I've been here awhile (moved to be closer to family). I did grow up here, during toddler times (but that was a long time ago). I do work downtown so am actually in the midst of the city (though it's the Loop, so not really the City).
For a city, I've liked Chicago. The people are mostly friendly, the traffic is mostly easy to navigate. Old buildings have character.
But I haven't yet fallen in love. It's still a large city. It's hard to get a handle on a massive amoeba.
Nonetheless, the enthusiasm of new friends for this City - their home town - have convinced me that Chicago is worthy of a deeper connection. So I'd been thinking I should fall in love with Chicago. Though I don't think that's how love happens - by plotting it out - so thinking hadn't manifested into actual abiding love.
And then the other night happened.
I was coming back to the Loop from a Lake Shore Drive location - where I'd been on a boat cruise with some people I know. It was nice, and fun. It had been a hot day, but the fog rolled in during the cruise and the weather turned perfectly cool.
After the cruise, I could have taken a taxi back to the train that then would take me home.
But I've had this thing, you know - where I'm supposed to fall in love with Chicago. So I thought - hey, now's the time - I'll walk to the train from here. It's what - about a mile or so - my heels are short, my steps are long - I'll take the 20-minute detour down some streets and watch some night life (or 8:00 p.m. night life, as it was).
My phone's GPS said "turn left here." What could go wrong?
Turns out, I was going down a street without a sidewalk. My heels were higher than I remembered. I clutched my purse as I walked by various and sundry. At one point, I walked by a (presumably) homeless man laid out on his belly on a piece of cardboard. I peered at him closely as I started to walk by, and worried about his lifeless form. He blinked. Thank God.
I continued to walk. Hey, that's what my phone said to do.
And then there I was - somehow in the belly of the City - coming upon some men who were - I don't know. playing a roving craps game, or something? I reminded myself how "nice" people are in Chicago. I walked like I knew where I was going, prepared to pass them with a nod.
"Good evening," one man said. (Or maybe I said it first.)
I smiled. He smiled. The others nodded. It was all good.
I started to walk by. I stopped. "How do I get downtown?" I asked.
He looked at me, surprised. "Just go up these steps," he said.
He gestured. I looked. There were some metal steps. They went up. To a bridge?
I looked at him. He pointed back to the stairs. "Michigan Avenue's just up there," he said.
I thought I was already on Michigan Avenue.
I started up the stairs to find this parallel universe that was supposed to dump me on a different Michigan Avenue than the one I thought I was on.
I was halfway up the stairs when he called after me, as if he'd forgotten something. I heard something about spare change...
"Of course," I said. I came back down, dug through my purse, and found about $11. I don't normally, for a variety of reasons. But he hadn't even asked, except as an afterthought, so busy he was to get me pointed in the right direction. We were helping each other out, really. First one favor, no contingencies, then another, same thing. Man, I really loved this guy.
"Thank you for your help," I said, as I headed back up the stairs.
"Well sure," he said. "I'm always going to help someone who's lost."
We waved so long.
Getting to the top of the stairs and seeing the sparkly side of Chicago on the now-recognizable Michigan Avenue was almost a letdown, after that.
This is the staircase, I think:
photo credit: Anna B. Brawley