Friday, March 13, 2009

Whizzing, Zipping, Missing

I’ll admit it—I’m already missing the morning rush. The crush of bodies on the train, the whizzing buildings out the window, the rapid descent toward North & Clybourn, then zipping through the tunnel toward Lake; I miss the ebb and flow of people.

I’ve expressed some ambivalence toward mobility, but the movement inside the city is exciting. Every weekday morning, I would step off the train at Lake and, challenging myself to get a little exercise, skip the escalators, bound up the stairs, slip through the turnstiles and a set of heavy doors and emerge into the pedway. I always walked fast. In fact, I’ve walked fast my entire life; in grade school my friends used to tease me and tell me to slow down. I remember being offended in fifth grade when a sixth-grader called me “racewalker.” I suppose it was only natural that my perpetual impatience crept into my bodily movements. I’ve always hurried about. Not in a nervous kind of way, just swiftly. In Tennessee my rapid speech and quick movements were noticeable and blamed on my being from “the North.” It’s nice to finally be in a place where my rushing around seems perfectly normal.

Sometimes, when I really am in a hurry, I’ll walk up the escalators. I always get frustrated when some oblivious person stops right in my way, without moving to the right so that I can get by. I have to remind myself that I’m not actually headed anyplace that important, nor am I so important that a leisurely ride up the escalator will make any significant difference to anyone at all.

Anyway, Monday through Friday I would rush along the Pedway, zipping through the revolving doors (always conscious of the number of hands and germs that must touch those doors everyday). You always know you’re in a city when the entrance to every building greets you with a revolving door. I don’t know the actual reason for this, but I assume it has something to do with practicality and time economy. Four people can race right through those things in half the time it takes to actually open a door. I’ve gotten so used to zipping through heavy revolving doors, in fact, that I almost knocked my mom over when we went through one at a hospital in Toledo last month. She stepped in first, and I hopped into the space behind her, moving at my usual speed. She practically leapt out of the door into the waiting room and stared at me with wide eyes as I casually stepped out after her (imagine my mom, a petite woman standing 8 inches shorter than me, flying through a revolving door). I wasn’t aware of what happened, and was surprised I’d gotten that reaction until she explained that I’d whipped her right out of the door! We both had a good laugh about it, which was good, because that was a day that needed a good laugh… Oh, I digress again…

My morning hike through the pedway always led me through offensive odors and the difficult sight of bums sleeping on the ground outside Macy’s; I’ve never felt comfortable with this—all that wealth inside the store shoved up against the poverty of homeless people sleeping right outside—and I have had an internal struggle about my feelings on the homeless in Chicago since I arrived. (Perhaps this topic warrants a blog entry of its own…) Most mornings I would rush through the halls outside Macy’s (perhaps my discomfort instigated my rushing) toward Millennium station where I would be greeted by the scent of Cinnabon and battle my way through throngs of people headed out of the station. After rounding the corner past one of the million Starbucks in Chicago, I’d push through yet another revolving door and climb up the steps to the Prudential lobby. Now, I love the Aon center, but the Prudential building is an architectural beauty, both inside and out. Plus, I always enjoyed this particular pair of paintings with green gradations and black flower designs hanging on the far wall. Those, paired with the Prudential’s classical music greeting me everyday, made my morning hike very rewarding. Once I ascended the escalator into the Aon building, I’d sometimes make a quick stop at Sopraffina (for a solid month, I became slightly addicted to their low-fat cranberry muffins) before waving my I.D. badge at the gates and riding up another escalator to the elevators that would take me to the 64th floor. Every morning these walks would energize me and remind me that I was really working in downtown Chicago. Because even though I grew pretty used to it and some of the glamour of that idea had worn off, I still got a thrill everyday. And I definitely miss it now. Just a little.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


There’s a house on the corner of Wilson and Malden that I’m absolutely in love with. It’s one of those little things I’m really going to miss about Chicago. I walk past it everyday on my way home from the El, and I always gaze longingly at it. It doesn’t really belong there. It’s like a home picked up from a different time and a large plot of land, and plopped down on a dingy corner in Uptown Chicago. It’s blue and huge with a beautiful, white porch out front. The yard is a mess (it floods every time it rains, or the snow melts), there are random ropes hanging about out front (I don’t know if someone is in the middle of working on something or what) and there’s a clashing Chicago Bears blanket hanging in a window where lace curtains would be more appropriate. But the home itself is inviting and old-fashioned. It’s exactly the kind of home I want to live in someday.

It stands in stark contrast to the dinginess of Wilson. It’s even a standout against the brown and tan stone-fronts of many of the condos/apartments in this area. Something about this fact adds to its appeal. It’s a real home, and I think that I’m drawn to that right now, when everything in my life is apt to change completely from this month to the next.

Of course, so much about city life seems a bit unstable and transitory to me. When I drive up Lake Shore Drive, I see high-rises with floor after floor of apartments lining the road. When I look around my neighborhood, I see condos stacked upon condos. It’s the nature of a city filled with over three million people that you’ve got people living on top of people, reaching further and further up into the sky. The volumes and variety of people are part of what makes the city exciting, especially when you are young and single. All these apartments and condos however, just scream transience--paying month to month on a place that won’t be yours in a year, or two, or five. But then in the midst of all these temporary homes there’s this huge old house with this beautiful, rocking-chair and tea-sipping porch. While all these other places seem like temporary shells, it screams stability. At least it does to me.

I think we’re all searching for stability and permanence right now. In this recession, so many Americans are watching their lives turn upside-down, losing the homes and the stability they once knew. As a matter of fact, if the “For Sale” sign hanging on the gate of my cobalt-blue Victorian is any indication, the owners of my favorite Uptown house may be searching for the same thing, too. I consider myself lucky never to have had that stability only to have it ripped out from under me.

I have been moving from place to place fairly regularly for the past four years—my address has changed four times (soon to be five). You’d think I’d have grown used to bouncing about by now. I’m trying to believe that I can make any place my home, but I’m still craving a place of my own. At the rate I’m going, the next few years won’t find me settled anyplace, and I’m starting to accept that it’s not just my life—ours is a society of constant transition. With cell phones we are accessible anywhere, and our family members and friends are accessible, too. We don’t have to be at our desks to receive email, or surf the web. We can constantly move and stay in touch all at once. So, the home is no longer the “home base” it once was. Call me old-fashioned (you wouldn’t be entirely off-base), but part of me is resistant to this. I’m glad for connectivity and mobility. After all, my best friends live in D.C., Pittsburgh, Phoenix, San Francisco and Knoxville—what would I do without my cell, e-mail, and facebook to keep in touch with them? Yet, I feel like I have pieces of myself all over the place.

I wonder if it’s the state of the nation that makes me long to put down roots, or if I’m just getting to the age where I’m ready to settle down, or if I’m just tired of not knowing where I’ll be in a few months, or a combination of all of these. Regardless, I would love to live somewhere long enough to make a place mine, to hang pictures on the wall without a predetermined date when I’ll be stripping them down and to create a strong base of friends that I don't have to hug good-bye at the end of two years or six months.

I know that adaptability is a rather vital life skill, and even I have become pretty good at mastering it. Sometimes, however, I wish I could just draw up a rocking chair on that big white porch, sip tea and gossip with my friends, long into the night.