50 Wards in 50 Weekdays: 6th Ward's nocturnal nurse, 'CJ' Whitney, knows long waits for the bus are more than just annoying

June 25, 2012

(WBEZ/Sam Hudzik)
Cepeda Whitney walks through Chatham after his shift.

For Cepeda “CJ” Whitney, the timing is all off.

Whitney is a nurse, working the overnight shift at a psychiatric hospital. When he’s on his way to work, the shops near his home in Chicago’s Chatham neighborhood are already closed.

“[They close] very early, very early. Which could be a good thing, but it’s not good for me,” he says. “If I’m hungry, what am I supposed to do?”

 

Go to the gas station, I guess, the only thing that’s open when he heads for the bus to get to work in time for his 11 p.m. shift.

And that brings us to the other part of Whitney’s timing problem. He takes buses to his job at the hospital on the Near West Side. At night, the intervals between those buses are just too long, he says.

 

“I shouldn’t have to wait an hour from one connection to the next,” he says. “That’s very dangerous standing out on 79th Street waiting on a bus.”

Dangerous enough that someone might worry about getting robbed.

“I was robbed like that,” Whitney says. “I was just standing [at] the bus stop, waiting on the bus. Two guys walked up behind me, one had a gun. ‘Hey, empty your pockets.’ […] Showed me the gun, and the other guy just started going through my pockets. Took everything.”

When it comes to crime, he says Chatham is divided in half.

“Once you get [south of] 81st it gets real neighborly, real nice. But this area [we’re standing on 79th Street], no, it’s not safe,” Whitney says. “Once the sun goes down it’s not safe.”

His block, with lots of longtime, elderly neighbors, is in the area he considers safe. His bus stop is not.

That robbery happened about three years ago, when Whitney first moved to Chatham. Before then, he lived three years in the South Shore neighborhood, and before then, he was in Englewood. That’s where he grew up.

Whitney has worked in mental health for about ten years. He seems to like the job, even when it gets tough.

“It has its moments. But I’m not bothered by it,” he says, adding that when you’re well-trained, you have the confidence to handle tricky situations.  “My job is kind of like, it’s real energetic. I deal with people, you know, and they’re up all night and I’m up all night, so I kind of have to wind down a bit.”

And so Whitney returns to Chatham, around 8 in the morning. When most other folks get on the bus, he gets off it.

I feel bad asking someone who ended the night shift to talk politics. He should be sleeping or watching TV, not getting questioned about the city’s new mayor. But Whitney is game.

 

“I think [Rahm Emanuel]’s doing pretty good. I have no complaints so far,” Whitney says. “You build a building, brick by brick. You know, and I can see him building, brick by brick. He’s making small steps, but I see things happening.”

Those accolades for the mayor are non-specific. Whitney can’t name anything the mayor’s done, so his support is a testament to the importance of press conferences.

“You actually see his face,” Whitney says. “You see him moving about and making things happen.”

Whitney, still in his scrubs, heads off on his way, not yet ready for bed. He’s walking to the library to see if it’s open yet; it’s not. Timing just never seems to go his way.