I profess no intimate knowledge, no wisdom,
no smarts nor expertise, about Chicago, Illinois,
city of wind and of big shoulders.
In my seventh decade, now, I’ve been there
once, just now. Then once several times in
three to four other decades in my lengthening life.
Had a love affair brief as a windstorm,
in a nearby town. An almost-stolen girlfriend,
departing the embrace of my best friend at
Northwestern. One of those stories. She’s a
doctor now. My friend, with whom I remain a
friend, says of my visit just now to the city:
“You should look up our old girlfriend.”
I laugh out loud in my boutique hotel,
found on Priceline, just off the Magnificent
Mile. It’s 95 bucks the night I stay.
You need your magic room card to get
the elevator to work. The card is black
as night, says ‘Ivy‘ in white script.
Takes me 12 floors up into Chicago’s
September air the day that I arrive.
The room is narrow, long, and well-appointed. The
bed low, just like a monk’s. But rich as vanilla-bean
ice cream, soothing creamy sheets & covers.
The shower’s so lovely—a grey-marbled floor.
And so artfully designed it requires instruction,
hung upon a square-knobbed spout which
looks like an artifact from “Star Trek.” But,
nice!—the corner windows open. In rushes
the deisel-inflected air of a Chicago
eve. Before I call it a day, my black card
takes me to the final floor—the 16th. You
exit out the elevator onto the roof. There’s
a bar. A couple cuddles on a sofa. Some
woman in a wifebeater talks to her
phone beside her drink. Another woman
snaps selfies framed by skyscrapers.
I order cranberry juice with
lime, tip my waiter half the cost
of the drink. There’s a pandemic. Snap
photos with my phone. I’ve always been
intrigued by human beings whose lives
are lived just below and sometimes at
the level of the clouds. They surround us
by the thousands, the tens of thousands.
In blue rooms, staring at TVs in their skyboxes.
Doing Downward Facing Dog 2,000 feet above
the sidewalk. Who knows what else of their
secret lives, a bit of its light leaking out
their windows to some inquisitive eyes one
building over. We hear nothing of them.
The next day, I spy Jimmy Durante with
a dancer on the Chicago streets. I’m sure there’s
a good reason why. But I’m just glad to see him.
He was part of my TV raising in the
Cincinnati suburbs, a couple states and
many cornfields distant. ‘Hello, Jimmy!
Love your crumpled hat!‘ Looks like
the one I’m wearing this very moment,
from Goodfellows clothiers. My travel
hat that rumples just a bit like yours, O
fellow traveler with an Italian nose
that so often recalled my Dad’s own.
My trip is purpose-driven. To move my sis-in-law
out of Chicago, back East. She’s lived and battled,
written, sung on the ‘West Side (is the
Best Side.’) I snap quick shots out the window as
I leave behind hip, magnificent Chicago for
strip malls with shops named Mr. Shoe &
Shine King Tailor. Chicago, too.
Getting there via so many streets
and enclaves turned sleek and so
inviting. Emporiums & playgrounds for
those of us who can drop 50 bucks a meal
without a blink. Then, spring for sequential
capuccinos from single-source, shade-grown
beans. I don’t snark at being one who can.
I like such shops. I drop some dimes downtown
at Stan’s Doughnuts on good coffee, before
I take the long ride out of magnificence
into less magnificence. I have nothing
of import to say. Just snapping pictures of
how the landcape changes while you head
westward from downtown. Into
neighborhoods where so much of the
city’s life is also lived in family rooms, on
porches. And, too, the rows of tents
in line, beneath a bridge or viaduct.
Tent cities of our age of homeless folk,
whose roof is nylon and abutments.
My best pictures are nearly done. And
I’ve told not much of note. Except perhaps a
glance, far incomplete and idiosyncratic
of one guy’s jaunt into and out of Chicago
one cool day and night, both high and low,
and east and west. And now he’s home.
PS: Found one more worthy photo, the
Acme Hotel in midtown, as I walked back
after an Italian meal. The streets a-honk
with cars and trucks on parade. Rippling
flags, held out windows or a-flap
on makeshift wooden flagpoles.
A constant, circling braying, a
barrage of sound. “What’s up?” My waiter
says the processions mark the
anniversary of independence in Mexico.
My annoyance—was it some Trumpian
display?—turns to appreciation. Hundreds,
of the city’s residents with Mexico’s roots in
them, letting it be known they were glad to have
them. To be alive & honking deeply into the night.
chicago, illinois | sep16.2020 | photos & poem by douglas john imbrogno