Center of Chicago? It's on the South Side
Friday - September 16, 1983
Last Update: 06-10-2015
NOW that the White Sox are definitely going to be in the playoffs and then the World Series and bring the championship to the place where it belongs, a number of puzzled non-South Siders, outsiders, and editors are wondering where the South Side is and what it is all about.
There is no point in asking Mike Royko about this. He is an admirable man and a native son, but his knowledge of Southsldehood is clouded by his obsessive Northwest sidedness. He is even a Cub fan and openly admits it.
My qualifications are impeccable. I have been a member of the White Sox religion for seven years and I drank my first illegal beer in the confines of Comiskey Park at the age of 13. They do not allow that sort of thing anymore, but it was wonderful then.
It should be noted that l live in the boonies now, but being a South Sider is not a matter of place. It is something you are born with or grow up with, like a birthmark or an accent.
I FREELY HAVE confessed that I was a member of the Cub religion until the day they traded Bill Madlock for Bobby Murcer. I still go to Wrigley Field because it is a nice ball yard, but I watch the Cubs with the cool detachment of a happily married man seeing, by accident, his ex-wife in a grocery store. Polite and reserved and very smug. And even my years in the wilderness of Cubfandom saw me sneaking through the turnstiles at 35th and Shields to spend a smokey night under the lights from a perch in the upper deck along the left-field line.
Because I spent most of my life on the South Side and have not been able to shake my accent, despite years of living with North Siders and West Siders, I think I am still able to claim legitimate credentials of Southsiderhood.
A South Sider is a South Sider forever. I have met them in Paris and other exotic places, like Peoria. I have received letters from South Siders who are missionaries in Africa. We are all South Siders under the skin and like the freemasons are freemasons, no matter where they roam.
THE SECRET SIGN, passed between South Siders, is full of ritual:
"Hey, whee you from?"
"Hey, I'm from Rita."
"I went to D."
"So you gre up on the South Side, huh?"
William Singer once told me that, as a Jewish kid on the South Side, the first thing he learned was where his nearest Catholic church was. He used it as identification with other South Siders, as in: What parish you from?
Jean Shepherd, a South Sider in exile in New York for many years, has posed the great dilemma of the South Sider in an alien world in simple terms: "Do you know what it's like growing up as a South Sider and finally realizing you are in a world of North Siders?" He has spent his entire professional career as a humorist attempting to answer that question.
SO HERE ARE SOME instant facts on the South Side for those reporters, editors, pundits and outsiders who want to know all about the South Side in time to watch the While Sox become the champions of the world.
Q - Where is the South Side?
A - It is roughly south of Roosevelt Road and Blue Island.
Q - This is where all the South Siders live?
A - No. They are scattered throughout the known world.
Q - Do they have identifying marks?
A - Yes. Knife scars, for one. And an inability to pronounce "th" in moments of stress. They also wear T-shirts in leisure time, even when it's cold. Even the girls. It is the last bastion of sideburns and pedal pushers. All real South Siders know all the words to "Earth Angel" and are willing to sing it after only two beers.
Q - What is the South Sider known for?
A - Poets and dreamers. It is the home side of Richard Wright and James T. Farrell, to name two. Ring Lardner stomped around here and so does Bill Gleason.
Q - What are its famous sights?
A - The South Works of U.S. Steel. The Rinso plant. Promitory Point on the lake. The Museum of Science and Industry, called by the natives "The Musee of Signs and Dustry." Comiskey Park, home of the White Sox and the Chicago Cardinals. The Home Run Inn. Midway Airport. DeLaSalle High School. The home of the late Mayor. Area One Homicide. Hegewisch-by-the-Sea. Pullman. The Dan Ryan Expressway. So many more.
Q - What about Hyde Park and the university?
A - They are not on the South Side.
Q - Sure they are, Look at this map.
A - They are not on the South Side. The map is wrong. Next question.
Q - What does the South Side mean to Chicago?
A - Very philosophical of you to ask. It is the soul of Chicago. All the great leaders of the city have come from the South Side. Mayor Washington is from there and so is Mayor Vrdolyk. The late mayor came from there and so did mayor Capone. Nothing gets done in Chicago without the South Side around to show how it's supposed to get done.
Despite the claims of Northwest Siders, the facts are simple: They do not have a ballpark on the Northwest Side and they have produced only two great leaders - Roman Pucinski and writer Nelson Algren. And Nelson Algren preferred to move to Paterson, N.J., which tells you something. ||
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