Over the weekend I finally had the opportunity to do something useful rather than sit around fuming. The City has set up a shelter and service center at Fosco Park for hurricane evacuees from the Gulf Coast. Fosco isn't really a park at all, it's just a fieldhouse that normally offers community activities, basketball and stuff to residents of what used to be the ABLA housing projects (the Jane Addams Houses, Robert H. Brooks Homes and Extension, Loomis Courts, and Grace Abbott Homes). Now the area's one big construction site as ABLA gets replaced by a new mixed-income development called Roosevelt Square. Actually, I'd kinda hoped I might find something I could buy down there, but poking around their site I didn't see much that an ABLA resident, an evacuee, or I could afford and make it work.
Anyway, the fieldhouse is the designated shelter and referral center for people arriving from Louisiana. As of last weekend while I was there, FEMA hadn't got their act together enough to actually send a plane full of people up here yet, but many people have been arriving on their own, to stay with family or to look for a familiar face. I only saw a few dozen cots that looked occupied, mostly people were coming in looking form services from the city, the Salvation Army, or more permanent housing. Most people are quickly referred out to other organizations offering to put people up for a while, since nobody really wants to sleep on a cot, in a gym, in the projects. Obviously Jesse Jackson's people are a big help in that area, as is his protege Rev. Meeks, who manages to be both a state senator and the leader of a mega-church ("The Greatest Church in the World"). I'm not sure which hat he's wearing here, but his flock have been very generous in opening up their homes to the newly dispossessed.
It occurs to me to wonder what's stopping us from mounting such an effort on behalf of the homeless people who wander our alleys every day.
Anyway, I mostly worked with kids, which was nice. Kids are very resilient and these seemed to have come through all the chaos pretty much intact. Their parents, on the other hand, seemed very stressed out. I helped make paper hats and played air hockey while the parents filled out paperwork or just took a nap or whatever. It wasn't much, but it was something, and being constructive tends to soothe my incoherent rage dcwn into a fitfully napping, fuzzy little fire breathing monster. I highly recommend it. If you live in Chicago and want to help, you should call 311.
Later on Saturday the Violent Femmes played a kick ass block party on Division Street east of Damen. Guinness paid for the whole thing, there was beer, oysters, and crab meat. Also there was an awesome local Irish punk band called the Tossers. I have no idea what the occasion was. I was just there because the night before I was playing Trivia at the Riverview and Lowell said it would be cool. And it was.
And Lowell's pretty damn good at trivia. So's my wife.
Suday was Around the Coyote, a huge neighorhood festival of visual arts, theater, music and poetry. There are still a lot of working artists in the neighborhood, mostly painters, and other artists come and set up in the hallways of the Flat Iron studios, the Northwest Tower, and other neighborhood landmarks. Paranoid Girl was there, which was very cool. She asked me to draw a postcard for her collection. She was sort of disappointed that more people weren't doing this, which puzzled me. I was thinking that any weekend where I had perfectly valid reasons to play with crayons two days in a row was a pretty good weekend. Later on I caught some one-acts down at the Chopin Theater, including an interesting piece by a new high school company, and a performance/dance thing called Inventing Eve about women in the Old Testament.
I love this neighborhood, and this town. But recently I see it destroyed again and again in my imagination. I asked some of the emergency workers at the shelter if Chicago has an evacuation plan. They said there was a plan, and they'd recently participated in a drill. But I got the impression that they felt it could have gone a lot better. Chicago has six times as many residents as New Orleans, a million of whom do not have access to a car. How the hell would you evacuate Chicago? Food for thought.