Thursday, March 19, 2009

Chicago Charisma

For those unfortunate souls who are not Chicagoans, and who have never had the opportunity to visit this unique city, I'd like to use my wordsmithing talents to help you appreciate why I have a love affair with Chicago.

On St. Patrick's Day, my husband and I attended a cocktail reception for the new Athletic Director of his university, hosted by the alumni club. It was held at Sears Tower, a landmark building known to many around the world. It was to be our first visit inside that towering structure, and we looked forward to it and to visiting with old friends from the school that we'd been unable to see for quite some time.

We rode the double decker commuter train from our home in the West suburbs to Union Station. This is always a treat for us because to walk through the sliding glass panels that separate the train platforms from the historic and majestic Station lobby is to experience a step back in time. The immense size of the main building is overwhelming, and the architecture breathtaking. The ceiling, soaring over a hundred feet above me, the huge stone columns that surround the space, even the restaurant and alcoves that are tucked beneath the grandiose staircases, all serve to dwarf me and remind me of the history that has taken place here. Names of the famous who have traversed these polished floors, the movies that have been filmed here, and the millions who have trod the worn steps as they held onto the brass railings that curve down to the floor are all thoughts that never cease to occupy me as we make our way to the busy avenue above the terminal. I cannot imagine how one could just make his or her way from one point to another without being moved by it all.

Stepping through the heavy glass and wood doors out onto Canal Street introduces another love; the impact of the city greets me. Its skyscrapers (which were invented here, by the way, not in New York City), the traffic dominated by impatient cabbies, the sidewalks filled with pedestrians in all manner of dress from professional chic to tourist ugly, and the breeze from nearby Lake Michigan are all signature signs that I am now part of a special atmosphere. It never fails to put a smile on my face and make my heart beat a bit faster.

The walk to Sears Tower on Wacker Drive is only a block, crossing one of the many bridges over the Chicago River, its water bright green for the St. Patrick's Day celebration. Looking up at the black spire of the tallest building in the United States, with its two white needlelike antenna piercing the early evening sky, we wondered aloud about what we would encounter in her interior. Since the reception was being held on the 66th floor, we already knew we would be treated to breathtaking views of the city below. Entering the lofty lobby, I was impressed with its glass, marble and silver decor. The ear-popping elevator ride to the Metropolitan Club added to the dramatic effect the building had on me. We certainly weren't disappointed with the panorama from the windows as the lights of the city took over, either.

With the reception behind us, we joined friends at a nearby pub to partake of a celebratory Guinness before boarding our train for the return to suburbia. It was nearly midnight as we made our way to the train, and I paused on the sidewalk outside, now eerily silent, to gaze at the lights of the Union Station sign far above us, the magnificence of the columns spaced evenly around its exterior for the entire block it occupies, and was once again momentarily transported to that simpler yet grand time in Chicago history when this structure signified so much to so many. Now it is surrounded on all sides with the reality of the present, but it is no less diminished in my eyes. It is a distinctive part of this distinctive City that is like no other to me. And I cherish every moment I spend there.

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