Left to right, Sally Kidwell, Paula Waldron, Mercita DeMonk, Joyce Callahan, Joan Gibbons, Suzette Sutton. | Provided

Not all old people are chronic complainers, but it’s an easy trap to fall into when your calendar is filled with doctor appointments instead of tickets to Hamilton or Paris.

I have a wonderful group of “coffee” friends in my building and we complain. When we get together, we usually start off with an “organ recital” to bring each other up to date on recent surgeries, splints and setbacks. A few have lost their husbands recently, and before that were caring for them using wheelchairs, walkers, canes, braces, etc. 

My buddies have been nagging me for a long time to write about what it’s like trying to get around in our neighborhood, i.e. downtown Oak Park. Here goes:

Crossing the street takes guts. You wind up throwing caution to the wind and hoping for the kindness of strangers (forgive two cliches in a row). The lights at Harlem and Lake have been extended to about 28 seconds, which is great, but if you’re using a cane or walker, although you could make it across, some drivers will actually hover, honk and cut you off.

The crossings at Marion and Lake are just plain zany. You could do your nails in the time it takes to get “Walk” across Lake, but “Walk” across Marion flashes twice as often. I actually cross in the middle of Marion to avoid the corner.

There are also two intersections called Lake and Forest; both form a death trap. The one in front of the new high-rise is simply un-crossable. Confusing stoplights for Lake Street traffic, construction minus sidewalks, add trucks and bikes and try getting across, not to mention pushing a spouse in a wheelchair. There should have been a crossing guard all during construction. Last week I saw a fire engine, horns blasting, unable to get through the intersection.

Of course, you could go to the corner of the other Lake and Forest, where there’s a light. If you wait long enough, you’ll get a “Walk” when you least expect it, but you’ll only get 4-5 seconds to cross. I can walk at a good pace, but I only make it about halfway.

I have found the absolute safest place to cross Lake is where there’s no light at all —  right in front of the Lake Theatre, or near Pier One, where there are signs for cars to stop for pedestrians. Be sure to stand for a few seconds to make sure everyone complies and then take off. It’s great. Of course, yesterday in front of the new monolith going up near Pier One, I actually had to walk into the street, but a construction worker called me ma’am (they used to call me “Red”) and kept an eye on me. Sigh.

Getting back to wheelchairs and walkers, the flowers and decorative fences in front of the downtown restaurants are lovely, but they’re really tough to navigate with an assistive device. Take a look next time. Note the variation in sidewalks and streets, with decorative brick (often broken), uneven sidewalks, trees surrounded by blacktop, sidewalk signs, planters on either side …

We also wonder about other things: Why does the village constantly talk about attracting high-end retail when those places go out of business and while so many good spaces sit empty for so long? I have yet to see a single customer in the beautifully designed new athletic shoe store — DTS? — next to the popcorn store.

What do Oak Parkers want? Parking, of course. Our solution? Bring back the trolleys of a few years ago, and have them go back and forth on Lake from Harlem to Austin every 10 minutes. And make them accessible.

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Mary Kay O'Grady

Mary Kay O'Grady is a former high school English teacher and later owned her own public relations business, The O'Grady Group. She has lived in Oak Park for almost fifteen years. She is currently the chairperson...

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