Sunday, January 17, 2021

"Whose Karen Is It?"


     National Public Radio is proud of its engaging stories, dubbed "Driveway Moments," those compelling programs whose blend of narrative, humor, pathos and suspense keeps a driver glued to the car radio, even when the destination is reached and he would snap off less captivating fare, but is forced to sit in the car in the driveway, listening.
     But after this morning, I'm wondering if lingering in the driveway is any measure of highbrow creative merit.
     The boys were home, and the car radio had, perhaps through their handiwork, shifted from the usual WXRT 93.1 FM to the unfamiliar 101.1 FM WKQX. Saturday morning, returning from dropping our dog off at the groomer, I found myself listening for the first time to the Brian, Ali and Justin show, one of their "Whose Karen Is It?" segments, where the hosts try to match a "Karen"—an unhinged, complaining woman—to her home neighborhood in Chicago.
     Before we launch into the topic, I couldn't spotlight the imaginative, thoughtful, and not-at-all entitled or in any way testy musings of Caren Jeskey without pointing out that the whole "Karen" trope is mean, unfair, sexist and past its pull date, not to forget being the slasher-movie morality of identifying someone as vile so you can unleash all the cruelty upon them that supposedly so bothered you in the first place. 
     But that realization only came later, with a bit of guidance from my wife, as illumination all too often does. Complaining men don't get the same treatment. Nor do we know whose bad moment is being captured. Maybe they're having an awful day. Maybe they're mentally ill. Maybe they're right.
     The host read a note found taped to the windshield of a car, basically extending dibs, presumptive enough after a snowfall, to a general claim on a parking space, 365 days a year.
     "I am so pissed off that these fucking transplants don't know the rules around here," it begins. "I've been calling dibs on 2 parking spots in front of my house for 5 years now without any issues. Everyone on the block knows these our [sic] my parking spots..."
     The game is to guess where in the city this woman lives. It has its own page on the WKQX web site and you can see the full social media post there. 
     The first caller  guessed that the author of the note is from Bridgeport—he himself is from Bridgeport—while allowing that the note being typed and not scrawled in a nearly illegible hand did, indicated it might be from somewhere more advanced than the neighborhood that spawned the Daleys. 
Wrong! Complete with canned sound effect and host hilarity.
     What kept my interest was how the game was that it served as a quick survey of how residents of various parts of the city are viewed by others. Callers guessed Lincoln Park, Edison Park, Marionette Park. There seemed to be a lot of callers, impressive for a Saturday, and they greeted the hosts with "ahoy!" which had a certain Jimmy Buffett appeal.
     It went on and, eventually, I went inside and, in checking the station's web site to see who I was listening to, I realized I was able to keep listening. They must have dragged the bit out over a half hour.
     While listening, I did my due diligence. It turns out that this very segment caused controversy last fall when someone guessed Skokie. Robert Feder of course had the full story:
"It might be time for Brian Haddad to consider dropping “Whose Karen Is It?” from his morning show on Cumulus Media alternative rock WKQX 101.1-FM. Wednesday’s installment of the weekly bit (purportedly based on a woman charging her friends and family $80 per person for Thanksgiving dinner) took a bizarre turn when a caller unleashed some unmistakably anti-Semitic tropes about 'those people' in Skokie. "
     Obviously the station isn't taking Robert's wise counsel, always a mistake. Though Haddad did immediately apologize. That's good enough for me. As I've said before, if I refused to partake in the creative efforts of anti-Semites, I'd be sitting alone in a bare white-walled room listening to klezmer music while tossing cards into a hat.
      I was still listening when the mystery was solved.
     "Mark, ahoy, whose Karen is it?" said one host.
     "Everyone who lives in Bucktown only shops in Bucktown, they never leave Bucktown, I gotta think it's Bucktown, I know them," the caller said.
    "You got it, Mark, it's Bucktown!" More sound effects, etc.
     The most noteworthy thing is the callers seem to think "dibs" is a gentrified phenomenon, while I think of it as an entrenched, I've-lived-in-Mayfair-30-years kind of thing. Maybe it's both. 
     They call Saturday's show a "Throwback"—meaning, I assume, that it was a re-broadcast of a show earlier in the week.
     I kept listening, and they played "Do I Wanna Know?" by the Arctic Monkeys, which seems less crappy than I would expect on contemporary glad talk music fare.
     The topic shifted to pedicures and cutting your toenails and I was able to easily bail out.
     I don't want to overstate the case. But in my business, no wonder should go unremarked upon. Maybe I'm biased, and assume such shows are more brain dead than they actually are. I still set the station back to WXRT—you gotta dance with who brung ya—but I was encouraged by the episode. Maybe I'm looking for encouragement lately. Maybe we all are.


