I spent the flight here wondering what the word “Toddlin” meant. I still don’t know and no one here in Chicago seems to either. However I do know what they do on State Street (That great street) that they don’t do on Broadway, they clean up after themselves.
This is a very clean town, with wide streets and lots of light pouring down from above. The smell of steaks roasting is everywhere, which after a while will either make you crazy, or very large. The homeless are few, but decidedly different in attitude. One called me from the middle of the crosswalk “Hey man can you give me dollar, I’M HOMELESS!” and he said it in a shocked and stunned way, as if the possibility never occurred to him. I asked him “Dude, how’d that happen?” He looked me right in the eye and said “I can’t figure that out, I mean, how could that happen?” He was also probably the best dressed homeless guy I ever talked to, although casual in sweatshirt and jeans, he was very clean and well kempt.
That’s another thing about this town, no one seems to jaywalk, not at all. It’s as if invisible walls of propriety magically appear on either side of the white lines, and no one dares cross. It’s also a very polite town, almost creepily so, except they obviously mean it. People here are outgoing and friendly. Walking back from the office no fewer than 5 people said good morning to me. I checked behind me for someone with a sign that said “SAY GOOD MORNING TO HIM.” They must be quick because I didn’t see anyone.
Maybe it’s just part some sort of altered consciousness I dropped into when I got off the plane. After all, it’s late in March in Chicago the windy city and yet it’s 80 degrees. Still, keeping that firmly in mind, I do solemnly swear that the elevators in our hotel have a decidedly Irish accent. “It’s the eleventh floor we’ll be going to,” they say, quite chipper in the mornings and sometimes late at night, in much more surly tones “Well imagine that, eleven again!”
I do suspect something decidedly unique about the manufacturer, in addition to the elevator’s light brogue. There are six elevators in the hotel, all identical in every way except no two have the buttons arranged in the same order. The pattern is the same, but the numerical order starts in a different place for each one. Some Irish creativity there.
You need your room card key to actually go anywhere in the elevators, which guests discover after a few confused minutes being closed up behind the stainless steel doors. The obvious lack of movement is the first clue and if that doesn’t convince you you’ve missed something, when the elevator starts to distractedly whistle “Out on the Ocean” you’ll definitely get it. The key card has to be inserted in a slot and then must stay there until the elevator grasps it’s full meaning. That can be a little uncomfortable because the reader is so low to the ground that it would only be convenient for either a 3 year old or one of the “Little people.” “There’s a good fella now! Going up!”
The food here is very good, so far. Last night in our wanderings we came upon a French bistro, dark and clattery but friendly and well stocked. They even had Chartreuse, which is an uncommon drink concocted by monks in France somewhere. Intensely potent, hard edged but with a long smooth finish. It always reminds me of a some mature French women I’ve known, except for the scathingly green color. To my knowledge French women are hardly ever kelly green. My wife says it tastes like furniture polish. However, one Chartreuse will change your whole outlook on life (at least for a little while), and two, well two inevitably leads to three, then four and a dangerous predilection for singing Edith Piaf to the denizens of other tables. “Non……Rein de rein….Non, Je ne regrete rein…..”
This is a walking city, which I admire. The hustle and bustle, the sudden darkness brought on by an overhanging “EL” track, and the bursts of light at cross streets all make it a pleasant place to stroll. Experienced walkers carry handfuls of quarters in their right hands so they can plunk them into the clear plastic cups of the numerous grey faced men asking for spare change. It brings them “Thank You’s,” block after long block, without responsibility or questions like “And just how will you spend this quarter?,” or “I hope this isn’t going to feed your habit!.” Just a simple transaction of giver and gift, no guilt, no guile, just genuine thanks.
I’m here to get some work done beyond the distractions of our home offices. Some quiet time to work and reflect. However, the pavement’s siren song often calls me out from behind the screen to walk and feel the drumbeat of this city on the inland sea.
Last night while sharing a drink before going out to hunt the wild charcuterie, (and a possible Chartreuse) I was sitting in the arm chair by the window looking down at the street. It was several seconds, before I realized what I was seeing.
At first it looked like a passing bicyclist had hooked himself on a young women’s purse strap. Then it looked like the woman was pulling the guy off his bike. It became clear when the bicyclist took a swing at her. This was a failing purse snatch.
From out of the unknown behind a shadowing building streaked a young man. He slammed into the bicyclist knocking him right off the bike. The woman pushed the bike out of the way and joined the young man in the ensuing fight with the bicyclist. Just then only a second after the young man’s intervention, four men in suits raced to the conflict. The flailing bicyclist was pushed back into the alley beyond my view.
Now people, men and women were rushing down the sidewalk and across the street to stream into the alley. People of all kinds raced in, sharp dressed young women in high heels, tight-vested valets awaiting diner’s tips, more business men in neatly creased suits, even construction workers surged forth, hard hats resplendent in the late afternoon sun.
It was very much like watching an immune response under a microscope, defender cells racing to destroy the invader. Or perhaps a herd of wilder-beasts defending one of their own against an attacking lone wolf. No guns, no weapons of any kind, in fact no sound either. Far above the city’s defensive response, the hermetically sealed windows of our hotel room rendered this a silent spectacle. It was surreal, but awesome.
We abandoned our early libations and went down to the street wondering what would be left of the scene when we finally arrived. We got a front row seat and through the length of a cigarette or two we learned the story and watched the final arrival of the police.
It was just what we thought, a foiled purse snatching. Stopped by ordinary people getting involved in something that was none of their business. Halted with bare hands and without injury. Well, the “ would-be snatcher” was worse for the wear and in an unusual exercise of police procedure the responding officer had thrown the snatcher’s shoes in the dumpster. Curious.
Unusual event to say the least, but the reaction of the regular everyday passers by was even more odd to me. I’m used to the kind of duck and cover mentality of Boston and New York. Cities where “Protect thyself” is the first rule of the street. One time I was accosted in Times Square in the early 70’s while on my way to school. A very different place then, than it is today. As my pockets were emptied in full view of the passing crowd, I heard one passer-by in a long black wool coat mumble “Idiot.”
Chicago is a very different place than those cities, although it’s also much younger. From various histories we can say that the Eastern cities once had the same kind of immune responses to street crime, but that has faded over time. The relentless pressure of lives separating, diverging beyond the simple neighborhood to more distant or insular allegiances has taken it’s toll. Chicago obviously still has a sense of collective identity, I hope it ages well.