Editor’s Note: On the heels of Barack Obama‘s election victory Tuesday, the “Choose Chicago” web site is inviting visitors to “experience the city the Obamas enjoy” and even offers a Presidential Chicago web page. Upon learning of the site yesterday, I felt it appropriate to republish memories of a family daytrip to the Windy City taken Oct. 9, 2007. Those memories appear below.
Yesterday, this blogger spent the day as a tourist in Chicago. But I didn’t play “tourist” the entire time. In fact, I played “lost tourist” for a couple of the 11 hours spent in the Windy City. As a result, I experienced aspects of life on the city’s south side few tourists see. And did I mention that I had my wife, three sons and one of their friends with me? Well, I did.
Flying in from St. Louis, we arrived at Chicago’s Midway Airport at about 10 a.m. CST and began our day with a ride on the Orange Line train. A short walk and a free trolley ride later, we arrived for our tourist-mandatory visit to the Navy Pier. Underwhelmed by the offerings there, we opted to walk downtown in search of food, lead by the stomachs of my oldest son and his friend, both high school seniors.
We walked for blocks and blocks in search of the right place to eat. Along the way, we stopped at Millennium Park and saw Cloud Gate, the shiny mirror-covered creation of British artist Anish Kapoor. (That’s my photo above.)
Unfortunately, it took nearly an hour and a half of walking at a sightseeing pace before we finally settled for food court fare at Westfield North Bridge, an upscale mall located on Chicago’s famous Michigan Avenue. There, we enjoyed a meal of tasty sandwiches and drinks before walking back to the nearest train stop in search of a train to take us to the Museum of Science and Industry.
Because I had forgotten the maps — our “game plan” for the day — in the van at the St. Louis airport, I was forced to rely on station maps and personnel of the Chicago Transit Authority. Big mistake. The directions given to me by the lady dressed in a CTA uniform led us to take the Green Line train. I was told we could get off at either the 51st or Ashland/63rd stops and walk to the museum which she said was on 55th street. She was wrong. At least, it appeared that way.
The further the Green Line train took us, the more my very-Caucasian group began to feel out of place. Outside the windows of our train car, the scenery morphed from downtown office buildings, to warehouse/industrial areas and, finally, to neighborhoods I’m certain have served as prime filming locations for more than one episode of COPS.
Hoping the scenery outside would change, we continued on our train ride. Unfortunately for us, the view didn’t change. It only got worse. And then the train reached the end of the Green Line. Ashland/63rd. A recorded message, something to this effect, followed over the train’s public address system: “All passengers must leave the train.” And we did.
Standing on the platform at the Ashland/63rd stop, six very pale middle-class St. Louisans appeared out of place. Looking to the activity on the streets below, we saw dilapidated buildings in every direction. And we saw people, walking the streets and sidewalks, apparently without destinations in mind. I told my wife it didn’t matter what the CTA lady had told us. “We are not walking to 55th street through this neighborhood,” I said before instructing my traveling companions to get back on the train before it departed without us.
We sat on the train for what seemed an eternity but was probably less than 15 minutes, waiting for the train to depart the Ashland/63rd platform. During that time, we watched a sad form of street theater taking place before our eyes on the streets and sidewalks below the platform:
- An apparently-drunk man walked across an intersection and forced a handful of drivers to slam on their brakes in order to avoid striking him with their cars; and
- As if we were watching a crime show on television, we saw drug dealers conducting transactions, apparently fearless and unafraid of being apprehended by the police officer wearing a bright yellow reflective vest on the other side of the intersection.
Finally, our train began moving slowly. Then it stopped. Slowly again. Stopped again. Then moving for good.
Chicago Peacenik Duo
Upon safely returning to civilization, we walked along lake shore before turning toward downtown for another food adventure. On the way to a delicious dinner at Pizano’s Pizza (Madison and State), we passed the Crown Fountain and met two young Chicago peaceniks carrying signs (see photo at right).
If their signs are any indication of our future, I might be more afraid of the peaceniks than I was of the drug dealers at Ashland/63rd. How can that be? Because the drug dealers’ activities, while illegal, are rooted in economic survival and involve a degree of entrepreneurship. Conversely, the peaceniks’ ideology is rooted in a perverse sense of ignorant bliss that distorts reality. If allowed to run amok via the election of someone like Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or John Edwards, it will lead to the demise of the world’s longest-lasting free republic.