02 May 2012

On Location, II

Over the (roughly) 17 years that I lived in Chicago, I watched as the city kind of went apeshit with renaming various streets and boulevards after famous figures -- a profusion of brown signs attached to streetposts at a 90-degree angle, declaring a particular stretch of asphalt Such-and-Such Honorary Way.

Some examples: A span of street that runs past what used to be the city's notorious Cabrini Green housing project bacame Curtis Mayfield Avenue. There's a short block in the Wicker Park neighborhood that was renamed Nelson Algren Way. Another stretch of road just west of downtown was rechristened Frankie Knuckles Way (which included an explanatory "The Godfather of House Music" for the unknowing). Up in "Indiatown" on the city's northwest side, the main east-west drag of Devon switches from Sheikh Mujib Way to Mahatma Gandhi Way and then eventually to Golda Meir Way as the population changes.

I'm not sure what the criteria was for getting a street honorarily renamed, but it must've been quite easy, as these brown signs proliferated all over the city. By the latter half of the noughties, the city began to reconsider the practice, as it appeared that the signs and renamings were causing too much confusion at the 911 call center.

But there are plenty of notable Chicagoans who I'm sure will never receive the homage. For numerous reasons, I'm sure there'll never be a Philip K. Dick Way. And I'm likewise sure there'll never be a Haskell Wexler Way, either. As lovely as he made the city look during the title sequence of Medium Cool, almost every frame of the rest of the film has the appearance of a grand-scale sociological meltdown in the offing -- dysfunctional, dystopic, proto-apocalyptic in a sense that's almost Ballardian. Of course, much of the credit for that should go to then-mayor Richard J. Daley, the CPD, and the National Guard. But still...

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