CLM Turns 1

chicago literary map turns 1

One year ago today an idea as mobile app was born as Chicago Literary Map welcomed the world. In turn, the world welcomed it. I have charted stories from people I would not otherwise meet, whose stories help paint a picture of what life is like, was like, or could be like in our broad shouldered city. I’ve also encouraged my family and friends to write, who are great storytellers, but have not written anything other than an email in years. And artists that may not think of their writing as publish-ready and the vets. From online courtingCocktails on ClybournThis Morning in Old Town to Time at the Pacific Garden Mission, the voices of the city are intersecting, but haven’t even begun to represent the complex beauty of the hog butcher.

I would like to take a moment for gratitude and thank DNAinfo’s LIzzie Schiffman for her piece on CLM. I would also like to thank Mike Stephens for bringing me on Outside the Loop Radio, and John Rich from the Literary Guild Complex for inviting me to read and talk about the map. I’m excited to collaborate with Salli Berg-Seeley and her Discover Chicago class at DePaul University this winter quarter and to John Lillig for connecting us. The road ahead for Chicago Literary Map includes unearthing more stories, planning reading events, new collaborations, and the unknown. There are many ways to capture a moment, and I greatly appreciate all the writers who take the time to do it with words. Here’s to you! And here’s to Chicago—a muse like no other.

- Stephanie Plenner

Flyover Drive-Thru



Hello, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Southwest Airlines Flight 341. It’s a beautiful night. Let’s make it a beautiful flight.

That’s right. We’ll be flying nonstop to 57th and Cicero. Mm-hmm. That’s right. Right over a White Castle.

Anyone here from Chicago? Yeah? Y’all goin’ home, too?

Where you from, sir? Bridgeport? Oh, all right all right. Got the boss man here. South Si-ide!

We got any Cubs fans on this plane tonight? C’mon, now, don’t be shy. There we go. There we go. This gentleman right here. Cubs fan. Looks like a long year for you, sir, I’m sorry to say. But hey, what’s another year for the Cubs?

Nah, I kid, I’m playin’ with you. Best of luck to the Cubs. Not that you’ve had any in, I don’t know, a century. Nah, I love the Cubs. I love ’em. Second only to my Sox. And about 28 other teams.

Anyway, we’re gettin’ ready to move, so strap yourselves in and we’ll soar on the wind. Please place all seat backs and tray tables in their full, upright, and locked position, and make sure your seatbelt is correctly fastened. At this time, we ask that all electronic devices are turned off. That means completely off. No airplane mode, no headphones—off. If you are unable to go 10 minutes without your phone or your music, just hit the call button and I’ll be happy to come over and lay some beats down. Or else beat some sense into you. Nah, I kid. I’m playin’. Cell phones do need to be off, though.

It’ll be about a two-hour flight from sunny Tampa to chilly Chicago, where the current temperature is 34 degrees and the current rain is what we like locals like to call “miserable.” Maybe another word I can’t say. But you know what, folks? It’s home, ain’t that right? And White Castle’s got warm booths and hot food 24 hours a day. I know I’ll be makin’ a stop.

We know you have options when you fly, and we thank you for choosing Southwest Airlines, serving lovely Midway Airport on Chicago’s lovely Southwest Side. For real, now. You don’t believe me? Yeah, all right: Midway could use a facelift. But the Southwest Side is lookin’ fine. Sometime when you’re not rushing around, trying to catch that Orange Line or that yellow, you should stay a while. Our White Castle’s great.

Anyway, my name is Robert, and I’ll begin serving drinks and in-flight snacks shortly after we reach cruising altitude, along with my partner in crime, Chicago Lawn’s own Tanya. Say hi to Tanya, y’all. Feel free to call us Young Cuz and T-Ball, or just “Hey, flight attendant!” It’s all up to you.

Until then, grab a friend so you’re not alone. Chicago, we’re comin’ home.

