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Army Recruiting Billboard
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Army recruiting billboard, Lawrence Ave. near Rockwell, Chicago, IL. Need to get this translated --anyone read Arabic?


Saw this billboard on the way to O'Hare yesterday (1/10/06) afternoon, on Lawrence Ave. near Rockwell. Went back late last night and took pictures of it. A cop car pulled up and watched me while I was taking my snapshots, didn’t say anything to me though. (I was on my cell phone via earbud driving out there and while all this was going on, and thought about reciting the license plate number to the person on the other end, but didn't.) Afterwards the cruiser followed me almost all the way to Addison and Clark! I was on my way to the Taco Bell (seriously; it's part of my training diet!) down there. Maybe there's some donut shops in the area too, I don't want to sound paranoid or anything. Perhaps the cop car’s driver just wanted a sugary night time snack.

I have some predictablely leftist (for lack of a better term) sentiments about the war. Not the full party line by any means, not even close to it. I just mean that I think that Cindy Sheehan is a slightly better human being than Bill O'Reilly. Regardless of any of that, I'm glad to see this billboard. Even though I generally upchuck at most newspeak military propaganda, I think this billboard is a good thing. To appreciate it, you should know that it’s located in a very multiethnic neighborhood of fresh off the boat immigrants, including a sizable portion of Arabic-speaking ones. On the way back from the airport, the friend I had gone there to pick up remarked, sardonically, "Yeah, 'come join us so you can go kill your own people.'" I don't agree with her sentiment. There'd be a lot less killing of any kind if people quit thinking of other people as being 'your own' or not. Of course, that will never happen. So, if dividing people up into groups is inescapable, then it's better when they start dividing themselves into groups that one can join into, as opposed to groups that one can only be born into. I don't mean joining the army either. Just that in the larger, lesser-of-two-evils sense, nationalistic identities are at least preferable to ethnic identities, and this billboard, no matter what you think of its intended purpose, is a beautiful step in that direction. (And it didn't occur to me til just now, but it's probably worth noting that me and my friend, a Bosnian Serb by birth who emigrated here at age 12, ate at a Serbian bakery on Irving Park on the way back from the airport. She said it was not apparent which side of the conflict there the patrons of the other table made up. Couldn’t really follow their conversation in any detail, but we gathered that they were discussing Stanley Kubrick films).

The ride up Lawrence on the way to O'Hare yesterday afternoon, when I first noticed this billboard, was interesting. Lawrence is a neat street to drive down, which is something you probably have to do semi-regularly if you live on the North Side and need to get to I-90 and O'Hare Airport. It encompasses much of the main drag of what used to be called "Koreatown" around here. There's still an exit sign on I-90 that says Koreatown on in, but the street is no longer as overwhelmingly Korean as it used to be. After English, Korean is still, by far, the most widely visible language on the storefront signage between Lawrence & Western and I-90. Next is Spanish, then Arabic, and Polish then various Eastern European scripts I can't readily identify. Driving down this street, you see all kinds of ethnic markets hawking weird foods, Mexican street vendors, wannabe-wilding packs of little black kids with huge dirty afros, dumpy old women in full chadors, and crazy old dudes in threadbare sport coats shuffling down the street and mumbling to themselves in Polish. In other words, it's fucking fabulous, one of the reasons I couldn't ever move back to Ohio. It's also got one of Chicago's only nude strip clubs, the palatial Admiral Theater, and at least one adult novelty store. It's the kind of street where you can get a $20 blowjob, a Guatemalan poncho, a halal burger and a good pierogi, all within two blocks of each other.

And any time you drive down Lawrence Ave., you'll have plenty of time to take all of this in too, because it's mostly only one lane all the way from Western to I-90. Mayor Daley, a big proponent of urban bicycling, has seen fit to have what could have been a second automotive lane designated into a bikes-only lane. I'm as big a proponent of biking as anyone, I've ridden in Critical Mass, etc., blah blah blah. I'm all for biking, and all for making this a more bikeable city, but Lawrence Ave. is far too heavily trafficked to be sharing space with a bicycle lane, for the sake of both drivers and bikers. The same purpose could have been served a lot better if they'd located it on a less busy avenue. But whatever, some Chicago departments are run by idiots and patronage inbreds, everyone knows that. Anyhow, the point is, unless it's very late or very early, Lawrence Ave., one of the most important roadways on the North Side of Chicago, is often bumper-to-bumper, with traffic creeping along at about 6 m.p.h.

