When I first came to work in Chicago as a street reporter for WBBM-TV in 1982, I barely knew my way around. Having grown up in East Chicago, Indiana, my knowledge of the city pretty much consisted of the Museum of Science and Industry, Comiskey Park, downtown, and Old Town.
Thank goodness for the street grid. Once you know that State and Madison are where the numbering system begins (zero-zero, so to speak), it’s pretty easy to keep from getting completely lost. (That and always knowing where the lake is–if water starts coming up through the floorboards of your car, you’ve probably driven too far east.)
Figuring out the South Side didn’t strike me as worrisome because, for the most part, the major east-west streets are numbered. But I needed an easy way to learn the order of the big east-west streets on the North Side.
So I came up with a nonsense sentence that incorporated the first letters of Madison, Chicago, North, Fullerton, Belmont, Irving, Lawrence, Bryn Mawr, Devon, Touhy, and Oakton–streets that are 8 blocks apart. (My system leaves out major streets such as Division, Addison, and Foster, but back then I was just trying to come up with some major coordinates.)
The sentence I came up with was a directive in which each word corresponds to a major, North Side, east-west street. The nonsense sentence I came up with is: “My cute nice furry bear is lovable, but don’t touch often.”
That goofy sentence has helped me remember the order of North Side streets ever since, especially in tandem with the numbering system. So, for instance, if I had to cover a story at 3316 North Ashland, I would mentally rattle off the sentence until it got me close to my destination.
With the above address, I would ignore “my” (because Madison is point zero) and go another four words into the sentence. Since those streets are eight blocks apart, I know that four times eight is 32. So that told me the address was a block north of Belmont (“bear”), which is 3200 north. Get it?
“Well,” might you ask, “That’s all very well and good, Mr. Grid Lover, but how about finding the big north-south streets?” A good question, scholars. The answer tomorrow.