I’m usually assigned to the East Route for bird rescue and salvage monitoring. It’s an area I never paid much attention to until I began monitoring. It’s mostly residential over there with multi-million dollar condominiums, a beautiful park, and a dedicated Mariano’s that has a live pianist playing jazz and classical music. Think of the Aon Building (formerly called the Amoco Building for old-timers), and the neighborhood is mostly a little north of that, east of Michigan Avenue. The park has its own gazebo and fountains and its own dog park within the park.
The thing I cannot figure out, though, is where all the people who do not have homes go east of Michigan Avenue. I arrive downtown anywhere from 4 to 5:30, depending on sunrise times, and I walk from the L to my route, passing through the Loop area before it wakes up for the day. I pass over a dozen people sleeping on the streets, especially when the weather is warmer and they are not sleeping in the L cars. There is a group sleeping under the Cultural Center overhang. There are people spread on those uncomfortable bus benches that were designed to keep people from actually curling up on them for the night. There are people huddled under construction scaffolding. Many are regulars, and I have come to recognize them with their refrigerator box blankets and piles of old clothing and possessions in plastic bags. Some people have bags of Corner Bakery food lying next to their heads – I am pretty sure those are provided by a giving soul who wants to help people by providing a bite to eat. Some people are awake at that hour and chatting quietly amongst each other.
Yet, when I cross Michigan Avenue and end up by Michigan Plaza, Swissotel, The Fairmont, the Hyatt, and then into the residential areas, there are no people sleeping in doorways, under construction scaffolding, or curled up in the beautiful park. Where has everyone gone – why and how? I don’t see anyone attempting to sleep or even walk over there. I also do not see CPD on regular patrol over there, at least at this hour. It’s like its own isolated town within Chicago, a private enclave.
There is one gentleman I run into occasionally over there named Alex. He hides, and when he sees me coming, he emerges from somewhere and chats me up a bit, telling me about the birds he saw and how he helped a volunteer pick up a dead bird and bag it. I don’t want to say where it is I see him, but it is in the same spot every time, and I wonder how he is able to skirt the unwritten code that seems to govern who can sleep or even hang out in this area. I’m conducting a little research on this question. I know there are Kennedys and other famous people living over there and that most of the area is comprised of condominiums. Are they responsible for enforcing the unwritten code – no one east of Michigan Avenue? This bears some investigation.