Eliezer “Eli” Vargas is a soft-spoken, longtime resident of Chicago’s Gage Park neighborhood. When he talks, you can just tell from his voice that he’s a relaxed, content guy.
“The neighborhood – it’s been okay with me," he says. "Everybody - I know most of the people in the block. Never had any trouble with no one.”
Everybody’s got pet peeves though, even Vargas. He says parking gets tough on his one-way street because some families have more than one car.
And then there’s the lawncare situation.
“I like people [to] keep their…homes clean and stuff. Some of them need to, you know, take better care of their lawns, but," he laughs. "I take care of [mine].”
Yeah, he does. The small patch of grass out front of his house couldn’t be greener if it were painted. He’s watering it when I meet him.
“Every day,” Vargas says.
Vargas has lived in this beautiful house on this beautiful street for about 20 years. He’s been in the neighborhood about 30.
He was born in Puerto Rico 53 years ago, and his parents moved the family to East Chicago, Indiana, when he was 12. It was there that he met his wife.
“We went to school together. My high school sweetheart is my wife,” Vargas says. His infectious laugh [listen to the audio above] breaks out when I ask how long they’ve been married.
“Ah, too long,” he says. “No, a long time. A long time. I say about, about 30 [years]. We got married in ‘81.”
Vargas works at the Illinois Institute of Technology, on the grounds crew. It takes him about a half-hour to drive to work.
“Driving slow, you know. I don’t like to drive fast,” Vargas says, as his daughter – standing to the side – chuckles. This is clearly a topic that comes up at family dinners.
When we talk politics, Vargas gives an answer very similar to one I keep hearing around this city: new Mayor Rahm Emanuel is doing fine, but his work hasn’t been felt in the neighborhoods.
“I mean, I haven’t seen no greater or less change than when [Richard] Daley was there. It seems to me like…pretty much the same.”
Here’s an example: police patrols. Vargas would like to see more around the neighborhood – and more bike patrols, too. Emanuel says he’s put hundreds of officers on beat patrol, but Vargas hasn’t noticed a difference.
Still, crime isn’t bad, he says. Life is good. The city is headed in the right direction.
“I’m working and everything, so it’s…probably that’s the reason [I see things that way]. I don’t know about when people are – unemployment – it’s hard. Especially with the home foreclosures and all that. It’s pretty hard.”
He points to a house a couple doors down. Its lawn is not in great shape.