Wrapped up in composing the perfect shot, photographers worry about the distortion of their image, produced by the camera’s lens. They try to capture the grandeur of towering structures, created first in the engineering minds of the architects responsible for the glass and steel rising above them. They are reassured, knowing that in 2019 there is photo editing software that can autocorrect for the distortion.
Families of tourists are caught looking up, as if they’ve never seen modern skyscrapers before, stretching overhead, almost to the clouds. Well, perhaps they haven’t seen such a thing. I recall meeting a 12-year-old, from a small town in central Ohio, who had never seen an escalator before. He’d stood awestruck, at the base of the moving stairs, at the entrance of the new 2-story mall. What was this? He was unsure of what was expected of him. How does one get started, in the big city?
The noise of the city is a jumble of thick accents, booming music, screeching breaks, and a friendly tap of the horn, just to let the other driver know that you are there, in his blind spot.
Graffiti artists vigorously shake neon cans of spray-paint, ready to tag brick walls, cement barricades, steel overpasses, and wooden telephone polls. If it’s momentarily stationary, planted into the earth, too heavy to lift and carry away, or too uneconomical to tear down and dispose of. . . then it’s a target. The debate over where to draw the (always fine) line between vandalism and public performance art. . . well, that will need to wait until morning. They work under the cover of night.
The homeless sleep fitfully on flattened cardboard or hold handwritten signs with vague references to past military service, disability or unavoidable hardship, while street performers drum overturned plastic buckets, with an empty cup for collecting gratuities, in return for their amateur performance. Some of the buskers are awfully talented, and make a steady living from their under-the-table profits.
Laughter fills the air, not all of it kind, as a school bus empties into a nearby parking lot, releasing a year’s worth of pent-up energy in the shape of St. Rita’s 3rd grade class. The free downtown zoo, in Lincoln Park, is their destination. Exhausted teachers, more than ready for the school year to end, express gratitude that the PTA voted against sending the kids to an opera performance, the Harold Washington Library, or the Art Institute.
Cyclists share the lakeshore path with distracted, fitness-minded, pedestrians, children who are sticky with ice cream, and vendors who work under the hot sun, pedaling Mexican popsicles – lime flavored. When they are polite, and law-abiding, they yield the right of way. They aren’t always polite.
Busy workers hurry past the restaurants and souvenir shops, determined to make the 5:15 pm train, so they can pick up the final ingredients for taco night or spaghetti with meat sauce. They will be back tomorrow, to finish their work. Their entrepreneurship, creativity and passion belong to the city. Their mortgage, bagged grass clippings, 2-car garage and new inground pool belong at the end of the commuter line, out in the suburbs.
Four-legged friends travel along every long, crowded, city block. They are waiting patiently at congested intersections, then pulling eagerly at the end of the leash when it’s time to move along. Some are carried in bedazzled purses, but most are on foot, walking familiar paths, following their noses past hot dog carts, Dippin’ Dots, and ethnic food trucks parked on the street.
Downtown residents, native to the city, hardly notice the 17th largest building in the world, which was once the world’s tallest, back in 1973. They are debating which of the trendy new restaurants they want to have after-dinner cocktails at, before heading to the theater. They can’t remember what tonight’s show is, but they are sure to enjoy it; their season tickets afford them good seats, no matter what show is passing through town.
Or they stop to admire the city, with its tall towers and slivers of green space, its lakefront marinas and vast public transportation, its bright lights. It’s the big city, after all! Isn’t it? It’s worth slowing down for, taking a minute to look around, before being swept away by the momentum of the city, on that day, together with all those other tired, happy, curious, energized, bored and troubled souls.
These people breathe in, together, then exhale in a drawn-out fashion, looking left and wondering where those other folks are headed. They see a middle-aged couple emerge from a small American writer’s museum, scratching their heads, surprised that the small literary collection kept their attention all afternoon. The city has so much to offer, but they suspect they will return to this unexpected spot.
There’s a lot more to explore, and the diversity is breathtaking!
Join me on my next adventure,
City of Chicago: https://www.chicago.gov/city/en.html
Chicago’s Willis Tower: https://www.willistower.com/