Writer: Pat Chesnut
Photographer: Geoff Stearns

52nd & California



I blame it on the butcher-block paper. That was probably what threw us off, what enabled my sister and me to distort our childhood memory of the Pope’s visit to our neighborhood. A hand-made, trilingual welcome hung above the windows of my grandparents’ grocery store:




Over the years, my grandfather posted many similar signs throughout his business; hand-lettered in black and outlined in red for a 3-D effect. Bert’s Groceries sold everything from fresh “sweet rolls,” to use  the local vernacular, to fennel-infused Italian sausage. A butcher-block paper sign next to the counter boasted several varieties of Pierogis:




Many customers mistakenly called my grandfather “Bert,” however, the name derived from our family name – Bertucci.  Bert’s was only one of four such Mom-and-Pop groceries in our neighborhood: there was Cizek’s on 51st, John’s on Richmond, and Millie’s on Maplewood.

Bert’s, like these and so many other neighborhood stores throughout Chicago at that time, occupied about 600 square feet in the front of the building, and was connected to the house in back by a door hidden behind a partition. My parents would drop my younger sister Anna and me off there every morning before school, and pick us up every evening to take us back home to 62nd and Troy.

* * *

More than three decades before he would be canonized as Saint, and less than two years before his attempted assassination by Mehmet Ali Ağca, Pope John Paul II, traveling in an open motorcade, really did visit Chicago in October of 1979, as is well-documented in newspapers and photographs.

More significantly, for us, the Pope, en route to say Mass at Five Holy Martyrs (known locally as “Fives,”) traversed South California Avenue. California was the main thoroughfare of our quarter of Gage Park, bordered to the West by Central Steel and Wire, and to the East by Nightingale Elementary. Our community had anticipated the event for weeks, and local officials scurried to make last minute beautifications including painting over graffiti. On that chilly October morning, a throng gathered on street corners including 52nd and California, to await the Pope. On the East side, they huddled in front of St. Simon’s, and on our side, friends, family and longtime patrons set up lawn chairs in front of Bert’s Groceries. My uncle Vic referred to Bert’s as a “bar for people who didn’t drink.” This was handily supported by the many customers who would bare their souls to my grandparents. Standing behind us, awaiting the Pope that morning, was Al, a Battle of the Bulge veteran who talked to my grandfather during the slow hours of the workday. I timed these conversations by Al’s appearance when we left for school before 9:00 a.m., and his continued presence when we came back for lunch. Al would draw a stool up to the counter and rest on his elbows between the giant bucket of kosher pickles and the stack of honey  wafers. As they talked, my grandfather sliced cheese and chicken loaf for us to take to the back, where my grandmother would make our sandwiches.

Also waiting in that crowd was Arlene, a divorcée who poured her heart out to my grandmother as I, a naive fourth grader, sauntered through the store, pretended not to listen, and grasped only a portion of the context. My grandmother would often interrupt Arlene’s triste soliloquies to remind me that our sweet rolls were in the kitchen. These treats varied from custard-filled paczkis to fruit kolačkys, and our grandmother let us set aside the best ones before she opened the store every morning. Anna and I would wash the sweets down with chocolate milk while watching Gilligan’s Island. Later, after we did our homework we’d roller-skate, ride bikes, or be pulled along by our grandparents’ dog Taffy through alleys and up and down sidewalks. When we weren’t outside, we spent hours behind the counter in the store. Our grandfather had taught us how to operate the cash register, and occasionally asked us to man the store if he had to run to the back. To my grandfather’s chagrin, I once turned away a customer looking for orange juice, not knowing that he kept boxes of the concentrated drink in the basement.

Anna and I truly were kids in a candy store;  our grandparents never once tried to rein us in. Sometimes, my grandfather would teach me the Calabrese dialect, or we would spell words backwards. The latter became our secret language and he would utter various words for me to decipher, such as acoC-aloC, or, donutS, an anagram of his dialect spelling for “stupid.”

That morning, when the Pope finally arrived, his car passed the store slowly enough for him to read our sign. Holding his red papal hat in one hand, he raised the other to make the sign of the cross.

Decades later Anna and I reminisced about this with our Auntie Lillie. Anna and I simultaneously recalled (as we often do, speaking in stereo,) how proud our grandfather was that the pope blessed his store and his hand-made sign. There were a few minutes of silence as my aunt stared at the two of us incredulously. She finally spoke and reminded us that the Pope’s visit was in October. My grandfather had passed away the previous summer.

