Just a minute south of Midway Airport, with her seat belt securely fastened and an obsessive glint in her eye, an airplane passenger might notice the nearly perfect right triangle beneath her and wonder about what she has spotted. At higher resolution, the oval-tipped pizza slice formed by I-90, I-94, and 95th Street divides into two or three officially designated community areas: Chatham, Greater Grand Crossing, and Avalon Park. These areas in turn contain a number of smaller neighborhoods, places like Park Manor, Brookdale, Burnside, and Pill Hill. At the sociologically atomic level, block clubs such as the 77th and South St. Lawrence block maintain order by officially forbidding “littering…loud music playing…car washing,” and “car repair (extensive).”
Though long seen as quiet and relatively stable, this area of the South Side has changed over the decades. Between 1950 and 1980, the area went from being uniformly white to being uniformly black. In Chatham, the middle-class whites who left were replaced by middle or upper-middle class black professionals. Rapper Common grew up around here, and Roland Burris has lived in the neighborhood since 1963. Recent years have seen an uptick in poverty and crime, a change visible from block to block. While some streets are flanked by well-groomed lawns and single-family homes, others are pockmarked by abandoned buildings and vacant lots.
Still, after decades of racial, social, and economic upheaval, many things about the neighborhood haven’t much changed. As in the early twentieth century, when Al Capone called Park Manor home, dense thickets of bungalows are cut through by busier commercial avenues. As in the 1960’s, when DJ Herb Kent was becoming a fixture of local AM broadcasting, radio station WVON remains a major local presence. The Metra still rumbles north to downtown Chicago, and the Skyway still looks out to Indiana. Welcome to a slice of Chicago.
Best Shortcut to the Caribbean
West Indies Bakery & Restaurant
Unlike Chinatown or Little Italy, West Indian Chicago can be hard to pick out on a map. That’s why the Trinidadian, Jamaican, and all-purpose Caribbean restaurants scattered through Chatham can be so surprising. Hidden on an otherwise nondescript stretch of 79th Street, the West Indies Bakery & Restaurant comes as a small but powerful revelation. Beneath a blue-yellow candy-cane storefront, the door is often open. Read the menu, and unless you’re West Indian, your vocabulary is guaranteed to expand. Oh, you’ll enjoy yourself. But some questions remain. Why does a gizarda, a small, coconut tart, taste so much better than it sounds? How can I use the loaf of mongoose bread I just ordered? Without a Jamaican accent, will I ever sound cool ordering a toto? The answers, though elusive, usually suggest themselves. 841 E. 79th St. Monday-Saturday, 9am-around 8pm; usually closed on Sunday. (773)723-5927 (Nathan Worcester)
Best Place to Hear Broadcasting History
WVON (1690 AM)
WVON–once “Voice of the Negro,” now “Voice of the Nation”–straddles a historic past and a fierce future. Yet the present certainly has its place, especially in the caffeinated atmosphere of the main studio. News anchor David Martin IV alternates between summarizing the headlines at light speed and fielding off-air calls from listeners in the control room. In one case, a caller is offended by the way Martin indicated that several of the previous night’s shootings had taken place on the North Side. “There are some people who message me [on Facebook] saying, ‘You glorify the violence.’ I can’t ignore it!” he explains. Meanwhile, radio personality Perri Small has returned to that day’s main topic: Ta-Nehisi Coates’ controversial Atlantic article, “Fear of a Black President.” Though lively and current, the conversation seems ageless. Midway Broadcasting, 1000 E. 87th St. Office hours Monday—Friday, 8:30am-5pm. Tours may be available upon request. (773) 247-620. wvon.com (Nathan Worcester)
Best Cheap Date
I.C.E. Chatham 14
Inner City Entertainment (I.C.E.) Chatham 14 is just one of two I.C.E. theaters in Chicago. The theater company’s mission is to show first-run movies at relatively low prices in underserved neighborhoods on the South and West Sides. Among the deals available, almost all movie tickets are $6 on Tuesdays, students can get discounted evening tickets for $7.50 on Thursdays, and matinee tickets (ending at 4pm) are just $7. In addition to summer blockbusters, I.C.E. also runs more specialty movies–the Black World Cinema film series runs every first Thursday of the month and continues throughout the year. A community fair in August, “Save the Date,” includes dollar movies, local vendors, and a variety of workshops. 210 W. 87th St. (773)783-8711 (Nathan Worcester)