In 2019, I traveled to Thailand, Australia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Botswana. I wrote stories about each of those trips.
In 2020, I travel every day to Puerto Rico. It occurs to me, why don’t I write about that?
On a mere three-mile round-trip run from my front door, I pass beneath the eastern Puerto Rican border on Division Street. It seems I ought to have my passport.
About a half-mile down Division, I enter the Humboldt Park neighborhood, where Saul Bellow grew up and where L. Frank Baum wrote The Wizard of Oz. All long before the 1960s, when the European Jews, Germans and Italians grudgingly gave way to an amazingly predominant population of Puerto Ricans.
(Some of whom were fighting for Puerto Rican independence at the time.)
After a half-mile down Division Street, I enter the vast park the neighborhood is named after, which opened in 1877.
As I run, I’m regarded by the locals with neither hostility nor friendliness. It’s as if I’m translucent—just visible enough to avoid bumping into.
Surreptitiously, I watch the old men who gather around chess tables and under trees, the lawn-chair families that play loud music from their car stereos, the young boys smoking dope, the lovers who have strung hammocks between trees—and the amazing number of old men sitting in their parked cars, napping, or eating ice cream cones. One afternoon, a woman juggled bowling pins, alone in a meadow.
I have no pictures of these people because I wouldn’t dare to take pictures of these people, any more than they would dare to sneak into my backyard and take pictures of me.
In the summer, food trucks are permanently parked in reliable locations, flying all the right flags—one for the United States, one for Chicago and two for Puerto Rico.
Every day, I stop at what I think is the most beautiful vista in the park and take this picture, which becomes more meaningful in my mind every time I snap it. The static scene. The changeable sky. The sidewalk that ends. (Speaking of Where the Sidewalk Ends, Shel Silverstein grew up in Humboldt Park, too.) I share the picture on Facebook the moment I shoot it, to remind people of something. What, I don’t yet know.
Then it’s back down Division Street, past the murals that I ignored because I’m not a big mural guy. Until one day last week, when I decided to take a few pictures of them, and became a big mural guy.
I see it all, on a half-hour run almost every single day. Follow the yellow brick road. (Which they’ve actually built, on the corner where Frank Baum used to live.)