I get really sick of shelling out $20 or $30 (or more!) for parking every time I play a gig. Add in expensive gas, the clogged Chicago freeways, and the aggrivation of maneuvering a bass in and out of cars and buildings, and I have to think long and hard about a job before accepting. My days of cheerfully accepting $75 gigs are long gone!
Even when I’m being well compensated for my playing, there’s just something about throwing down a few twenties just to park my stupid car that really sticks in my craw. I dread downtown jobs for this reason, being more inclined to take a job in the burbs–even for a little less cash–than to fight m way into the city.
I often take the train with my bass, an activity fraught with peril (and one that I’ve written about in the past). What if it’s rush hour? What if a Cubs game just got out? What if there are bikes on my train? Fat people? Gangbangers? Taking a bass on a train is undesirable for a whole host of reasons.
I also seem to be perpetually under a cloud of bad parking karma whenever I look for a free place to park in the city. This never seems to work out for me. I circle and circle, getting more annoyed by the minute, peering in vain down urban corridors uniformly packed with cars. I generally give up and park it in a garage, eating the hefty and chalking it up as a cost of doing business in the city center.
It was with great excitement, therefore, that I spotted an open spot on the street on my way to a near North side gig recently. No meter? No funky parking restriction from 4-6 pm, tow zone sign, or 15 minute loading zone sign? Perfect! The parking gods were finally blessing me!
Getting out of my car, I paused to peruse my surroundings. Hmmm…. this place seemed a little….. well, nasty. Not totally nasty, but with a definite dose of diciness. The building directly across the street from me was abandoned but not necessarily uninhabited, if you catch my drift, and there were all these weird signs like “Building 1” on the street. I weighed the suspicious feeling in my gut against the virtual certainty of having to shell out $30 for a few hours of parking and elected to stay. I mean, really–what’s the worst that could happen?
I began the long trudge back to where I left my car late that night, after wrapping up a double rehearsal around 10 pm. As I wheeled my bass through the neighborhoods I noticed how everything was deteriorating around me as I neared the street on which I had parked. Hmmmm….
Did you ever see the movie Candyman? Don’t feel bad if you didn’t–it was a pretty ho-hum cheesy horror movie. Anyway, Candyman made a strong impression on me primarily because of the extreme creepiness of the setting–it took place in the Cabrini-Green housing project in Chicago, and though it featured all sorts of disturbing horror movie occurances, the scariest thing by far was the housing project, with its towering buildings with broken elevators, holes between the units, and unspeakable horrors lurking within. Though I knew that Cabrini-Green didn’t actually house the Candyman, its reputation as one of the nation’s worst housing projects still made me feel queasy when I heard the name.
As you’ve no doubt guessed, I had managed to park my dumb self right in the middle of the Cabrini-Green housing project! And, to make matters worse, I was wearing my Dockers and brightly colored button-down….and carrying a bass! I might as well have painted a target on my forehead.
I stopped in my tracks, gazing up at the very project towers that had haunted my dreams as a kid (damn that Candyman!). The towers are mostly abandoned now, but that didn’t make me feel any better. Abandoned, huh? Sounds like a perfect place for Candyman to set up a hang…..
To make matters worse, it was a warm evening in late summer and there were dudes everywhere.
Very sketchy dudes.
And me with my dress clothes, double bass, and big dumb smile.
I had walked the better part a long and decrepit block when I spotted a big bunch of guys hanging out on the streetcorner, being loud and more than a little intimidating. Crap! I was far enough along that turning around would make it look like I was obviously running away, but staying my course would mean that I had to walk right by them (the other side of the street was a fenced-in block filled with abandoned buildings).
I hunkered down, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible (yeah, right!) and powered down the street in a determined speed walk, as if this was a regular part of my day and I was in a hurry. I didn’t want to run since that would call even more attention to myself (as if that were possible) and greatly increase my chances of tripping. I zipped along the side of the fence without incident.
I peered up the block, looking desperately for my big old suburban people mover of a car, but couldn’t see a thing. Great. Was it still there? Towed? Stolen? Who knows?
Cars with music blasting out of open windows rolled past me, and I heard a lot of commotion all over the place–guys yelling at each other, multiple car stereos blasting beats–but I continued at as fast a pace as possible up the street, frantically looking for my car. What on Earth was I going to do if it was gone?
In the end, I had nothing to worry about. My car was right there where I left it, and I got right in and drove away without one single person bothering me.
Looking back on that incident, I feel somewhat foolish at being so paranoid. Nobody gave me a hard time in Cabrini-Green, even though I was all alone, dressed like an idiot, and wheeling a double bass around in the middle of the night. I think it’s mainly that I’ve had this image of Cabrini-Green in my mind ever since seeing Candyman (long before I ever lived in Chicago), and that combined with the reputation that it has as one of the toughest housing projects in the United States (though it is now largely abandoned and being replaced by gleaming condo buildings and commercial development) that made me feel so panicked.
Still, I can’t help but cringe when I picture myself parking my car in the middle of the projects, looking around, thinking “this looks good!”, and wheeling off down the street. What was I thinking? Only the image of me wheeling my bass in my suit through Cabrini-Green in the middle of the night make me cringe more. Next time, I’m shelling out the $30 for parking!