Early this week a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to go see the President officially designate Pullman, the historic south-side Chicago neighborhood, a National Monument. I tweeted the news when it first dropped, and seeing as my friend had two guest passes, he thought I might like to go. ...I- Okay, just to walk you through this, I was casually offered a chance to see my country's leader secure a neighborhood in my city with an incredible railroad, worker's rights, and african american cultural history under the protection of the national parks.
The next step was to figure out how to get down there. Pullman isn't too far away from my Pilsen apartment, but it had been bitter-cold out lately so I checked the weather to see if biking down would be completely miserable. Turns out the weather would be as miserably cold as it has ever been. My roommate Jana would now be coming as well- her family has history in the neighborhood and she got a scholarship from the Pullman family, so taking our bikes on a suburban commuter train made the most sense.
In -8ºF weather (I don't bother with windchill numbers, when you're on a bike it's gonna be bad no matter what) I managed to take us to the wrong station, then Jana's chain wedged between the biggest cog and the spokes a block away from the right station. Our fancy clothes for the event were getting grease on them from trying to pull the chain back out, but (much like the rest of the morning) no luck. Safety measures had guests going to a parking lot off the highway, a mile and a half away from the neighborhood, and then get shuttled to Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy. With Jana's bike completely incapacitated, we'd have to lock the bikes in Pullman and walk it.
It felt like the wind was going to rip out my eyes as we walked along the highway on and off ramps to the golf course. It was maybe a quarter mile of a walk left, but someone finally pulled over to ask if we wanted a ride the rest of the way. The small act of compassion really raised my spirits and if you ever read this, thanks Caroline.
Local government figures and neighborhood celebrities joined us on the shuttle, and together we entered the gym with other big names you may or may not recognize from Chicago politics, the interior department, and the national parks. The room, justifiably, went crazy when the president walked in. His oratory skills were amazing (overwhelming really) and he spoke in his direct, pausing manner about how valuable the Pullman neighborhood is not just to Chicago but to the country, how it influenced he and the first lady's lives, amongst countless others, and how this designation would protect and preserve all of that for future generations- at this point he was speaking directly to the students of Gwendolyn Brooks. By the end of his speech, having connected to so many people in the room, folks' eyes began to well up. But the enthusiasm never dwindled. Much like everyone in the room's cellphone cameras, it rocketed up when the president signed the designation, and with a short "There we go!" it was done. Pullman was officially Chicago's first national monument.
Why the mayor of Chicago thought to have his tongue sticking out the entire signing is beyond me. Anyway, the reality of the weather, that if we missed the next train we would be stuck outside for an hour waiting for another train, and my itch to get these photos and story ready made our departure from Pullman unfortunately brief.
But the bad weather will break. Soon enough I'll be in shorts, and while I'll travel to a lot of places in that time and have adventures, I hope you'll join me in going back to Pullman to watch the progress of its preservation. I thought about clever ways to close this out, but honestly what I really want to say isn't a clever twist on the sarcastic "Thanks, Obama" but a deep, sincere "Thank you, Mister President."