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Friday, November 7, 2008

Our South Sider-In-Chief

Happy Third Day of the Barack Obama Epoch!

Today my happiness comes from the above picture. The day after the election, Barack left for meetings with his advisers with a Chicago White Sox cap perched on his head. I have left my home countless times in my life wearing that exact logo. The President of the United States is a South Sider. The President of the United States is a Chicago White Sox fan. A maligned and near-invisible half of a major metropolitan city will walk in pride for the next four years (OK, I'll say eight years...I'm pretty giddy).

If you are not a Chicago native, you don't understand what it is to be both a South Sider and White Sox fan. Over the last thirty years, the make-up of Chicago has changed dramatically. In 1978, Chicago was on its way to becoming yet another Rust Belt casualty- a memorial to its own past grandeur like its siblings in Cleveland, Gary, and Detroit. At that time, the Chicago White Sox overwhelmingly outdrew the Chicago Cubs. Wrigley Field lay in a neighborhood of flophouses, massage parlors, and vacant lots. The White Sox broadcaster was a fellow you may know-Harry Carey. Neither team won titles, but the Sox were the 'Hit Men' while the Cubs were just hitless.

Then a perfect storm happened. Jerry Reinsdorf bought the Sox and fired Harry Carey, who was immediately snapped up by the Cubs. With the power of superstation WGN behind him, Harry became a cultural icon, starring in Budweiser commercials and giving the Cubs a party image. At the same time, DePaul University and the Chicago Tribune (new owners of the Cubs) began to buy up the land around their property and pressure the city to clean up Lincoln Park and Lakeview. The seat of culture migrated further and further north. Most major rock acts played the Aragon, the Riv, the Vic-all on the North Side. The booming Chicago theater scene blossomed on the the North Side with Steppenwolf and Second City as its leading lights. Living on the North Side was cool. Soon thousands of young whites from all over the country moved to Lincoln Park and Lakeview because it gave them a mini-city that was clean, white, and out-of-sight.

The South Side had one major problem that prevented gentrification. Blacks. Any blacks who lived in Lincoln Park and Lakeview were quickly moved to heavily segregated neighborhoods on the South and West Side. All of these events led to a severe and mystifying fact of life for South Siders. Black or white, we were second-class citizens. I grew up with this sense of inferiority, and it drove me crazy. People labeled our side of town as 'dangerous', 'ignorant', 'racist', and 'backwater'. What drove us South Siders nuts was that most of the people who said this would turn into a puff of smoke if they ever crossed Madison Ave.

In 2005, the White Sox won the World Series. Hundreds of thousands emptied out years of angst on Western and Cottage Grove Avenues. We finally had something the North Side didn't. Of course, the next three years gave us more trouble. Each Cubs playoff failure only increased the celebrities who would come to butcher "Take Me Out To The Ballgame". The White Sox had Bernie Mac. I love Bernie Mac. But he's not Bill Murray.

Then Tuesday evening came. I know I speak for a million or more South Siders when I say my deep North Side resentment is over. You can have your wine bars, your life-long Cubs fans from Iowa, and your hipsters. I'll take this President of the United States and the knowledge his wife doesn't need directions to the Plaza. You can keep your executive and his North Side statehouse.

You get the politician you deserve.

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