Chance the Snapper: Urban Renegade
Updated: Feb 19, 2020
An unflappable city is driven to giddy hysteria by their encounter with a non-resident alligator.
Broad shoulders, strong vowels, soul-crushing traffic. The city was sent a-flutter in recent weeks when a not so small alligator was discovered living in the lagoon at Humboldt Park.
A few things you should know before we delve into the details. Humboldt Park, on the city’s near West Side, was once a venerable old neighborhood. At other times, it was a shockingly violent outpost of gang activity. Throughout the '80s and '90s, it was the effervescent and loud center of the city’s Puerto Rican community, and more recently, the young and hip have staked their claim, as the area has seen violence drop amid a 20-year wave of gentrification. The neighborhood centers around an actual park, it’s namesake.
Amid this rich history, urban legends abound. A well-loved local myth that alligators were living in the park’s brackish lagoon has persisted for decades. Prevailing rumors in the 90s had it that some gangsters of unknown provenance dropped the reptiles there to feed bodies to.
Imagine our collective surprise when an actual alligator was spotted living in the actual lagoon! Maybe a climate change refugee, or maybe a kid’s pet gone wildly wrong, there it was. The city lost its mind.
There was a naming contest, of course. Chance the Snapper, after the decidedly more famous and less confusing Chicago rapper.
A random man somehow designated himself as leader of the alligator-catching squad. He gave himself or was given the name Alligator Bob, because, of course. Please pause here to picture it: Alligator Bob is racing around the neighborhood, leading the frenzied, joyous charge to capture the beast. He is wearing black leather motorcycle chaps; it is 90 degrees. He employs a canoe. He has zero qualifications. This should give you an adequate representation of the strange local flavor that was ignited by this weird urban collision with a dangerous, possibly man-eating, émigré.
Children’s camp groups visited, crowds gathered. A variety of reptile enthusiasts made passionate suggestions, including but not limited to: peanut butter, drones, other animals, and draining the lagoon. A cop blared the jaws theme from his patrol car.
What the alligator thought of all of it was anyone’s guess. One local tried to catch him with a rotisserie chicken on a fishing line. A local Puerto Rican band wrote an oddly catchy salsa tune in homage. “Hay un cocodrilo sin dientes…(the crocodile has no teeth).”
Why? Who knows.
I feel fairly certain he did, in fact, have plenty of teeth.
He was finally wrangled by an imported professional from Florida, motherland of all things weird and lawless. I’m sure his arrival left a mass of Chicagoans in a sort of disappointed lull, despondent at the conclusion of shared thrill and curiosity. Back to more sedate, alligator-less lives, with Tinder and tacos and traffic and the godforsaken air quality.
But there is more the story—
The city’s collective glee reveals so much about our shared longing for the wild and spectacular. We are so often lulled mostly to sleep by the humdrum of daily life - the commute, the shopping, and the rather pointless onward rush towards nothing in particular. And our deep longing for what is wild nudges us in quiet moments or when we’re startled by the unusual.
We’ve grown so removed from the earth and its moods, from the tide, and the migration patterns of the birds and the deer and caribou. I reckon that it is this loss that propels us to shop harder, work more, stay distracted, and keep going at a breakneck pace. A grief and a longing for what is timeless and true and wild and much, much freer than we. So hat’s off to Chance the Snapper, for bringing a stronger heartbeat to the people of Chicago in late summer. For reminding us of our wildness, and our capacity for wonder, humor, and excitement in the face of this unpredictable world.
*Postscript: Alligator Bob did not wear leather chaps. He wore cargo shorts and a fishing vest, and did, indeed, have some limited qualifications.