Artists of the Wall, 2021

For about 600 feet along the beach in Loyola Park, there is a concrete retaining wall / park bench that, some three decades ago, was a major magnet for graffiti, most of it distinctly inartistic if not downright threatening. What began as a housekeeping experiment evolved into an annual community institution: segments of the wall, freshly sandblasted and primed, were licensed out to whomever in the community wanted to express themselves. Make an event of it. And so they did. After missing 2020 because of the COVID plague, this year’s event was held over the June 19 – 20 weekend.

I don’t know the institutional history of the event. As it is in a city park, the Chicago Park District has been involved from the start, but there have been other institutional players involved in the past. Today it seems to be primarily the responsibility of the Park District’s Loyola Park Advisory Council.

Any complete history of the event is absent the web: no list of participants, no documentation of their artwork, no record of who “won” or when prizes first were awarded. The advisory council’s Facebook page has photos as far back as 2012. I’ve posted selections of my own photos from 2019 and 2018 and 2017. I’ve been photographing the wall since around the turn of the century, so you’ll find photos from earlier Artists of the Wall events scattered among the earlier posts on Yip Abides as the temptation to sometimes use them as illustrations was irresistible.

So here is my contribution to the cloud, a selection of complete panels or detail therein and by no means a complete record for the year, only of what I liked:

(Click any image to enlarge it.)

Buying Legal Weed in Illinois

Photo by Roman; panel from the 2006 Artists of the Wall

Weed is now legal in Illinois. That’s not news even if it is new. The long lines to purchase cannabis in various formulations were a spectacle. They were crazy. Unappealing. Deterring. But along came Friday, January 3rd. I had an errand at a bank several CTA Red Line stations southward… And there’s a cannabis dispensary / store just a few more stops south. Surely some of the crowds must have dissipated by now… Should I check it out?

Isn’t it amazing how reason can be enlisted to fulfill a heart’s desire?

So Noon found me walking up the street toward the dispensary, except it suddenly seemed the dispensary was across the street and a block south from where it should be. What gives? There were two security guards on the street. They confirmed: This is the line for recreational customers. Oh look, there’s only a dozen folks queued before the door. I didn’t ask the guards for the wait time.

Isn’t it amazing how blindness can be enlisted to fulfill a heart’s desire?

Well, it didn’t take but five minutes or so for the line to move indoors. That was a majorly optimistic event, but the scene inside should have argued otherwise. When you fold the queue as if it were an intestine, you can pack away quite a few people. And they don’t even complain about what they are going through.

Isn’t it amazing how “in for a penny, in for a pound” disarms sensible responses among humans? You can do almost anything to them. It’s like hypnotizing a chicken with a white line.

But truly, the dispensary had done something clever and almost wise. It was clearly not a good thing all around to have a line of customers down and around the block outside. A storefront show room was available just down the street from the dispensary. Rent this, use it to house a line that would have been otherwise seriously miserable and unsightly. The dispensary embellished this by handing out order forms with a redemption coupon that both promised a future discount and I.D.’d your order. It would be there when you finally made it to the dispensary.

Placing the order turned out to be a bit of a hassle though it was minor compared to the wait. Each clipboard with order form included a printed menu of what was in stock. The people staffing the line clearly did not trust the dispensary’s stated inventory, especially of cannabis flowers, whether prerolled or bulk. They recommended ordering a general category, e.g. sativa flowers 1 gram. And quantities were rationed.

It turns out that once you arrived at the point of sale, the check-out staff were pretty flexible, within State law, about revising your order. I suspect that it was partly that customers were going to insist on this flexibility anyway, and when you’re dealing with a long day of dealing with a huge crowd, who needs the hassle?

