Series A Reading in Chicago – A Report

Virtual ChicagoSo my business in Chicago was completely virtual, or rather it had been enabled by the virtual although it was going to happen in rooms with other people. Echoes of the virtual would layer over everything that happened. In meeting Bob Archambeau, the first thing he said was, I saw you updated your blog.


Chicago itself was a virtual space layered over a physical space. Even though I was downtown in the oldest region known as The Loop, in what is called a “business district” there wasn’t any business visible. The idea of business in the city is one of merchants, business people, writers and artists, tourists mingling together and interacting to create an economy of exchange either for money or ideas or what have you. Jane Jacob’s in her Economy of Cities places “innovation” within the city walls. She argues that even such rural activities as agriculture and herding were formulated within the city walls.
A recent study points out that ideas (like The Plague) progress in the city far faster than anywhere else. Cities create a sort of “urban economic miracle,” says study co-author Luis Bettencourt, a research scientist in Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Theoretical Division. “When you integrate all these people and all these activities and the struggle to make a living, total productivity increases,” he says. it is unclear though what he means by a city. If he means a complex network of social and business contexts, you could easily substitute The Web for this. How quickly do virtual plagues spread compared to physical ones?

I was in the center of Chicago the third largest city in the United States a city whose economy is larger than Brazil, and it seemed physically empty. My understanding was that Boeing’s headquarters was several blocks from where I was staying. When I went for a walk, people on the sidewalk were mostly tourists like me. I crossed to the Millennial Park. It was completely abandoned. There were large shiny objects reflecting the skyline. Inside those buildings, people worked. But the work was distributed and even though they were working inside those buildings their interactions with other people were occurring across phone lines and fiber-optic cables — a layer superimposed on the city and one that was oblivous to geography.

Bill Allegrezza said that bike messengers were a large business in Chicago and I wondered what was transported from building to building that could not be sent across the network? A San Diego blog about bikes says they are doing well, even in the Internet age. For most business documents, paper is an obsolete technology. The kind of dynamic diagrams need to describe complex systems cannot be captured on paper. You need a database, assocations, and rendering engines. Blueprints belong to a bygone era. This doesn’t mean the people will not continue to send blueprints via courier, but it is a nostalgic act similar to sending a telegram or riding a steam train.

I walked through the empty city at the end of the day and came to the odd raspberry color of the lake. The docks had been turned over to marinas. I walked alongside a sea-wall that showed no evidence of the working docks that must have boarded the city in the middle of the last century. An old working boat had been turned over to the Chicago Yacht Club. I sat at the end of the pier where I disturbed some Canadian geese. One was nesting in a planter. Her partner zipped up for the lake to begin to hiss at me and wave his neck back and forth. I was going to hold my ground but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do if the beast actually bit me or attached his beak and didn’t let go. So I scurried on my way and walked along the Chicago River. The river itself didn’t flow into Lake Michigan but rather like Michigan floated into the river due to some 19th century engineering work. I wonder I wondered about the river itself getting filled with green dye during St. Patrick’s Day. It didn’t seem like that would be a very good thing for the river. I still didn’t’ encounter any people. Instead, I encountered feral brown rabbits.

Bill picked me up in the early morning we drove through the traffic out of the city towards the suburbs passing on the outer ring. a business parks and into the farthest ring of the city was on the largest steel mills in the world operated. These steel mills used to employ tens of thousands of people in the Chicago area but in the 1970s they began to automate and lay off the workforce. The raw materials arrived via barge across Lake Michigan from massive mines in Michigan. The steel mills sit on the edge of Lake Michigan where there are massive ponds filled with industrial effluvia. In Gary, Indiana, we parked at the commuter campus where Bill taught English. I was going to speak to a class of seniors enrolled in a contemporary literature class. I wasn’t sure what to expect because these were undergraduates who had read my book and most likely they would be required to write a paper on my book. I was responsible for a degree of thier homework. It was kind of embarrassing because on one hand this is the kind of transaction that I wanted when I started writing books and the first-place to command the attention of someone in the way that the novels that I liked the student meant my attention but at the same time I was just someone who’d written a book. While we’re waiting for the class to begin we ran into one of Bill’s fellow teachers. Her name is Mary Harris Russell, author of Delinquents and Debutantes and a reviewer of children books for the Chicago Tribune. It was her last term as a teacher. My first sign of trouble was her copy of Shoot the Buffalo festooned with Post-it notes and bookmarks. It would’ve an interesting to read their papers which would have been separate from the standard function of book reviews. But on the other hand also seemed something private tentative about student’s response to my work. They were learning about having reactions to books. The classroom that as a commuter college was full of students who looked as if they heater just come from a job were on their way to a job. They’re mostly in their 20s. The most part and talking about the book they were interested in relating portions of the book to their own lives. Sometimes though the student would say something such as “Do you remember that part where you wrote that thing? I really like that.” I would say thank you, and then an embarrassed silence would follow.

After meeting Bill’s class, we drove through Gary, Indiana. Gary still had a population of 100,000 or so. But the city had been in stark and sudden decline since the 1970s when the steel mill began to automate production. Several years ago Gary and the highest murder rate in the United States. In downtown Gary you can buy a storefront on Main Street for a dollar. Judging from the look of the plywood covered buildings on anyone took them up on that. For the odd things about this be storefronts was that it was probably 30 minutes to downtown Chicago and more importantly it was maybe 15 or 20 minutes to the jobs in the in the industrial belt around Chicago. It is hard to imagine that it will be a permanent condition in Gary Indiana. At the same time looking at the empty shell of the downtown it’s hard to imagine it changing.

A few years ago Gary attempted to hold a Miss USA pageant in Gary. This was seen as perhaps a catalyst to revitalize the town. Instead thought participants stayed in Chicago and commuted out to Gary for the pageant.

The Gary website contains this ecstatic recollection:
Miss USA 2002 was a huge success for the City of Gary, Miss Universe Organization, sponsors, and the community of Northwest Indiana. Through great teamwork, organization, and hard work, thousands of visitors came to Gary to take in some of the most exciting special events ever to visit Gary and millions watched the Live Telecast as the drama unfolded, crowning Miss District of Columbia Shauntay Hinton as the new Miss USA 2002

The Ruins of Gary, Indiana

Oddly Gary was the home to Simone de Beauvoir. She lived with Nelson Algren for time in Gary. He had a house on the beach.

In the evening I read at The Hyde Park Arts Center. The art center provides Series A with a free reading space in order to keep the economy of various artists using the space. While you’re waiting for the reading one of the building administrators talk to Bill about participation of writers and upcoming art event. It was a natural conversation coming out of the fact that they were writers and artists in the same space. At times, very spaces in Seattle provide for this kind of interaction between disciplines but for the most part it seems that each of the disciplines have their own dedicated space. The Hyde Park Center I don’t think it is a common kind of structure. It receives its funding from the artists do to Chicago and University of Chicago but also it seems developers in the area who want to maintain the artistic activity of the neighborhood.

Series A curator and host Bill Allegrezza

The reading itself was well attended. Bob Archambeau read a poem about glam rock. He read a long string of the names associated with Iggy Pop, David Bowie, and Lou Reed. Kass Fleischer read a portion of Accidental Species. Each part began, “On the day the space shuttle flew overhead–“ At the end of the reading readers exchanged books, a handful of books were sold, and everyone went out for something to eat.

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