Chicago Update

I had about 4 hours in Chicago between my trains, and I had my mind resolutely set upon taking advantage of the opportunity. It worked out rather well, although I had to pay 12 dollars for bag storage (which I got for free in Seattle – hopefully I can get it for free in Buffalo as well as I’ll be training out of there business class). Not really having much idea of the city, I got on Adams street and walked lake-ward, knowing something of a waterfront park. Turns out, the Jazz festival was on. This is the only city besides Vancouver where I’ve attended a proper, well attended, outdoor, free Jazz festival day (Toronto’s excuse for a Jazz festival really doesn’t cut the mustard). The amount of people in the Park was just astonishing. It seemed there were not only more people than at Vancouver’s Gastown Jazz, but more people there specifically interested in listening to music, rather than walking up and down Water street buying t-shirts. The only other difference was that they inspect your bags upon entry, an invasion of privacy but I suppose this is big bad Chicago.

I generally feel not at ease when I first walk the streets of another big American city. I consider taking a cab to my destination, I try not to look like a tourist, I do everything I can think of to reduce my chances of getting mugged or pick-pocketed. But after being here for a while, I got the sense it really isn’t that different from Vancouver. Sure, there are noisy groups of motorcycles, blaring ambulance sirens, crushing traffic, and hordes of people – but is any of that intimidating anymore? Maybe intimidation is no longer intimidating, or maybe the middle class trust in gentrification has overpowered its fear of the city. There is after all no sign of decay in the downtown core. Perhaps there is no contradiction for the “Stuff White People Like” blog to include as topics both “moving out of the inner city to the suburbs” and “moving out of the suburbs to the inner city”.

Chicago seems a genuinely musical city. I say this because before I even got to the Jazz festival I saw a busker clarinetist in front of the Art Gallery, playing along with a jazz backup on stereo, really playing his face off. And people cared, a good number of people had stopped on the steps to listen, to put money in the hat, and to dance. When passed by the busker again a few hours later the crowd had grew, he’d been joined by a trumpet and saxophone, and a half dozen people dancing. And you could tell that none of them were tourists. These people really do seem to have music on the soul.

The other thing that really struck me about this town is the skyline. There are many tall buildings here, including the tallest office tower in the world. I don’t know the city well enough to know whether the tall buildings represent a confidence in the world-classness (whatever that means) of the city, or an inferiority complex, attempting to assert itself on the same scale as New York and London, rather than a mere Boston or Philadelphia. A Plaque in the Amtrak station purports that at one point 7 rail stations in Chicago served passenger traffic along 23 routes to every corner of the continent. Now there is only one station, and perhaps a dozen. In other words, perhaps Chicago was once truly a national centre, and now with decentralization is only a regional centre. However, this is only speculation, I will ask my one Chicago friend when I return to Toronto for her take on the largess of Chicago’s office towers.

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