This is an occasional complaint about our new president, and it has been since Obama made one of the few missteps of his campaign. Badly trailing Senator Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary in Pennsylvania, Obama told some well-heeled contributors at a private function in San Francisco that rural folks back east in that industrial state were "bitter" over lost jobs and "cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them."
There went any chance that Obama would win over Pennsylvania gun owners, and Clinton trounced Obama in that primary. Though he later captured the state in the general election, rural white males like our Arkansan would be his weakest demographic.
|Some say Barack Obama’s “city sophistication” charmed young voters in particular and helped get him elected|
Barack Obama is a city fella, all right, notwithstanding his roots in rural Kansas and youthful time spent in polyglot Hawaii and Indonesia. He is, and says he will always be, a man of Chicago, his adopted hometown, where the pace is a touch faster than in Kansas wheat country or laid-back Hawaii. Or the Arkansas Ozarks, for that matter.
Thus Obama is the latest president in a long line who seem to personify the places from which they came.
Salt of the Earth
Harry Truman, once a Missouri hat salesman, and Gerald Ford, a former star football player at the University of Michigan, were good-natured, plain-speaking Midwesterners of the sort who’d lend you, if not literally the shirts off their backs, at least a chainsaw if you needed one. Nobody called them elitists.
|Talk about smug! Look at the aristocratic pose by Franklin Roosevelt, in the bowler, even before he was president|
Though the elder President Bush was a self-made, West Texas oil millionaire, his Northeast rearing and accent, Yale education, summer home in Maine, and New York years as United Nations ambassador reinforced an aristocratic mien.
|This is the part of the country that has produced three of the past eight presidents|
|And this area has given us two recent presidents. Neither this nor the dry Texas prairie, above, is exactly “Obama Country”|
None of these men, though – not even the erudite Roosevelt – was that true city fella from down the block like Barack Obama.
The Pride of Chi-Town
|Barack Obama is a big-city guy. THIS big, brawny city: Chicago|
Much has been written of Barack Obama’s multiracial heritage and the exotic places of his past. But to get a fix on the man, you have to know Chicago. As Ronald Reagan was California and George W. Bush was Texas and you could easily picture Harry Truman back in that haberdashery in Missouri, Obama is Chicago.
There’s “Chicago big” and “Chicago tall” as well. Sears Tower is 442 meters tall – 527 meters if you count the antennas
Poet Carl Sandberg called Chicago “The City of Big Shoulders”:
Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling.
Plenty Big Place
|Ray Kroc opened the first McDonald’s here in Des Plaines, a Chicago suburb, in 1955. He made $366 the first day. This is a recent photo, but the old prices are still posted, just for fun|
|I think I’ve shown this to you before, and it’s no less embarrassing the second time!|
|Polish sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz created the “Agora” sculpture in Chicago’s Grant Park, along the lakefront. Chicago has the largest Polish population outside Poland|
(*About that pizza: I haven’t really tasted them all. Yet.)
Something for Everyone
|Buckingham Fountain, and its spray, are beautifully illuminated at night|
Cynics and those who were suspicious of the company Barack Obama was keeping as a South Side community organizer have long gloated over the years when Chicago led the nation in judges and council members on the take, votes by dead people, numbers of illegal speakeasies, deaths by gangland machine gun, and excessive-force complaints against its police. The “rackets” – the extortion of citizens and small businesses for a percentage of their earnings – were once a Chicago way of life. The end of the federal prohibition on alcohol, crackdowns by local and federal gangbusters, and the imprisonment or violent demise of prominent mobsters broke the Syndicates, though corruption seems to periodically sprout new tendrils.
Certainties: Death. Taxes.
Cubs Miss the World Series
|This is where the Chicago Cubs’ fortunes, already dim, took a turn for the worse. Yet every sports fan who visits Chicago in the summertime seems to want to go see them at the “friendly confines” of Wrigley Field|
(Though President Obama is an avid sports fan, these travails may bore him. He roots for – indeed often wears the insignia cap of – the grittier White Sox, who play, usually more skillfully, on the South Side.)
There’s not much else to complain about in Chicago. There are parks everywhere, many connected by a belt line of boulevards. It’s little wonder that Chicago’s motto is Urbs in Horto: “City in a Garden.” (Urbs : where “urban” comes from.)
Melting Pot on Lake Michigan
|Lots of people from around the world will have an easy time ordering at this Chicago restaurant. I see the German and Polish, but can you identify the third language for me, and maybe translate?|
Where cities like San Francisco and New York have notable Chinatowns, Chicago has a “Little Seoul” and a Mexican chamber of commerce.
Not to worry: You’ll have no trouble finding a Polish church (or sausage), a German beerhouse, or a Swedish bakery in town.
|These scenes from early Chicago span more than a century, from 1729 to 1857|
Fittingly in a city of such diversity – and even more appropriate for the place that gave the nation its first African-American chief executive – the “Father of Chicago” was a black man: fur trader Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable, who in 1799 built a home near the present site of the beautiful Wrigley Building at the mouth of the Chicago River. He established a trading post that served English, French, and Indians alike and brokered peace among neighboring Great Lakes tribes.
|This statue of Louis Armstrong stands far from Chicago,in New Orleans, where the great jazzman made his mark. But he made much of his music, and his living, later in Chicago|
A Catalog of Achievements
|Here’s a page from an old Sears Catalog. You could order thousands and thousands of things from these catalogs – even a new house!|
Chicago’s spectacular greensward along the lake, offset by a long row of skyscrapers, grew above one of the most incredible landfill projects in history. Rubble from the terrible Great Chicago Fire of 1871 was tossed wholesale into Lake Michigan, so that Michigan Avenue no longer bordered the lake at all. What resulted was a stunning – and zealously protected – urban playground that, today, annually draws more than 65 million picnickers, bathers, skateboarders, chess players, fireworks watchers, and nocturnal smelt fishermen.
|Here’s a crafty smelt fisherman at work with his net, way back in 1923|
Not me, brother. I savor my smelt filleted, or not at all.
