Chicago My Hometown
I was in Chicago Grant Park 1968 when Mayor Daley let loose his army of Chicago Gestapo on the crowd of protesters that late summer afternoon. A buddy and I along with another High School acquaintance that I didn’t care for, thought it would be entertaining to attend the demonstration.
There were mobs of long haired scruffy Hippies and also some referring to themselves as Yippies; the Youth International Party with a pig named Pigasus as their leader and also a candidate running for President. The crowd assembled in Grant Park that summer afternoon were enthusiastic and quite passive. They didn’t appear to be aggressive fostering only one item on their agenda, just a contingency of young adults voicing their protest as a group against the Vietnam War. I remember feeling as though I didn’t fit in because my hair wasn’t as long as I would have preferred ( father issues). Couldn’t imagine anyone would take me seriously as a dedicatedly disciple looking so straight.
It was embarrassment enough that I was called “part-time”as a nickname in High Schoool. I was referred to by that nickname because I participated in sports and was dedicated to my studies and academic career which occasionally interfered with social activities . Those activities often were hanging out at the park getting high or creating minor mischief, nothing of grave importance but somehow my group required my attendance. The choice to juggle my studies and my illustrious social life was a decision I implemented on my own. Besides I enjoyed school, it kept me hidden from the scrutinizing eyes of my old man. And sure as hell was more entertaining than getting stoned and making shadow puppet figures on the walls of the park’s bathroom building. Thus the nickname part time hippie which was shortened to just part-time.
We had to park near Soldier Field to get an available parking spot a long way from the event and walked what seemed a punishing distance. Luckily, we entered through an entrance used for volunteers working the gathering and ended up extremely close to the stage. Banners and posters adorned the area, all basically voicing the same Anti- War sentiment. There was one however that captured my attention and I remember to this day with brightly painted flowers popping out of the letters and peace symbols placed were the “O’s”appeared in the message; “We don’t need to have the same dream to live together in the same reality .” I’m not sure why I considered the message so profound. It may have been just that place in time.
Everyone appeared so angry and defiant, with fists raised in the air, “fucking right man, fuck them, you fucking know it brother, we’re fucking with you ” A great amount of “fucks” from the crowd screaming their responses to the speeches. The sentiment on the painted bed sheet seemed in someway out of place and extremely pacifist. The S.D.S were there, Black Panthers, American Indian Movement, Vietnam Veterans Against the War and a new group actively recruiting members called the Weathermen Underground Organization. They didn’t arouse my interest because their name “Weathermen” didn’t sound radical at all. In the years to follow they would prove my assessment of not being radical, a major underestimation and error in judgement.
I had no interest in membership of any group simply put, organized groups were too regimented. I wasn’t able to grasp the concept of rebelling against rules or those conforming to stuctured concepts and the establishment, ‘whoever they were?’ when their guidelines for membership demanded the same set of principles. Besides I was expelled from Boy Scouts so I was aware of my inability to obey directives.
I was hopeful and excited to possibly hear Abbie Hoffman speak with his talent of mesmerizing followers with his descriptive words of inspiration. Instead this dude (That’s correct I wrote Dude) spoke, receiving thundering applause and cheers from the crowd as well as many “fucks.” Jerry Reuben is how he introduced himself, leader of a faction known as Yippies.
He went on for five or ten minutes basically saying nothing that inspired me to do anything and was what I determined as rather boring. I spent the time checking out girls in the crowd. The Chicago summer heat was starting to wear me down so I left my companions to search for a refreshment to cure my thirst. I remembered there was a booth selling fruit juice drinks about a block away. It was then I noticed an extremely large contingency of Chicago Police, Illinois National Guard and United States Army soldiers surrounding the area.
Without any type of verbal command to disburse the troops with clubs drawn, shields and dressed in riot gear began an assault on defenseless attendees. These Sons of Bitches meant business trotting at a hurried pace swinging clubs, punching and kicking downed people relentlessly.
I immediately began to run in the opposite direction into the crowd screaming the “Fucking Pigs are coming! Run! The Pigs are coming!” Some heeded my advice and began a mass exodus others I remembered glared at me in complete disbelief. I recall a few laughing as I ran past. I’m sure a minute or so later there wasn’t anyone laughing.
