North Kenwood: BP after BP after BP

June 11, 2010

The BP station at 47th and Woodlawn is full up. There are cars hooked up at all the pump stations, both sides and an unruly line waiting to get their turn. Most folks pay at the pump but there’s a cluster up at the register hidden behind grimy bullet proof glass; customers drop their bills, then pluck cigarettes and junk food from the drawer sliding in and out of the white brick hut and go on with their lives.

Here in North Kenwood – just like in Hyde Park and Bronzeville – BP stations dot the landscape, each of them crowded with cars: Camaros and Caravans, Camrys and Sebrings, Cavaliers and Taurus, even a Cadillac deVille or two.

In other words, nearly two months into BP’s catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf, and in spite of boycott calls from Ralph Nader and a zillion environmental and political groups, it’s business as usual at BP’s flagship stations in my neighborhood.

“Man, where else am I gonna go?” says a young man as he shoves the nozzle into the side of his Honda Accord.

And it’s true that, for a Citgo on 39th and a Mobil on 53rd, it’s BP after BP after BP around here. (Not that the Venezuelan-owned Citgo isn’t accused of a bunch of humanitarian and environmental violations, or that Mobil hasn’t been implicated in everything from the Exxon Valdez spill and gun running in Angola to toxic dumping in New York and discriminating based on sexual orientation.)

“Nah, those two are outta the way for me,” the young man says of the non-BP fill-ups, but he’s embarrassed enough that he won’t have his picture taken. (Neither, in fact, will anyone else.)

“I’m just used to coming here,” says a middle-aged woman with a car full of kids. “I didn’t even realize it was the same company as the one in the Gulf.”

Which seems astounding, given the green and yellow blossom on each and every pump.

“This isn’t a BP station,” insists an older man, rubbing his unshaven chin.

I point to the all to the pumps, the huge sign on 47th.

“You don’t understand,” he says shaking his head. “BP delivers the gasoline but it’s not owned by them. This is American-owned, my friend owns it. If people don’t come here, it’s gonna put him out of business.” (This station, like most BPs, is individually owned.)

“You see, it’s kinda complicated,” he adds.

Yes, yes, it sure is.

There’ll be a flash mob protest against BP today around noon in Millennium Park, on the BP Pedestrian Bridge. Wear all black and bring a black umbrella if you can. If someone asks if you, “Are you a friend of Oliver’s?”, say yes for further instructions.

UPDATE: Turns out the bridge was blocked, protest was stifled. For more, check out http://chicagoist.com/2010/06/11/bp_protest_continues_despite_roadbl.php?gallery0Pic=5#gallery