“Then who made the 3-D sign on butcher-block paper?”

I asked, too stunned to alter a memory that was so crystalline not only in my mind, but in Anna’s as well. My aunt told me that she, in fact, had made the sign.

“So Grandpa wasn’t there?”

Anna and I asked. My aunt shrugged, and I thought, but did not express, that if Anna and I had both remembered it that way, it could only mean that in some way, he was indeed with us, and Bert’s Groceries, although closed for business within weeks of his death, had lived on as well.


Writer:  Pia L. Bertucci
Photographer:  Bruno F. Bertucci

Air Show

chicago literary map


The angel flew so low over the lake, I could see its reflection in the water.  I had no camera right then, just did a lot of jumping and screaming.  Me, not my kids, though my dogs were barking like crazy.  It flew only twelve feet or so above the lake, its wings, proud and strong, stretched perfectly straight from its shoulders, horizontal over the water’s surface.  In an act of sheer will, it tipped upward and barrel rolled into the clouds above the lake, its blue robes camouflaging itself. I had to squint to see as it disappeared into the mantle of the sky.

My kids and I kept walking. Me practically skipping, my son and daughter meandering along where the lake met the land, looking for good rocks and snail shells, accepting what they had seen as part of their world.  There was no need for them to keep watching the sky for anything more for the world of children is filled with the impossible which does not always, and does not need to, fit into an adult’s view of everything.  I kept to the path with the dogs, barely watching where I walked, my eyes over the water, the leash in one hand, my phone in the other, ready to snap some video.

When the angel appeared again, all I could do was jump and scream once more as it flew even lower this time and closer to the shore, riding some low current of air.  The wings weren’t what I expected, not a brilliant white, but with the checkered pattern of a hawk or falcon. An archangel, clearly, though it wore no armor that I could see as it flew so close to me that I could hear its blue robe flapping as it moved through the air, the angels arms kept close to its sides.  I could see the angel’s face with its gaze focused on the shining water, searching and so beautiful that I almost cried right there, standing in the path.  I yelled out at the kids to get them to look. They glanced up casually, said it was cool and went back to filling their pockets with the shells of zebra mussels, the angel already a part of their reality and having little more novelty than the raccoons that show up in our trash cans each autumn.

The angel turned away from the shore, increased its altitude, pumped its wings and flew out over the lake, rising into the sky, once more disappearing. Something told me this was all I’d see today, so I pulled on the dogs’ leashes and called the kids from the water to walk home.  In the elevator to our floor, I shut my eyes and tipped back my head, imagining.

The kids filled their father in on everything once we got inside our unit.  He asked me about it, using the indulgent tone that all adults give their children when they share stories of the fantasy that exists for them.  My response came with some unintended irony, as if by the retelling I had stopped believing.  My husband went back to making dinner as I unleashed the dogs and let them loose in the kitchen to hover around his legs hoping for some kind of food to drop from the counter.

Leaving the kitchen, I walked over to one of the giant thick sheets of glass that made up the exterior wall of our unit and looked out over the water.  The next morning these windows would shake as I was awakened by the sounding of trumpets from over the lake.


Writers:  Joe McCauley with Nickie Sage
Photographer:  Benjamin Lipsman
Location:  Lakefront

To Ride Home on His Handlebars



Once again I’ve gotten myself mixed up and met you at that Mexican place we both love. Who says I can’t have huevos rancheros for dinner? And coffee to wash it down? And a pitcher of horchata? And a boy to grin golden grins at me from across the table? No one. No one says that. And that is what this neighborhood is. They don’t look twice, and they don’t think I’m wearing the wrong shoes with these pants, and they don’t forget to smile when they recognize me on the sidewalk. They’ve got kids and they know what it is to work and to be happy and to be exhausted all at the same time. Kids with blue shoes kick their legs back and forth at the table next to us. Kids with brown eyes as big as the moon. Kids with their bikes whirring past us on the sidewalk.

