Thursday, October 8, 2009

October Even in the Spring

I got a new pair of sandals for my birthday in July . . . a slick leather pair with soles that have guitar-shaped treads. It was the perfect gift for a guy a year away from his seventh decade of service to mankind. With the exception of gym shoes and sweat socks, I’ve had trouble wearing real shoes ever since.

A couple days ago I took my sandals out for a walk up to the drugstore on Clark Street. The temperature was in the 50’s, and the wind was building toward the 40-knot gusts we listened to all night long. Just around the corner on Sheridan I was hailed by a security guard in a hospital van. The wind in the deaf aid meant that I had to walk out into the middle of the street to hear what he was yelling, which was --

Are you the patient who was just admitted to the hospital and then walked away?

Right. I got it. Everyone around is bundled up for the winter, and I’m breezing down Sheridan in sandals and shorts. Now I know what it feels like to be profiled. I also know what it’s like to convince a suspicious hospital security guard that I’m just an older guy trying to hang on to the summer for as long as he can . . . while standing in the middle of rush hour traffic on Sheridan Road, my hand cupped around my ear.

These are the days that we would hang on to if we could. The trees are beginning to change, and the sky and the lake make one another look even more achingly lovely. The newly planted mums have just begun to flower, the flowers of yellow and russet foretelling the future more precisely than the chill in the air ever could.

Chicago’s a good old girl at this time of the year, a real gal on a walk back from the beach thinking about a couple of beers at the neighborhood joint as she strolls.

She’s feeling the exuberance of summer and youth and the assurance of infinite possibility fade a little this week as kids kill each other in the streets and a hundred or so prune-skins point their palsied fingers south toward Rio de Janeiro.

But she’s still got youthful energy on her side, and a simple walk around the neighborhood is all it takes to see it.

Before heading up to the top for another cliff dive, the window washers grab a smoke as they speak quietly to one another in Spanish at the base of Mies van der Rohe’s Commonwealth Plaza

The guys from Streets and Sanitation re-paint the lines and turn arrows on Diversey, the bright white paint gleaming new as the orange traffic cones guard the work.

The traffic ticket dude rides down the street on a bicycle, his pocket filled with tickets to be written while a guy in a neon yellow vest walks up the sidewalk in the opposite direction, sweeping trash into his long handled scoop-it.

Two fire inspectors, clipboards in hand, check out the hose connection in front of Sunrise Assisted Living at Clark and Wellington.

All the while the boats bob in the harbor, the sun sparkles on the lake, and always, always that unbelievable prairie dream of a downtown promises to love you to death or break your heart. Or both.

Chicago is a town where the bums weave themselves into the urban fabric like statuary, street art with jingling Starbucks cups. A brawny town of stone and steel, washed clean each day in a glacial gift, a Fountain of Youth in a berg that will never grow old. It’s a place where the business gals go bare legged and the gentlemen loosen their neckties at mid-day.

The other day I was waiting for the old 151 at the bus stop on Washington in front of the Pittsfield Building when Mayor Daley came strolling by, headed east with an aide. He met my eye and I bade him good morning.

I wanted to tell him that the Olympic thing was no big deal, that the place he has largely re-made is one of the great cities in the world. I wanted to tell him everything that I have written here, but he’s a fast walker – on his way to do who knows what, perhaps to begin deliberations on The Next Big Thing.

Chicago writer Nelson Algren said that Chicago is an October sort of city, even in spring. That’s a good thing, Mr. Mayor. So keep the faith . . . you’re taking care of a sensitive little world beater here, singing her own song as she beats it back home.