THE PEOPLE ISSUE exists to explore a simple-sounding question: What makes Chicago work?
Of course, there is no simple answer. We at the Reader use the occasion of the People Issue to approach the question in two ways—one literal, the other not so much. First, we selected 19 people—with passions like brewing beer or fixing bikes or curating performance art—to shed light on some of the city’s many moving parts. What makes a beer work? What makes a bike shop work? What makes a performance work?
Then we set out to discover the ways in which the brewer and the mechanic and the curator are inspired by Chicago itself—so much so that they’re driven to do something that improves the city. In turn, the similarities in their seemingly disparate experiences reveal something more meta. What is the undercurrent that simultaneously compels a brewer to craft her own black lager schwarzbier, a bike mechanic to volunteer at a shop that serves low-income youth, a curator to create a “new artistic medium”?
Or, as one People Issue person, a WBEZ reporter, says of her coverage of CPS: “The thing about the school beat—it’s always more than about public schools. It’s about our whole society and what kind of city we have. It’s about how the city works.”
The people assembled here have ditched “real” jobs for deeper callings and built communities where none existed. They’ve juggled overwhelming responsibilities to keep multiple projects afloat. “I’ve never known a town that works as hard as Chicago,” the curator observes.
They’ve brought a quieter, quirkier Chicago to the big screen. They’ve immigrated here, overcoming great loss to introduce Chicago to a piece of their culture. Each of them does something highly specific and each tells a story as important as the next—as important as the story any of us tells. But more important is that they work in a common rhythm, one that becomes apparent as you begin to relate not just to their individual successes and plights but to the story their narratives tell as a whole.
Thanks to Chicago, these people are able to do work that fulfills them. And thanks to these people, Chicago works a lot better. —Mara Shalhoup