How’s that for a meandering, from Barack Obama to Chicago to ichthyology? We return you now to the City of Big Shoulders:
|Chicago has wonderful monuments, parks, and sculptures. But perhaps its favorite landmark is the old Chicago Water Tower, which made it through the terrible Great Chicago Fire|
Chicago even developed a stirring motto: “I Will,” as it erected new libraries, hotels, homes, and statues in a spectacular rebirth.
“I Will,” back then. Obama’s “Yes We Can,” today.
Architects flocked like smelt to the booming new town on the prairie. (OK, enough with the smelt, which don’t “flock,” anyway.)
|Chicago architects made the modern skyscraper possible, and then the city went somewhat wild erecting them. Here’s a recent view from Lake Michigan|
|You get two ideas from this photograph, taken about 1943: Chicago was a booming rail center. And it gets mighty cold!|
It was also the center of the nation’s anarchist movement, bootlegging, and, as I’ve noted, the art of political corruption. Chicagoans took it all in stride, perhaps because every corner in every neighborhood traditionally had one or more taverns on it, serving as the community’s six-day-a-week social center. The church parish hall filled the role on Sundays. Two Mayor Daleys – Richard J. and his son Richard M., the longstanding and current mayor, respectively – considered them eyesores, and their numbers began to diminish. Neighborhood gentrification brought trendy art galleries, boutiques, jewelry shops, tapas bars, and cozy restaurants that make Chicago so – what’s that word again? – livable today.
|Here’s an early shot of the “El” line on Chicago’s “Loop.” At first the train seems like it’s at ground level. But take a closer look|
Chicago’s two daily newspapers and a lively free paper called Reader devote long sections to “Chicagoland’s” vibrant club scene. Nightspots in town carry intriguing names like Elbo Room, Set ’Em Up Joe, Empty Bottle, Hoghead McDunna’s, and the Bourgeois Pig. And those are just the rock bars. Folk, country, blues, gospel, jazz, and even Korean percussion, flamenco guitar, Greek music, and players of instruments called the klezmer and cimbalom have regular followings.
No wonder Barack Obama is “cool.”
|This is the classic façade of the Carson Pirie Scott department store downtown. It and Marshall Field’s were Chicago institutions for more than a century. The former is still going strong. The latter was absorbed by Macy’s in 2005|
When Barack Obama dons his White Sox cap, he makes a Chicago statement as well. He is a “man of the people,” certainly of “city fellas” and gals. In his last days in town, he did not visit with his old colleagues at the University of Chicago School of Law, where he taught. He hung with the barbers, short-order cooks, and pickup-game basketball players of his organizing days.
He also vowed to bring the family back to Chicago “every six weeks or so.” The demands of national and world events may put a crimp in that plan. But the Obamas have no villa in Hawaii; no brush-covered, Bush-style ranch; no Kennedyesque compound on a cape. Just their last family home in leafy Hyde Park.
"Chicago will always be home," Valerie Jarrett, a Chicago lawyer and longstanding friend who is now senior adviser to the new president in Washington, said of Obama. "The White House will be a home away from home.”
Think about that: Perhaps the most famous residence on earth will be nice, flattering, and comfortable, but a second home to their house in Chicago for Michelle, Malia, and Sasha Obama.
And Michelle’s husband, Barack, that city fella.
TODAY'S WILD WORDS
(These are a few of the words from this posting that you may not know. Each time, I'll tell you a little about them and also place them into a cumulative archive of "Ted's Wild Words" in the right-hand column of the home page. Just click on it there, and if there's another word in today's blog that you'd like me to explain, just ask!)
Bootlegging. Making or selling illegal whiskey. The name is said to derive from an early practice of hiding a contraband bottle in one’s boots. They must have been bigger boots than we wear today.
Ichthyology. The study of fishes. Ichthys is Greek for “fish.”
Ilk. Of a kind or sort. A person of a certain ilk shares the qualities – or foibles – of others of that same ilk. Picky pedants cite a more arcane meaning having to do with baronial estate names, but the informal if imprecise definition above is in vogue today.
Mien. One’s bearing – how you carry yourself. Thus we sometimes read about a person’s low mien (not a Chinese delicacy) or regal mien.
Speakeasy. This was an establishment, carefully guarded by a suspicious doorman, that served alcoholic drinks during the Prohibition period from 1923 to 1933, when such sales were banned. But the term goes back at least 30 years or more before that. Pirate hideouts carried the name, and a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, woman who sold liquor without a license is said to have advised her customers to “speak easy” if they wanted to buy some.
Well-heeled. Wealthy. People of means, of course, can afford fine footwear. Fine fighting cocks were also said to be well-heeled with deadly spurs.
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