A Very Tiny Voyage: Wilson and Maplewood, Chicago

The corner of Wilson and Maplewood is 1.5 miles from my house. Three days a week, at 6 in the morning, I run there and back. I do this to get in shape, to make my heart and lungs and legs stronger and healthier, to relieve stress, and to try to convince myself that I’m no longer the fat, uncoordinated twelve-year-old who would fake twisting her ankle at the far end of the field every time we had to run the mile.

The trip starts in my neighborhood, Albany Park. I love living here, and I love complaining about living here. The main problem, aside from the crime and violence, is that it’s filthy. There’s garbage everywhere. So as I run through my neighborhood, I’m dodging Cheeto bags and corn husks and broken glass. I mostly keep my eyes on the sidewalk to avoid the trash and the uneven, broken bits of pavement.

I turn east along Wilson, and there are usually a lot of guys out at this hour waiting on the street corners with their coolers full of lunch for their one buddy with the truck to pick them up and take them to the job site. This is in contrast to the day laborers who wait on Lawrence, the major street two blocks north, for a random potential employer to come along.

As I cross Kimball, the neighborhood spiffs up slightly. Fewer large apartment buildings, more two- and three-flats. Nicer gardens, a couple with these huge, beautiful bushes full of purple flowers that I don’t know what they are (the flowers almost look like morning glories, if that helps).

Then on the corner of Wilson and Kedzie there’s a for-real Starbucks, which this marks the center of the nice part of Albany Park. And a few blocks later, it’s full-blown gorgeous, classic Chicago bungalows and large Prairie-inspired homes and this strangely unfriendly house that appears to have been built backward, with a plain, almost windowless brick face and a big porch in the back, where the passing riff-raff can’t see you. I am now in Ravenswood Manor. If I were to turn down one of the cross-streets a little later in the day, I could stop in at a cute little cafe with delicious coffee and a fresh cherry pie that tastes exactly like summer.

For you politics buffs, this is the neighborhood our nutjob of a former governor, Rod Blagojevich, lived in, before he lived in prison.

And then I run up a little hill that feels, to my sad old legs, like a pretty big hill, and then I’m on the bridge over the river. If I look north, I can see the El tracks–one of my favorite Chicago sights is the El running over the river around sunset. Looking south, I can see city-stuff in the background, but if I don’t look too far, it might almost feel like I’m in the country. The gigantic, expensive houses that back up to the river all have docks, and so the river is lined with pontoons.

Fun fact: when crossing the river, I always look for alligators and bodies. I have never seen either.

And then I head down the hill on the other side of the river, and now I’m in Lincoln Square. On the scale of classiness, it is below Ravenswood Manor but above Albany Park. I only have a few blocks to go past the well-kept two-flats and single-family homes, and then, just past the house with the bright red door, I hit my goal, Wilson and Maplewood, 1.5 miles. My feet hit the square of the sidewalk where the crosswalk intersects, and I pivot and turn back the way I came.

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