Tonight I took the #11 bus north to Lincoln Park, to meet a friend for dinner. As we rumbled over the Franklin Street Bridge, I looked out the window and instantly I was in a strange new place. The river curved around behind me, the brand-new condos stretched out to my left, and to my right, Merchandise Mart loomed. It was 6:30 and already quite dark, and all the buildings glowed.
I take the same route home every night, and it all looks the same, so taking a new route or visiting a new place can be pretty shocking, in a good way. It makes the city new again. And especially when it’s dark and the nights are winding tighter and tighter around a cold winter, a new route reminds me of the sheer size of the city, the massive number of lives being lived. I feel closer to the people behind each one of those bright lights, closer in our anonymity.
Riding over the river always gets me — nothing clarifies and sets apart like a body of water, and of course it’s that same body of water that forms a connection between the two sides of the bridge, the body of water that is the reason for a city’s existence. The Chicago River is a dark mass that barely ripples through downtown, a river that flows the wrong way, a black surface reflecting thousands of bright lights and individual lives. And then just as I’m feeling welcomed to a new place of abstract shapes and the dark spaces between them, we’re on the other side of the bridge and caught in traffic. That moment of beauty and connection is gone as the buildings rise up around the bus and the glow of those lights is drowned out by the bus’s fluorescence. But the river remains, and there are always other routes, always other ways home.
Apologies, dearest fellow travelers, for a late and abbreviated post — I hope to flesh it out later.
Look for a guest post from S. next week, about living in Ecuador for a semester abroad.