One of the best things about journalism school has been realizing how little of Chicago I had seen or even known to seek out before I started learning how to report and find stories. My first quarter was spent tramping up and down Lawrence Avenue in Albany Park, on the city’s northwest side, which is less than two miles from where I live but which I’d only been to for its incredible eating (notably Noon O Kabab, which, if you like Persian food is a must-visit in this town). Even though I’ve lived here since 2002, my Chicago experience had really been limited to enclaves and bubbles like Hyde Park, Lakeview, Wicker Park and bits of Uptown.
Due south of Albany Park, with all the same cross streets, is La Villita, Little Village. I’m working on a feature story about the Chicago Youth Boxing Club, which is an incredible organization full of beyond incredible people. Just south of the church where CYBC lives in the basement is 26th Street. “Oh, you have to see it,” I was told by source after source. “Go eat at Nuevo Leon, it’s the best.”
My interview began at 9, and the gym itself was closed on the weekend, so once the interview was done, it seemed like a good idea to get a feel for the neighborhood. I didn’t know what to expect — I really had no exposure to Little Village beyond what people involved with CYBC had told me, plus one thread in the community gang resistance documentary The Interrupters.
“People only hear about the bad stuff, the gang stuff,” people told me over and over again. “Which means people outside La Villita don’t know what an incredible neighborhood it is and what good people live here.”
No one is surprised that I really take to approaching strangers, chatting for a few minutes and asking if I could take their picture. Our first assignment, in our first Methods class (where we learn both the skills necessary for today’s tech-wielding journalism and whether we have unexplored passions for new-to-us media creation), is to spend an hour in the Loop and come back when we’ve taken interesting photos of people. Along with two other girls, I head south and west, along Van Buren Street, across the river and down into Union Station. Nearly 70 shots later, I’ve talked with Ed, who works a newsstand behind the Chicago Board of Trade; the owner of a liquor store and bar that’s closing after 55 years in the same hands; Ellen, who insists she only takes good photos when she’s standing next to her brother-in-law; and a postman, pictured above, who says, “I’m just working, I’m just working.”
It’s been a season of convergences lately. I just paid my taxes, along with, it seems, every bill known to man, so I’m a little broke but feeling light for the moment. April 1 was the fourth anniversary of my mom’s first brain surgery, and this past Friday she finished up her three weeks of radiation. Work is heating up, Passover is coming and I’m taking my shot at running away for a while. It’s been nearly two years since I had a real vacation, something more than weekends home with my parents or a slightly longer weekend with friends in other cities. I’m taking ten days on the Southwest Chief, an Amtrak route from Chicago to Los Angeles, with stops along the way. I’m bringing my camera, my notebooks and possibly my ukulele. I’m going to see friends I’ve known for years but never met in person. I could not be more relieved and happy.
The last time I did this, it was only one way. I was coming home to Ohio after the most miserable summer of my life, and since I was in San Francisco, I thought I’d make the distance worth my while. Taking the California Zephyr in August 2006 was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I never quite managed to share the pictures from that trip; frankly, I made a stop in Rocky Mountain National Park with my brother and wound up with about 200 shots of mountains and pine trees and roadside elk. It seemed a lot to sort through, but it also felt private, in a way. I liked having that trip to myself. I’m in a much different place in my life now, thankfully, and I expect to share a lot this coming journey on a number of different outlets. For now, though, here are a few images from my last time around. Watch this space for some other things, interesting things, soon.