The Weiners Circle is both a hot dog stand which
late at night-early in the morning is a popular haunt
of white Chicago & suburbanite singles and also
a new reality-game show on cable that is shot on
the actual premises of the Lincoln Park establishment.
The advent of the show has led Chicagoan Tai
Rosenberg to post on the Chicago Reader blog site,
The Bleader, an essay on his own feelings towards
the exchange of late night abuse between patrons
and workers - much of it of a racist tinge - which has
become a phenomenon in itself.
The phenomenon is more fully detailed in Rosenberg's
essay, which also features a short piece from the archives
of the This American Life television show. One interesting
detail which emerges from Ira Glass's show is that Chicago
is so segregated that some sociologists have taken to using
the term hyper-segregation to describe the city.
After reading the essay, I went to the Yelp website and read
the patron reviews of the Weiners Circle. Although most of
the reviews at least mentioned the food, the reviewers by
and large focused on the phenomenon which has supposedly
doubled the late night business at the Circle.
And also by and large the reviewers viewed the phenomenon
as benign, many encouraging the reader to go to Weiners and
join in the circle of abuse. Still the Ira Glass piece made it
clear that feelings do get hurt. I was particularly moved by a
worker who is to be featured on the cable show - and so whom
I'll not name - who admitted, "Of course it hurts when they call
me a monkey," though she quickly pointed out that she couldn't
afford to give up the job, so it didn't really matter how she felt
about the phenomenon.
Of course the well off whites who patronize the Weiners
Circle can afford to go out on the weekend while the
blacks behind the counter have to work. To me this seems
the crucial difference:
After all, the whites are free to go out, get drunk and decide on
any particular weekend night whether they'd like to patronize
this particular hot dog stand and take part in the phenomenon
or whether they'd rather just pass it by, go home and pop a
frozen pizza in the oven.
The blacks are not. They have to be there working in a hot
kitchen all night supporting themselves exchanging racial
taunts with well-heeled customers - weekend after weekend.
For the mostly white customers, the phenomenon is
entertainment; for the black workers, it's a sentence.