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Last one standing

Greetings from a wet, dark, and dreary New York City...

I'm finding it hard to believe that, just one week ago, I was wrapping-up a 72-hour President's Day weekend visit in Chicago.  And speaking of the "Windy City, aside from gorging myself on Lou Malnati's deep-dish pizza, my first-ever Chicago-style hot dog from Mustard's Last Stand, a rajas gordita and an ice-cold horchata from Taqueria Los Comales, and an incredibly juicy Portillo's Italian Beef - I was really hoping that I would get an opportunity to spend some time at what was formerly the Henry Horner Homes (West Side), the Robert Taylor Homes (South Side), and Cabrini-Green (North Side) or, what is now called, "Parkside of Old Town."

For the majority of you that do not know me personally, there is one thing that you do know: I LOVE food.  But here's a factoid that even some acquaintances of mine may or may not know: I have been fascinated by, interested in, and extremely passionate about urban sociology since I was a small girl.  This term is lengthy and broad and encompasses a multitude of issues, but here's what it means to me: Why?

When I was in elementary school, my grandfather and I used to go out for "dates" once/month.  He would treat me to lunch and then we would do an activity of my choosing.  While I assume that most children my age would choose to go to an arcade or a toy store, I had my Poppy drive me around the perimeters of various housing projects.  I wanted to understand why everyone didn't live in a free-standing home or take family vacations.  I was also curious about what it was like to ride the public bus, as the vast majority of folks - unlike that of major cities - had cars.  I had lots and lots of questions. 

Fast forward 20-years...

Two of the three most powerful books that I've read in the past ten years both have to do with Chicago (the latter two listed): And The Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic, by Randy Shilts - There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America, by Alex Kotlowitz - and Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets, by Sudhir Venkatesh.  I had originally purchased a picture book about Cabrini-Green, which then led me to "There Are No Children Here," and finally, "Gang Leader for a Day."  I have never experienced such a vast array of emotions from one topic: I cried, rejoiced, laughed, felt shamed, outrage, happiness, disgust, hopelessness, etc.  This text truly struck a chord somewhere deep inside of me.    

Because high-rise public housing in Chicago was so unsuccessful, none of these buildings exist today - except for one.  With the two days that I had in Chicago last weekend, I was hoping to stop by and see, for myself, Cabrini-Green's remaining "White" building, before it would be demolished.  Unfortunately, I never got that opportunity.  I did, however, get to see the structure from the window of the elevated train, as we veered through downtown Chicago.  I also passed over what was formerly the Henry Horner Homes.

www.ChicagoNow.comI'm disappointed that I did not get to see any of these sights "in person," per se, but I am incredibly grateful to authors Alex Kotlowitz and Sudhir Venkatesh.  Each of their books is written with so much detail that, if you close your eyes, you can visualize yourself climbing up one of the building's stairwells, or breaking bread in one of the other tenant's apartments.  Where else will an outsider, like myself, get to relive these men's incredibly unique experiences, encounters, and amazing relationships?

In terms of some raw visuals, I've come across an outstanding photographer, David Schalliol, who has captured many phenomenal snapshots of all-things Chicago Housing Authority and the former projects mentioned above.  Click here to check out his Flickr gallery.     


On a lighter note, here are some of my favorite snapshots from my visit to Chi-town.  Enjoy!

Lou Malnati's famous Chicago style deep-dish pizza piePortillo's Italian Beef sandwichGordita con queso y rajas, Taqueria Los ComalesChicago-style hot dog, pre-bite @ Mustard's Last StandChicago-style hot dog, post-bite @ Mustard's Last Stand...and there's one more photo...

But first, you have to ask yourself, "Am I ready to see 'The Lunch Belle' channel her inner Kevin McAllister, sans makeup, looking like a hot mess?"  If so, proceed...










Yours truly, in front of the famous "Home Alone" house.~

Read it & eat,

The Lunch Belle

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