Everyone here who drives knows this and hates this, and bitches about it vocally, and driving down Lawrence Ave. when you're in a hurry is always an exercise in frustration. It like time even slows down to Third World speeds here. I was supposed to be to O'Hare by 3:45 p.m., and I hadn't left my place in Ravenswood til 3:15 p.m.; if you live here, you know that means I'm probably gonna be late. So I was a little frustrated when I went to turn onto Lawrence from Damen and there was a standing line of cars all the way down past the Wendy's. I turned left anyhow, way after the light had turned red, barely out of the intersection when I joined the line of cars headed west down Lawrence. Creeped along like that at inches per hour for a few yards until a midnight blue Buick nosed out in front of me from one of the side streets. I reluctantly slowed down to let it in front of me. "Reluctantly," because I knew one car could mean the difference between making a light and not, and I hate to be late for anything (even though I sometimes am). Also, annoyingly, because even though I’d left him plenty of room to merge into traffic, he continued to tentatively meander along halfway in the bike lane, hesitant about whether he had enough room to merge.

After what was really only a few moments, the Buick merged, and the driver waived me a 'thank you' in front of his mirror. I didn't acknowledge it with even a head nod, which I felt kind of bad about, coz you should try to acknowledge friendly (and for that matter, unfriendly) automotive gestures whenever practical. But, as any urban driver can relate, I was still pissed to be one more car length behind in a barely moving line. It's almost like the driver of the Buick sensed this, because just when I was seething 'fuck this motherfucking shit,' underneath my breath, he threw up his hands in front of his rear view mirror as if to resignedly say, "fuck, it’s not my fault --they’re just not moving!" I know it’s not your fault dude, whatever. Sucks. I don't know what model the Buick was, it looked late 90's though. There was a Puerto Rican flag-in-a-sunburst decal centered on the rear window, and it had shiny, fancy, expensive aftermarket rims. The driver looked Hispanic, and in his mid –late 20's, and had a close-cropped haircut. Some unidentifiable item was hanging in his rearview mirror. He seemed like he would be classified by most people as a roughneck sort (although I guess a considerate one), and you could picture his car driving around Humbolt Park in the summer, bad hip hop vibrating from the bass speakers in the trunk.

Approaching the next red light, he pulled to the right of the long line of stopped traffic in front of him and drove right up to the intersection in the bike lane. I did the same, which is exactly what I would've done if the lane was free of bicyclists and he hadn't been in front of me.

Waiting at the red light, the driver of the Buick started waiving/pointing with his right hand in front of his rearview mirror, with the four fingers perpendicular to the ground, making a universal 'zoom' motion. I nodded and gave a thumbs up. When the light turned green, the Buick gunned it, easily bowing past the red Durango (I think) which had been clogging the pole position in the other ('real') lane. I did the same, and followed close behind him, cutting off the plodding Durango to get around even slower moving traffic on the right. We did this for a couple intersections, just barely beating the yellow lights. At one point, the Buick was in the right lane, coming up fast on a suddenly almost-stopped block of traffic. The lead car in the left ('real') lane was coming up quick, and it looked like the Buick may not have noticed that his opportunity to get back into the left lane was rapidly evaporating, so I pulled in there well ahead of the other car and flicked my headlights, signaling the Buick to get over. The Buick driver took advantage of the opportunity and made the thumbs up sign in front of his rearview, and we continued on dodging and weaving through traffic like that until we neared the I-90 junction. It was like the French Connection, except at 25 m.p.h. –still hypersonic compared to the rest of traffic. At the ramp, the Buick kept going west, while I peeled off to get on the highway. I gave a salute to the driver as I veered towards the ramp, and glimpsed the driver of the Buick head-nodding back as I merged into the waiting line of traffic there.

That was pretty cool, I thought. I like it when drivers (or any strangers) look out for each other, and always thought it it was extra-cool when other people acknowledge it too. I've most often encountered this on the highways, where the militantly "drive right/pass left" crowd will occasionally recognize each other, forming spontaneous convoys, taking turns driving point, signaling cars coming in the opposite direction when there's a speedtrap ahead, etc. I had always associated this as being kind of a rural thing, something that generally takes place on long stretches of highway between major urban population centers, almost kind of a good old boy/hick thing in spirit. But this driver, in his midnight blue Buick w/ the fancy rims and the Puerto Rican flag, was as urban as you can get, but still demonstrating that very same roadway ethic. He may not even speak English, and it’s possible his parents weren’t even born here. And it occurred to me, well, neither were mine. I guess some kinds of solidarity are universal.

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I have it on good authority that this is the translation:

"new jobs come to those who speak the arabic language"

Boo. So it's not "Mohammed fucks pigs in hell"?

