Facebook recently was taken over by local love notes of Chi-town nostalgia. Someone made a post, jokingly, that he was “sooooo Chicago” that he had a paper bus pass. Another person joked that she was “sooooo Chicago” she remembered when the “L” stopped at 63rd Street. Then, over subsequent days, an Internet-savvy group of Chicagoans tried to outdo each other’s Chicagoness.
The best of what I saw was posted by Elemuel D. Williams, 39, who grew up in Parkway Gardens, in South Shore and in Englewood.Williams made that status update because, as a kid, having a bus pass was like owning one of Willy Wonka’s golden tickets — those crumbly paper passes offered a way to freely travel about. Said Williams: “What made me think about the super transfer was simply the trend of Chicagoans reminiscing about the various elements that make the inner city of Chicago so unique.”
Another guy was “So Chicago” he remembered when Showbiz Pizza (the predecessor to Chuck E. Cheese) was on West 95th. One gal was “So Chicago” she remembered when the South Loop was the ghetto and when the Fun Town amusement park was open on 95th and Stony Island.
Here’s Fun Town’s jingle:
Memories of the long-ago days of ’90s dance troupe House-o-Matic, the poets Richard Wright and Gwendolyn Brooks, Chess Records and now-defunct R&B and soul radio station WBMX took center stage as the city reminisced. Then, sometime between Monday and Wednesday, three separate “I’m So Chicago” fan pages popped up.
“It was entertaining and it enabled me to just talk about my experiences in a comical way,” said Charlie Bonds, 39, of Hyde Park, who also hosts a SEIU union-sponsored workplace issues show on CAN TV. “I’m so Chicago I went to all three locations of Moo and Oink! I don’t always jump on these bandwagons but everybody else was doing it and then things got out of hand.”
In other words, the shenanigans began. One lady described herself as “so Chicago” because she grew up on 79th Street. Another was “so Chicago” because he “didn’t eat Uncle Reese’s chicken, but preferred Harold’s.” People started paying homage to things that weren’t really Chicago at all. And then Charlotte, North Carolina, jumped in. And Detroit. And Boston. And Twitter. And by week’s end, “I’m So …” wasn’t just Chicago, it was everywhere.
There’s no official word on the origins of the idea, but knowyourmeme.com says it started in 2009 with a Twitter user who kicked things off with #imsomemphis. On July 17, the “I’m So” category was added to the Urban Dictionary. But last week was the first time in recent memory that the hashtag or meme was reactivated in the Chicago area on a large scale. To boot, there were hundreds of variants on Facebook and Twitter. At press time, Facebook group “I’m so Englewood” boasted 96 members; “I’m so South Side” had 106 members and “I’m so Lawndale” had 53 members.
Much of it was boastful, which makes sense given that memories of times past are often hazy in some parts and embellished in others. A fair bit of it was silly, especially when people started breaking down the locations of hypes, con men, loose square sales, old principals, defunct churches and ice cream trucks. “It’s stupid and it’s the Internet,” said Andrew Emil, of Bucktown, whose favorite post is a throwback to a Loose Joints classic house cut, circa 1980s.
But for some, it did take a serious turn. Emil was robbed, and he says he’s Chicago because of it.
“It’s a way to kill time,” said Emil, who moved to Chicago at age 17 and lived in West Lakeview and then Uptown. “Most of it was good nostalgia, and obviously it was a way for people to talk about things that maybe aren’t so nice. It sometimes takes a comedic forum to address real S**t. it’s a dry humor kind of thing.”
But most of what was posted was positive, especially regarding the 40 and older set. That crew in particular posted lots of status updates about attending Whitney Young or Corliss or CVS back in the day. One women even big-upped her mother, known as “Chicago Red,” who at one time was so popular in Chicago — and nationwide cheerleaders — that she made the World Book Encyclopedia in 1986.
Perhaps many are reaching back to simpler times because current times are difficult to process. Just last week, a child was shot in the head, killed by an errant bullet that somehow traveled from down the street into a bedroom at a slumber party. And just a week or two ago, the hashtag #fixingchicago began to trend.
So now this: memories of good times in the Chi. It’s clear that the city’s zeitgeist compass is pulling for positivity. When radio talk show host Warren Ballentine brings up the Chi, he brings up something most people can relate to with a smile.
Ballentine’s not alone. Sounds like home to me.
— Adrienne Samuels Gibbs