along by the expectation of replicated experiences.  The opposite of “a” in such a person’s lexicon is “this little shop.”  “Little,” in this context, just means “a shop that isn’t an instance of a chain.”  Such a person generally feigns discomfort and their friends’ or family members’ preferred “little shops,” but for reasons having little to do with what is sold there, affirms with a strangely fierce yet shallow loyalty their own set of “little shops” (and drags spouses, significant others, or parents in from Shaker Heights or Bloomfield Hills to look around) with a passion otherwise only reserved for the low-quality television programs these same people obsessively stream.  Okay, got that out of my system.]

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Across from Stan’s is this abandoned storefront, formerly a Walgreen’s (an “a” I’m totally comfortable with, for the record).  Just across Broadway from here, there’s this massive new two-story Walgreens on the wedge between Broadway and Clark I didn’t take a pictures of, what used to be a Borders (ditto).  Somehow this abandoned storefront is not such a bad introduction to Broadway – my walk was alternatively trendy (briefly), totally-banal-corporate (there were a surprising number of things like H&R Block), sometimes interestingly public and civic, but mostly, dilapidated, shuttered or ignored.   I used to go into this Walgreens, and though its floors were dirty and its lighting did not conform to the 2010’s design aesthetic (so, it didn’t look like a website on the inside), I was fine with it.  I almost don’t want to go in the one across the street, though I think I did once.  Like, do I really have to have a “design experience” when I’m buying deodorant?  Apparently yes, if all the newly rehabbed or built-from-scratch drug stores popping up all over the city have anything to say about it.

Man, that got antisocial again.  Okay, that’s it, I promise.

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Down a couple of blocks on the west side of the street I stopped at Bow Truss Coffee Roasters, one of those coffee places that charges you more than $5 for an 8-ounce latte, and has that “we’re trying really hard to sell coffee and we’re so professional about it that it takes us 8 minutes to make your drink but we won’t rush it even if the line is out the door” vibe.   I had a good time, in spite of the prices, however, because I sat right next to the stereo (photo above) which was playing an extended Sam Cooke playlist, and though the people working there definitely fit into the “trying hard” thing, they looked to be over 30 and were not ironically playing the Backstreet Boys blaringly loud and repeatedly professing “this is my jam, this is my fucking jam!”  (that actually happened to me at Dollop, at Van Buren and Dearborn, from which I now try to stay away).  A few people came and went, and almost everyone else was on a laptop; I just read my book (City on Fire, which is really good but also more than 900 pages, and currently overdue from the library, though I’m only at like 380).

[Correction – I went here on my way UP the hill to Broadway and Diversey, because I’m a verging-on-OCD completist about things like this, and though I had come from Wellington (3000 North) when I arrived at Broadway, I couldn’t have just walked out the store, headed north towards Devon and not caught the last two blocks.  I was originally going to make a circle, walking down the western sidewalk to Diversey, then back from Diversey all the way to Devon on the eastern sidewalk, cross at Devon, and walk all the way back to Bow Truss coffee roasters.  Instead I took the 36 bus for the return leg, which is pretty close to my original idea, enough not to trigger the almost-OCD anyway.]

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Just up a little bit on the right is this fast food Mexican place.  Back in 2000-2001, I used to go here a lot, especially if a group of us had been up late drinking or whatever.  I think, back then actually, having a few drinks wasn’t so much the point for me as was being able to persuade others to go get a burrito at 2am (that is, I wouldn’t really get drunk so much at all, but did very much look forward to the late-night eating).  This place used to be called “Super Burrito #1” or something like that; the outside awning has changed since back then (though not the inside).  I still go there now and again, but didn’t stop today as it was only about 10:50 when I walked by.

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This neighborhood is in constant flux.  I swear I was in this 7-11 (at about Wellington) like 2 months ago, but obviously, now it’s gone.  Probably because a brand new clean and corporate-minimalist 7-11 with clean lines and brightly lit horizontal displays and some distressed wood mixed with steel runners and exposed brick is being constructed nearby.  Because apparently we need to rebuild totally functional convenience stores every 30 seconds lest they start to “look old.”

