Memorial Day 2015: A Memorial Close to Home

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

This Memorial Day 2015 morning, I set out for a walk in our Avondale neighborhood seeking exercise and inspiration.

I got both.

My hour stroll along quiet, empty streets took me north along Milwaukee Avenue north past Diversey Avenue, where I could observe first hand the changes taking place in our little corner of Chicago.

The next time you're in Avondale, take a moment to visit St. Hyacinth. They don't make 'em like this anymore.

The next time you’re in Avondale, take a moment to visit St. Hyacinth. They don’t make ’em like this anymore.

Some old storefronts, once home to mom-and-pop shops, were getting a facelift and new businesses were opening up. Old frame structures on the side streets were replaced by modern homes, adding a new dimension to some blocks.  Improvements — or call it gentrification — was happening beyond the Logan Square apex.

Then I got to St. Hyacinth Basilica and found the inspiration for this post.

There, in a small garden, next to a statue to commemorate Pope John Paul II, was a memorial to men of the then predominantly Polish parish who died and served in World War I. The handsome stone marker was dedicated in 1924, four years after the war ended.

There were 499 men from the parish who enlisted and were sent to Europe — the place where they or certainly their ancestors were born — to fight in the “war to end all wars.” Twelve of the men — 11 with Polish surnames and one Italian (I think) — did not make it home.

The memorial to men from the parish who served -- and died -- in World War I commands a prominent place on the parish grounds.

The memorial to men from the parish who served — and died — in World War I commands a prominent place on the parish grounds.

(Unfortunately, of course, we’ve not found a way to end all wars.)

I sat in the garden for a while and read the names of the men who died on the battlefield and the inscriptions. Their sacrifice allowed their families to continue to live in America in peace and build lives here.

What I realized this Memorial Day is that there probably are thousands of small memorials, like the one at St. Hyacinth’s,  to those servicemen and women who died in places far from their homes.

What I hope is this: That along with the large, public ceremonies that will take place in America on Memorial Day 2015, that someone visits the smaller places, too.  Perhaps you’ll be inspired, just like I was earlier today.

* * *

Want more Memorial Day inspiration from The PRDude? Please read this 2013 post.

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What Would Nelson Algren Think About The Old Neighborhood Today

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

On Tuesday, Susan and I attended a screening  of “Algrren,” a compelling new documentary film about the late Chicago writer Nelson Algren, best known for chronicling stories about the seedy, down-and-out side of the city in the decades before and after World War II.

AlgrenFor much of his adult life as a writer of fiction, Algren lived in and around the Wicker Park neighborhood, not far from West Town, the neighborhood where I was born and raised.  Given the dramatic cultural and economic changes that have taken place, one has to wonder whether Algren would appreciate or even recognize his Chicago today.

As depicted in black and white footage, still images and commentary from people who knew the writer and others, the film reveals that Algren frequented dive bars, gambling dens, brothels, police stations, boxing rings and other places far outside polite society.  It was an ugly, dirty and depressing corner of the city; yet Algren often found beauty, truth and passion in Chicago’s downtrodden and the shadowy places they inhabited.algren-logo

The film does not reveal much new about Algren, his life and loves (he had a four-year affair with French feminist writer Simone de Beauvior) and his writings.  But there’s plenty of interest for true scholars as well as more casual fans of Algren, like myself.

(An aside: One short story from Algren’s great “Neon Wilderness” collection, “A Bottle of Milk for Mother,” sets a strong-arm murder a few houses away from the home I lived in the first  19 years of my life.)

But if Algren strolled along North Milwaukee Avenue today and hung out with the current residents of Wicker Park, Bucktown or other gentrified North Side neighborhoods, I doubt he’d find the inspiration to write “The Man With the Golden Arm.”

Yes, the street grid is pretty much the same, and most of the same store fronts and two-flats are still standing.  There might even be an operating tavern or two Algren frequented back in the day.

What’s gone from much of Chicago is the character — and characters — that drew the writer to live with and portray life from the perspective of those people hanging from the fringes.  Algren’s Chicago was black and white, but man was it colorful in its own way.

There’s nothing wrong with change, and in today’s world change happens a lot faster and with more profound impact than in generations ago.

Perhaps that’s why, as noted in “Algren,” in 1975 the writer boarded a train East and eventually settled in a small rented home in Sag Harbor on Long Island in 1980.  His Chicago was a place he could never find again.

