We arrived in Chicago this morning, got all of S's stuff moved in. The drive went very smoothly; if driving were that smooth all the time, I'd do a lot more driving to places. Combination of good weather, doing most of it on a Sunday, and driving a nice rental minivan (with CD player and my favorite auto feature --- the radio scan button, not to be confused with "seek").
Gas prices of course were a problem. People on the East Coast, you are being gouged. The midwest was often over 50 cents cheaper. However, it was and is still an outrage. More on that later.
The main topic of conversation for the day was panhandling. The people doing it here (that we saw today while shopping a couple blocks away) were very aggressive. It was more like what I saw when I lived in Michigan. It is not like it is in Boston (or in NYC, according to S). They came right up in our faces, once even arguing with us about whether we had money to give them, and also saying that the money would go to help victims of Katrina. Some race things got involved, since apparently it looked to them like I was telling S not to give them money, which actually wasn't the case.
So, it was unsettling, and we had a long conversation about how to handle it. Part of this involves some shame or guilt; here I am talking about my nice rental minivan, why won't I give change to these people on the street? I don't have a good answer for this. The answer is that my change is mine. But that's not really enough for me. What, they'll just use it to buy alcohol? Well, I used it to by a 6-pack for myself. If I give them money, they won't help themselves? If that's my belief, then I better rethink some things about a whole lot of social welfare programs.
In Boston, panhandlers stay pretty stationary, and just ask you for money when you walk by. I pass at least 5 or 6 on my way to work every day. In Boston I've never been accosted like we were today. But I have run into this kind of thing in Lansing and Detroit plenty of times. I'm always respectful, I make eye contact if they are talking to me, but I keep walking unless I have change right in my front pocket, in which case sometimes I give it to them, just based on a gut judgment. I've never been mugged, but the stories I have heard, if they are not tales of just being outright jumped, usually involve some pretense of asking you to stop and then look away, like for change or a cigarette. Basically, if I can grab some change without looking away, I sometimes will. It doesn't help that this area of Chicago is not known for its low crime rate. I saw a ton of police driving around --- a mixed blessing.
There was also a guy who stopped us walking on the way to get lunch. He stopped us just to make a joke about how he'd seen us walking around a lot already, and how she must be walking me to death. He didn't ask for any money. Later he stopped us again, walking home from a different store. He really wanted to show us the goods in his bag, which were a computer monitor, an internal DVD-ROM drive and a bottle of wine. He asked us if we knew anything about wine, and whether we could identify the bottle and give an estimate of its worth. Stolen stuff? Maybe. The monitor may have just come out of the trash --- it had a funny rattle to it --- and probably the DVD drive as well, since it had wires hanging off it. I have no idea about the wine.
Some level of this stuff makes me feel comfortable in a neighborhood. I liked living in Dorchester, I liked living in Lansing, I like to feel that I am living in reality and not in a bubble that was constructed to keep the pretty side pretty and the ugly side ugly (thus why I had to leave Boulder eventually). There's a lot of cool stuff in this neighborhood; some great local markets, including a natural food store whose clientele was much more diverse than my experience of such stores in the past, several restaurants with vegetarian food... A lot going for it, and I think S will be both happy and fine here. But, clearly some things to worry about too.