The Long March

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Additional reporting and bridge photo by Michael Burton
All other photos by Travis Taylor

Revolution Brewing owner Josh Deth passes out black military-style caps with red six-pointed Chicago stars to the forty people who’ve showed up at his brewpub on this gorgeous June morning for the Communist-themed Long March. This eight-mile hike from Logan Square to Comiskey Park is named after the 8,000-mile retreat of the Chinese Red Army’s led by Mao Zedong in 1934 from Chiang Kai-Shek’s nationalist forces.

After brunch and glasses of pink, hibiscus-infused Rosa beer our parade steps off southeast on Milwaukee Avenue, led by march organizer and pedestrian activist Michael Burton. I’m walking near the front of the pack holding aloft a Chicago flag, wearing a t-shirt with the image of a walk signal and the words, “Walking is NOT a crime.” The shirt is a souvenir from a 2004 Pedestrian Critical Mass demonstration that Burton organized in response to a proposed crackdown by the city’s Traffic Management Authority on downtown jaywalkers. I soon hand off the flag to a more photogenic woman with pink hair wearing knee boots and hot pants.

With our black hats our group appears to be a unified organization and we soon come across another crowd in matching outfits, dozens of teens in gray t-shirts, staging at California. I ask a girl what they’re up to. “We’re here to spread a positive message of self-respect to the community,” she says and asks what we’re doing. “Oh, we’re just marching to a Sox game,” I say sheepishly.

As we continue southeast a female motorist quickly pulls out of a driveway near Armitage, crossing dangerously close to the front of our pack. “Hey watch it lady,” says one of the crew. “This is the Long March.” I scold the woman as well, calling out my t-shirt’s slogan.

When we reach the six-way Milwaukee/North/Damen intersection, AKA “The Crotch,” Damen is closed south of the intersection for the Green Music Festival, calming traffic somewhat. We talk advantage of our strength in numbers to walk directly across the intersection instead of using the proscribed, counter-intuitive two-crosswalk route. We pass by the Flat Iron building, which is slated to get the city’s first on-street bike parking corral this summer, bankrolled by the Wicker Park-Bucktown Special Service Area.

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We pass by Copenhagen Cyclery, 1375 N. Milwaukee, with a pink cargo bike parked outside. Just south is a new pedestrian plaza on the former site of a McDonalds, marked with an honorary street sign that reads “Jan Metzger Way.” Metzger, who passed away last year, was a community activist who worked at the Center for Neighborhood Technology and wrote the book What Would Jane Say? (Lake Claremont Press, 2009), discussing the roles of influential women like Jane Addams in building modern Chicago. Metzger was instrumental in getting this plaza built.

At Division/Ashland/Milwaukee I note that the city has installed a new pedestrian refuge island. This intersection is home to Polish Triangle, essentially a large traffic island featuring the Nelson Algren Fountain. Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno is interested in closing Division Street to cars south of the triangle, connecting the island to the mainland.

We get a breathtaking view of the Loop as we’re crossing a bridge over the Kennedy Expressway, then come to Willard Ct., where a plaque commemorates the River North Gas Fire, which took place in January 1992. A natural gas leak and explosion caused the fire which resulted in four deaths and 37 burned buildings.

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After we turn south on Halsted we climb a hill and cross over Kinzie, where the Chicago Cuttin’ Crew bike racing team’s school bus is parked in the trailer yard for the Pickens Kane moving and storage company. A couple blocks south at Lake Street Rubino’s Seafood has a sign advertising lobster tails for $26/pound.

We stop for beers at Haymarket Brewery and Pub, 737 W. Randolph, another labor-themed brewpub, named for the 1886 Haymarket affair. During a workers’ rights demonstration at nearby Haymarket Square, an unknown person threw dynamite at police who were shutting down the meeting, resulting in the deaths of eight officers. Eight anarchist were tried for murder; four were executed and one committed suicide in prison by biting a dynamite cap.

Refreshed, we continue south through Greektown and over the spaghetti-bowl highway interchange of the Kennedy and the Ike which gives UIC’s Circle Campus its name. We pass by Hull House, 800 S. Halsted, the settlement house Jane Addams founded in 1889 to help new immigrants adjust to life in Chicago.

A few blocks south a second car swerves dangerously close to our group as it pulls into a driveway. We’re about to start yelling at the driver when we realize the car contains a couple of young, female Red Bull energy drink reps. They jump out of the car to offer us free samples from their backpacks, shaped like giant Red Bull cans.

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South of Roosevelt we’re heading through University Village, a new “neighborhood” built on what used to be the Maxwell Street Market area, the birthplace of Chicago blues. I was disgusted when established clothing stores and other businesses were evicted and building were razed in the 1990s to make room for new condos and chain stores that cater to the UIC community. But now that several interesting independent businesses like Rapid Transit Cycle Shop, Joy Yee’s Noodles and Lush Wine have moved in on the strip I have to admit it’s starting to feel like a flourishing business district.

After passing through a Metra viaduct we’re in Pilsen where we soon come to the T-shaped intersection of Halsted and 18th where a hit-and-run driver killed Martha Gonzalez, a young wife and mother, as she tried to cross Halsted in 2009. Afterwards the city made minor changes to the intersection to improve safety but Gonzalez’s family, neighborhood activists and 25th Ward alderman Danny Solis say it’s still a dangerous intersection and more changes are needed. There’s a memorial to Gonzalez with flowers, photos and a sign offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the driver.

A few blocks south at Architectural Anarchy Gallery, 2229 S. Halsted, we stumble upon Brewhaha, an event celebrating local, organic food and craft beer. The march leaders decide to make a spontaneous stop for refreshments but we’re behind schedule and it’s time for me to head north for a wedding.

I walk east on Cermak to Chinatown and pick up some sesame balls and tea at a bakery, then catch the Red Line at the newly rehabbed station across from an expressway exit ramp. A few years ago a semi truck barreled off the ramp through the intersection and slammed into the escalator at the north entrance of the crowded station, killing two riders and injuring many others.

The Long March continued south, stopping to visit the Skylark bar and, in Bridgeport, Blue City Cycles and Bernice and John’s tavern, visiting a total of four drinking establishments in one afternoon. After heading east on 35th Street a few blocks the Revolutionaries staggered through the turnstiles at the ballpark in time for the sixth inning and watched the White Sox shut out Washington one-to-nothing.

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“Just as Mao’s Long March was central in the Peoples Liberation Army victory over the Nationalists,” writes Michael Burton, “We would like to think our Long March played a role in helping the Sox overcome the Nationals on this sunny afternoon, as the longer march of a pennant race looms ahead.”

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John Greenfield

John has lived in Chicago since 1989 and has worked a number of bicycle jobs, from messenger to mechanic to managing the Chicago Department of Transportation's bicycle parking program, arranging the installation of over 3,700 bike racks. He writes regularly for Time Out Chicago, Newcity, Momentum and Urban Velo magazines and works at Boulevard Bikes in Logan Square.

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