Chicago has been dubbed the “Second City” by many but she’s owned my heart since the day I was born. My name is Donald and I’m a proud South Chicago native.

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Trust Me, I’m a Local: Donald Conley

Chicago has been dubbed the “Second City” by many but she’s owned my heart since the day I was born.  My name is Donald and I am a narrative filmmaker, as well as a proud South Chicago native.

If you’ve come here to read the umpteenth review of Millennium Park and the Metallic Bean, then you’ve absolutely come to the wrong place.  This is about the part of the city I left at 18 and returned to at the age of 28.  It is not the Chicago you may have heard about in the news.

The Chicago I know is classic house music, strawberry “POP,” dill pickles, comedy and sweet mild sauce.  When I was a child, running around the massive 372-acre Washington Park was enough to amuse me for a whole month.  It was when I got older that I realized life calls for various forms of entertainment.  These are some the reasons I am so proud to call South Chicago my home.

Jackson Park

Japanese Garden in Jackson Park Chicago
Japanese Garden in Jackson Park Chicago

Located on the eastern border of Chicago, where the city meets Lake Michigan, Jackson Park is 500 acres of beautiful sprawling land that houses the Garden of the Phoenix, 63rd Street Beach,  the first public 18-hole golf course built in the Midwest, and the Museum of Science & Industry.  

Get an early start to your day by jogging along the Chicago Lakefront Trail, which runs from Downtown Chicago through Jackson Park and on to the South Shore Cultural Center.  

Watch the rising sun wash over the white bricks of the only building in the Woodlawn area to survive the Great Chicago Fire:  the Museum of Science & Industry.  If you fancy a look at over 2,000 unique and quirky innovative exhibits, this museum is one of the most popular attractions in all of Chicago.  A comfy pair of earplugs may do you some good as hundreds of thousands of hyperactive youth make the museum their playground during year-round field trips.

 If you’re a film geek like myself, you’ve kept your ear to the trades and watched for any visits made by Martin Scorsese to scout for his upcoming production of The Devil in the White City.  Why would one of New York’s most iconic filmmakers be shooting in Chicago?  Well, because Jackson Park was only the location of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.  And where is Jackson Park?  The Southside!

Sidenote:  Jackson Park is only just famous enough to be chosen as the official site for the future Barack Obama Presidential Library.  Pow!

Parades & Festivals

Bud Billiken Parade in Chicago
Bud Billiken Parade in Chicago

Summer in Chicago means it’s time to get out there and be social.  We spend the winter months wrapped in blankets, sipping double fudge hot chocolates by the open oven doors.  When the chill finally breaks, which almost assuredly occurs in June, I grab my camera and commence to snapping candids of wide smiles indulging in the summer madness.  All of this and more can be found at three major festive events on the Southside of Chicago.  

 The Chosen Few Picnic kicks things off in July.  Known as one of the largest music festivals in the entire world, the Chosen Few showcases the city of Chicago as the originator of classic house music.  It’s a family reunion of sorts for music lovers across the globe that attract International DJ’s, but also maintains loyalty to house music’s original spinners:  Wayne Williams, Jesse Saunders, Alan King, Tony and Andre Hatchett.  Come party with hundreds of thousands under a parade of white tents and grill smoke. The music is relentless.  This is not for the faint at heart.  High heels are ill-advised.  

 Come the second weekend in August, the celebration only gets bigger and louder when the Bud Billiken Parade takes over the streets of Bronzeville. Bud Billiken is the second largest annual parade in the United States, and for good reason.  First organized in 1929, the Bud Billiken Parade applauds the unity in diversity for the children of Chicago and promotes educational advancement as a back to school celebration.  Over a million people line Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to watch dancers, politicians, musicians, celebrities, and more parade on floats to various genres of music blasting from large speakers that send an electrifying pulse through twenty city blocks.

 The African Festival of the Arts wraps up our summer festivities on this side of the city.  Thousands flock to Washington Park during Labor Day weekend for West African garb, body products, artwork, foods, music and more.  Find your new Bantu knot twister.  Find your new scent mixologist.  Find a new love interest to share a bowl of pepper soup with and watch how fast things would heat up.  Doses of the Diaspora are served here in large quantities.

