Friday, July 25, 2008

We can only guess who did this...

Who would be motivated to chop down a beautiful 35-foot elm tree on Lincoln Avenue in the middle of the night?

I was actually up late because of the usual 3 a.m. wake-up call by the thousands of winos. I saw a drunk kid surfing on top of a moving Flash taxicab, straddling the topper light, and I pointed it out to some cops, who pursued the cab up Lincoln Avenue. Someone then smashed the cab's window out with his foot in front of Children's Memorial, with the cops right there, and the three young men riding in the cab just walked away while the poor Jordanian driver was busy pursuing the vandal. Naturally, they stiffed him on the fare. Didn't even help him.

But this kind of lawlessness is pretty much a nightly occurrence on Lincoln Avenue, where our public servants assume everything's just fine here. Last week, it was firetrucks and cop cars lining the street, bedlam in front of Halligans. The cops ordered me not to film it -- I don't even want to ask. And of course the piss on the walls flows like water here. I feel like I'm living in Beirut, but then who the hell cares what I think? I'm not some alderman or anyone who matters. My dad didn't matter much either; in fact, he used to drive for Flash. In any event, none of that is out of place here on Lincoln Avenue, one of Chicago's rowdiest night-life strips.

No, but when I saw a tree lying across most of the street at 2438 N. Lincoln Ave., I knew that it was something more out of the ordinary and I walked over to investigate. It was directly in front of Soiree, the new bar on the 2400 block.

Strangely, the Water Management worker who'd stopped and made the call about the tree to the police noticed that all of Soiree's cafe boxes were surrounding the tree while it was still standing, "to hide it," he supposed. I think the worker may actually have seen the tree fall. (He moved it out of the street onto the sidewalk.) A worker at Clark's across the street said it fell around 4 a.m. and there was not a soul in sight.

Who could have done this? The only people I can think of who would have a motive is the owners of the Soiree nightclub themselves. I have seen this kind of thing before: a business gets an expensive new sign or awning and they don't like how the tree on the street obstructs the view. So they do a little vigilante justice on the tree. The last time I saw this was about three years ago, on the 2200 block, the day after a nail salon got its new sign.

Now, the one three years ago was sawn through, and then a car hit it and knocked it down. It was a much smaller tree. But this tree in front of Soiree was obviously done with a hatchet. Every year I log a friend's land in the Upper Peninsula and we use chainsaws, and only occasionally axes to trim. Chainsaws are very, very fast: even on a thick 80-foot spruce it takes just a few seconds. Why would someone use a hatchet? So as to make a few inconspicuous cuts at a time, instead of all at once? And to make it look more like a prank rather than a very deliberate act?

It had to have been cut after the bar closed, between about 2 and 3:30 a.m., or at least late, perhaps with whomever was doing it surrounded by Soiree's boxes. How did they escape detection? It would have taken some time to do. But surrounded by the boxes, it could have been done in stages. With an axe, you can get a few chops in and just put it down if someone appears to be coming. No electrical cords, no sound, no mess.

What's more, as you can see from this picture (click it to enlarge), the cutting was done with considerable care. Cutting in the wrong direction would have sent the tree right through the awning, destroying it! Once you have most of the chopping done, the "felling cut" can be made on the other side and it would take only an inconspicuous push to get the tree to fall. This was methodically done. The crime was engineered.

Soiree just got their awning up, just after the filming of Untouchables ended two weeks ago, and just in time for Taste of Lincoln Avenue this weekend. (There was even a sign on the poor tree declaring No Parking this weekend.) How convenient that the tree should come down at just this time! You can imagine how much Soiree would want their sign to stand out, with thousands of drinkers milling around in front of it. They certainly wouldn't want some big elm to obscure it. And you can be sure that this elm was blocking the hell out of it.

Who else would have any motive to do such a dickheaded thing?

Don't people realize it's a serious crime to do this, to cut down a public tree like this?

I guess it doesn't matter much, because the bar sucks. Yelpers already hate it, proclaiming it's lame. It's cheezy and overpriced, with its "ghetto" back room, on a lifeless street during an economic recession. It will likely go belly-up within a couple of years. The new elm I ordered this morning (311 Ref. No. 0801429883) to be planted will be there for many decades after the punk who chopped it down is dead and rotted away.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice post, Peter -- this is the happy combination of a relentless high school reporter and tireless advocate of the down-trodden and down-chopped that really suits your talents. When you put the small happenings of your block onto a large canvas, it reaches a level of sublimity that approaches literature. Bravo!

5:55 AM  
Blogger Peter Zelchenko said...

I didn't report in high school, though Tracy Baim and I started our grade school paper together.

If you think of this as a small happening, consider what it would be like if nobody spoke up about these things. Why, it could happen on your block.

10:54 PM  
Blogger V'ron said...

Maybe it's a Milwaukee thing (I hope not, I think more people should be equally angry about things like this), but I remember in 2001 (wish the Milwaukee JS would archive their online articles that far back!) some dickslap on Wahl Avenue cut down a gorgeous 100-year old tree because it was blocking his view of the lake. The tree was there well before he bought his $seven-figure house on that street, and the tree was located in a public park designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the classic naturalist who is most known for designing NYC's Central Park. (One of Olmstead's trademarks was, like fellow Wisconsinite FLWright, designing around the nature that was already there.) Not only were the dickslap's neighbors furious, but the Lake Park Friends were up in arms about it as well. You best believe that after this guy was successfully sued and publicly vilified, we haven't seen too much more of this crap going on in the city.

You should be furious. At least our guy got caught and had to pay for it. But we still have this uglyass gaping hole where a really gorgeous tree used to be.

9:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you do not like living near Lincoln Avenue, then why do you live near Lincoln Avenue? It's not like it was peaceful beachfront property when you moved there. You knew what you were getting when you moved in to that neighborhood. It really irks me when folks move in to an existing neighborhood and then say "hey, change this place to suit me. I call bullcrap.

11:37 PM  
Anonymous Peter Zelchenko said...

To be honest, when we moved in (1971) it was a much quieter street. Sterch's, Wise Fools, and Der Read Baron were about the only bars here. It was peaceful and pleasant. It has changed much. I'm not against change, but I am against irresponsibility.

9:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was the new tree you ordered ever planted?

6:01 PM  
Blogger Peter Zelchenko said...

Yes it was. And, as I predicted, Soiree has closed. Here's a Google Maps picture of both tree and vacant storefront.

9:05 AM  

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