Thursday, February 13, 2003
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Venus and Mars Episode 122: Lessons from the Magnificent Mile

Random overheard conversation at the Gargoyle Cafe, the University of Chicago business school's cafe, where you can not only get lattes and macchiatos, but custom-made sushi. At the condiment bar, a female customer has placed her change, a wad of paper bills, in plain sight. Being the theft-conscious person that I am, I'm a bit surprised:
Man: You keep your small bills on the outside? That's just like a woman.
Woman: Well, yeah! That way if someone sees it, it doesn't look like a lot of money to take.
Man: (laughs) You've got it backwards. See, when guys have money in a clip, they put the big bills on the outside! That way it looks like you're flush.
Woman: (giggles, both leave with their lattes)
I'm willing to bet that guy's never been mugged or had his money clip stolen. Sure, money makes you attractive - but often for the wrong reasons.

Last night I had an odd experience walking back to the "L" stop from my night class at Loyola. The building is actually in the heart of the "Magnificent Mile," across Michigan Avenue from the Hancock Tower. I was wearing a nondescript dark green jacket, a grey hooded Loyola sweatshirt (with the hood up) and a black toque underneath. It didn't occur to me that I probably looked like one of the indigents that frequent that part of Chicago Avenue, until a fellow female student (no one I knew personally) saw me: she looked a bit frightened or irritated, then threw up her hands palms outward, and shook her head "no".

I was confused for a moment, and then realized she thought I was going to ask her for spare change. I was a bit insulted, to say the least. Bum, moi? However, I considered the situation. She looked about 18-20, petite, probably from some Iowa or downstate Illinois town; a little girl in the big city, probably always pestered for money on this stretch of the street. I'm not tall, but when I dress in "city casual" mode (read: lil' thug) with a grey hood over my cap, I probably look a little offputting, especially to the uninitiated. However - that's OK with me.

When I "walk the gauntlet" from Lewis Towers to the Chicago Red Line stop, past the Gucci store, the ritzy hotels and shops, the street undergoes a rapid transformation in about 2 blocks from valet-parked-Lexus Jet Set to Skid Row. The McDonald's at Rush Street and Chicago Ave. is usually filled with the homeless and poor during winter months, and you can expect to be accosted by at least four or five people asking for handouts in the course of your walk to the train.

Generally, I don't get troubled by them much, probably because I don't look like I've got much to offer. But I have observed that people in slightly more upscale garb - say, a woman's business coat - are relentlessly pursued by the panhandlers. One woman I saw was followed for two blocks by a man pleading loudly for change. Truthfully, If I'd have stopped into Gucci's dressed like I was that night, I'd be given the bum's rush the moment I set foot in the door.

As far as I'm concerned, I'd rather lay low and keep my "small bills on the outside."