Updated: March 3, 2014 1:20PM
This winter’s unbearable cold has renewed my respect for the Hawk.
Growing up in a CHA high-rise near the lakefront should have taught me that the hawk is nothing to play with.
The wind that swept through the breezeways would drill through my thin gloves and flimsy boots in minutes.
On those days, my mother would hang out the window screeching for me to put a scarf on my head before I caught my “death of a cold.”
One winter’s day was so brutal; I stepped up on a warm CTA bus and my eyeglass lenses shattered in the frames.
Still, like most youngsters, I ignored the warnings about going out in the cold dressed inappropriately until I suffered frostbite and hypothermia while waiting for a bus.
Adults, of course, should know better.
But I once encountered a man standing on a frozen L platform wearing a jacket, with nothing on his head and no earmuffs screaming loudly, “It’s cold as hell.”
He said this over and over as he paced the platform with his bare hands jammed into his pockets.
I always imagined hell to be hot, but I understood where he was coming from.
Up on the North Side, I once saw a hooker walking the streets in a mini-skirt, her bare legs exposed to the freezing elements. She made her way into the coffee shop with her teeth chattering. The shop owner didn’t have the heart to tell her to keep it moving.
Over time, I became my mother yelling out the window at my own teens as they disrespected the Hawk.
They didn’t listen anymore than I did.
Actually, we’ve been spoiled by the mild winters, and most of us have forgotten how brutal a Chicago winter can be.
But as the late soul singer Lou Rawls noted in his monologue to “Dead End Street,” “the almighty Hawk takes care of plenty of business around winter time.”
Rawls, who was raised in Chicago Housing Authority’s Ida B. Wells, knew what it was like to face the Hawk head-on:
“The place that I lived in was on a street that happened to be one of the dead-end streets where there was nothing to block the wind, the elements. Nothing to buffer them for me to keep them from knocking my pad down…When the boiler would bust and the heat was gone I would have to get fully dressed before I could go to bed,” he said in the monologue to his 1967 recording.
Whenever I pass a mound of blankets on Lower Wacker Drive, Rawl’s song crosses my mind.
Although the city operates 12 warming centers across the city, and will provide transportation to homeless shelters that are open 24 hours/a day during extreme weather, according to a spokesman for the City of Chicago, some homeless people would rather tough it out on the streets.
Obviously, the city can’t drag people off the street anymore than my mother could make me put a babushka on my head.
It is a miracle, really, that people living on the street are not freezing to death.
Like so many of us, the Hawk a couple weeks ago caught me off guard. After the first “arctic vortex,” my Uggs tore up and I was reduced to wearing plastic bags in my boots until I could find another pair.
Apparently, I wasn’t alone.
The guy at the shoe store said there were so many women coming into the shoe store with plastic bags in their boots, he thought it was a new trend.
Two pair of boots later, I still have cold feet.
I also discovered that my insulated gloves that I’ve worn for the past three winters are useless.
So, I give.
Today, I stayed home and gave the Hawk the respect it deserves.