WICKER PARK — As sure as the swallows return every spring to San Juan Capistrano, Chicago has its "travelers" — transient, footloose 20-somethings who, when the weather warms, arrive here from around the country.
In neighborhoods such as Wicker Park, these bands of scruffy, homeless youth get by through panhandling, though not everyone appreciates the presence of what some call "gutter punks."
"We travel for fun, to do something other than wake up in the exact same place every day to go to the exact same job and see the exact same people and do the exact same things at exactly the same time," a 25-year-old traveler named Devlyn said on a recent warm night in Wicker Park.
This isn't a story that would have ordinarily caught my attention except for the fact that I've recently noticed two out-of-place additions to the panhandling ranks of North Michigan Avenue. One panhandler is an attractive young woman whose hygiene and grooming are definitely not of the street, so I've wondered about her story. The other is a similarly intact young fellow who operates a little further north on the opposite side of the street. I've suspected they might be working together. Maybe their a couple. I've also noticed that male pedestrians frequently stop to chat up the young woman. Pedestrians don't usually stop to chat with the panhandlers in this neighborhood.
Anyway, these two young panhandlers stand out enough that I considered taking photos and talking with them to see if I could elicit something resembling a true story about why they find themselves looking for handouts.
I don't begrudge them their choice, even if their situation is entirely voluntary. No one has to give them money and they aren't creating a disturbance. Someone told me about some Jesuit communities that actually send new community members out to live on the street and survive on begging. If this teaches Jesuits something worth knowing, then the same could be said for the experiences these young people are having on the street. Even if the intent is different, the experiences would be similar. Well, similar, except for the part about the male pedestrians chatting up the young woman.