June 27, 2002
The Long Walk Home

Connors Park, one of the city's "urban plazas." It's been overly rehabbed a bit of late, but its Parisian air is one of the things that made me want to work downtown way back in 1995.

I’ve never been one of those people who can leave home, get on the train, and go straight in to work. Even back in the days when I lived in Indiana and walked to work, I never wanted to go straight into the office. I used to devise little long routes for myself, through the park or around the square or through the meadow—anything to give myself a little breathing space between home and my desk.

Today I no longer walk to work, but I'm still finding ways to add a little extra space between here and there. When I’m not too late, or the weather isn’t too bad, or I’m not carrying too much stuff, I sometimes get off the subway at Clark and Division and walk the 1.5 miles to my office.

Most of my friends and colleagues think this is crazy. “What are you doing all the way up there?” some say. But it’s one of the nicest walks I know in Chicago, especially since the city has seen fit to rebuild Wacker Drive by the river for the last 14 months. I usually only make two stops in the morning: to a convenient ATM and to Treasure Island to buy genuine bagels (no puffy, Einstein-style faux bagels here).

It’s also a quick walk in the morning, because nobody’s around. I can usually make the trek in 30 minutes. Then it’s 8:30 and I’m up to read e-mail, reasonably virtuous and pleasantly breathless.

I’m trying to ramp up my exercise of late, so I opted to take the same route home. It’s a very different walk in the evenings.

When I leave my office and cross the Michigan Avenue bridge on a day like today—80 degrees and clear as glass—I am almost always glad to be there. More important, as I see hordes of other office workers just like me, I am almost always glad to be me, and not someone else.

Michigan Avenue in the early evening is almost always teeming with tourists, and they clog the sidewalks in several problem spots:
-Garrett’s Popcorn, where people will stand on the sidewalk for hours, ostensibly because they never have an opportunity to eat caramel corn
-In front of Neiman Marcus, where some kind of construction has caused them to build a wooden walkway in front of the entire building, wide enough only for two people to walk at a time
-Most unfortunately, both sides of the street around Water Tower place. On the west side you’ll be diverted into a little mini-park where people are usually milling around staring at mimes (Staring At Mimes—the name of my next band). On the east side more construction and reconstruction have caused very large numbers of people to try to walk in very narrow areas. I usually bump into people here

North of Walton Street, things usually open up again and I have to cut over, either on Walton (past the Urban Outfitters) or on Oak (past Bravco, the best store in the world). A few blocks more and we’re on Rush Street. I always liked the storefront restaurant-aspect of this area, which reminded me of Paris when I first moved to Chicago. In the morning it’s mostly the province of me and the odd restaurant employee hosing down the sidewalk. In the evening, though, it’s a whole other story, and I have to fight my way through legions of sunglasses-wearing, cell-phone-slinging Yupsters, usually standing in large clumps on the sidewalk trying to telephone their friends and relatives.

Gotta keep moving, past Gibson’s, where people are eating steak topped with butter, and Carmine’s, where people are eating very nice salads off very nice stoneware. There’s a lot of people wearing shorts and at least one bleached blonde trophy wife type wearing expensive sunglasses and a tank top. One of these peers at her dining companions as I walk by and proclaims decisively: “Noodles are noodles!” Yes, indeed.

More good stops along the way might include Anthropologie, where I was last tempted to buy overpriced silk pajamas, Barnes and Noble, with a temptingly large magazine rack, and Albert’s, the tiniest French café I can think of. But I gotta keep going because we’re almost to the subway.

And then it’s down the stairs.

Onto the train.

Up to Belmont and onto the other train, where I find a seat, efficiently turn off the Walkman, and pull out the book I’m trying to finish.

At Montrose the guy sitting next to me gets up to leave. I have to grab all my bags, stand up, and sit down in the window seat this time.

Whereupon I look over and down and see that I have been sitting in the remains of a candy bar the whole way home.

Posted at June 27, 2002 07:12 PM