Monday, July 6, 2009

It May be Corny, but It's Better Than Being a Snot

There are plenty of places in the city to soak up some culture -- even though to the folks "out East" the notion that Chicago has any culture at all has been a big hoo-hah for more than a century. As if only a city with broad vowels and double-parked delivery trucks can claim to be the nation's cultural casbah.

I enjoy living in this big city because of the culture that is just a bus ride away and the lack of pretension about it, which is our way of life. The Pritzker Prize Laureate of 1998, Renzo Piano, designed the new addition to Chicago's Art Institute, a world class space that makes everything around it seem even better. Two blocks to the north the Grant Park Symphony plays for free a couple times a week during the summer in the Pritzker Pavilion, a stunning explosion of stainless steel two blocks to the north of the Art Institute that 1989 Pritzker Laureate Frank Gehry designed.

A mile or so down the hard road there are three great places that green grass and sparkling waters surround -- an aquarium, a planetarium, and a museum of natural history. In a half-day you can watch sea otters dip and dive, see the solar system reveal itself, and run around Sue, the biggest Tyrannosaurus Rex ever discovered.

But on some days culture gets in the way of just plain having fun. My father didn't allow my sister and me to read comic books when we were kids, and, although he was a brilliant man, I think that was wrong. All work and no play and all that. How can you appreciate true beauty unless you have a good roll around in the mud once in awhile? How does Romeo know the difference between a snowy white dove and crows without Rosaline, the baseline?

So, when we're tired of thinking and appreciating and maintaining our roles as life long learners, Jill and I take the 151 down to Illinois and transfer to the 66 and walk the considerable length of Navy Pier until we finally plop down at the Beer Garden on the very east end.

It's too noisy to talk, especially when the salsa band with the two trombones is playing like it was yesterday. We just sit and watch the people go past, the never-ending twizzlers of people, all shapes, sizes, ages and nationalities. Each person, each couple, each family -- all of them -- have stories to tell. You wonder what they are.

Yesterday a young man in his mid-teens was pushed past us in a wheel chair, his right leg bandaged tightly above the knee, a recent amputee. He looked healthy and content, his family happy and relaxed. What stories do they have to tell about the recent months? A terrifying bout with cancer, ending in celebration? A nightmarish call in the middle of the night about a son maimed in a car crash? In a few seconds the family wheeled its way into the crowd and was gone. The people kept going by, the band playing, the dancers swaying, each person a story, each story part of our story.

An afternoon at the Pier isn't sophisticated . . . there isn't much culture to be gained from it. But the beer is cold, and the stories slide along with a salsa step. And in those stories we read our lives.

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