Tuesday, October 23, 2012

First Lady Cruise Hosts the River Docent Prom

The Leading Lady approaches the LaSalle Street bridge (JWB, 2011)

Tonight is the River Docent Prom, hosted by Bob and Holly Agra and the guys and gals of the First Lady fleet, the premier architecture river cruise line in Chicago.  If you have taken a River Cruise and experienced the attention that these folks lavish on their guests, you know what I mean.

I’m a relative neophyte when it comes to the river . . . this is just the third summer that I have been doing the tours.  I love everything about this newfound avocation . . . there is no better way for an old, retired school teacher to spend the warm weather months.

I generally ride my bicycle down to the dock.  It’s about a five-mile ride on the bike path that runs along the lakeshore.  It’s a nice way to get some exercise while enjoying the ever-changing lake-front   It is, by far, the prettiest ride to work I have ever had.  I especially enjoy the trip this time of year.  The crowds are gone, the trail isn’t crowded, and the changing colors and the barren sand reminds me of my favorite Nelson Algren quote, one that I use often, “Chicago is an October city even in the spring.”

Captain George gets ready for
another tour (JWB, 2011)
It was a hot summer, and as it ran its course I enjoyed a set of experiences that could only come from a pastime such as this docent thing.  I participated in the filming of a television show I have never heard of, saw parts of two films being shot, came with 20 yards of the Chancellor of Germany, had a tussle with the Adams Street bridge, and waved at five different bridal parties having their wedding day photos taken up on the Kinzie Street bridge.

The gentlemen who pilot the four boats that make up the First Lady fleet are remarkable.  On a summer weekend the river is filled with pleasure boaters, kamikaze kayakers, fishermen in bass boats, rental boats with novices at the wheel, and the tour boats of all  the First Lady competitors.  The First Lady captains always find a way to get the job done while remaining personable and more helpful than this guy has a right to expect.  George, Jason, Ben, Jovan, Stafford, Tom, and Rich . . . if there is a better group of guys making it happen on the river, I’d like to find them.

They are backed up by an unselfish, safety-conscious group of mates that ensure satisfaction for those who take the tours and who also make it as easy as they possible can for those of us holding the microphone.  It can’t be easy to spend seven months of the year, four or five times a day, listening to us docents rattling off a tour that covers the same half-dozen miles of river.  But somehow they always seem to smile at you like it is the very first time they have ever heard anything at all about the river.

Each time I watch a river docent come off a boat or greet one who is taking the tour after mine I am humbled by how good these folks are.  They all have mastered incredibly detailed information about over 130 buildings that line the river, along with the history of the city, its notable citizens, and its key events.  

Newly certified river docent Bob Joynt extols the old
Montgomery Ward warehouse at 600 North Chicago
as the boat prepares to head south (JWB, 2012)
More than that, these folks have put in scores of hours apart from the memorization, fleshing out the tour, creating transitions, building themes, and finding a way to convince our visitors that Chicago is a place to which they must return again and again and again.  Tom Carmichael, the head of the group, has committed himself to training the best tour givers anywhere on the planet, and all the work that he has put into it shows itself every single day.

The river docents for the Chicago Architecture Foundation make up a varied lot that includes lawyers, architects, accountants, executives and an occasional teacher.  Totally dedicated, totally personable, and totally generous.  It’s a good group of folks to hang out with.

Most of all, though, there is the river.  Small enough to allow those who travel it to nestle right up to the great buildings that line its banks, big enough to allow those same people to see how it led to the growth of this amazing city.  When the sun is shining, and the sky is blue, I can’t imagine anywhere in the world I would rather be.  Here is a small sample of what I get to look at all summer long . . 

401 North Michigan, the Gleacher Center, and NBC Tower (JWB, 2012)
The Adams Street Bridge with the Boeing Building just behind it (JWB, 2012)
The Wrigley Building from Columbus Drive (JWB, 2012)
View from Chicago lock (JWB, 2012)
3 classics -- 330 North Wabash, Trump Tower, and the Wrigley Building (JWB, 2012)
The Wells Street bridge is raised (JWB, 2012)


Jill said...

Wonderful blog, great pictures and the perfect volunteer position for you...got to love retirement!

Kristen said...

sweet wrap up of another busy Chicago summer on the water!

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