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Twelve Blocks

Elaine Place, 3400 North | Lake View

Moving day: the author, foreground, with her roommates  Photo: Courtesy of Fran Hoepfner

Worst Year Ever

By Fran Hoepfner

Published Oct. 29, 2018

So many streets in Chicago carry themselves across the length or breadth of the city. They stretch for miles, changing with the geography or, at the very least, adding a lane of traffic. But not Elaine Place. Never Elaine Place. It is a one-block street between Roscoe and Cornelia, east of Halsted and west of Broadway. Leafy, green, simultaneously keeping to itself and right in the middle of the action. Elaine Place was special, I thought when I moved into a three-bedroom apartment on that block some years ago, and so was I.

You see, I was in my early 20s, and as far as I was concerned, I was the only person who had ever been in her early 20s. I was going to make Elaine Place my home. My first Chicago apartment had been cramped, tiny, up four flights of stairs, with a barely functioning bathroom. But Elaine Place wouldn’t feel that way. It’d have string lights. There’d be framed movie posters on the wall. We’d use coasters. No one had thought of these ideas for an apartment and no one ever would again. Soon, when people complimented me and my roommates on our taste, I’d smile and say, “Thanks, I’ll be here forever.”

The first red flag should have been that, at the age of 24, I was the oldest person in my building. For this was the real draw of Elaine Place: It was cheap as hell. Whereas on my old street, in Edgewater, my roommates and I hid our age shamefully in a neighborhood full of quiet, polite families, the residents of Elaine Place wore their age with pride. They pregamed. They tailgated. They fought with their significant others in the courtyard of my building for hours, yelling, “Bailey! Bailey! I just want you to listen to me.”

“Bailey, for my sake, please listen to him!” I nearly shouted out the window.

On Elaine Place, I was trapped between college students below and hulking bros above (two out of three of them named Josh). One particular evening, the college students invited my roommates and me over to play beer pong. “No RAs,” they promised me with a wink. It was only when I could hear them through the walls scream-singing Katy Perry on a Thursday night that I realized in horror that I was the RA.

Before long, Elaine Place’s Peter Pan spell got the better of me. The apartment fell into disarray. Bowls were left on countertops. Coffee cups on windowsills. One-night stands were had. Smoking was taken up again. After vomit sat, frozen rock-hard, in the courtyard for what I promise you was six weeks, I couldn’t recall if it was mine or someone else’s. What I can tell you is that the courtyard vomit became an apt symbol of my commitment to adulthood: slowly chipped away at over time and eventually melting into the earth. Elaine Place will do that to you.

Then the inevitable happened: We got kicked out. OK, not quite, but our building was bought out from under us. They wanted the young renters gone. They wanted to turn Elaine Place into “vintage elegance.”

In retrospect, being booted out of Elaine Place was the best thing that could have happened to me. Freed from the 7-Eleven and its shameful cigarettes, from the hung-over mornings at the Starbucks on Broadway, from the Joshes above me, I was able to grow.

Walking along Roscoe with a friend recently, I pointed out Elaine Place, flourishing and green, still my little second star on the right.

“I never would have known it was here,” my friend said. “It’s so nice!”

I smiled and shook my head. “Worst year of my life.”

Fran Hoepfner is a comedian and humor writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times and GQ, among other publications.

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