I’ve forgotten my bike again. This always happens because I’m forever coming from here or from there—places where my bike never is. It’s blue and old and has yellow tape that I liked once, but it’s not here so we decide to go on foot. You walk your bike even though I know you’re aching to ride it because it’s new and fast and you know you look good on it. We named it once, do you remember? It was cold that day, but we rode along the lake anyway, far from our neighborhood, our Southwest Side. But now we’re home, more or less, walking down 18th Street, turning down side roads when it comes time, and debating politics while the sun slides down our backs. The tops of pale green reeds are poking through the chain link fence, and I just want to run my fingers through them. I’m not really listening to what you’re saying, but I like the way it sounds.

As the hours slip by unnoticed, the reds, yellows, and oranges turn gray and green, but we can’t see it from our place inside under the window. The first thing we sense is the breeze because it suddenly smells of impending rain. A storm is coming, we both know it, and I should probably get home so I won’t get caught like last time, the time when we got your bike and named it and rode along the lake. Do you remember? This time it will be different, and I’ll go before the rain starts. It will be different because this time when you say “Trust me!” and ask me to ride on your handlebars I’ll say yes. Finally, I’ll say yes. I don’t know if I trust you or if I just don’t want to get wet, but here we go. Shaky at first, and I’ve torn my jacket jumping up on the metal bars (are they metal?), but it gets easier. I lean back against you, and your head rests near my shoulder as you pedal, finding your rhythm. Onward we go through tiny back streets flanked with murals both grotesque and wonderful with colors still visible in the waning daylight.

It’s getting darker now, and the quiet desolation of 16th Street breaks only at the incessant chiming of those railway bells, the ones I’ve never seen, only heard, like legends told before campfires. They sound so hollow and lonely, yet there are many of them. I think I’d like to find them with you sometime. What do you think? Maybe some time when the rain isn’t threatening. Maybe some time when I remember to bring my bike. Maybe then. But for now I’ll just have to ride home on your handlebars, down Wolcott and back to 18th where we meet once again with the rest of the world, the rest of the buzzing, singing world.


Writer:  Carrie Laski
Location:  Ashland & 18th

My Time at the Pacific Garden Mission

Then came the day they told me I was going to Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago. My mind barely registered what was written on the card, simply an address with no directions. I had a hazy thought of some run down homeless shelter in the middle of a bad neighborhood. Then I was out. After a year of being a lone shut-in that barely talked out loud, I was in the hot July sun, breathing fresh air and trying to see, my eyes squinting. I remember the cut grass lawn, how it smelled so much better than the stale air of Read. My feet where not used to the uneven surface and there where no walls to guide my walk. I climbed onto the CTA bus with just a bag of old clothes to my name and a months supply of the meds they had me on. How ironic, that after spending a month on suicide watch, they send you out on your own with enough drugs to kill yourself with. The smells where overwhelming. What with the year of only smelling myself and not having a cigarette in months, it was not good timing to have my nose start working again. I could feel perfumes wrap around my face like a wet towel. I recall standing on an L platform, the Montrose blue line stop, and hearing the stark roar of cars screaming by on either side as I kept from stumbling over the unguarded edge to the rails. Presently, I was on the rocking and swaying subway, lights flashing by as I tried to get my sea-legs, the squeal of the rails so loud that my eyes squeezed shut. I had gone from death’s waiting room to a toboggan flying down the slope of an erupting volcano… and I didn’t care, my mind was a blank.

The mission didn’t look at all like I thought it would. It is a big, solid and clean structure that greeted me on the inside with a wide inviting hallway who’s floor is painted yellow. The PGM is a miracle. They get no federal funding, yet feed, shower and give beds to over 600 people a night. More than just temporary comfort, they also provide a life changing Bible program to those that want to try to get back on their feet.

When I had walked in, I had no idea of anything, no thought on what my future might be, and any wild thoughts of being ‘rescued’ from my situation had long ago faded. I merely existed. I stopped at the security kiosk and asked where to go. The guard could tell I was new and offered up a sack lunch and told me to sit on a bench near by. The food was the best I had had in months, as the food at Read was nasty government surplus swill. Soon, a kind grey-haired old man called my name and waved me onto his tiny office. His name was Wendle Davis and within 5 minutes got me to smile for the first time in weeks. he explained that I could do like 90% of the men there and live on the edge, or I could join the Bible program and sleep in a separate, safer area upstairs, all I had to do was sign a 30-day agreement.