 

 

 

 

 

Breach of Ethics Spans Generations

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

A recent local news story struck a responsive chord with me, and I’m sure a lot of other people here in metropolitan Chicago and elsewhere.  The issue: A breach of ethics and poor judgment among some high school seniors involving a mandatory requirement to perform 24 hours of community service as a prerequisite for graduation.

As I’ll explain, this instance of “kids behaving badly” has another perspective.

Oak Lawn LogoHere’s what happened.  As reported extensively by Chicago media, around 40 graduating seniors from Oak Lawn Community High School allegedly paid a classmate to forge a signature on documents related to the completion of the community service requirement.  View this report from the local CBS television affiliate for more details.

Yes, these kids messed up. They made a mistake, and they’ll pay for it by not being allowed to don the cap and gown with their peers — those kids who actually spent the required hours at a nursing home, pet shelter or local business.  (Sidebar: The reportedly forged signatures were those of a golf course manager; come on!  What’s so hard about helping out at a golf course?)

Clearly, these students tried to get away with something.  But in the end, they violated a standard and brought shame on themselves, their families and their school.

But too often today, it’s mainly the younger generation — the so-called Millennials — that get bashed for lacking the same morals and character as those of us from previous generations. In the case of a handful of the 2014 graduating class of Oak Lawn High School, that’s true.

In an effort to support my contention with more than anecdotal evidence, I ran a variety of Google searches and found lots of reports about kids lacking ethics, especially while online, as found in this Mashable post citing a Harvard University study.

However, a decline or lack of ethics transcends Millennials.  Here’s an ethicsexample.

When Susan and I moved to our home in the Avondale neighborhood 14 years ago, we noticed neighbors two houses west had restricted parking signs in front of the home. The City of Chicago allows this privilege for residents with disabilities — in essence granting that person the right to park there.

The issue: We rarely, if ever, saw a car parked in that spot. Later, we learned that two elderly women lived in the home and secured the restricted designation so their son — who visited a few times a month — could park in the space.

Was this a breach of ethics, an absence of moral principles governing good citizenship and conduct?  Without question, and from two people who were part of the so-called “Greatest Generation.”

As I’ve stated many times in this blog, those of use who are serious about the practice of public relations prescribe to maintaining the highest ethical standards at all times.   Those of us who earned the Accredited in Public Relations credential pledge that we’ll provide ethical counsel.

Hopefully, the Oak Lawn High School students embroiled in this issue learned a lesson.  As for our elderly neighbors, they sold the home and moved years ago. Shortly thereafter, the parking signs were removed from the ground.

Here are two other posts from The PRDude that reference the Avondale neighborhood of Chicago:

1. An August of 2013 post about disturbing messages found outside.

2. A July of 2013 post about sitting on the front porch and enjoying all things natural.

 

Will an Increasingly Homogenized Chicago Support True Characters?

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

On Tuesday, as I was heading to help facilitate a work group for local professionals planning to earn the Accredited in Public Relations credential, I came across a man known to many in Chicago for two things: His wardrobe and his personality.  Our brief encounter inspired this post — the subject of which will follow shortly.

Vincent P. Falk in one of his many, many, many colorful outfits. I'll bet he doesn't own a pair of blue jeans.

Vincent P. Falk in one of his many, many, many colorful outfits. I’ll bet he doesn’t own a pair of blue jeans.

The gentleman in question, Vincent Falk, is pretty easy to spot because he wears what I believe are “zoot suits” of every color in the rainbow — and then some.

I chatted with Mr. Falk at one place where he often holds court: In front of the WLS-TV Channel 7 newsroom on-air studio, which abuts State Street near Lake Street.  Like many passersby, he hopes to get some screen time during the closing newscast credits. After asking if I could take his photo, Mr. Falk agreed, complimented me on the red golf jacket I was wearing and offered me the opportunity to don his jacket.  I politely declined: The jacket didn’t go with my trousers.

(This excellent post by the late, legendary Roger Ebert provides more on Mr. Falk, and the images are better.  My trusty BlackBerry Curve has a crummy camera, but I still love it.)

I told Mr. Falk I would like his image for my blog, but I wasn’t sure what I’dwhats-the-point-of-being-afraid-of-the-zombie-apocalypse write about. After a conversation punctuated by pun after pun uttered by this amiable, unconventional man, this became pretty clear to me:  Will people like Vinnie Falk — a true character if there ever was one –continue to find a home in a Chicago that I maintain is losing its character to conformity?

