Sunday, July 11, 2010

Broad Lawns and Narrow Minds -OR- My Churlish and Ignant Neighbors

Our recent 4th of July festivities has ignited the usual post-fireworks fireworks. In these austere times, the number of towns that shut down their own celebrations caused a bit of a stampede to and within the places that saw no good reason to downsize or cancel their plans.

In a predictable chain-reaction, this has stirred resentment by some in my town, who don't subscribe to "the more; the merrier" line of thinking. My town is known for it's fireworks on the 4th, annually causing traffic jams along I-290 as motorists stop to watch the show. At the site and around the town, it's a day of backyard, frontyard, alley and street gatherings of family and friends. The everyday population of 15,000 triples, or more, every 4th and things stretch to accommodate.
And every year there are those whose sport is to ridicule blowing $20k on a fireworks display.

It's tough to argue when it is literally going up in smoke, but it's also hard to ignore the awe, splendor, escapism and celebratory good will that results each and every year. It's impossible to quantify the lingering effects that the countless gatherings and all-day activities add to life here. Reliving past 4ths, comparing this year's display to those past, glad in those who came to share, remembering those who can no longer take part... it's all part and parcel of the day's events.

Now this year's event is history. The buzz is mostly positive, but this year's predictable outcry has a bit of a twist. Taking a page from Arizona, a few vocal citizens are upset about the "outsiders" who "take advantage" of our events without having to pay taxes or fees for the enjoyment. "We need better border control"! As if Aliens should be rounded up and blindfolded so as not to be looking at the display.

To hear them tell it, this town, whose existence is enhanced, protected and perpetuated by its easy access to all of the amenities of the six-county Metro Chicago region, should think about gating the community to prevent "outsiders" partaking of our parties. And of course, it's not ALL outsiders, only "those people". And of course, these same people think nothing of jumping on the L, Metra, busses or expressway to avail themselves of the rest of the region's amenities. The town is about evenly split, Cubs/Sox. Mostly Bear fans. Closeted Bulls fans and at the moment ALL Blackhawk fans. They do the Art Institute, Museums, Lakefront, Millenium Park and Magnificent Mile. They dine "ethnically" all over the area, but don't see that as a two-way street?

Ernest Hemingway is said to have described his hometown as a village of "broad lawns and narrow minds." When Lil' Ernie was born, this town and his own were not even incorporated. Their borders were anything but solid. When he was seven or eight, there was a flurry of fear-driven formalizing, land-grabbing, line-drawing and renaming that more or less settled the area into the cities, towns and villages that we have today. They stopped short of erecting walls and checkpoints despite those who actively lobbied for such nonsense. They settled for making his "town" dry, while this one remained very, very WET! For almost 100 years, our main border skirmishes centered around their beer runs.

Without publicly acknowledging it, they realized that our independence was actually more INTER-dependence; that bunker building and absolute border security did nothing to enhance. Today's neighbors would do well to consider how silly their arguments really are.

Who goes there? is a question that can have various inflections, none of which are particularly helpful to anyone; least of all to anyone who calls "THERE" home.

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