It has been a terrible week.
In Oak Park. In Austin. And stretching out from there.
Nothing culminates right now. But certainly we reached some sort of moment Monday afternoon when Donald Trump exited the bunker, had peaceful protesters driven from Lafayette Park with tear gas and gave a disorienting speech about sending military forces into American cities to put down what he is on the verge of labeling an insurrection.
We are in trouble. And it is certainly not from heart-wrenching and overdue protests of systemic racism in our policing, nor even from the frightening and destructive looting racking our neighborhoods. We’re in trouble from the top.
But the trouble brings sharp contrasts with the hope that is out there when you go looking.
Sunday was a day of jarring contrasts as we went about the work of reporting on our neighborhoods. Just before 1 p.m. I was on the green behind Oak Park’s village hall as brave and eloquent members of OPRF’s class of 2020 convened a protest. It was peaceful. It was pointed. Outside of the organizers, it was too white — a chronic Oak Park issue. The protest took place with the logistical support of the Oak Park police — bathrooms open, handwashing station provided — but police made no public showing there, which was reassuring.
God knows this was not the gathering these kids deserve to cap their OPRF years. But in the moment, it felt right.
Later I spent three hours in Austin where we publish the Austin Weekly News. As noted in a news article elsewhere in the paper, it was Austin showing its loving and ragged extremes. The side streets on a perfect Sunday were filled with families on their porches, graduations being celebrated with COVID precautions. And in hot spots along Cicero Avenue there was out of control looting of liquor stores and shoes stores and cellphone stores. An old storefront burned at Madison and Cicero until the fire department doused it.
There was no pretense of protest along Cicero Avenue Sunday. This was opportunistic, sometimes giddy, criminal action. Curious and scary to watch up close as, for some hours, the thinly held norms we mainly follow fell away. The greatest danger Sunday in those limited hot spots was drivers on the wrong side of the street, at high speeds, ignoring red lights and the looters, largely but not exclusively young, darting between the cars.
We report today on the godawful predicament of our favorite local restaurants, all at the brink, many finally open for limited outdoor seating as COVID-19 restrictions ease and now making day-by-day decisions if it safe to open at all, owing to violence and danger.
Talked Monday to a longtime restaurant owner without a history of outdoor seating who is not yet allowed to improvise some solution. Oak Park’s village government is two weeks behind on this one. These eateries needed proactive approval to close parking spaces, set up tables and make some money. Now. Waiving permits and fees is good. But not getting them open last weekend is a fail.
George Konstantos, owner of George’s on Oak Park Avenue, looking over his mask, said to me with desperation, “I’m going to lose everything I have.”
Back in the paper we carry the obit for Frank Muriello. Once a village trustee, the longtime head of the Residence Corporation, a pillar of Ascension Church, a man with a family, and, yes, one of those early investors in Wednesday Journal.
Ed Solan, who followed Frank at the Residence Corporation, was precisely right when he said Frank Muriello — second generation Italian immigrant, who grew up above his family’s grocery at Madison and East — belongs in the top echelon of bold, inclusive, pragmatic, caring thinkers who shaped Oak Park’s experiment in race and integration starting in the late 1960s.
This was a good man.
And finally, because it is important for a newspaper columnist to correct his mistakes and because it can’t hurt to think about something else, two readers have set me straight on what business preceded Pieritz Bros. at Ridgeland and South Boulevard.
I had the fancy dress store part right. But the wrong name. Peck & Peck sold its fancy dresses at Oak Park Avenue and Lake Street, now home to Courageous Cupcakes. Claudia, owner of Claudia’s, sold fancy dresses in what then became Pieritz.