Under Wacker

Yesterday we drove to Chicago–at about an eight-hour drive, it’s at the outer limits of the fly/drive decision point–and our final destination was a hotel on Wacker Drive, which runs along the river through the heart of downtown. The GPS brought us in to the downtown area on the under Wacker path, which meant our first exposure to downtown was in the dystopian bowels of the city, shown in the photo above. Kish aptly described it as looking like a scene from one of the dark Batman movies.

And here’s the thing: the GPS doesn’t distinguish between above ground and below ground. As we drove in, it was pretty clear that the GPS thought we were above ground, and was instructing us, in increasingly insistent tones, to take left turns and right turns that simply didn’t exist in our little underground tunnel of concrete. And it didn’t help that there seemed to be construction on all of the ways out of “under Wacker” and back aboveground. I was incredibly happy when we finally figured out a way to get back into the daylight.

I’m a big fan of Chicago, and always have been. If I were in charge, I’d be sure that people visiting this great city don’t get their first exposure through a dark, creepy, underground tunnel with a bossy GPS voice advising about taking non-existent turns.

Rediscovering Chicago

We’re in Chicago for a wedding weekend, and it’s giving us a chance to rediscover the City With Big Shoulders, the Second City, the Windy City, and that Toddlin’ Town. I used to come to Chicago regularly for work, and we visited often when Richard was in college here, but more recent planned trips were cancelled when the pandemic intervened–so it’s been a while. But now people, myself included, are deciding that we’re just going to have to live with COVID and all of its variants and get on with our lives–in a prudent way, of course.

It feels good to get out and get back to a really big city. When you haven’t been to a really big city in more than a year, the experience seems fresh and new and exciting. And Chicago is such a great place, for so many reasons–like the cool view from our hotel room window, shown above–it’s a good destination for those of us who want to shed the outer protective coating of COVID Caution and start to get out more.

We drove in, and the first sign that the pandemic has created significant change in the world is that, when we reached the Dan Ryan Expressway, it actually functioned as an expressway rather than a snarled traffic disaster seemingly designed to cause the blood pressure of drivers to go through the roof. Astonishingly, there wasn’t much traffic on the road, and we were able to get to our destination without any stoppage. That’s literally never happened before in countless driving trips to Chicago. For the first time, perhaps, Dan Ryan (whoever he is, or was) is glad that the highway was named after him.

Downtown Chicago was not as bustling as the Chicago of yore, but there were still a lot of people out and about, on the River Walk, on boat rides, and just walking the sidewalks and enjoying some crisp fall weather. We appreciated being out among people, and revelling in the taste and feel and smell and sound of pre-pandemic activities. You still need to mask up when you go into buildings in Chicago, but the great outdoors, and the terrific views of cool buildings that Chicago architecture affords, can be enjoyed blessedly mask-free.

If you’re interested in breaking out of your personal COVID zone, and feel like it is high time to reintroduce yourself to our great American cities, Chicago is a good place to go.