Someone, I think it was Dylan Thomas, or Danny Thomas or maybe Shakespeare, once said that “you can never go home again.”
I beg to differ.
Just last week we, my husband Terry, and I, spent five days, 'back home' and we were surprised to see all the changes.
When I say home, I mean Chicago. Technically I was born in the Chicago borderline town of Evanston, but I spent much of my childhood downtown, as did my family.
It was where we would put on our white gloves, nylons, dresses, and hats for the aunts and catch the train for the twenty minutes to the downtown loop. So named after the public transportation system that ran in a loop between favorite shopping places.
Terry and his family lived in the city for years.
Years ago I found a hotel on the north side of the city, right in the middle of the hospitality district, and each time any of the Dryden clan goes to the city, it's also their hotel of choice. What's really cool is the pool is on the top floor and the open patio lets a person sit and watch a warm nightfall and see the residents of Trump Tower come home after work and turn on their lights.
The hotel is right in the heart of the restaurants and hotels and it's where all the safe action is. Not only that, it's right next to a two-story McDonald's, which makes it easier for ethnic cab drivers to find the hotel when they take you home.
Fall is the season of strikers due to the coming onset of winter when no one wants to picket for hours. It was about 5:30a when steady car horns could be heard down on the street in support of the painters who were on strike outside the hotel, striking for more money and would not be finishing the work they started on the outside of our building.
Instead of getting twenty guys to picket, only a few came out and set up their inflatable rat or the more creative cat holding a scab by the neck. The couple of men who do show up inflate their display and then simply fill in who they are representing on the pre-printed sign, When asked how much they were making already, they lamented that it was only fifty dollars an hour.
We pretended to be tourists and took the Chicago River Tour and learned a lot. First of all, the river is 156 miles long in total and during the Chicago fire, it burned for days because it was so polluted. At one point the city of Chicago even reversed its flow from into Lake Michigan to out of the lake.
Crossing under all seven lift bridges, we learned how clever the builders and the buildings were when we saw “The Wedge” building whose footprint takes up the allotted lot size and then some. There were buildings that had specially shaped windows that 'rippled' in the sun as it moved through the city and buildings with long strips of glass curtain “walls” outside of the building that are automatic shades made of a lightweight skin that moved as the sun moved to block out the rays.
Even the buses used the same fabric to block out the sun and provide privacy for its riders.
We also learned that the decorative lights on top of the buildings are all turned off at eleven each night and by eight p when birds are migrating so they don't get confused.
At the downtown Daley Plaza, we gazed at the statue in front of the City Hall like true Chicagoan's, from the back. That way its title, The Woman, makes sense.
There were several dead pigeons near the base of The Woman and it wasn't until one of them moved that we realized they were just warming their feet at the eternal flame representing all those men and women who died serving this country. That's right, lying on their sides warming their feet.
Chicago, thanks in part to the second Mayor Daley, or Richie as some called him, for the plantings and modern art throughout the city. His father preferred cement to flora and expanded the city by building lots of expressways and then lighting them to boot.
Now every part of the city is awash with flower boxes and displays. Many of the restaurants have created sidewalk patios with tables and chairs flanked with elaborate pots full of the most amazing displays. Some of the streets even had small waterfalls in their curb displays; it made one wonder whose choice was that?
The French Market has only been in existence since 2009 and not too many outsiders know about it yet. It's located conveniently under a main metro hub for trains. Part of the building is more or less empty until a train arrives and then the double doors open from track number so and so and lots of people, who have walked down the inside flight of stairs after leaving the train, file out into what used to be a large empty space to the street level below.
Now the space is jammed with seventeen ethnic food stalls that carry any kind of take and eat food or coffee or elaborate pastry or tea you could ask for. It's a grab-and-go wonderland.
We took a ride on the huge Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier that was built to celebrate the pier's 100 years in existence that was built originally for tourism and used only briefly by the Navy during one of the wars, now it's back to tourism with lots of solar trash compactors everywhere.
We took a tour on the Untouchable Tour Bus that traveled the entire city to show where Chicago's famous “families” ran their empires viewing still existing bullet holes in buildings to prove their stories.
We took a city bus ride to Lincoln Park north of the city and saw all the animals and the conservatory with a definite north side baseball team leaning.
We spent a half day at the Shedd Aquarium, now in what is called the museum campus, and then finished up the evening down at the lakefront, Lake Michigan that is, watching nightfall and the lights of the beautiful Buckingham Fountain coming on. This fountain is located in Grant Park and was given to the city in 1927 and is one of the largest fountains in the world.
We stayed photographing the fountain until after dark, milling around with other people enjoying the balmy night and then walked across a few busy streets, the Outer Drive for one, and caught a taxi on Michigan Avenue to take us home, seldom seeing a cop but feeling very safe.
We ate lots of amazing food and toured the city from Lincoln Park in the north to China Town at the south, the soaring Trump Tower always there to guide us wherever we went.
The only time this city seems to make the headlines is when there are shootings, but give this city a chance and it will repay you ten-fold.
It's full of very thin yoga-happy women who walk briskly by, day and night, wearing stretch pants and designer gym shoes, everyone one of them holding a bottle of water, alone and unafraid. This city's women also shun the popular everywhere else 'cold shoulder' tops and the bus drivers, men or women are the kings and queens of public transportation, don't mess with them.
Even the guys that clean the sidewalks have had an upgrade
The pride is back, so don't be afraid to visit, you will never forget it.
It's close, it's open, it's Chicago, it's magnificent, it's still home.