31st Street Beach

31st Street Beach Chicago
31st Street Beach / Michael Baker, on Flickr

If you’re like me, then you’d want to avoid traffic at all costs. The 31st Street Beach, located in the historic Bronzeville district, is a short walk from free neighborhood parking.  This beach provides clean water, an amazing view of Downtown Chicago, a Seuss-like playground for children, and nearby harbor for boat docking.  More significantly, this beach offers space as most unaware Chicago tourists will be beaching on the North Shore.  

The 31st Street Harbor is the newest addition to Chicago’s harbor system and boasts fueling stations, power for Internet and cable, laundry facilities and an eco-friendly environment.  It’s so easy to feel like you have the entire beach to yourself.  That’s an exaggeration but it’s not entirely hyperbolic.  

For a beach located in the third busiest city in the United States, the level of comfort here is unrivaled.  There’s no other place in the city where my pastime of reading fictitious novels is as soothing.

I Used to Call It…

Comiskey Park!  The home of the White Sox is now known as U.S. Cellular Field.  Doesn’t have the same ring but the building still holds some of my fondest childhood memories.  My father worked as stadium security during my adolescent years and I fondly remember delightfully walking through the “secret entrance” without coughing up a single purchased ticket.  I thought my father was Willy Wonka the way he led through winding halls that opened to the circular stands above the diamond.  These were the Frank Thomas years.

The best part of it all is that U.S. Cellular Field still lights fireworks after a Monday night ballgame.  What’s better than a good ole’ stadium hot dog and beer for nine innings of America’s favorite sport?  

Even when the game’s not in session, the stadium warms my heart every time I drive north on the Dan Ryan and pay witness to its looming presence on 35th Street.  Take me out to the ballgame…

The Eats

Chicago is a food town and we are proud to slop on the calories.  

Lou Malnati’s:  You want pizza thicker than platform shoes?  Lou Malnati’s has the best deep dish in the city.  Found in multiple locations, including the South Loop.  This is a family owned business that has not strayed away from tradition.  The ingredients include California vine-ripened tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and a secret crust recipe that has been passed down from generation to generation.  

Harold’s Chicken: You heard about mild sauce but have no idea what it is?  Is it slightly tangy but not necessarily hot?  You won’t find out in Millennium Park.  The sauce is most appropriately used at Harold’s Chicken, located throughout Chicago, but truthfully speaking, particularly on the Southside where it all began.  The uniquely seasoned chicken and mild sauce had always been the first purchased meal I’d have on trips home from college.  Order from a menu that offers every part of the chicken between the beak and the toes.  They even fry catfish too.

Hyde Park Taco Station: Located at 53rd and S. Dorchester, HPTS is a quaint but delicious taco serving establishment.  Not to take anything from all of the great Mexican fare in Pilsen, but this spot knows how to pack vegetables in a burrito.  The vegans of Hyde Park feel right at home and you will too.  I’ve never been happier to eat cauliflower.

Chicago Home of Chicken and Waffles: You can’t be on the Southside and not dine in Bronzeville.  That’s why Chicago Home of Chicken and Waffles parked on 39th and King Drive.  The waffle is completely unassuming but tastes like sweet soul music on the tongue.  That beautifully mixed waffle is yours from sunup to sundown.  When partnered with deliciously tender fried chicken, that waffle informs you that she’s more than just a batter of carbs.  Pictures of Black celebrities line the wall.  The menu items are named after someone’s aunt and grandmother.  It becomes very clear that down home soul cooking occurs behind the curtains.  

 Original Rainbow Cone: Now time for dessert.  Original Rainbow Cone, located at 92nd and S. Western Avenue has been in business since 1926.  They aren’t playing around.  The rainbow cone is layered with five different flavors, neatly rested on top of each other.  Like when toddlers go crazy chasing rainbows, your taste buds will run ablaze.  They also serve rainbow cake, which is the same idea but on vanilla sponge cake.  It’s better than a pot of gold.  

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