Haresh Shah

Because, that’s where I live!

Because it’s the street where I go for my daily walks. Something I started doing on January 1, 2000 while still living in Prague. On that first day of the millennium, my friend Jan Heemskerk and I took a walk deep into the woods near his home in Alkmaar, Holland. Walking is one of he best ways to stay in shape, proclaimed Jan. I took his words to the heart and since then that’s what I have been doing to stay fit. As refreshing as it was walking into the woods, plodding through the mud soaked trails and soaking up the fresh air, I basically am a city creature. Having born and grown up in  Mumbai, walking along the sea shore is an activity every Mumbaiwallah undertakes soon as the sun goes down or at crack of the dawn. The practice I  have continued all through my life, be it in London or in a little village of Schutterwald in Germany’s Black Forest. Jan’s bon mot added a whole new dimension to my casual strolling.

I moved back to Chicago in October of 2006, and in Division Street I found a perfect “trail” to keep pounding the pavements. It is a long, straight and broad street with the widest sidewalks of any city in the world that I can think of. It stretches for 16 miles (28 kilometers) from Lake Michigan in the east to Oak Park and beyond to Thatcher Woods in the west of the city. The stretch I must have walked hundreds – thousands of times lays between North Maplewood and North Ashland/North Milwaukee near Nelson Algren Fountain, commonly  known as the Polish Triangle, the area once also referred to as Polish Downtown and Polish Broadway.  

Because it is the street made notoriously famous by Nelson Algren’s National Book Award winning novel, The Man with the Golden Arm and also Never Come Morning. You can almost feel the ghosts of Algren’s downtrodden and desperate characters still haunting Division Street and its surroundings – the places they once inhabited.

Because my memories and the relationship to the street go back to my early days in Chicago to the summer of 1968 and four years that followed. Because I prowled the eastern stretch of Division at Rush and State streets with my Time Inc. buddies in now what have become to be the landmarks such as Mothers, Shenanigans and Butch McGuire’s – the late late night bars and discos. All three of them  still exist and are thriving fifty years later. Even though I no longer hang out at those locales of my youth, mere a dozen blocks west is where Division comes to life on a stretch between Milwaukee/Ashland on the east and Western on the west. The  places like Inn Joy, Fatpour and Boundary counter balance the indulgence and decadence of young and wanna be young. Not to mention a whole slew of excellent restaurants and cafes that dot the strip.

This is the stretch that has become a part of my day to day life in the last eleven years. Roberto  Clemente High School and Saint Mary’s Hospital are only a stones throw away on Division from where I live. It bursts into life as early as six in the morning with the pungent aroma of coffee wafting in the air from one of at least a dozen cafes that jolt you awake with a shot of caffeine and freshly baked croissant and pastry. At seven pops open the store front physical therapy center Athletico. Then small convenience shops, and Nature Yoga Sanctuary. Chase and other banks start their day at nine. Come around ten’o clock, open all boutique shops. An hour later all  restaurants and some bars. Whatever has remained shuttered up until then, springs to life at five and the good times begin to roll. Batch by batch, life unfolds and in similar fashion folds back just like opening and closing of lotus.

Walking is how I get the sense and the sights and the sounds and the smells of  what makes each one of those places what they are. It is how I find new places – run into people – some of them over and over again, Many of them I don’t even know names of, but we exchange greetings – buenos dias and como estas Papi? Or simply a Hi. There is certain amount of recognition and familiarity in seeing the same faces over and over again. Walking is how I discover new restaurants and cafes. New shops. New buildings coming up and being torn down. Experience first hand the transformation of the street that seems to be in a constant motion.

Although there is Division Street in Chicago, the title of this book is metaphorical. Wrote Chicago legend, Studs Terkel in his prefatory notes to his book Division Street AMERICA, back  in 1967. So now fifty one years later – metaphorically speaking, Division Street still embodies down home America.

And because, because, because…

© 2018 Haresh Shah

Next Week

Via Carducci la Sorella

My home away from home – the restaurant I discovered during my daily walk the very week it was opened and has since then become my all time favorite. What makes Via Carducci click is Giovanni Scalzo – and his amazing journey through starting out as a dishwasher at a pizzeria to becoming one of the most successful restaurateur on Division.




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