I made the mistake of running to Michigan Avenue to avoid the onslaught, thinking the action would be isolated to the Grant Park Bandshell area. If there was ever an instance when I shouldn’t have listened to my own advice that was the time. Thousands of others must have heard me giving myself advice and were emptying out into the avenue.
The Police had set up a perimeter along the avenue protecting the Hotels especially The Hilton where Candidates attending the Democratic Convention were staying. Tear Gas, screaming and complete pandemonium ensued as I attempted to make my way to some kind of safe area. I wasn’t aware at the time there was no place of safety available.
The figures in uniform kept coming swinging clubs punching, hand cuffing and pulling kids toward Paddy Wagons. Every time I encountered a Cop I’d scream and point behind me,” They’re over there. Over there! They’re coming from over there! Watch out!” I don’t know what the Hell I was talking about but it served as a temporary distraction that aided in my escape. I was struck only twice once in the back and on my left side which resulted in a large bruise.
I was exhausted from the running, tripping over bodies, being pushed and trampled upon when I’d fall. The Tear Gas was burning the hell out of my eyes and my sweating caused pores to open and my skin became irritated with a incurable firery pain. I was running, dodging, jumping, shoving my way to a different area of battle. Some were throwing rocks and bricks that had been taken from walls surrounding the park. I had arrived at Akeldama field ready to meet my end. Their was no escape.
I tried Roosevelt, Wabash and Harrison streets with devastating results. The Art Institute was only a few blocks away and I thought it might possibly serve as a sanctuary. My companions I considered a lost cause and I’d find some other method to get home if I got out of here alive.
The crowd was running at me as I tried to make my way North. Entering Grant Park again from Michigan Avenue I dodged and weaved in between the wave of scared confused faces, some bloodied being assisted by a comrade leading them back into the Tsunami of violence.
It was beginning to get dark and lights in the park had been turned off. The street lights on Michigan Avenue and lights from buildings were the only eyes in the darkness. Traffic on LSD (Lake Shore Drive) had been blocked by the hoards escaping the gauntlet earlier. It now was shutdown by the Police roaming the road in Squad Cars with red and blue flashing lights, spotlights trained on the crowd. Buckingham Fountain was also not functional, the colored flood lights surrounding it were cut off. The crowd was thinning which allowed me to stop temporarily at the fountain to dip my face into the water washing away the Tear Gas as well as cleaning my arms of the residue. A fast drink, cupping my hands two or three times then off I ran to the Art Institute.
Bullhorns screamed with Police ordering once dedicated protesters to disburse in a peaceful manner. The directives weren’t being ignored, the Chicago Police and National Guard weren’t allowing the crowd to obey. The beatings and arrests continued without an intermission. The darkness helped me become somewhat undetected except for the occasional spot lights from Police Cars shining their beams on stragglers.
Confrontation had centered on Michigan Avenue where the Police were not going to allow, still a large contingency of determined protesters to disrupt the Democratic Convention. I could see the Art Institute in the obtainable distance walking at a hurried pace but not running so I wouldn’t draw attention to myself. My left side was beginning to throb generating pain, causing me to think a couple of ribs had been fractured.
I reached the Art Institute which was surprisingly devoid of protestors or any type of disturbance. The steps and entrances were protected by Guardsmen that appeared young with expressions of what I interpreted as fear. I took refuge around the back of one of the huge Lion Figures that stand guard in front of The Art Institute. Finally an opportunity to be rested and not arrested.
I could hear voices getting closer with heavy footsteps. “Hey you come away from there! Come on get over here!” Damn, once again as if some cosmic force or omnipotent being was constantly subjecting me to some type of vendetta. I have never possessed the ability, the luck or dispensation to get away with anything my entire life. I would get blamed or accused of incidents I had no part in. And in some cases be reprimanded or punished for committing them. “I’m coming hold on. I’m coming!I surrender.” There stood three Illinois National Guardsmen that had been patrolling the perimeter of the building.
“I was only trying to get someplace safe from the riot . I was not a participant in the…” I attempt to plead my case. “Hey don’t I know you? You’re Carlito’s little brother aren’t you? What are you doing down here?” A guardsman asks. “This kid is like twelve years old. I went to school with his brother. We should probably take him into custody so he doesn’t get hurt.” He declares. Actually I had just turned sixteen the month before, I was extremely small for my age short and baby faced. I wasn’t about to correct the Guardsman concerning my age. “Seriously, what are you doing here? You could have gotten seriously hurt. You’re name is Santi, that’s it. I know your brother Carlito. You remember me?”