Speaking of flux, on the west side of the street here, around Wellington or Barry, a massive new construction project is underway, where there used to be an overpriced parking lot, to wit:

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The first instinct I had when walking by this turned out to be right: “a Mariano’s” (and that’s one of the most irksome “a”‘s and a new category until itself – Mariano’s being obviously a chain, a grocery store chain, that has someone gotten this whole tribe of raised-in-the-exurbs Chicagoans to be like “oh, a Mariano’s – oh, that place is so awesome, like, it’s just like, I just like, love going there, I can’t wait, there’s a new one opening near me soon, I’m super-excited!).  It’s a third layer of “a” – not a McDonalds, not even a Stan’s, a Mariano’s.  Somehow I’d rather – and this is saying a lot – this was still just an overpriced parking lot.  And don’t even get me started on that “super-” as an inane intensifier far worse than “totally,” or “genuinely,” “legit” as an adverb or even “literally” (all of which are annoying each for their own, very distinct reasons).

This whole stretch is full of places I’ve spent lots of time in – probably most notably Intelligentsia Coffee, which has since become a much bigger deal regionally and I think nationally?  Or maybe it didn’t even start here, I don’t know.  I remember one time having been up all night, going in when it opened, and sitting on the chairs in the back, by the bathroom (it’s since been remodeled like 5 times, because, see above) – I and the aforementioned sometime blogger were loudly and ridiculously arguing with one another about a book he had read called something like The 100 Most Important People in History.  And it wasn’t an argument about who was the most influential (that was apparently Muhammad), but more an argument about the very idea of “the 100 Most Important People in History” and whether it even made sense (that was be going for the Davidsonian “the very idea of…” move, just to be an asshole and because I hadn’t read the book but still felt entitled to weight in on it because I was studying philosophy and that’s sort of the whole point of philosophy – being an asshole weighing in on something you haven’t actually studied in any specificity).  I remember a very professional, I’m-about-to-go-to-work-you-pretentious-grad-school-idiots type guy staring us down (which we clearly deserved, and we both immediately realized that).

Continuing north on Broadway, I pause to contemplate the expanse of sidewalk stretching east towards the lake along the southern side of Hawthorne.

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Another, more frequent poster to this blog lived for a time in the tall building in the distance to the right, and  once made the mistaken decision to bet me that he could win in a late-night/early-morning post-poker footrace.  I don’t remember the stakes, but I do remember someone else (the other, more sometime blogger in fact) pacing off 100 yards, and me repeatedly yelling to him “oh, come on, that’s way more than 100 yards” (it was not, if anything, it was probably less – and this is more like 2010, so I was older than 30).  Very close to the start of the race – maybe 5 paces in – I quite nearly fell hard on the concrete, but somehow I got my trailing foot back under me right before that happened, at which point I cruised off to victory as I reached Broadway.

It was not worth it.  When we arrived at the Melrose (just around the corner), I didn’t even remotely enjoy the pancakes, as my inner ears were swirling for at least another hour and I had to fight the urge to vomit all over the stall and otherwise pretend I wasn’t woefully out of shape.

One last stop, before I sign off, and resume tomorrow north of Irving Park:

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This is one of a just a few well-stocked independent bookstores in Chicago – Unabridged Books.  They have an enormous travel section downstairs, a sizable GLBTQ room (this is close to the heart of Boys Town), a lot of staff selections and, today, I discovered, a generously sized SALE section, including hardcover and paperback, much of which would  actually have been worth buying.

I bought Manchild in the Promised Land, a book I heard a radio program about a few years ago, and since I’ve been reading a lot of the big mid-century African-American Studies type books, and it was only $7 plus tax for a nice looking hardcover, I figured, why not?

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One Response to Broadway Avenue, Chicago – Part 1 – Introduction and Lakeview

  1. Alice Neve says:

    Enjoyed this, Josh.

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