The guys started work just after sunrise and I was out there with my camera a few minutes later. Before long, we were old friends. Amazing how guys can bond over trees and chain saws. I asked if they could cut down the junk trees surrounding the vacant lot on the corner, and they said they couldn't go onto private property. So I went back inside and started making phone calls. First, I called the Recorder of Deeds office and got the name and mailing address of the property owner. Next on the list was Alderman Maldonado's office. I told my story and within half an hour the head of Streets and San for the 26th district was standing next to me on the corner. I gave him the name of the property owner and he said they'd be in touch.
Sometime during the morning, the guy in the cherrypicker took six pairs of gym shoes out of the tree in front of one of the former gang houses. Some kid came along and asked if he could have them. The tree trimmers, being nice people who don't live in my neighborhood, said sure. In no time, the shoes were hanging on a wire at the corner.
For those of you who don't enjoy the privilege of gangs in your hood, hanging gym shoes are like neon signs flashing, "Drugs for Sale." The cherrypicker guy came to tell me about their reappearance and said he'd be happy to take them down, but he didn't want to get shot. I reassured him that he wouldn't get shot, but offered to get him some backup. A call to the 14th District station and one to 911 elicited two squad cars, who parked at the foot of the cherrypicker and witnessed the removal of the shoes.
By the time the guys were finished, our neighborhood looked like a new place. A safer place. So, here's a shout out to Luis Arroyo, Roberto Maldonado, Danny Santos and the guys of Chicago Streets and Sanitation.
Do you know what the gang bangers call our street? "Devil's Side." Kathleen and I are not so naive that we think our problems will be solved simply by trimming a few trees. We're going to keep fighting for our block, and only the involvement of everybody--the police, the alderman, the state represenative, Streets and San, and our neighbors--will even begin to have an impact.
And you know what? There are people in the city who are a lot worse off than we are. Crime and violence and gangs are a scourge on the City of Chicago. And the only way to beat them is vigilance--every minute of every day of every week of every year. Sure, I'd love to have Blue Cart in my neighborhood but, as you can see, sometimes recycling is the very last thing on the wish list.