Mondays with Mike: My morning commute

April 21, 2014 • Posted in guest blog, Mike Knezovich, Mondays with Mike, Uncategorized by

I’m lucky: I have a walking commute to and from work each day. Okay, Okay … during particularly insane portions of the past winter, I took the CTA Red line. But most days, it’s a mile and a quarter to start the day, and a mile and a quarter back in the evening.

It’s great for body and soul. Some days it’s a blur—I walk fast, and only with the destination in mind, not mindful of much. Other days, like this past Friday morning, a sunny promise-of-spring morning, it’s kind of marvelous.

On Friday, like most mornings, I pass “our guy,” the homeless man that befriended Beth, who hangs out at Harrison and Dearborn and has helped Beth navigate in bad weather. We help him out as much as we can. I know, for example, that he needs $22 to get into his SRO each night. And he’ll let us know how short he is when days are slow.

That's the Auditorium, viewed from the east side of Michigan Avenue.

That’s the Auditorium, viewed from the east side of Michigan Avenue.

I let the traffic lights tell me which route to take most of the time. Friday took me east on Congress past the hostel, where backpackers and international travelers congregate in the lobby or in the Cuban sandwich shop next door.

Next I pass the Auditorium Theatre, a massive, grandiose Louis Sullivan creation. The performance home of the Joffrey Ballet and scads of other artists, it’s renown for its acoustics as well as its design. It was a marvelous achievement when it opened in 1889, and it still is.

On a morning like last Friday, a left—north—on Michigan has walkers in full sunshine. It’s not the Magnificent Mile Michigan Avenue, but I like this stretch better. There’s Symphony Center, home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. And a fine instruments shop with cellos, violins and violas in the window. Across the street, the lions in front of the Art Institute look back.

And that's the inside.

And that’s the inside.

It’s not all high culture, though. There are juice bars, little sushi joints—and the souvenir shops. It’s a seeming impossibility that ticky tack t-shirts and nick-nacks pull in enough to pay the rent, but they do—the stores have been there forever. So have the tiny little stores that sell crazy flamboyant costume jewelry. And a yoga studio and a fortune teller on the second floor.

In front of the School of the Art Institute I pass kids and tattoos and Technicolor hair and piercings and wafts of cigarette smoke.

One of the sentries at the Art Institute.

One of the sentries at the Art Institute.

I don’t see the lake until I reach the river–but there’s a constant sense of it in the air. “Cooler near the lake” has always been part of every Chicago weather forecast I’ve ever heard. I never realized what a difference it makes until I lived near it.

When I get to the Chicago Cultural Center—where Beth teaches one of her classes—I’m well over half the way there. It’s a fantastic building, the former main building of the Chicago Public Library system. It thankfully was saved from the wrecking ball during a misguided period of urban renewal in the 70s and now serves multiple purposes—art exhibitions, concerts, classes—and it’s a great meeting spot.

Jean Ponte DuSable

Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable was here first.

I cross the river on DuSable Bridge. Hawkers are already beckoning tourists to buy tickets for boat tours that load just below. And my last view is of a bust of Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable. Born in what would become Haiti, DuSable settled at the site where my office skyscraper now sits. He’s considered the founder of Chicago.

From there, it’s elevators and cubicles, and the daily grind. But it’s a great way to start the day, and I have the return trip to look forward to.

Brad On April 21, 2014 at 11:48 am

Enjoyed your column Mike, but the theatre interior you pictured is definitely not the Auditorium. I’ve been trying to identify it and think it’s the
Bank of America theatre, formerly the Shubert and before that, the Majestic..

Mike On April 21, 2014 at 12:54 pm

Ach, thanks Brad, you’re right. I uploaded the wrong dang picture. Thanks. And let me know when you figure it out.

pattibrehler On April 21, 2014 at 5:01 pm

Mike, your commute description makes me almost long for the city…country girl that I am at heart. Good for you for being in the moment and sharing with us. For me, I’ll enjoy my woods!

Mike On April 22, 2014 at 9:19 am

Patti, I long for the woods often, and one thing I don’t like is I have to work at getting a walk in nature.

pattibrehler On April 22, 2014 at 10:09 am

We lived in the city most of our lives, and are now so loving the country. My walk in the woods is out our back door!

Monna Ray On April 21, 2014 at 5:31 pm


You make our city sound as romantic as Paris. It may be. Monna

Mike On April 22, 2014 at 9:20 am

Paris, I don’t know. I’ll take it, though.

Robert Ringwald On April 21, 2014 at 8:34 pm

What is the SRO that the homeless man needs to get into?

-Bob Ringwald

Mike On April 22, 2014 at 9:21 am

Bob, that’s a good question, and I don’t have an answer. I’m not certain it’s an SRO, it was a presumption. It could very well be a local “men’s only” hotel. I haven’t asked but have meant to, and now I will.

Mike On April 23, 2014 at 12:18 pm

Bob, saw him this morning. Indeed he lets a room in a “Men’s Only” hotel on Clark, which is about two blocks away. He tried to explain his arrangement…will follow up. Thanks for asking.

Laura Gale On April 22, 2014 at 9:04 am

Your description certainly makes what most people would consider a mundane walk sound very interesting. Another reminder to appreciate the small (and big) things and don’t let life pass you by. Well done.

Mike On April 22, 2014 at 9:22 am

Hey Laura. I don’t always pay that close attention. But the sunshine just made everything stand out Friday. Thanks for reading, say hey to Ed.

Benita Black On April 22, 2014 at 10:30 am

I so enjoyed going on this walk with you, Mike. Made all the more meaningful to me b/c I know those places. Mostly, though, I love your display of humanity. It’s present in all of your writing. Thanks.

Mike On April 22, 2014 at 12:27 pm

Shucks, Benita, that’s really nice to hear from you. Chicago misses you and the Dr.

Brad On April 22, 2014 at 11:13 am

Mike, The theatre you first pictured was the Bank of America Theatre for sure. The same photo is on Wikxipedia’s entry for the theatre. There are a few places no longer on your walk which i dearly miss. For instance, The Savvy Traveler and the curious gift shop where the Notre Dame store is now.

Mike On April 22, 2014 at 11:35 am

I really miss The Savvy Traveler, too. Tnx.

Mel Theobald On April 22, 2014 at 11:40 am

Mike, sorry to burst another bubble, but Louis Sullivan was only 12 years old in 1868 and the Great Chicago Fire hadn’t happened yet. You might want to change that date to 1888. It fits the timeline better. Reading about your walk reminded me of the many years I enjoyed that same path. Thanks.

Mike On April 22, 2014 at 12:28 pm

Mel: Louis Sullivan was a time traveler. That’s what made him so special. Thanks for the catch. Where’d you live?

Leave a Response