If this popular image above (probably not taken in Chicago) is any indication of the potential for future “characters,” I don’t think so.

The Chicago I was raised in was, indeed, a city of neighborhoods, most boasting people who were iconoclastic in their own humble ways, like Mr. Falk.  These were neighborhoods of two-flats, corner taverns and mom-and-pop groceries, neighborhoods where people lived for generations.  A person could be decidedly left-of-center, okay weird,  and still be accepted, still fit in.

These places hardly exist anymore, as communities like Lakeview, Wicker Park/Bucktown and increasingly Logan Square have evolved into urban theme parks, the price of admission being a $3 doughnut, $9 beer and two-hour wait for brunch. Conformists — not characters — come from these places. The thought of hanging around for generations is remote at best to many new Chicagoans.

In June, I’ll head back downtown after work to co-facilitate the APR prep class. I’ll pass the Channel 7 studios on State Street and hope Mr. Falk is there, waiting for the 5:00 p.m. newscast to end.

This time, if he offers, I’ll gladly try on his jacket.

 

One More Thing About the Pending Closing of Hot Doug’s

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

The news yesterday was stupefying for Chicago aficionados of “encased meats” and those who enjoy long waits to get something to eat: Hot Doug’s, the so-called “sausage superstore,” will serve its last dog this fall.

The legendary Doug Sohn, behind the counter of his soon-to-be-shuttered hot dog "superstore."

The legendary Doug Sohn, behind the counter of his soon-to-be-shuttered hot dog “superstore.”

A collective wail spread through the food-loving community, a demographic that never ceases to amaze me with their quest for edible products that are unabashedly hip, generally expensive and usually requiring a lengthy wait to purchase.    This aptly-named Chicago online source even reports on the “reaction” by Chicago’s food community to the closing on what basically is an upscale hot dog stand.

I pray those who will crave a Hot Doug’s rattlesnake dog topped with fois gras will find a suitable alternative when the establishment shuts for good. (In the full disclosure department: I dined at Hot Doug’s once and recall the dog and fries were pretty good, but not worth the 45-minute wait.)

But back to the purpose of this post: Hot Doug’s is located in Avondale, and fortunately, media reports on the story — from both traditional and digital outlets — identify the establishment as being in Avondale.

This is Avondale!

This is Avondale!

Where’s Avondale?

It’s where I’ve lived the past 14 years, a neighborhood often overshadowed by its sister neighborhood to the south, Logan Square.  Avondale is what  Brooklyn is to Manhattan, what St. Paul is to Minneapolis: Grittier, edgier and perhaps to some, less cultured and less expensive.  Many never heard of Avondale, or just lumped the neighborhood in with its wealthier neighbor.

But perceptions — like real estate values — change over time, and Avondale is now hip. Read this Chicago Sun-Times piece for details.

Not to knock Logan Square: Susan and I lived in a wonderful apartment in a greystone on Logan Boulevard for eight years and were very content.  But it wasn’t ours, and when time came to purchase, we found a wonderful home  in Avondale — just a block north of the formal boundary between the two  neighborhoods.

In fact, we’ve been in our Avondale home a little longer than owner Doug Sohn has held down counter duties as Hot Doug’s.  So, we were pioneers of living in a neighborhood on the cusp of cool even before Mr. Sohn.

So, thanks Mr. Sohn for helping to build awareness for Avondale as the next bastion of hipness.  But remember, we were here first.

This is All I Plan to Say About “Chicagoland”

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

It’s over.

Now, I’ll find something more productive to do on Thursday nights, rather than editorialize over the eight-part CNN “documentary” called “Chicagoland.”

When the first installment was aired in March, I shared these thoughts. Now that the series is over, I’m not pleased by the portrayal given to my city, and I’m in pretty good company.

chicagoland.twoReports I’ve read in the local media were not kind to the producers of this ambitious project.  And, this recent extensive piece in the Chicago Tribune offers some fascinating insight on the making of “Chicagoland,” charging that many scenes were staged.  What’s more, the report details the consulting services provided by a prominent Chicago public affairs to the production team.

But here’s what stung my sensitivities:

The Myopic Perspective. The name of the production, at least to me, inferred that “Chicagoland” would shine light on a broad range of topics and subjects, people and places — enough to provide an accurate, realistic perspective of Chicago and its environs in 2013, when the bulk of the filming took place.  After all, this tale spanned eight hours (minus commercials). Why did the producers virtually ignore the business community, the vital role played by transportation, the arts community, the suburbs for crying out loud!