The wait stretched on. The line moved periodically, in quanta just large enough to subtly reward your patience. It helped, also, that most of the waiting customers were in a generally good mood, maybe some had taken a head start while at home. This was bolstered by a few security personnel who seemed both mission driven and genuinely appreciative of people. They also periodically handed out free hot dogs (including ketchup for all the out-of-state visitors), bottled water and tangerines. A magician worked the line, pulling items from noses and ears and fooling with unsuspecting decks of cards. Unfortunately, I had no thirst nor any discernible appetite. Give me access to a bathroom and I’ll be okay. Incidentally, considering the crowd, the men’s room, at least, was okay.

For my part, I’m a geezer. My time is both incredibly precious and incredibly devalued. Waste an afternoon in line? I can do that! The out-of-pocket cost is negligible but in the long run…

The crowd, come to speak of it, was largely white and male, though most ethnicities and genders were represented, only not in numbers that reflected the local population. It was possibly skewed toward youth. Certainly my fellow geezers were there, but not many and I’m not old enough for the casualty rate to be quite that high. And on that Friday afternoon, it turned out that a large percentage, though not a majority, of the waiting customers were from out of state.

If there were anything amiss with the dispensary’s strategy, it might have been in relying on a pacific crowd. There were a lot of people in that waiting room and there was only one obvious exit. (There were other exits but not obvious.) It was not a place for any sort of panic.

The final step was queuing to clear the dispensary’s identification check: driver’s license or passport. They scanned the barcodes on these, so just how much information you’re giving up by engaging in this transaction… now that is an interesting question, even though the transactions were all cash.

It was a gruelling experience. It reminded me of the time, some decades ago, when a great many AMTRAK trains had unreserved seating. I boarded a way oversold train in Springfield, Illinois, then had to stand all the way to Joliet, Illinois. It’s a long state, is Illinois. And on Friday, I finally made it home from the dispensary after 5 PM almost as exhausted as I was at my homecoming on that trip from Springfield.

I also smelt distinctly as if I had been rolling about in a barn full of harvested weed. Come to think of it, the crowd in the waiting room smelt like that, too, and none of them had been to the dispensary. One could only blame the staff, then, as the dispensary itself did smell like a harvest barn. The latest research into human biomes suggests that we shed our passenger micro-organisms (who reside in and on us in often in greater numbers than our own cells) in a way that is distinctly individual. By sampling a room, they can, for a few hours, identify previous occupants. Wow! Imagine that waiting room as a Grand Central Station for microbes. Do they have a ticket to ride?

So: was it worth the adventure? No and yes.

No: I would not willingly again spend 4 or more hours waiting in line to buy weed.

On the other hand: When the steam heat begins to sound like a chorus of castrati singing like theremins accompanied by Tuvan throat singers in complex melodies and rhythms… Well! You know you have arrived.

Photo by Roman.

Day of the Dead

Photos by Roman.

The photos below are of a mural facing an alley a block or two north of Devon Avenue along Clark Street. The photo above is a panel from the 2006 “Artists of the Wall” in Loyola Park (I rarely know who the artist is); it has something of a “bad date” feel to it, yes?

As a geezer, my humble opinion is that the southern Mexican celebration, Day of the Dead, makes much more sense than Halloween. We celebrate both, here in the Chicago neighborhood of Rogers Park. But in all the decades I’ve lived here, I’ve never had anyone “trick or treat”. Well, would you allow your kid to solicit candy from someone looking like me? You would if you knew me, but life is scary enough. Not that we’re much good at judging risk; otherwise, I’d not so often have the bench to myself on CTA trains during rush hour. (No complaints! I regard it as a benefit of grunge.)

Photo by Roman.
Photo by Roman.
Photo by Roman.

Artists of the Wall 2019

This is an annual event in Chicago’s Loyola Park, a weekend some day in June. Neighborhood artists of every quality, from refrigerator door to gallery showing, gather to decorate a 600 foot concrete retaining wall / bench in Loyola Park. I wasn’t paying attention this year, so I only got around to taking photos on July 6 while the event took place this year on June 15.

These are the best of this year’s lot, IMHO, in no particular order.

Photos by Roman.

Click on any thumbnail below to enlarge it.