Keepin' It Real

Cherokee Street is trying to reclaim its working-class heritage. But the power brokers have made their peace with poverty.

Joiner seizes his chance, takes a deep breath, proposes the cable-TV commercials. He's told to look into the costs.

At the end of the meeting, somebody brings up the weatherbeaten Indian. "I submitted a bid to Lloyd and Ramona several months ago about painting it," Rance Miner says wearily. "It's out of my hands." People fuss about what kind of paint's needed and say the Indian's only been there about 15 years. "It was grant money," recalls Rick Ruzicka, manager of Globe Drug. "We ended up doing the Indian because otherwise we were going to lose the money."

Peaceful Antique Row, which used to be the shabby side of Cherokee.
Jennifer Silverberg
Peaceful Antique Row, which used to be the shabby side of Cherokee.

Cherokee's Indian was a last-ditch improvisation, yet the newest entrepreneurs, hungry for a symbol, see his worn face as a promise of urban tolerance. They talk about the Indian's foreshadowing the street's internationalism; they emphasize the need for people of all races to get along, make Cherokee a South Side version of the University City Loop.

"It's a lot going on on that strip," says hip-hop musician Christopher Greenlee, a.k.a. Pookie. His CD Keep It Real was inspired by Cherokee Street and shepherded by Friedson. Now track 11 is playing on the radio -- Friedson nearly cut himself shaving when he heard "I Make It Hot" advertising London & Sons chicken wings.

"Those tortillas smell real good," continues Greenlee, unfazed by fame. "And you can feel comfortable on Cherokee Street. Everybody speaks to everybody, not just passing them up looking at them but 'Whassup, how you doing, where you going?' On Cherokee, it's not 'Look what I got,' it's 'If you ain't got what I got, I'ma hook you up.'"

He falls silent for a minute. "Sometimes I feel that Cherokee Street can be a little better than it is," he confides suddenly. "Some of those buildings that are just sitting there? You could do a lot with them. Competition's cool at times, but I like to see everybody working together."

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