Night In Chicago: Life In A Dumpster

I don’t guess it was the story of the century, but it caught my attention. I was riding with a friend one night in the satellite suburbs of Chicago. I know that sounds vague. Years back I got to know some cops in The City That Works and we got along. When I’m out that way, they’ll say, Hey, Fred, let’s ride, just don’t identify me. It’s almost more social than journalistic.

Anyway, the city had started some time back a policy of shipping ghetto folk out to live in the burbs. Nobody knows what to do about the huge rotting sections of downtown where nobody learns to read and shrapnel flies. Nothing works. So cities keep trying things that don’t work. They increase welfare to bring residents to a higher standard. Then they reduce welfare to instill a work ethic. They build huge high-rise projects to warehouse people. Then they tear them down and build low-rise projects because the bucolic atmosphere will improve their life. Then they ship them to the suburbs to live in subsidized housing. Which doesn’t work either. Then they do it all over again.

This particular suburb was separated from Chicago proper, and had been a quiet and safe place. Then the people from downtown had been brought in. (More correctly, I guess, encouraged to come, but the effect was the same.) What happened, the cop told me, was that an urban family would show up from the projects with five kids, three of them gangbangers. The bangers would invite their friends from the city to come live with them. They’d put sleeping bags on the floor.

Drugs immediately appeared in larger quantities — drugs are already everywhere — and crime increased and murder began. In Chicago, gangs are industrial strength: the Vice Lords, Latin Kings, Black Gangster Disciples, dozens of others. Not good.

Anyway, the cop I was with was trying to find a bad guy named Carlos. Carlos owned, or sort of owned, or was somehow partners in, a sleazy little club in a mall. We never found him. The cop said he has fat, in his late twenties, up to the eyeballs in the drug racket, and wanted in connection with a murder. The cops didn’t have enough to arrest him, but they wanted to talk to him.

So we were sitting in the car in the mall, waiting for Carlos. If anything had come over the radio, we would have gone to it, but this guy wanted Carlos. The night was chilly, not quite freezing but thinking about it. Off to our right at some distance was a dumpster behind a dry cleaners or something. Except for the club, everything was closed.

I looked toward the dumpster and a guy was climbing into it. Derelict. I asked my buddy about it. Oh yeah, he said, happened all the time. For a guy who really was homeless, a dumpster had advantages. It kept the wind off, which matters in Chicago, and there was soft stuff to lie on. Usually a bum had a sleeping roll of some kind. The cops didn’t hassle them. What good would it do?

Sometimes, he said, you found two or three guys in the same dumpster, kind of nesting, with a bottle of wine. The garbage trucks had to look before they emptied the things, because somebody had been killed in a compactor somewhere, he had heard.

Carlos’ car pulled into the mall, a nice black Beamer. Funny, you wouldn’t think a tiny club would produce enough profit for that kind of ride. It saw us and kept on going. My buddy fell in behind it, followed it down a side road, and pulled it over.

It wasn’t Carlos. Apparently he knew the cops were looking for him, and wasn’t helping. He had let friends use the car. No, they hadn’t seen him in a long time. They weren’t sure how long. Their English was barely intelligible. Latino gangbangers always have trouble with English when they don’t want to answer questions.

There was no point in hassling them. Besides, a lot of cops like to maintain relations as amicable as possible with the bad guys. That way, they may help get something on a rival gang, and it’s easier to find out who is where.

We went off to save other princesses. I kept thinking it must be a strange thing to live in a dumpster. And if ever I’d want a large bottle of cheap wine, that would be when.

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