Slowing Down, To See The City More Clearly

Welcome to the Great Pandemic of 2020.

That was what I heard coming out of my alarm clock yesterday morning as NPR launched into yet another story about COVID-19. In all fairness, what else can a news organization talk about?

I will admit that when the COVID-19 specter grew to legendary proportions, and when the Chicago stay-in-place order went into effect, I wasn’t even home.  I was at a friends house.  We spent the first couple days of the quarantine watching movies, having long, deep discussions about nothing and doing work.  I already at that point hadn’t been sleeping well.  I thought maybe a change of scenery and some company would help.

I was wrong.

Since then, I have been an A1 quarantinee…I don’t think that’s a real word, but I’ve been doing really good.  I’ve been social distancing the fuck out of this situation.

However, anyone who knows me knows that I rarely sit in one place for too long.  Actually, my friends are always commenting on how much I move from point to point, and all the things that I tend to do from day to day.  Life is about living…experiencing, breathing in the world and basking in its beauty…in my humble opinion, and I do that with fervor.

Until now.

I’ve found a multitude of ways to keep sane: digital dance parties (the one I threw was hella fun, but Saturday night I attended one that was better), group Facetime chats, movies, reading, learning a new language, and finally making time to practice guitar. I’ve also spent a portion of this time becoming something of a culinary wizard (thanks Hello Fresh).

But by far, my saving grace in the first week of quarantine has been my daily bike rides. I’m a member of the Social Distance Cycling Club.  Cycling is a great way to get air, exercise, and continue practicing social distancing.

Before you start your moaning, the Mayor said it herself “It’s not going out, it’s the congregating.”

There’s no congregating on my bike ride. There’s just me.  Living on the southside, the relative lack of bicycling community (compared to the northside, and huge shout out to the organizers of the Southside Critical Mass) has suddenly become a godsend.  It’s just me. On empty roads, for as many miles as I like, or at least have time for.

Yesterday, I was moving from my neighborhood, Woodlawn, into Hyde Park, which is where the University of Chicago is located for a point of reference, when I decided to take a random left turn.

A few blocks later, I took the first picture. Though I’ve noticed it a countless number of times, I was suddenly taken by the opulence of the house I was approaching as well as the beautiful architecture, so I took a picture.

From there, it dawned on me exactly where I was.

Let me explain.

I live in the Woodlawn neighborhood.  It’s on the south side of Chicago.  A snapshot:


Average Household Income $57,490.32
Median Household Income $29,504.00

Now, I also live 2 miles from the Obama family home.  To put in perspective, the Obama’s next door neighbor was attempting to sell his house in 2009.  A 17-room mansion, purchased for $40,000 in 1973, was being listed at 1.85 Million dollars.

Yes, I live 2 measly miles from million dollar mansions.

I live in a small 2-bedroom apartment and pay $950.  I also spend frequent Sunday mornings picking up trash in vacant lots in my neighborhood.  A few weeks ago, before COVID-19, we netted 20 bags of grocery, a brand new tire, a tent, and other odds and ends from the 3 adjoining lots behind my local cafe.

It feels like such a vast dichotomy…they couldn’t possibly be that close…could they? I definitely don’t feel like the neighbor to millionaires.

The Obama house is in Kenwood. To offer a snapshot:


Average Household Income $73,010.00
Median Household Income $44,111.00

2 miles to increase the median income by $20K? Yes please!

I love riding through Kenwood.  The houses are so amazing. Most of them are larger than anything I’ve ever dreamed living.  I honestly can’t even fathom living in a 17-room home.  A 2 bedroom apartment was quite the leap from me and my previous studio apartments, but I felt I needed to spread my wings.  How little did I know.

But the homes in Kenwood are so beautiful…I honestly can’t stress that enough. Also, to put it in perspective, if you are standing at the corner of the Obama’s block, you’re about 4 blocks away from the current residence of Minister Louis Farrakhan (beautiful yellow brick home on a corner lot), leader of the Nation of Islam, and on his block is a former home of Muhammad Ali (beautiful home offset from the street with a huge front yard, as many of the Kenwood homes are).

As I moved from Kenwood, I was struck, more so than usual, at how drastically the scenery changes…and so quickly.  All of the pictures I took were within 5 miles of my home, putting them within 3 miles of the Obama residence.

I will also say that while the southside of the city is by no means a tourist haven, it houses not only some of the most beautiful architecture the city has to offer, as well as some of the nicest people, but there are hidden gems of beauty abound, particularly in the street art and small businesses that can be found in sometimes the most unlikely nooks and crannies. I always tell friends that if they visit Chicago and don’t make it south of I-55, they will be cheating themselves of what I feel in many ways is the heart of Chicago. Downtown is the glitz and the glamour, but it doesn’t feel like Chicago like having coffee in the South Shore does.

I had never noticed the Bronzeville Boutique by Lady Mocha before this ride, and I have no idea how I’d missed the unbelievably gorgeous photo of Nat King Cole opposite the shop. As a podcaster who works to shine a light on this beautiful city, you can be assured I will be reaching out to her in short order.

It took the city to slow down, and me to slow down with it, to see the city more clearly.  Not only to see some of the ugliness, but more importantly to me, the beauty.  I want to believe that when we past COVID-19, this would have been a wakeup call to the city…to fix the inequities that exist from neighborhood to neighborhood, and school to school, and person to person.  Who knows if that will ever happen.  But in the meantime, I will continue to shine a light on the brightest gems, as well as the darkest corners.

Here’s to seeing the world more clearly.  Cheers.

Additional Reading:

Opening Closed Schools: At the former Overton Elemenary, students and residents reflect on what the building could become


Do you live in a place with such stark differences in environment in such a short distance?

Have you ever felt like you live just over the tracks…but on the wrong side?  Let me know your thoughts down below in the comments. 

Also, I got a podcast. You can find the show on Apple PodcastStitcherSpotify, or on my podbean site. It’s called Off The Beaten Podcast. Also, follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter. I hear all the kids are doing it. 

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