Now, every decision I had made in my life so far was wrong, so I wasn’t in any hurry to go down any road too fast. I thanked Wendle and told him I’d read the paperwork and think about it. It took me an hour of reading and pondering on that bench, I was way too tired to walk anywhere, and finally decided to sign up. I had nothing left to loose.

The next few days where kind of a blur. They gave me clothing, a bag of toiletries and a top bunk up in dorm 3026. When I think of 3026, I think of the inside of a submarine with 60 guys and a skosh more room. It measures about 60×50 foot, it’s hot and stuffy and well, there are a lot of sounds and smells that guys make while snoring and out the other end. Oddly enough, you get used to the smells after a week, but I’ll never get used to the sounds.

Rules, there are lots of rules, and they are needed. You are dealing with a bunch of guys that did it their way so much that most have lost everything, so we need structure.

Location: Pacific Garden Mission
Writer:  Zac Lowing

Soapin the Streets

He’s out there on the corner soapin the streets at Foster and Walcott, the bodega owner’s son, or nephew, or cousin or whatever. If he’s even related to the owner. Maybe he is the owner. He looks too young to own his own corner store though, I don’t know. In any case he’s out there washing away the winter, the remnants of leaves and gravel and coagulated exhaust, broken glass, and shards of bud light cans and cig butts. Swept away on the first day of the year that smells like spring, the sidewalk perimeter lathered and brushed coarse, as shiny as dull concrete.

It’s astonishing how this city changes from the cold months to the warm. Chicago Depression: it’s a regional-seasonal-emotional condition, and it’s a pandemic. Seems like the winter eliminates 30% of the public space here. The sidewalks are trenches (when shoveled), or lunar surfaces (when the owner is a dick). The streets become an obstacle course of dibs and snow mounds, and the parks don’t really exist because you can’t actually go there. Urbs in Horto? Just fuck you. The aforementioned horto is covered in 26 inches of snow that’s been here since November, concealing a Noah’s Ark of dog shit. But I haven’t noticed that the parks don’t exist because I haven’t left my house for non-essential business since Thanksgiving.

Then one day, you walk outside and your coat is a little too heavy, your hat unnecessary, your scarf just an accessory. You’re waiting for the bus and your hair is actually hot. The streets don’t have that snow barrier. People are lying on blankets in the park. Things are vibrant. The music in your headphones sounds just a little better today than last week. Maybe things aren’t so bad after all.

That day is today. It’s the first warm day in Chicago.

Writer: Kevin Borgia
Location: Foster & Walcott

Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind

We leaned against the theater building
as if we were waiting in line for tickets, but
the show got out over an hour ago and

I’m still waiting for you to take me to dinner. So
I un-roll the program and re-read the same
actors statement.

We are under a broken streetlight, but down
the corner to my right is another couple waltzing
in a lit pool.
My red 034 lips part and I click my heel even faster.

And your tie is blowing in the air and you are still
whistling at an empty street
trying to hail a taxi, but you are not from this
wind blown town and I’m just watching you

inhale even harder. But now, the couple is tripping
over their laughter and I am growing jealous of
their Brunello laced evening.

And I think they too missed the show.


Writer: Sonja Lynn Mata
Location: The Neo-Futurists

Opening Day

I never knew my grandfather. But I honor his memory where Clark meets Addison, in the shadow of Wrigley’s rotund red marquee. There in the 1950s, every Opening Day, he would sneak my young father into Cubs games through a conveyer belt that rolled fresh beer from the street to the ballpark. With the flair of an Irish-born Chicago cop, he’d flash his badge at the gate for entry, strut to the beer room, and reclaim his son while slaking his thirst. After the game, the ushers would enlist young fans to choose a row and upturn every green wooden seat from one end of the park to the other. For his troubles, each boy would receive a free ticket to the next day’s game. My dad performed this daily duty all summer long, year after year, securing him free season tickets for a decade. It was a different time. You could do that then.

Writer: Matt Herlihy
Location: The Friendly Confines