This blog entry sets up Part II of an ongoing collaborative series relating to Neighborhoods & Their Residents. As described in the introductory blog for this collaborative series, we will be working with participating urban youth and other collaborators to develop comic collaborations relating to urban neighborhoods and their residents, many of which we plan to publish on our upcoming Issue 3 of the Back of the Yards comic series.
With our introductory entry, we took a closer look at the history of the neighborhood we based our comic narrative on, the real Back of the Yards neighborhood. We then explored one of the more notorious neighborhood events in early Chicago history with our second blog, Give Me Beer or Give Me Death!
With this blog entry, we shift things quite a bit to focus on some of those random occurrences that we’ve all encountered from time to time within our own neighborhoods and daily surroundings. Which in the collective, contribute as much as anything else to the character of a neighborhood and its people.
Okay, so this has nothing to do with anything, but it happened on one of my many bus rides home from those early after-school comics collaborations with the youth, and still amuses me when I think about it every now and then.
It was a brutal winter’s evening that particular day in Chicago. And as a result, like most such evenings, the bus was filled to capacity with passengers seeking to take refuge from the winter blast.
Among the standing room crowd was a family. Father, mother and three kids. They were clearly visiting Chicago. My guess is from Wisconsin from what little I could hear of the accents. The father was pointing out city landmarks to the family as the bus passed through downtown.
The kids seemed to at least feign some interest (ranging from what appeared to be ages 10 through 16 or so). The father seemed proud. He had a sincere, jovial presence about him, sort of a younger version of Santa Clause I thought at the time. His genuine sweetness, in direct contrast to the mood of the other bus occupants who were either ending their workdays, or in some cases, just beginning.
As the bus made one of its regular stops, among the passengers making their way on was an elderly woman. I would say in her early to mid-70’s. She was thin and pale, but had a hardened, sturdy aura about her which seemed to transcend any physical frailty. Common for Chicago.
She also appeared to be clearly annoyed. Standing room only, after enduring the Chicago winter blast while waiting for the bus, and nobody was moving to give her a seat (likely because the bus was so packed, moving seemed logistically impossible). And it was also at the moment that I saw the elderly woman accidentally bumped by the proud preoccupied father as he pointed out another Chicago landmark to his kids. The man’s wife had noticed the bump also and appeared annoyed by her distracted husband.
The bus doors closed. After being prompted by his wife, the father finally turns to notice the elderly woman. He looks at his kids. Looks again at the elderly woman and decides to engage.
Smiling, he asks the elderly woman loudly so that practically all on the crowded bus can hear:
“So how are YOU doing today?!”
The wife looks even more annoyed at that moment.
But the kids’ interest in the elder woman seems piqued. Something different to distract them from the days’ sightseeing.
And it is then that frail old woman looked up at the man to respond, tilting her head ever slightly to say:
“OH, WHY DON’T YOU JUST SHUT THE FU%K UP!”
The father looked as if he had just been shot in the stomach. The kids looked at their father as if he was just shot in the stomach. The wife looked at her husband as if she wished he had just been shot in the stomach.
As for the rest of us on that bus? Well, as we all tried valiantly (unsuccessfully in my case) to conceal our laughter, I am pretty sure we were all probably thinking just how truly incredible it was that each one of us, all with our own unique ancestral journeys through the ages, somehow found ourselves sharing this brief moment in time with one another.
So fast forward some months down the road, I conveyed this little story to one of the participating artists, John Golden. Amused, he described to me his own random encounter just weeks before on the CTA line. In fact, it was so random, John felt compelled to illustrate it that very same day, which is the little sketch shown below.
As John explained it, as he was just sitting there waiting for his train to arrive, some random guy walked by him with a packet of hot sauce just dangling from his pocket for all to see, and then this ensued ….
The sheer randomness of John’s encounter led to a good light-hearted laugh between the two of us. And it was then that it occurred to us that perhaps it might be a fun little ongoing feature to capture and illustrate similar random encounters experienced by participating youth.
And more specifically, random encounters within the neighborhoods of our participating youth as part of the ongoing Neighborhoods & Residents collaborative series. The reason why we’d like to focus on those neighborhoods is because these random occurrences often can often serve as lense for the underlying characteristics of any particular neighborhood and its surrounding. For instance, in many ways, that magician John ran into at the Chicago Transport Line is emblematic of the type of character you can run into there on any given day. As if part of the Chicago CTA’s DNA.
Same can be said of my random occurrence on the Chicago metro bus. And it’s from these “random occurrences” in the aggregate that the essence of a city or neighborhood’s character begins to emerge. And that’s precisely what we’d like to do here as we try to further develop our own fictional Back of the Yards neighborhood as part of our ongoing comic series.
So with that, as part of the ongoing Neighborhood & Residents collaborative series, we will work with participating youth to capture their own random encounters within the neighborhoods, as well as explore other characteristics of their neighborhoods, and through these comic collaborations, further develop our own fictional Back of the Yards neighborhood with unique backstories that may be based, in part, on those random occurrences that the youth share with us.
In any case, stay tuned for more Random Encounters and related collaborations posted here, and hopefully they won’t be nearly as painful for you as they were for our poor father on that bus that fateful winter’s evening.