It wasn’t windy, but it was hot as hell.
And I mean hell, because it was about 100º F (38º C) and I was wearing jeans and a long sleeve shirt. The only respite was the rare cloud covering the sun.
Years of anticipation and I got to spend an exquisite, mind-blowing hour and nineteen minutes in Chicago. Feel free to use this post to as a key to decrypt my most recent break-up letter.
As I observed the cityscape from the highway, I thought ‘It really does look like Toronto!’ and I became even antsier in the lead-up to getting out of the truck and into town. At the exit, a man in a green army veteran hat walked up and down the lanes selling colourful socks and facecloths defying the ‘No Peddling’ sign we could all clearly see. I chuckled.
I jumped off the truck on a street in front of Millennium Park and crossed the street. I saw shirtless toddlers in diapers skipping down Michigan Ave with their bathing suit clad parents trying to keep up.
I looked to my right, and it all became clear – they were going to Crown Fountain. Designed by Catalan artist Jaume Plensa, this piece of interactive art doubles as a waterfall and fountain at the edges of a pool. It was like a little waterpark. The towers spill and shoot water where kids run around and play. Families sat on the grass, seemingly unfazed by the commotion of passing cars on the south end of Magnificent Mile.
The symphony of laughter and playful yelling gave me nostalgia for the days of my youth—a simpler time when some water from a sprinkler kept my younger brother and I entertained on a hot summer day. I thought of popsicles and ice cream trucks, and how much I could use one in this blistering heat.
I took the requisite photo of myself at The Bean and then relegated myself to watching all of the other people seeing it for the first time, taking silly pictures, standing under it and staring up like there was a secret to uncover. The secret, people, is that it symbolizes the testicles and the vagina to represent the tension between the masculine and the feminine. Simply put, you are ‘upskirting’ artist Anish Kapoor.
I’m being cheeky, but what I say is true. The piece also distorts your discernment of space and time (the reflective surface changes the speed of movements), and challenges ideas of perception versus reality.
In any case, I smiled at the wonder of getting to see something in real life that you’ve only heard of or seen in movies.
It reminded me of my Catalan friend who came to visit me in my suburban home Barrie, her first time in North America. In the morning, she woke up and looked out the bay windows of my room.
“It’s like a movie!” she exclaimed, her accent merging ‘b’ with the ‘v’ and rendering each indistinguishable.
It does sort of look like a film studio lot—all of the identical houses with manicured lawns, differentiated only by the colour of their garages and doors and choice of flora. I decided to try to look at more things with a child-like sense of wonder—lean into that feeling of excitement, rather than suppress it, in an effort to ‘look cool’.
I looked at a map and continued south on Michigan Ave., hoping to end up at Magnificent Mile.
At the corner of Michigan and Monroe, I heard someone say,
“Excuse me, are you over 21?”
I slowed down and looked over my shoulder. A guy in a Red Cross vest wearing a hat and a necklace of miniature conch shells was looking at me. I smiled. Fundraiser. It definitely wasn’t the most unique line, but I talked to him anyway.
I asked him what I should do in the city. He told me that I have to get a picture with the Bean – every tourist does it.
“It’s actually called Cloud Gate. I feel like I’m the only person from Chicago who knows that.”
I smiled. I didn’t know what it was called at all, but I had seen it in that movie Source Code. I asked what he really likes about Chicago.
“One thing I love about the city is the architecture,” he said. Pointing towards the other side of the road, he added, “Look: new building, old building, old building…the history is written on the buildings.”
His name is Ace, and I think he summed up Chicago in one sentence for me. I thought it was pretty cool the way city was set-up – the simple grid format made it easy to navigate – but it had originally eluded me the way the old and new melted together to make something completely original.
Fundraiser by day, rapper by night, he let me a take a picture and gave me a card. His birthday is in a couple days, and he has a show coming up in Chi-town.
I went to the Art Institute just down the street, knowing I didn’t have enough time to explore it as I would have liked (and I really like art, even if I don’t “get” it in the traditional sense). A nice porter who had recently moved to the city suggested looking around the gift shop. I remembered that my partner collects postcards of art—plus we give each other postcards with recipes and photos we like instead of traditional cards. I thought a postcard or two would come in handy for our next rapid succession gift-giving season (our anniversary, his birthday, and Christmas all within weeks of each other #broke).
The postcard I got was a print of a Matisse that reminded me of Martinique – the island where we met – and the style is similar to that of the art my partner used to do (2 years later and I find out the guy is artistic? Jeez.)
On the way out, Ace was still on his corner, fundraising (read: chatting up the ladies). We stopped to talk again. I pointed out his Trayvon Martin button—the verdict had come out a few days earlier.
“Don’t even talk to me about that right now.” Fair enough.
He told me that he would like to be able to control time: to stop or adjust it, like we do at daylight savings.
“What if it stops at a bad time?” I asked. I can’t remember what he said, but I hurriedly asked what time it was thinking I was running late to meet my dad. The time on the last picture I took said 5pm – I was supposed to meet my dad at 5:30pm. He said it was 4pm – ah yes, Chicago is an hour behind Toronto.
“Did you just gain time?” he asked me, surprised by his own serendipity.
“Yeah, an hour! How weird was that?” I said laughing.
We chatted some more, he rapped for me, and then pointed me towards Giordano’s, home of the best Chicago-style deep dish pizza. He said that if he wasn’t working, he would definitely come with me.
“I know. I really think we could have been friends, Ace.”
He agreed and we parted ways.
I walked along the waterways, looking at the bascule bridges. Chicago is home to more of these moveable bridges than anywhere else in the world. They facilitate bringing vessels onto the Chicago river from Lake Michigan. It made me think of water, how far it reaches and how bodies of water are connected to things bigger and smaller than themselves.
The bridge is like travel—it opens us up to the world and people, allowing us to experience things we might have only heard about or seen in a movie.