The Wagon and Other Stories From the City
By Martin Preib
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010
I think I originally bought this book via Amazon for my Kindle because it was cheap. I heard nothing about it so it was a complete shot in the dark.
In it Martin Preib shares his memoirs through a series of essays: his days as a beat cop in Chicago as he transports dead bodies and trains new officers, and his time as a doorman at a hotel in downtown and organizing workers for a union vote. Overall the book is more about his observation of the city of Chicago, making it a living character to his stories.
I got the feeling that he really loved Chicago; it was a city that drew him in and wouldn't let him go. But at the same time, he was also very clear about the ugliness that runs the city and the cycle of violence that continues on and on. You get this peek behind the curtain to some degree. Reading his stories from his time as a beat cop made me want to go to Chicago, find a cop and give him or her a hug -- and then go kick down the bureaucrats' doors and tell them to use common sense.
It wasn't all just about his beat cop days. The essays from his time of hauling corpses to the morgue were also good but sad and heavy. Fitting, I suppose. Reading his perspective of death and/or watching him sort through findig death's place in the world was interesting, though heady at times. I also like observing his life as a hotel doorman and how he learned the tricks of the trade. That lightened things up. The book even ended on a higher note as he joined the YMCA and started playing basketball games with the men there. You got the sense that while he often felt like one of the forgotten in the city, it was there he found a small place.
I enjoyed the book. Maybe because I got it free or cheap. But also because Prieb was a "writer" who for the longest time didn't actually write. He did other jobs to free up his time to write. Eventually, he did it, and we have this book. That gives the book an overall sense of victory. It's a testament to the good of the city of Chicago, even when so many ugly things also happen there.