Perspectives: The South Side Problem With No Solution
Rowdy crowds are returning to East Carson Street. At the risk of sounding a bit grumpy, that’s disappointing.
Here’s a warning, right up front: This is going to be a very grumpy-old-guy-complains sort of column. Despite still being in my mid-’30s (really!), I occasionally find myself muttering some grievance that wouldn’t sound out of place on a well-worn bench outside of an old folks’ home. This is one of those times. Be forewarned.
So, here it is: East Carson Street is starting to look like East Carson Street again, and I’m very disappointed.
I’ve lived on the South Side for a few years — technically, just over the line into the Slopes, observing the action from afar like a beachgoer who is trying not to admit they’re petrified of sharks.
I absolutely love it — for about 95 percent of every week.
The exceptions, of course, are those hours when the neighborhood’s most unremarkable bars are packed with revelers. To be clear, I love bars. I love many South Side bars. I enjoy a drink. I’m not even opposed to enjoying a decent number of drinks in one sitting, if the circumstances are right (and it can be done safely).
That’s not what these throngs are doing.
For lack of a better term, let’s call it “loud drinking.” Getting dressed up to crowd into bars that feature overpriced drinks, no food (or food that is to be avoided) and unspeakable soundtracks — wherein you and your friends fail to have a conversation over the din, struggle to get the bartenders’ attentions and ultimately shoot down your beverages before stumbling (into traffic, more often than not) toward the next equally unremarkable bar.
That’s loud drinking.
It is a fact of life on East Carson Street, from about 9 p.m.-3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights — and immediately after most major sporting events and on occasional holidays. (When St. Patrick’s Day is approaching, you’ll see people boarding up the windows like New Englanders anticipating a fierce storm.) The vast majority of the time, the South Side is a pleasant, relaxing, convenient neighborhood. A little bit of the time, it’s a magnet for those who graduated without figuring out that frat parties are boring.
I had sincerely hoped that this behavior wouldn’t come roaring back when the pandemic began to loosen its grip on our socializing. Naively, I nurtured a dream that time away from this scene would illustrate to even the hard-partying sector that loud drinking is, and always has been, phenomenally dumb. This is a social hour for people who have no idea what to do with their time — outings for those with no interests, no passions and nothing to say. Even tailgating — loud drinking’s older cousin — is tied to sports attendance, an undeniably enjoyable experience. Loud drinking is hassle without reward, effort without gain, the illusion of fun where no fun can possibly transpire.
I hoped that a year off would make people see this. I was foolish.
Not long after the point where vaccines became widely available, the crowds returned — clinging to sidewalks, slumping in alleys, adding their voices to an abrasive din that can be heard for miles. (Not to dwell, but the sound in these places. If you can hear that mix of unimaginative Top 40, dozens of yelling voices and bar clatter and not immediately want to go home and sit in a comfortable easy chair, I don’t trust you.) For the first time in 14 months, I found myself overcome with irritation while running errands near the house.
I know, quite well, that this is a problem without a solution. I do not believe that this type of behavior can be legislated away, or felled with better urban planning. I think our state’s liquor laws are already a ridiculous mass of Puritanical nonsense — complicating them won’t change East Carson Street, it’ll just annoy an already frustrated crowd. Furthermore, the city’s few measures to soften the blow of loud drinking — parking restrictions, periodically increased police presence — have mostly fallen flat, or created problems for neighbors without actually addressing the problem.
This is an issue that can only change naturally over decades — if more businesses and establishments are opened that cater to, y’know, sensible people. Sadly, the tide is turning in the other direction on the South Side; a few of the establishments that once provided more value to the neighborhood, like the recently lost Rex Theater and the still-missed Beehive, are gone. Even the South Side Works is ailing; despite redevelopment plans and the heralded opening of Back to the Foodture, the area is in a state of flux since losing its cinema in early 2020.
Little can be done about loud drinking; it’s a problem without a solution. And we true South Siders can handle it. We pick a house a good bit removed from East Carson, we clean up our sidewalks when the party migrates and we try to find somewhere else to hang out on weekend evenings. It’s fine.
All I ask is this: Talk to your friends about loud drinking. If you know anyone who actually enjoys such excursions, ask them why. Point out that they’re overpaying for underwhelming beverages in an environment where they can’t actually hear their friends speak. Ask if it wouldn’t be better to simply sit and drink around a table at a better establishment — or, as we have done for a full year now, get a couple of bottles and hang out on the back porch. Is shoulder-checking some bro to order another round of monstrously expensive White Claws actually better than … well, any other activity?
Will that line of questioning work?
Probably not. When did logic ever help anything?