Saturday, July 12, 2008

Paper of Record


Fucking New York Times, June 29, 2008. Towards the end of this article, which mostly exists to tell rich New York tourists how to visit Chicago's "Latin Quarter" (I've never heard anyone in Chicago use that term ever... the Times guy could conceivably be right about this, though) by visiting upscale restaurants and trendy galleries while staying in downtown luxury hotels, lies a paragraph about gentrification in Pilsen. Here's my favorite thing ever:

But apartments in the area are being fixed up, and higher rents are squeezing out some residents. Anglo newcomers in their 20s and 30s are out and about, jogging and walking their dogs.

Hey, that's me! I mean, I'm white. I run a lot. And my roomie Christina wants to get a Pomeranian (presumably to take bowling).

And you know what, I might be contributing to Pilsen gentrification. I don't try to; I try to shop in the neighborhood, I'm not a snob (except about beer), I try to keep the conspicuous consumption to a minimum, but I don't rule out the possibility that you can pin some Pilsen gentrification on my shoulders. But if I am, I'm doing it by affecting rental and grocery prices with my stupid bourgeois consumer habits, not by jogging and walking Christina's potential future-dog.

You see, I'm just a regular guy. I come into a neighborhood like Pilsen, it's, what, 90% Mexican? But I'm still who I am. Me and my Nordic brothers, long-distance running is in our blood, man. You see all these guys from the mountains of Kenya dominating international competition, and I'm honored they've taken up part of our culture, but when you hit the streets, lower-west side Elmhurst (Berkley and West Saint Cha, wassup!), when you hit the floor of Fleet Feet and Dick Pond's, when you hear the great Joe Newton speak, you know us white boys still love the game.

You know what? I can "run retro" down West Egg from Spring and know the cagers got my back. When I'm running segments or Killer Dillers on Tha IPP the joggers and walkers know to get right before they ever see or hear me. Because even if they never break five in the mile, we have a connection. That's what I mean when I say it's my cultural home, the land of my people. Proper god-damned trail etiquette is in our blood.

I don't expect or demand that in the city, and I'm OK with having to be more cautious; I'm living with lots of people from cultures that find beauty in draining a three or curving a corner-kick into the goal, but who see two awkward skinny dudes straining to kick at the end of a 10k and just don't get it. I'll slow down when I turn a corner, even if I'm doing interval training, because I don't want to bowl over some girl that's not paying attention to the sidewalk because she's yelling into her cell phone at her boyfriend, and wouldn't know how to react to someone pulling 5:20 pace anyway. I never though I'd say that shit. The city's changing me.

But what I do expect is that people respect my cultural heritage and don't blame the ills of gentrification on my running and Christina's potential future dog. I don't care how long the New York Times has been the voice of the Pilsen community here, it's just flat wrong about this one.

CORRECTIONS: 1. Nobody, to my knowledge, has ever used the phrases lower-west side, West Saint Cha, West Egg (yes, my parents live on a street that can be easily turned into a Great Gatsby reference), or Tha IPP to describe places in Elmhurst. 2. White people aren't really even much of a race, let alone a "people", and we're not psychically connected. Certainly not by long-distance running; we're just as lazy as anyone else. 3. The real reasons for the exemplary trail etiquette on the Prairie Path are: it's a long path, not a park that people use for other activities, and there aren't very many major parks directly along it; it is not very densely trafficked, so there are fewer opportunities to be cut-off or blocked; and, finally, its crushed limestone surface precludes its use by skaters and limits the speed of ridiculous spandex-wearing bike dudes.


Al Dimond said...

Right, I thought I should clarify something, because I went off on a pretty long tangent there and got away from my main point. Also, the point and tangent were both covered in pretty heavy layers of sarcasm and I'm not sure any of my points make it through those layers coherently. Here goes:

I really do care about that sentence. If someone else had written it in some other article it wouldn't be an issue. But this is a New York Times travel article. And my take from this paragraph was, "Gentrification sucks because it complicates my attempt to turn a neighborhood's ethnic identity into a commodity." Or the same statement, worded differently: "I didn't come here all the way from New York City to see white dudes in trainers; I came to see brown-ish dudes in cleats."

If you take on the topic of gentrification seriously and wind up blaming Al Dimond for it, you know, you probably understand the phenomenon better than I. I'll accept the criticism and try to improve. If you write an article promoting elitist tourist activity in a neighborhood, then throw in some stock sentences about gentrification mentioning other people's responsibility but not your own, I can think of two possible causes: incompetence and malice. I think there's a rule about choosing between those but I don't remember what it is...

Danielle in Iowa said...

Man, it is totally the Al Dimonds of the world, with their yuppie ways, that are to blame for gentrification :-)

Al Dimond said...

Oh, snap!

As the canonical high school paper would start:

Wiktionary (Webster's is so web-1.0) defines Yuppie as, "a young upwardly mobile urban professional person with an affluent lifestyle". Note the absence of necessary punctuation, the proliferation of hyperlinks, and redundant use of "person" where "professional" used as a noun would have sufficed and even read better. Welcome to the Wiki era! I seem to have lost my train of thought. What was my point anyway here?

Oh, right, I just didn't know what yuppie meant in any precise way, wanted to find the definition (or, rather, a definition), and then got distracted by the Wikiness of the Wiki. And it turns out I come closer to meeting the definition of "yuppie" than to meeting some definitions of "Nordic" (which I used as a personal label in the "sarcastic tangent" section of this blentry, in full knowledge that it's not really a very accurate label... that should probably have gone in the "sarcastic corrections" section).