Thursday, March 27, 2008

A festive, booze-soaked ordeal

I hope you don't expect this blog to conform to notions of "timeliness," after all, I still haven't posted my Christmas-trip-to-Iowa and exploring-adventures-around-New-Year's stories yet (and now those photos are stuck somewhere on my computer, not in my active photo library). Why look here, it's my St. Patrick's Day post, after Easter (it WAS an early Easter), so far after Easter that I bought a small boxful of various chocolate eggs tonight at Walgreens for 75% off, and I'm enjoying some dark chocolate peanut M&Ms (the existence of dark chocolate M&Ms was utterly hidden from me until I saw that bag 50% off this week). And last night I finally opened the bottle of glogg I bought in Andersonville in December...

Anyway, I've ignored most St. Pat's festivities in Chicago all these years--never been to the downtown parade, never seen the river dyed (they say it's environmentally safe) green. Nor had I ever seen the South Side Irish Parade, held earlier than downtown's. This year, March 9, so it wouldn't be on Palm Sunday (the 16th). It was an exciting Metra pass weekend for me. That Saturday I took my first Metra trip to the North Shore (its own story, uh, soon!), and I knew the best way to get to Beverly would be taking the Metra from downtown Sun. morning.

As soon as I got to Van Buren Station, I was worried. The masses were there, in ridiculous festive outfits, already drinking (I saw a beer can on the ground) and goofing around. It looked like every white college student in the 6-county area was heading to this thing. It couldn't have seemed more pathetic to be riding the Metra and going to a parade on my own, but that's what I did, scoring a nice upper deck seat to myself on a less crowded train, reading the new issue of Bitch magazine, observing some great future exploration/photo opportunities out the window. As if you weren't getting enough green in this post, here's a shot of the abandoned Kennedy-King college campus (the new one replaced what used to be Chicago's third-biggest shopping district, the 63rd & Halsted part of Englewood) with that lovely Metra window tint.

Though the parade started at 103rd, I got out at 95th. East of Damen, so I had nearly a mile to walk to the parade's start. I'd meant to eat at Top Notch Beefburgers, but they turned out to be closed on Sunday, and I wasn't sure if a shake for breakfast would have been a good idea anyway. I bought a book at Borders (for a book club the next night I missed anyway) and ate at Theodore's, on 95th west of Western. It's a bustling (well, both times I've gone on a Sun. morning) family restaurant place with a huge menu, and cocktails, and since my previous visit, is the only place like this I know of with an all-you-can-eat buffet. Good knowledge for the future, but I stuck with a traditional hearty breakfast. I walked down Western getting a few photos of the signs--The Plaza, various neon delights--but those didn't turn out.

I think my favorite part of a parade is catching moments of setup and rehearsal and then the aftermath, so that's most of the photos here; shots of floats and bands blocked by crowds don't tend to turn out as well. So, there's the pink city truck (above) and shamrock-hoisting and whatnot. And the special Daley family trolley--I never actually saw the mayor, though.

This stretch of Western has a couple pancake houses I've never visited; here's the Original P.H. I don't have much to say about the parade itself. It was fine. Music, dancing, community groups, unions, politicians, TV stations, etc. But now...I've got to start ranting about the crowd. OH MY GOD THE HORROR, THE HORROR OF THIS. I won't say anything so brash as "I'll never complain about drunken Cubs fans again," but henceforth any complaining about them will be tempered with "Hey, at least they're not as bad as the South Side Irish Parade spectators."

I expected drinking, despite all the reports that the police would have zero tolerance for drinking outside (zero meaning 99.5%, apparently). I expected young, boisterous people, though I admit I had a terribly quaint idea of the Beverly/Morgan Park neighborhood as all tight-knit and family-oriented and ethnic and whatnot. ("Tight-knit" and "ethnic" has some historical implications, certainly in Chicago, of a rock-throwing and firebombing against "outsiders" variety, but I won't get into that now.) And maybe it is--note the "Hughes Clan" in the photo, they look like actual residents--but this parade is basically an excuse for North Side/suburban yahoos to clog up the streets with obnoxous drunkenness.

And public drunkenness is much worse when you've had nothing to drink yourself. All the young people with their silly green accessories, and how interminably long it was taking to walk down the street, and the beer and cans and bottles on the ground, and cigar smoke everywhere (is that a big Irish thing?) were wearing me out. It was like being at Spring Break, except in the middle of the Midwest on a cloudy cold day so you weren't even seeing any skin (excepting the few idiots wearing shorts or flip-flops). After a few minutes, I'd had enough, but since I was on the wrong side of the parade route, I couldn't get over to the Metra or buses. I just kept walking.

I walked from 95th to the start at 103rd past the worst clog of people at 111th to the end at 115th. It was a relief to get out of there. I wasn't sure what extra trains Metra was running, and I knew there was more than an hour till the train I knew of, so I puzzled over whether the 111th, 115th, or 119th buses to the 95th Red Line were my best bet. I walked to 119th. The final shot's a glimpse out the bus window at an Irish immigrants' group float heading to wherever floats go after parades. On the bus ride I spotted a "new" exploration site that I got to the day before Easter (an old one to many explorers I know, as it turned out). The sun finally came out and I spent the rest of the afternoon getting CTA shots and visiting the school getting demolished. I've still got nothing against the parade itself, or the neighborhood, but though I'd missed this my previous 12 years in Chicago, this visit was enough to satisfy my curiousity about how Chicago celebrates St. Patrick's Day for a long, long time.


Eric Allix Rogers said...

Had I made it down that day, my goal was to check out the Metra stations, which are landmarked as interesting and quaint old buildings. The only other time I've been in the area was to go to BJ's Market at around 95th and Western, on a mission to procure mustard-fried catfish.

I can't stand drunk crowds either. I left my friends in a huff during last year's St. Pat's parade. It can be entertaining, though, as when my friend Jess saw the state's attorney's float and started screaming, with wild abandon, "DICK DEVINE! DICK DEVINE!". As annoyed as I was by her comportment otherwise, I wouldn't have missed that given the choice. I suspect I would be less irritable if the weather were nicer someday for these parades, though.

I wonder, given how the official parade website seems to frown so much on drinking, if the event hasn't wandered rather far from the vision of it held by the communities that put it on. If it's so raucously out of control, I wonder if it's eventually going to get moved or cancelled?

Katherine said...

I doubt these crowds are what the parade organizers originally intended. I've certainly seen raucous behavior at the Pride Parade and the Bud Billiken Parade (lots of beer at the former, some liquor and pot at the latter) but it just wasn't like this!

You live a lot further south than me, so you should definitely check out Beverly/Morgan Park. I want to see more of the Metra stations that I've seen all the CTA stations, I need a new challenge!