The photo above shows a storefront on what was always referred to as 57th Street on the south side of Chicago. The photo itself slightly predates the events described in this narrative.
I started running away from home when I was 15. This was the first place I ran to because I heard that I could find people here to steer me to a “crash pad”, a place to sleep or live temporarily and at no cost.
It was this alley and on this block where I was taken into police custody on a few occasions. My most serious criminal charges arose out of actions taken in this vicinity. The alley seen adjacent to the store was also the heart of an adolescent social community which I became a part of.
I would eventually be arrested on this very block for disorderly conduct, loitering, resisting arrest, possession of a controlled substance and possession of stolen or mislaid property. I was probably stopped and searched here by CPD at least 20 times.
The storefront in the photo was a bookstore and coffeehouse. I was banned from this business at an early age and as a result I retaliated and escalated my activities in and around there which resulted in a manager putting a gun to my forehead, bouncers removing me and Chicago police escorting me to the local precinct station.
That alley was possibly the epicenter of the cultural revolution for dozens of teens like myself. Many days and nights, multiple squad cars would arrive and harass the gathered long-haired hippie teens. Here is where many a drug deal went down, the revolution planned and consciousness was expanded via intellectual discourse and LSD.
Next door to this corner building you can see the Christian Science Reading Room. The Room was the location of my least productive commercial burglary. About $3.65.
4 storefronts down was Ahmad’s Persian restaurant where I could be found in the evenings selling pot. My friend Abby Bardi worked at Ahmad’s and depicted it in her great novel, Double Take. This is also where my fence, (a much older criminal also depicted in the novel) met me in the evenings to take possession of my stolen-goods for safe keeping. It was Ahmad’s where the CPD arrived, in what is generally described as dragnet (a network of measures for apprehension), looking to place me in custody for innumerable burglaries . Fortunately, I had escaped out the back door just in the nick of time and fled the jurisdiction (not depicted in the novel). Days later you would have found me safely ensconced in San Francisco. In a time before cell phones there were 2 ways to communicate with me when I was a youth. Come to 57th or call the pay phone inside Ahmad’s.
Very few of my pals from those days survived. Those that did are still friends of mine. Drugs and violence took so many so young. I was shaped by the many youths who crossed my path here. All colors, sexual preferences and intellect. Kids whose parents were janitors and some whose parents were nuclear physicist or molecular biologists and such at the nearby University of Chicago. The first artificial nuclear chain reaction took place 5 blocks from here in 1942.
I am a productive member of society now. I was just simply lucky that I was spared death and prison. The massive amounts of hallucinogens, barbiturates and amphetamine I consumed could probably have caused my death even in the absence of other violent forces. But, my heart and soul and concern for the welfare of others was shaped and concretized here. It may be a paradox that I could have had such a flexible moral code while simultaneously being shaped into the very progressive, liberal stalwart that I remain today.
It is hard for me to have seen this photo online today and not get nostalgic. Try as I might, I will never feel I can do justice describing the place where I was at my craziest, slickest and most evasive. That street introduced me to some of the smartest, craziest, stoned but cool kids ever. In my own way I am proud to have been here to mingle and play a role when the cultural revolution we associate with the hippie culture was at its peak.
If you know me to be visiting Chicago, you can bet that I will take a stroll down 57th or as I now call it, Memory Lane.