You’re Either an Optimist or You’re Already Dead

Name: Evan

Age: 20

Role: Stagg Alumni Class of 2014

Evan is currently a sophomore at Moraine Valley studying Music.

Growing up in the city, my neighborhood was 95% Latino, and I dunno, it seemed like a regular childhood to me, nothing special about it. Don’t go out after dark. Don’t play in the streets. The usual. Other than that, we lived in a relatively good neighborhood; Ashburn is actually pretty nice. It was nice growing up with a lot of kids in the area. When we moved out to the suburbs, sure, there were kids in our new neighborhood, but there weren’t nearly as many crammed into a single block. Everything was more spread out, it was a lot harder to get around and see people. So I kinda miss that, cause that was really cool. I managed that my best friend happened to be like, the one white kid in our grade, the only one: good old, Ed. The reason me and Ed were best friends was because he happened to live around the corner, so we’d always be out on our bikes.

I came out here around 10, so been here 10 years now. It took me 5 years to finally stop complaining. Oh yeah, it took me until high school to realize that the suburbs aren’t that bad, I have friends now! For so long, I just wished so badly for our parents to move us back. Here’s the thing, I'm still a city kid at heart, so I'm like, “Man, I want to be a city kid!” But I live in the suburbs so I'm seen as that image and it’s awful. I feel like a sellout! Like straight up, I can tell you more about the city and can maneuver through it way better than probably plenty of kids my age who actually live there. Not just downtown, but the entire city. I know Chicago like the back of my hand. Like, I spent this morning memorizing the names of neighborhoods and their borders. But because I spent my teenage years out here, I’ll always be seen as a suburbanite, which sucks.

    The suburban stereotypical image is really sheltered, it’s ridiculous. I remember when my friends and I were freshmen, we were hanging out over in Hickory. It was Angie, Alex, Elizabeth, and I. We were walking around Hickory, and well--that’s the thing, we were walking, because that’s how I got around all the time. Liz, Angie, and Alex were freaking out because apparently they never walked anywhere growing up over at Palos South! I dunno, Alex spent his entire life with the kids on his block and playing in the prairie behind his house, I can’t imagine Elizabeth walking anywhere, and Angie didn’t have much opportunity or reason to walk. Point is, all of them had always gotten driven everywhere; just that was a difference in culture. It’s a strange thing, just from crossing that river over there to the other side of town, the changes you’ll see.

    But yeah, that suburban image is just so...ugh, especially since I can only be seen as pretending to be a city kid, even though I still have all this knowledge and experience. And hell, I hate this because everything’s so...the suburbs are just like, “bleh”. I was driving through the city the other day, to my grandparents’ in the morning, and I drove through downtown. I was passing through all these neighborhoods, through the Loop itself, and it’s just--it’s really gorgeous over there.

    There’s this spot over on Museum Campus that I love. It’s great, all the way out at the very end of the peninsula. You stand there and you get the greatest view of the city you’ll ever see, I swear on my life. The problem is, at 11 at night, the thing closes. So me and my friends, David, and Hannah pull into the Shedd Aquarium maintenance parking, and as soon as we get into a spot, turn off the car, and turn off the lights, a security car passes and stops at the top of the drive. He starts shining his light down there, and we’re just frozen, paralyzed. The windows are all fogged up and we’re just like clutching and ducking as the guy shines his light all over the cars. Eventually, he leaves. And the rest of them, they wanna go. But I tell them, “No, we came here, we have to finish this!”

The thing is David and I had been out to the peninsula before, so we already knew what to expect, Hannah didn’t. So we decide to have a little fun. We blindfold her and we walk two blocks along the lakeshore. It’s a big walkway, there’s really not any danger of falling into the lake. So we get out there, and me and David pull off her blindfold, and I never get tired of this: The look that someone gets the very first time they take in that sight in the middle of the night, on the lakefront right there...it’s like nothing else. To see someone with that look and to know that...that you could do that for a person...it was WOW. We’ve been adventuring downtown forever.

    Like the story about that very first night that we got the gang together, it was the middle of winter. It was me, Julia, Angie, and Henry, we just needed to get Pat. We get to Pat’s house and he’s climbing out of his bedroom window. He’s trying to walk along on top of his garage and he keeps slipping because it’s winter and it’s icy. So we coax him over to this tree, and he starts climbing down. About halfway down, he just slips. He goes crashing down. Luckily, there was a single branch about waist-height that just stuck out: he landed perfectly on his crotch. I thank God everyday for that moment.

