by Anne Ford
Chicagoans is a first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford. This week's Chicagoan is Chris Krypel, East Garfield Park neighbor.
"I bought a house about five years ago in East Garfield Park. It was what I was able to afford, and I enjoy the neighborhood. It's 90 percent black, a couple percent white, and a couple percent Latino. I've always appreciated living around other cultures, especially given that this is one of the most segregated cities in the country.
"The neighborhood's been very accepting. I know my immediate neighbors very well, and everyone else, they know me or know of me. I get weird reactions from white people who drive past. I do a lot of gardening, so I'm always outside. I was out doing some yardwork last week, and this middle-aged white guy drives past real slow, and he yells at me, "It's like you're a pioneer!" What the fuck does that mean? People are weird. The way people think is weird.
"Have you ever been to the House on the Rock? My house isn't that gaudy, but it reminds me of that sometimes. Every room just has a lot of good feeling, and it's very individualized. I can never see this thing getting finished. My father and I rebuilt the staircase, and we're building out the attic.
"And my fiance and I made a penny floor. When I bought the house, there was a tile floor that looked horrible. Whoever lived there before me must have just really wanted to live in Arizona, because it was all peach and light brown and tan. So I tore it up, and I thought about what I was able to afford, and it was cheaper to take a bunch of pennies and glue them down next to each other one by one than it was to buy tile. We made it so that when we have parties, you can play a game with the floor—you can find rows that are all heads up, or all tails.
"On the other side of my alley, there was a lot that had been sitting there for about 15 years. I saw it pop up on the market, and I bought it. I'm building a fence on it right now. It's going to be a community garden for the young people in the neighborhood. A lot of them don't have anything to keep them occupied. I want to teach them a skill. So I'm going to have them farm with me and know where their food comes from. My fiance wants to have cooking demonstrations and project movies during the summer.
"My close friends come visit me here. All the other people say, "Oh, you live there? What's it like?" What do you mean, what's it like? People are just people. And we all live with whatever we're dealt with or whatever abilities we're given. It would just be nice if we all just lived together, if we weren't so split up. We all should just get over ourselves.
"Has anybody said that I'm a gentrifier? No. I'm sure some people see it that way. But gentrification isn't happening in this neighborhood anytime soon. I hope it doesn't happen. There's a lot of good families that live here and own their property. And I like my property tax right where it is."