Instead, we were subjected to scene-after-scene featuring Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Fenger High School Principal Elizabeth Dozier, punctuated with footage showing the aftermath of violence, followed by comments from Police Superintendent Gerry McCarthy.  And, as illustrated in the graphic above, these three people were the stars of the show.

The Gratuitous Cameos.  Bluesman Buddy Guy. Former Mayor Richard M. Daley. World-renowned chef Grant Achatz.  Conductor Riccardo Muti. These famous Chicagoans all got some face time during the series; but their time on camera really didn’t advance any story lines.

Why didn’t the producers convince a long-standing business person to share his or her perspectives? Or a leader from one of our institutions of higher learning?  We have a few good ones, you know.

The Lack of Anything New. Read the news reports.  Chicago has violence, and it’s gut wrenching, horrifying and and seemingly out of control in some neighborhoods.  It’s destroying the very fabric of what once were sound, stable communities.

So, did we need a mini-series disguised as objective film making to tell us and the rest of the world that people are routinely being shot and killed?  I say no.

One more thing: Less famous Chicagoans — people like me — also have insight on where the city’s been and can offer projections on where it’s going.   And, to their credit, the producers did feature some common folk.

But not enough.

Perhaps the next time a crew from California comes to town, they’ll talk to more of us.

 

 

 

 

Now, Thoughts from a Real Chicago Guy on CNN’s “Chicagoland” Series

By Edward M.  Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Those who get paid to comment have had their say.  Now, it’s my turn.

The topic: The controversial CNN series “Chicagoland,” an eight-part documentary of sorts about my home town.  Although with eight installments, “documentary” probably is a misnomer.  Perhaps “real-life urban mini-series” is more accurate.

chicagoland.twoIn the days before an after the debut episode March 6, the program generated the expected flurry of commentary.  After watching “Chicagoland” last week, I shut the TV off with these four thoughts in mind.

The Politics. Unquestionably, Chicago is known for politics, and with good reason. It’s well documented that for decades our elected officials have elevated politics to a high art.   From the onset, the first installment of “Chicagoland” centered on politics as it relates to two of our biggest problems:  Violent, often gang-driven crime in some neighborhoods and a financially strapped, under-performing public school system.  These two subjects were explored in footage featuring Mayor Rham Emanuel, Police Superintendent Gerry McCarthy and a remarkable woman, Elizabeth Dozier, principal of Fenger High School.  There was high drama, and there were poignant moments last Thursday; but I seriously question why the initial episode of “Chicagoland” focused so heavily on two topics and three people.  This set a tone of helplessness and despair.

The Problems.  Problems, Chicago has them, certainly, as depicted in Episode 1.  Headline-grabbing crime and a broken education system assuredly rank way too high on the scale.  But there was no mention in the first episode of the kind of problems that don’t make for combustible television and commentary.  Underfunded pensions, soaring taxes, gridlock-at-times traffic, the continued erosion of some outlying neighborhoods, out-of-control open-air drug markets — these and other issues plague Chicago .  Perhaps these will be covered later in the series, as they should, along with what’s being done to make things right.cnn-logo

The Good Stuff.  Politics and problems aside, a lot of good is taking place in Chicago. There’s tangible, big-picture stuff like a flurry of new downtown developments and revitalization — okay, gentrification — of some neighborhoods.  A new manufacturing sector — driven by technology — has emerged.  Cultural amenities and restaurants — and some professional sports franchises — are world class.  Like the other problems the city faces, maybe the producers of “Chicagoland” will address these later.

The Name. Reportedly, the name “Chicagoland” was coined by the legendary Col. Robert McCormick, editor and publisher of the Chicago TribuneTo me, it’s a silly title.  This metropolitan region has a lot of entertaining and attractive attributes.  But let’s leave the “land” monikers to all things Disney.  Besides, I never heard anyone from Chicago refer to the city or the region as “Chicagoland,” except in TV commercials hawking carpeting.

Clearly, the 60 minutes of “Chicagoland” Episode 1 got me and a lot of other people to take notice.  I plan to watch tomorrow’s installment, and perhaps I’ll have four more thoughts.

Here are some other thoughts from the PRDude on Chicago and politics: