In the nine years I drove a cab in Chicago, aside from Hegewisch and Edgebrook, Beverly was probably the neighborhood I took the fewest fares to. My one memorable fare to Beverly was a very drunk city attorney coming from a North Side dance club, where—to hear him tell it, the ladies couldn’t keep their hands off him. He was on his way to meet up with his good South Side girlfriend and all her friends—all of whom hated his guts.
I never thought I’d end up living here.
I’ve never lived in a place where you couldn’t hear the neighbors moving around above your head or under your feet.
I’ve never lived in a place with a lawn, nor understood why anyone would want a lawn, not to even mention ever having to actually mow one.
I moved here a year and a half ago because my girlfriend has a house here after living in apartments all my life. The concept of home ownership has always puzzled me. It still does. Rent makes sense: you pay for having a roof over your head and that’s the end of that. Home ownership is some sort of aspirational dream condition which is supposed to boost your sense of self-worth and help you “build a future” (whatever the hell that means…) There are practically no apartments to be had in Beverly so if you want to live here it pretty much means a house or you go look somewhere else. Shay lives here, so I live here too.
One of the reasons I hardly ever took a fare here in the cab is that everybody drives. It’s like a suburb that way. We get in the car to go shopping, to go to the movies, to go downtown. Despite twelve years of cabdriving this is the first place I’ve lived in the city where the primary mode of transportation is the automobile. The thing is though that to experience what’s best about Beverly you’re much better off walking or riding a bike because it’s one of the great architectural districts in the whole country.
You can’t get a drink in Beverly but you can admire the hell out of some houses. I do most of this admiring while walking Shay’s dog. There are new discoveries every time. It may take passing a place a dozen times before I notice the beautiful stained-glass in an attic window or an unusual bit of ornament or how oddly vertical that one house across the street is. There are historical markers scattered from 87th to 107th and from Ashland to Western. Some date back to the 1800s. No two houses are precisely alike here, though neighboring ones are often cousins or distant relations. If a home reflects an owner’s character or disposition, we certainly have a bunch of characters living around here. I’ve always been interested in seeing how others live and in Beverly you don’t have to even go inside to get a good picture of that.
People go nuts about their lawns in Beverly. It’s a serious business. On our dog walks Shay notes every way our neighbors have managed to get rid of simple, boring grass around their property. “Let’s do that!” she says pointing to colorful mosses, mulches, and every variety of groundcover, bushes, trees, rocks, or statuary. I always agree, whatever it is. We’re working on it.
Some neighbors take it too far. There’s one on Wood Street who runs out every time he sees me with the dog to make sure we don’t piss on his prize-winning bushes. I understand the impulse to beautify one’s environment, I guess, but when plants become dearer than animals it might be time to reevaluate your priorities.
Beverly is the type of place where all your neighbors know you at least well enough to wave while passing in their cars. I’ve never known my neighbors anywhere I’ve lived. It’s an adjustment. But of course even in a place like this there’s one person that everyone on the block would rather not know. Ours is Crackhead Gary.
He doesn’t have his old cars rusting on blocks in the front yard, I’ll give him that much. The facade of his house is stripped of siding and unfinished, the front windows are plasticked over—the remnants of a fire the house hasn’t ever recovered from. When Shay first moved in Gary rang her bell and asked if she’d be willing to serve as a mother-figure to his children while their own mother was away in jail. They, along with Gary’s dog, can often be seen wandering aimlessly up and down the block. I mostly watch the comings and goings at Gary’s from my upstairs studio window. At any hour of day or night his mother—who lives up the block—will pull up in her minivan and lay on the horn to announce her arrival; Gary will tear out of the driveway on his Harley or his pickup, then come tearing back—the wrong way, since ours is a one-way street; I’ll watch him screaming at his kid or his car or his friends or he’ll just pace up and down the sidewalk talking to himself. It all makes for good theater, though the roar of a Harley engine at 3am will wake you from the deepest sleep.
Beverly has historically been an all-white, mostly Irish neighborhood but that’s slowly changing. My block is nearly evenly split, black and white, and not everybody around here is a cop, state’s attorney, or fireman anymore. The most persecuted minority seems to be Latinos. Shay knows a Mexican and a Puerto Rican woman who are actually friends here, that’s how bad it is.
You need to spend a lot of years in a place to really have anything to say about it. I’ll have to put the leash on the dog and walk up and down these streets many more times before I learn much of anything.