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Todd Stroger finding lost horizon of Cook County

Monday, March 03, 2008
Daily Herald
by Chuck Goudie

"It's not Shangri-La."

That was the instant review by Todd Stroger, the Cook County Board president and apparent literary critic, following a dismal performance that starred higher taxes.

"It's not Shangri-La" said Stroger, referring to the messy manner in which his government had to be saved at the last minute from the humiliation of implosion.

This description, "It's not Shangri-La," must come as a complete and total shock to the capitalists who have such faith in Cook County that they are building a magnificent hotel called "The Shangri-La" just a block away from the Cook County Building.

Of course, the five-star hotel and seven-figure condos under construction right now won't open until 2009. I'm sure by then Mr. Stroger will have county government well in hand. Who knows, at that time Cook County might be so spiffed up that Stroger will actually be able to live at the Shangri-La and enjoy its "round-the-clock butler service."

I'm certain that when Stroger said of Cook County government that "It isn't Shangri-La," he wasn't referring to a hotel.

Mr. Stroger must have been dazzling us with his knowledge of fine literature by citing the fictional utopia known as "Shangri-La" that is found only in the pages of a novel entitled "Lost Horizon."

The classic novel was written in 1933 by Englishman James Hilton (no relation to the notorious Paris Hilton, although James did move to Hollywood and once married a starlet.)

The book follows a veteran Brit diplomat who finds joy, harmony and inner-peace in the place called "Shangri-La," somewhere in the Tibetan mountains. One of the attractions of Hilton's Shangri-La is that people enjoy unheard-of longevity. They seem to survive forever, just like the endurance of the Stroger family in its governance of Cook County or the Daleys of Chicago.

Indeed, "Lost Horizon" would even make a splendid choice for Mayor Richard M. Daley's "One Book, One Chicago" club, except the mayor might not want to inform residents that there could possibly be any utopia better than ours -- mythical or not.

Not to be picky with Todd Stroger, especially since his domain is larger than that of 29 state governors, but Cook County is Shangri-La. It is Stroger's Shangri-La. You might even call him the top monk, the 1st Toddai Lama.

Whatever motivated Mr. Stroger to invoke Shangri-La, perhaps he was actually referring to a great song by the same name. "Shangri-La" was performed by the Kinks, a famous British rock band. It was released in 1969, when the Toddai Lama was just 6 and his father John had just been elected 8th Ward Committeeman.

Here are the prophetic lyrics from almost 40 years ago:

"Now that you've found your paradise

This is your kingdom to command

You can go outside and polish your car

Or sit by the fire in your shangri-la

Here is your reward for working so hard

Gone are the lavatories in the backyard

Gone are the days when you dreamed of that car

You just want to sit in your shangri-la

Put on your slippers and sit by the fire

You've reached your top and you just can't get any higher…

The little man who gets the train

Got a mortgage hanging over his head

But he's too scared to complain

'cause he's conditioned that way

Time goes by and he pays off his debts

Got a TV set and a radio

For seven shillings a week

Shangri-la, shangri-la, shangri-la, shangri-la, shangri-la, shangri-la

And all the houses in the street have got a name

'cause all the houses in the street they look the same

Same chimney pots, same little cars, same window panes

The neighbors call to tell you things that you should know

They say their lines, they drink their tea, and then they go

They tell your business in another shangri-la

The gas bills and the water rates, and payments on the car

Too scared to think about how insecure you are

Life ain't so happy in your little shangri-la

Shangri-la, shangri-la la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la."



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