I'm still trying to get that on a t-shirt.

Boo. So it's not "Mohammed fucks pigs in hell"?

Come on dude. We're better than that. Or should at least pretend to be.

You may be. I dig on offending the religious, whatever faith it might be. Islam, Catholicism, Scientology. Whatever.

Oh hey, I dig on offending them too. I was referring to what an official U.S. Army billboard shouldn't be saying (hearts and minds ya know), not the sentiment expressed on a t-shirt.

Just that in the larger, lesser-of-two-evils sense, nationalistic identities are at least preferable to ethnic identities

Yes!

Nationalism gets such a bad rap from leftists, but in point of fact it's vastly preferable to the tribalism that preceded it and still competes with it for mindshare.

Definitely. And nationalistic identification (as it exists now) certainly isn't an endpoint to stop at, but it's a step in the right direction at least.

I am more tribal, and by "tribal" I mean the small group that includes close friends and family. I consider my ethnic background irrelevant, and as for religious or national identity - don't have any. Zilch.

I thinks that's the direction things have got to keep going in --towards identities based on shared beliefs (or better yet, behaviors) other than dogmatic, superstitious ones like religion, or technical citizenship. In that sense, I think that "tribal" identification, as you use the term, is far preferable to traditional, indigenous "tribal" identification (i.e., ethnic associations based largely on bloodline/heredity), as the term was used above.

I wonder what's the next step, what comes after nationalism and the kinds of tribal identification you describe? Maybe situtational identities, determined completely ad hoc in reference to whatever conflicts arise? I dunno. Probably won't be in my lifetime anyhow.

Your "situational identities" may in fact already be happening, thanks to the internet. That's my guess as to what will happen in the future - the "group" I choose to belong to will be spread over the entire planet. And it will probably be fleeting as newer "connections" replace old ones. Hopefully, nationalistic or tribal/ethnic identities will cease to exist as more people on the planet get wired. Of course, this won't happen for a long time (and assuming no asteriods/nukes/germs wiping us out), and the danger exists that there will be less activity in the meatspace. In terms of emotional and physical needs, I think we'll still need our real-world friends of flesh-and-bone. Anyhoo, somebody said "No man is an island" and I believe it.

Your "situational identities" may in fact already be happening, thanks to the internet.

I agree --getting people wired will have an unprecedented impact on the erosion of ethnic/nationalistic identification. Perhaps more than religion itself did, which of course was an early step in that direction. Religion's pretty toxic and a great source of warfare too, but it's a start, in getting people to identify as something other than what/where they were born into. But religion is still a mostly opt-out concept, which I think will give way over time to smaller, more fluid, opt-in identifications. There's a chance that we may see a period of it "getting worse before it gets better" too, after we reach the point where everyone/everywhere is wired, with transnational super-affinity groups facing off against other super-affinity groups (e.g., the way monotheistic identification just ended up making each opposing sides bigger), but I think the danger of that is mitigated by the sheer volume of competing areas of affinity that will be available to people --hooray for short attention spans!

nice one -- i too find myself communicating w/other drivers in the same way you've just described, usually when travelling long distances on motorways here.

Cool, I'm glad to know that if I'm ever motoring on the M6, I'll feel right at home. Except for that whole driving on the wrong-side-of-road thing I guess.

just a slight tweak on things, yes ;)
that and lane discipline is taken far more seriously here, too.

That's a great car story. I've never gotten to hand gestures, but there have been times on Interstate 5, a 300+ mile straight flat line through California's central valley, where I've been with a pack of cars who knows the score. See, a lot of trucks take the route, but their speed limit is lower than the cars so they do about 70. There are always some vacationing family minivans doing 70-75, and finally the pack of regulars who knows 85 is fine on this road. Things can get dicey when you come up on a truck passing another truck or a minivan who won't pull over, but you'll see a string of cars who work their way around. It's often the same group all the way from LA to SF.

Also, I just want to complement you on that picture. A US Army ad in Arabic, a AM Gospel station and a Guatemalan take out place, all on one street corner -- that's what's awesome about America. More than any other country, we've gotten over the whole ethnic/nationalistic identity and are cool with pretty much whatever. Yeah, there is some friction and hostility in parts, but by and large, it's the best anyone can hope for in this world.

that's what's awesome about America

Totally, and an example to the rest of the world. If in this country we can have the grandchildren of KKK wizards in the Deep South dressing wegro, birthing mulatto babies, and listening to Wu Tang, then I think that indicates there's hope for any world region mired in stupidhead ethnic strife.

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