    So he jumps into the car and he’s just FREAKING OUT. Every five minutes he goes, “Okay guys, I gotta be back! Otherwise my dad’s gonna wake up because I left my window open. And he’s like a thermometer, as soon as it gets below 50 degrees, he’s gonna check on me!” No joke, this is exactly what he says.

We ditch Pat because he was being annoying, and we pick up Jimmy Poynton, who had just graduated. We’re just driving around town. We stop at Jewel first, pick up all kinds of stuff: ice cream, whipped cream, chips, sodas, and we’re just driving around all those forests out there in the suburbs looking at Christmas lights. At one point, we’re just driving down some random highway and Jimmy sticks his head out the back and I'm in the front seat like, “Jimmy! Open your mouth!” I open up one of the cans of whipped cream and I release it. It just flies back and it just completely coats his face. There’s like--there’s no lesson to be learned in all of this. Except...kids, have fun. Don’t do too many illegal things.

I mean, hopefully by the time you read this book you’re not too old or too crippled to do anything with your life. There’s a lot of awesome things out there. I mean, just--just living out in the suburbs here, there’s really not too much to do, but for years we’ve managed to have a ridiculously good time, like going out with friends and having all kinds of wacky adventures driving out to the city and around the suburbs, venturing out into the woods in the middle of the night. My autobiography, the title is gonna be, Late Night Car Rides and Apathetic Encounters with Local Law Enforcement. I drive around a lot at night and I run into a lot of police officers and I couldn’t really care less.

Unfortunately, everyone else around you is getting older and they don’t do things anymore. The gang hasn’t had a good ol’ night like those downtown in years. Senior year is maybe the last time we had a really good drive around the city like that, getting out of the car on the Loop, running around in the rain, things like that, just goofing off and being kids. Kids can have fun doing literally anything and that’s the best part about it. When you’re older you have to do things to have fun, like go out to parties or go out to bars. But you can give me a ball of string and I’m like a cat, I'm just playing with that thing all day long. And I dunno, I feel like a lot more people should retain that sense of curiosity and wonder that kids have, where they can really appreciate a lot of things. They appreciate everything.

I remember the day of the homecoming parade our freshman year, we were on the band bus just hanging out, and we wanted to see a movie. Alex just jumps at the idea and we pick a movie, “Easy A”. We pick a show time over at Chicago Ridge. Alex gets on his phone and calls everyone, everybody in our freshman class, and tells them all to meet at Chicago Ridge at that time. Everyone shows up, it was ridiculous. It was a huge group, just to watch this movie. Afterwards we all just ran around the mall, wreaking havoc. We were that group. We’re the reason there’s that weird curfew at the mall now.

I believe it was Albert Camus that said, “Life has no meaning until you give it meaning.” And so, all these fun experiences, all these stories, that’s a good enough reason for being. So I hope you actually take this advice kiddos, go out there and experience the world because like I said, it’s full of so many astounding things, so many mountains and rivers and kings and queens and lawyers and Native Americans and sunsets and all kinds of wacky things to get you through this and any other life.

Everybody’s an optimist on the inside. What else is there to be? Dead? You’re either an optimist or you’re already dead. That’s why you keep going. I mean, my professor said something great the other day, cause we were reading Albert Camus’s The Stranger, a book on existentialism, the meaning of life, the meaninglessness of life, questioning this existence, etcetera. Apparently Albert Camus was very firm in the beliefs of what he wrote, that there is absolutely no purpose, no order, no meaning, we’re just here, like a “why bother?” kind of thing. But then my professor went out and asked, “If he really believed all that stuff, why’d he keep writing? Why’d he keep creating?” It’s like I said, kids, there’s a lot of things out there in the world to do, to enjoy, to experience, places to see, people to meet, etcetera.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out just...this. Living here. Like why, and how, and things to do. And so I’ve just been running around going on all these wacky adventures trying to find a good reason to be here. I came to the conclusion that it’s actually all those ridiculous stories, all those fun adventures, all those experiences, that’s the why.

-Interviewed By: Kelsey Weivoda