You Want Good Meat? You Better Have Clout

September 4, 2009

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The good meat is on this grill.

Labor Day weekend … for anyone into barbequing, these are days you just have to pull out the grill. In Chicago, what you put on that grill can depend on who you know. In this story, WBEZ stumbles onto the role clout can play in everyday Chicago life.

 

Like a lot of stories about clout in Chicago, this one starts in Bridgeport. Not at the Ward office, though. This story starts at a barbeque I was invited to: Fourth of July. A little side yard next to a respectable three flat.

 

A guy I met there—he brought some meat to grill. My friends remember it too:

 

FRIEND: That thing melted in your mouth. And he cooked it…whatever he marinated it in—I don't know what.  

 

FRIEND: It seemed like it should be illegal—it tasted so good. Like there was something in it that you can't get on regular store shelves.

 

Here's the guy who brought the meat. I'll call him Tony. He doesn't want me to use his real name.

 

TONY: I feel like a drug dealer with this stuff, 'cause it's so incredible. 

 

You bite into this meat and you realize… this was meant for somebody else—somebody a lot more important. So I did what anybody would do:

 

TONY: You said, 'Where did you get this meat from?' And I really couldn't tell ya.

 

Tony's lived in Bridgeport all his life. He didn't want to be specific, but he said he got the meat at a little corner store. He said not just anybody can buy it. He said you gotta know the guy.

 

TONY: It's across the street from my house, and I'm always there and… over time, you know. There's trust. I guess it's just a perk.

 

A perk? Wow. This is just like those clout stories in the news. Kids getting into good high schools and universities because of who they know.

 

Back at the barbeque, I had just met Tony. But he says things might be different now.

 

TONY: I didn't know you that well. I didn't want to jeopardize his livelihood just being a loudmouth about it. But, you know…I don't think he'd have a problem giving you the meat...

LUTTON: If you introduced me....

TONY: If I introduced you, sure. Sure.

 

Tony agrees to take me across the street to the store.

 

street sound

 

In another time, a time when the mayor and other powerful people were just kids running around this neighborhood, the stores might have been owned by the Irish or the Poles. Now, many are Mexican… packed with tamarind candy and phone cards. But Bridgeport traditions live on.

 

introduction

How are you doing?

Good, My name is Roberto.

Hi Roberto.

 

I don't think that's his real name. It seems like Roberto sells more Cheetos than anything else. Tony says his wife can't believe this is where the meat comes from.

 

TONY: The first time we cooked it up, she's like, ‘You got this over THERE? I can't believe… he HAS this? Where the heck did he get this from?' I said, I don't know, and I'm not gonna ask questions.

 

Roberto knows what I've come for.

 

ROBERTO: Do you wanna see the packages? Enséñale uno… tráele un paquete de la carne!

 

cooler opens, RIP!

 

LUTTON: I'm in the back of the store, and there's nothing really back here. There's a bicycle, some crates of RC Cola. And there's a Popsicle cooler here. It's filled with bags of ice, and in the corner, there's some vacuum-packed bags of meat.

ROBERTO: You want to cook? Right now?

 

That's it, folks.  I'm clouted in.

 

On my way out of the store, Roberto tells me this:

 

ROBERTO: Cuando me mandes una persona así que quiera comprar algo, dile: “Dile que yo te mandé.” Y yo le vendo, pero a otra persona no le vendo.

 

If I want any meat, he says…all I need to do is come by. And if I wanna send somebody over, that's OK too. I should just tell them to use my name.

 

Now all I've gotta do is figure out how to get my kids into a good Chicago high school.