The bonds of inconvenience

My first year in Hyde Park was marred by an unfortunate incident of homegrown, domestic terrorism.

By Tim Murphy

[img id=”80740″ align=”alignleft”] My first year in Hyde Park was marred by an unfortunate incident of homegrown, domestic terrorism. A disgruntled alumna, disillusioned with the fruits of her U of C education, attempted to burn Kent, Ryerson, Swift, and Eckhart Halls down to a sweet, smoking crisp.

It was a peculiar but altogether harmless incident. The only casualty of the whole affair was a stack of problem sets, already graded and entered into the record books.

The arsonist contended, perhaps not unfairly, that the University had failed to adequately prepare her for a career after commencement, and on this point, the evidence was in her favor: What kind of chemistry major resorts to burning stacks of graded papers? Was this what they meant by “alumni giving”?

Inevitably, anyone who has spent much time in Hyde Park will deal with similar emotions. For decades, the University—and the neighborhood it occupies—has been both a birthplace of great ideas and a breeding ground for frustration.

And although most of us find more constructive outlets for self-expression than arson, it will nonetheless manifest itself, causing us to complain that our neighborhood is inadequate.

This spring and summer, as the swarms of reporters descended upon Hyde Park to dig into the early years of our basketball-loving, Red Sea-parting neighbor, Barack Hussein Obama, they reached these conclusions as well.

A Salon column in March, for example, noted the “contradictory strains” of intellectualism in Hyde Park, while stressing the neighborhood’s “coexistence.”

Others made similar observations. “Hyde Park,” wrote Andrew Ferguson for the conservative Weekly Standard, is “neither one thing nor the other.”

The neighborhood is conspicuous for its excesses and deficiencies. There are six bookstores and a handful of theological seminaries, but not a single place to purchase socks. There’s high density of nocturnal, neurotic college students, but just one establishment that regularly stays open all night to cater to them (Dunkin’ Donuts). Hyde Park has no hotel for proud parents to stay during Family Weekend, no El stop, and, until recently, no place to buy fresh vegetables

But despite the numerous black marks (and I’ve only named a few), it’s from this very balance of immoderation from which Hyde Park draws its strengths.

Far from being “rootless,” Hyde Park is so unwieldy precisely because its values are so firmly rooted in so many different places.

Hyde Park projects a rare commingling of cultures in a highly segregated city. Blacks and whites, Friedman conservatives and leftist radicals all call the neighborhood home, and all likely find similar things to complain about—even William Ayers needs a fresh pair of socks every once in a while.

It’s a company town in many ways, but no one has a monopoly on Hyde Park. And while that leaves us with much to complain about, its Jekyll and Hyde ethos can be rewarding.

There is something convenient about having so many places to try to find a copy of Hiroshima for class or an overabundance of places to buy a sandwich. And for all its inadequacies, the lack of any place to purchase clothes outside of the U of C bookstore provides students with a healthy incentive to hop on a bus and explore Chicago.

It can be a bit unyielding. Still, it’s refreshing to know that, even as development and modern amenities spread to the far corners of the earth and our neighbor takes one step closer to the White House, back home, our late-night dining options will still be sparse, our bookstores cluttered, and our swimming holes crumbling into a million little pieces. Some things never change.