Earlier this week I found myself paying what seemed like endless tolls to enter Chicago. Several contracts made a journey into downtown necessary.
I thought about the city. I grew up in the middle of nowhere. I'm exaggerating, that was a couple miles down the road. I always have to brace myself for a trip into the heart of a large metropolis. The cities are everything I find repugnant wrapped around hidden gems of culture, art, and humanity. I consider a trip into the city like wading into a sewer to see priceless artworks, constantly being pushed by a faceless mob of moving people as dehumanizing as the scent of sewage and asphalt makes breathing require effort. It was easier to breathe at fourteen thousand feet in Colorado.
What would I see, where would I go to make it worthwhile? What jewel could lure me and raise my spirits?
Long ago I read a fictional book about the 1893 World Fair held in Jackson Park. Great minds, incredible people all came together there for an event that drew over twenty seven million people from all corners of the globe. I found my purpose. Most traces of the event have been reclaimed by time, but a few hints are there. I wanted to walk where Buffalo Bill performed, where inventors pitched ideas that are now well recognized products we use every day.
I worked my way south. I found Lincoln Park first, only familiar with it because of a band who took it's name as their own. Ironically, the park is nothing like the alternative metal band. Lincoln Park had a diverse farmers market closing as I arrived. I snagged a reasonably priced raspberry smoothie and wandered the nature boardwalk. There is a free Zoo in the park and I enjoyed seeing the animals in large, well designed areas set up to meet their needs. I wondered if the animals think they are at a place where they observe odd human behavior every day. One of the seals cruised by me on his back, but he didn't give me any answer when I asked.
I had seen a Conservatory as I had driven along the park, looking for parking. I thought it charged admission, but was willing to pay for the visit. I was delighted to walk in and find it was as free as the boardwalk and zoo. I petted the leaves of a coffee plant, smiled at the face of a bat flower and admired gorgeous orchids I'd never even dreamed could exist.
Between appointments I went to Millennium Park. I walked across the winding ribbon of the BP Bridge wishing the company would be as considerate of the environment as they are of city pedestrians. I marveled at the new climbing walls and children's play areas. I caught a picture of myself in the mirror egg, wondering why everyone else stood with their backs to the mirrored surface while they mugged for selfies.
Work pulled my from the lovely parks, I walked the sidewalks with many people who all carefully did not look at each other. Somehow it seemed like they each walked alone in separate empty streets even though they walked shoulder to shoulder. I smiled, made eye contact and said hello to the brave and gregarious. I passed dejected folks in stained clothing with cardboard signs, drummers snapping out rhythms on snare drums and an incredible jazz band lost in a song at a congested intersection. I caught waves of asphalt and sewage city stink.
I found myself back in the throngs working my way to my car so I could go to the place I sought the most. Jackson Park. Parking at Millennium park and Lincoln Park was expensive, it ran about twenty dollars.
Jackson Park was different. Parking was three dollars and fifty cents for a couple of hours instead of twenty three. I walked around the whole park. Most people looked at me, I like to think it was because of my hat. There was a golf course, basketball courts, soccer fields, and the Osaka gardens I'd come to explore. I stood at the base of the approximately twenty foot tall statue that was gifted to Chicago, after the sixty foot tall original Statue of the Republic was destroyed in a fire. I sat underneath trees and enjoyed visualizing how different it was in 1893. No smartphone, no cars, most clothing handmade or natural fiber, electricity was still pretty new. No fast food or gas stations. Are you starting to picture it too? Gas lights on the corners and horses pulling carriages down streets.
I found a stone honoring Fredrick Douglass as he'd dedicated the first gazebo in the park. It wasn't large, I almost missed it. The park is being renovated to bring back native plants and animals so the gardens were closed. I walked the Bobolink trail, watching a comorant spread and stretch its wings before diving into the water.
I walked around the Science museum and met several friendly locals, who politely discussed the beauty of the day and the history of the park. The botanical gardens were recommended. Yvonne and I talked for almost an hour at my car. Jackson park might have historical significance, but it's low income area. My skin color stood out when I'd first walk up, but my smile and excited nerd babble found a warm welcome and my color quickly faded from thought.
Chicago, Jackson Park is your history, it is the spirit of your city. Take as good care of it as you do Lincoln Park. Do you know, the folks I met, who go to Jackson park often were unaware of it's history. They found it delightful that someone would come to the city just to see their park, they enjoyed learning about the park. It was a wonderful experience.
I have several more ventures into the city ahead of me. The botanical gardens and King Sauna are my motivations.
Where would you go? My journey was directed by history, literature, innovation, and music. Lincoln park, Millennium Park and Jackson Park.