  1. Things are rarely as they seem- I'm usually wrong when I make an assumption about why someone is rude or thoughtless. I've been doing my best to resign from the complaining about others society. It's tough though.

  2. "Maybe I'm looking for encouragement lately." Methinks you can drop the "maybe," in this sentence and perhaps the next one, too. : )

    I guess this post answers Sandy's question from yesterday's comments...

    Dibs remains a "thing" in many neighborhoods throughout the city. As is the case with many generalizations, the individual differences within a given neighborhood make generalizing about them a slippery enterprise. The person writing that note could have lived anywhere, IMHO. So this radio segment would not have represented a "driveway moment" for me.

    Full disclosure: though I parked on the street for decades, I was never a proponent of dibs and found the idea disturbing. As Eric Zorn has pointed out before, if everybody on a block would just shovel out their car and be done with it, the street could be clear. There could be block parties for shoveling the street after a big snow. The problem, of course, is that in many neighborhoods, you can't find a parking spot in the middle of July, let alone after a snowstorm, so any excuse for "claiming" one is attractive to those of a certain mindset.

    1. I see now that dibs is alive and well in the city. Unfortunately for me, the dibs fun ceases to exist when you live in a townhome with designated parking.

  3. Unless it's an "oldie-but-goodie" tune that keeps me in my seat, the only "driveway moments" I've ever experienced were Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon monologues on Saturday evenings. Many of them were absolutely mesmerizing. He really missed his calling....shoulda been a clergyman.

    Near the end of his forty-year run, of his "sermons" (as I always called them) got more and more 'churchy'--until my wife started calling him the Saturday Evening Pest. But I once stood frozen at the kitchen sink, for twenty minutes, while he wove a tale of being sixteen and hearing of Buddy Holly's demise. He was a superb raconteur. But he finally got stale and repetitious, and those driveway moments went away.

    "Dibs" has been around forever in Chicago. I clearly recall stories of cars being vandalized and even overturned, and encased in ice with hoses. And of course there were the beatings and the shootings and even the killings. Chicago has always been a mean and tough place. Especially during those mean, tough winters.

    There's nothing like "dibs" in Cleveland. We get far more snow, but we also have a much lower population density, and far fewer neighborhoods of apartments. Which means that the vast majority of city dwellers have garages and driveways, and there's little need for on-street parking. The end result is a helluva lot more wintertime shoveling, but at least you have your own private parking spots, and nobody ever gets killed. I certainly don't miss Chicago's year-round parking wars.

  4. I for one have yet to see a “saved” parking space in my neighborhood this winter.


    1. This "winter" has pretty much been such in name only, though, John. Snow-wise, at any rate. Not that I'm complaining!

  5. I lived next door to a aging gangbanger in West Town who had 24/7/365 dibs on the parking space in front of the building where I lived . The cop across the street gave me the heads up the first time I parked there and I never did again . Sometimes parking a block away. With an open spot right in front. Never had any other kind of trouble with the man. Once I showed the respect he demanded. Eventual I convinced the proy owner to let me hinge a gate on the alley fence and parked in the yard. Made groceries and laundry a lot easier

  6. I bought my first front wheel drive car in 1982 while living on Burling at Wrightwood. The first test was a heavy overnight snowfall that had people shoveling their cars paths off the curb. I cleared my windows, put it in first gear, turned the wheel hard left and the Honda pull nimbly through the 6 inches of snow. When I came home that night I had my choice of spaces that traditional American big steel vehicle owners didn't dare attempt. I left town in'85, never saw any incident of dibs on that block.


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