“You live on Utica huh? I remember you. You’re Butch Larkin with the motorcycle, right?” “That’s me! Let’s get you outta here.”
I’m escorted by three Guardsmen to a bivouac that has been set up as a communication base. The place is crawling with National Guardsmen some appear to be injured and are receiving Medical attention for cuts most likely from rocks. They lead me into an area with a couple of cots as well as tables and chairs. There’s some big guy yelling into the radio dressed in a uniform straight out of a Hollywood War movie. My escort addresses him as Captain explaining my situation.
“So young man what’s your story? Are you one of these trouble makers? Come on start with your name, address, phone number and who we should contact to come and claim you.” ” Isn’t name, rank and serial number? Give me a pen and paper and I’ll write it down. But I’d appreciate it if you didn’t call my parents. Rather take my chances with the Cops, their beating would be far less than what my old man will dish out.” “What the hell are you doing here? Explain your reason for attending this Anti-American display of disrespect and anarchy. You understand what I’m saying? Cough it up. Tell me!” “I came here with a couple of guys to visit the Museum and Pawn Shops. I’m looking for a Guitar and thought they might have a cheap one. We were gonna screw around then head back on the train to home. I had no idea the Police beating people for no reason was going to take place. I got separated from my buddies and made my way here. That’s it. Now can I go catch the Rock Island and get outta here Captain, please?” “Beating people for no reason. I’m not going to defend the actions of Law Enforcement to a kid. That’s not gonna happen, you’re too young to leave unattended. You’re twelve years old we’re gonna have to turn your smart ass over to the police. Then Social Services will probably take it from there.”
“Hey Captain why do you have to be so mean to me? I didn’t do anything. If you turn me over to the Cops it makes it look like I did something wrong.”. “Sorry kid dems the rules and we all gotta play by the rules. Now sit over by the table there and don’t get in my way. I’ll call the Police to come and get you in a while. Ya got it?”
“I’m awfully hungry and thirsty can I get a glass of water and some of those donuts please? ” “Are you sure that’s all? Hey Murphy get the kid some water and a couple donuts. On the double. Now I’ve got a riot to contend with. Sit there and make like a good boy.”
This Captain Kiss-My-Ass was beginning to piss me off. I looked around the tent and everyone appeared to be wrapped up in some unimportant task looking so very busy. The donuts were stale and filled with entirely too much sugar but I chowed down on them despite the baker’s poor skills.
“Thanks Captain! I’ve got a question for you! Why aren’t you over in Vietnam fighting the real enemy instead of making war on a bunch of kids? Seems to me that…”
“Why you little smart ass Son of a Bitch who are you to question my service? He interrupts “Larkin get this lil’ bastard the hell out of my sight. Get him outta here. NOW!” Guess I found his hot button. It was however a perfectly valid question. “Come on Santiago follow me double time.” Motorcycle Butch orders. “Where do ya want me to take him Captain? What am I suppose to do with him?” “Find a Cop and hand him over then make it back here. The protestors are being herded this way , we need to set up a flank.” “Yes sir!” “Captain? My mother is a very nice lady. There’s no reason to call her a bitch.” He turns around and throws a partially full Styrofoam cup of coffee at me but ends up dousing a Illinois State Trooper who has just entered. What a surprised expression showed on the Troopers face. “See what you made me do.” Captain Uncourageous screams.
I exit following close behind Motorcycle Butch “Damn kid that was hilarious. You sure got under his skin. Thanks I hate that Son of a Bitch.” Butch continues with his accolades moving through a crowd of Law Enforcement Officers and stragglers left over from the protest. I wonder how long Butch kept talking before he turned around and noticed I had escaped custody.
Harrison St. was fairly empty and accessible as I made my way to the loop then La Salle Street Station and the Rock Island Train south . I just couldn’t get the song out of my head.
“Chicago, Chicago that toddling town
Chicago, Chicago let me show ya around.
You’ll have the time the time of your life
You better carry a gun or a knife
Chicago, my hometown.”