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.
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.
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.
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.
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.