I was in Chicago this week on business and had time, the day of my departure, for a quick dash down North State Street to wander around the river area and beyond. I love the bridges, the views from the bridges, and the architecture. When I walk around Chicago I feel as if I'm recharging my batteries on the designs of the buildings and the crazy juxtapositions of gothic and modern and art deco. I draw energy and life from the El, and the other trains, and the wall of buildings facing the park, and the cloud gate, and the sculptures, and the Chagall mosaic, and the lights and shadows and noise and hustle and grit and fresh air from the lake...
The other place I use the same way (to refill some part of my soul just by walking through it) is Charleston, SC. It's completely different, but also a glorious layering of years and styles and color and shape with a unifying sensibility that seems almost self aware.
This trip I had more than my usual share of the gritty side of Chicago on the train from the airport. It was about 9:00 PM in the middle of the week. I boarded a nearly empty car at O'Hare. One stop later I heard the clicking of someone cutting their finger nails a few seats behind me, and glanced over to verify what I was hearing. When the sound changed recognizably to toe nails, I did another quick check, but the smell was a stronger confirmation. I left the train when the announcement said that Washington was a transfer to the Red Line, but as soon as the train pulled away I saw the signs saying there was no transfer to Red, and I should have stayed on the train to Jackson. During the ten minute wait for another Blue Line train, a busker who played loud guitar and sang only one note was moving his way along the platform harassing people with his playing and pressing them for money - the train came just before he got to me. In my haste to board and depart I failed to notice that this new car smelled like someone had taken a dump somewhere - the other passengers were breathing into their shirt collars. I decided to not sit - I was only traveling two short stops. When I got to the Red Line platform a woman was haranguing the entire crowded platform about some guys who had sold cigarettes to another passenger on the platform. She was also moving steadily in my direction and boarded my car when the train pulled in. Though dressed in a unique style, she was well groomed and seemed sober... she gave our car a lecture about the benefits of using acrylic paints (rather than oils). I was relieved to finally reach Grand and leave the CTA behind for the quiet of my hotel room.
But this, too, is Chicago, and I like the whole thing. I could never live there, but I love to visit. The train trip was like a stray anchovy on a pizza - I didn't order it, and I probably only need one, but when the pizza is gone, I'm glad that anchovy had been there. Afterward...
On my final morning, when I got to wander into town, it was wet and blowing and in the 40's. After a few miles of quick walking through some of my favorite streets, intersections and parks, I took refuge in an Argo Tea shop, and thawed myself with an Armenian Mint tea and watched the passing crowds through a huge window. I became curious about some of the patterns before me.
First I wondered what portion of the walkers had ear buds (80 out of a random 200 - 40%). Then I wondered what the average age was of those wearing the ear buds (I had to guess ages - only 3 I thought were over 50, 5 between 40 and 50, and 32 who appeared to be in their twenties and thirties). Then I noticed that nearly everyone was walking alone - (out of the next 240 passersby only 16 were in 8 pairs having conversations - this surprised me). And finally, how many were carrying a beverage - (only 15 out of 200 - I would have sworn, prior to actually counting, that it was one person in 5).
My favorite sight was the tall young woman walking with an ICE coffee in one hand and a large (over 400 page) hard back book in the other, turned to the last 20 pages, oblivious of everyone around her, walking in perfect sync with the crowd. I hope she got to finish prior to arriving at work.
(Photos from a prior trip - in 2010)