Jane Byrne died last Friday (1933-2014). She was the first and only female mayor of Chicago, lasting for only a term 1979-1983, replaced by Chicago’s only black mayor, Harold Washington. Though she ran as a reformer, she was trained in the Daley Machine and after her first year as Mayor actually went back on many of the reform promises she had made when running for office. This being said, she brought the arts to the city, including inviting film crews into the city (The Blues Brothers), creating jazz fests eventually turning into the Taste of Chicago, extending the elevated line to O’Hare, investing in the lakefront and downtown in her single term. She also moved into the Cabrini Green housing project for three weeks which brought increased police protection to the area in what some have called an unsustainable political stunt when there was a huge increase of gun violence there.
In honor of her passing, I am reposting a story that may not have occurred had she not been mayor.
One evening, years ago, when Jane Byrne was Mayor of Chicago (1979-83), I had parked my car in one of those “almost” legal spots downtown. Because Jane Byrne lived downtown, the police were especially vigilant about monitoring illegal parking. (It turned out that I had parked on the very block where she resided.) When a friend and I left the play we had attended that night, I found that my car had been towed.
There were no ATM machines or cellphones then and in order to get one’s car back, one needed cash. My friend and I had to use pay phones and take buses to a variety of friends’ apartments to gather together the necessary cash (I believe it was $50.00) to get the car released.
The car had been towed to a lot on the far west side of the city and so a very long bus ride later we found ourselves in a line waiting to pay the fine. There were two lines in this car pound and there were quite a few people in both. What made everything go more slowly was that everybody had a case to make, everybody had an excuse, everybody was trying to connive and weasel out of paying their fine to get their car back. Of course, each policeman at the head of each of the lines was immoveable and eventually each person ended up paying their fine.
At one point a third policeman entered the room with two very large, very aggressive german shepherds on leashes from which they were actively straining. The policeman struggling to control the dogs, said to the other two, “I’m going to let the dogs loose.”
My friend and I thought the police had planted drugs in and among the cars and that the dogs’ sensitivity to sniff out the drugs was sustained by this nightly ritual.
When it was my turn to plead my case, I actually just paid the fine seeing that it was after 3:00am and no one’s clever arguments had worked so far. The policeman told me that my car was in row D number 47 and to go get it.
I responded that I would but I wasn’t going out there by myself with those big dogs loose. He looked at me with a puzzled expression and then turned to the policeman at the head of the second line. “Are the dogs chained?” he asked.
The second policeman answered, “Yes, the dogs are loose.”
“Ok,” the first said, “Go get your car.”
“Wait a minute. He just said the dogs are loose.”
The first policeman was quite bewildered (or maybe just very tired) and asked the second policeman one more time, “Are the dogs loose?”
Raising his voice with some irritability, the second policeman said, “Yes, the dogs are loose.”
“Alright, go get your car.”
“But he just said the dogs are loose. I’m not going out there if those big dogs are loose.”
It was almost like slow motion now, the way the policeman looked confused and perplexed and shook his head from side to side so very slowly, staring at me, looking over at his partner, looking back at me. Then one more time he asked, with very measured words, “Are. The. Dogs. Chained?”
The second policeman, also in slow motion, looked at the first and said loudly, emphasizing each word at the precipice of anger, “YES, THE DOGS ARE LOOSE!”
The first policeman stared (for what seemed like quite a while) at the second, who continued to process the surly people in his line. Then he turned to me and told me to follow him. Silently, he walked me over to row D number 47 to get my car.
Thanks, Mayor Byrne, for the opportunity to have this surreal experience. You owe me 50 bucks. May you rest in peace.