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If it were not for the occasional grey at his temples he’d easily be mistaken for one of the Hardy Boys. His boyish face and boyish frame – remnants of an earlier age, are still present, such that I’m convinced that he has freckles despite the fact that he doesn’t.

The look on his face is difficult to read.  At times he appears timid. Or deep in thought.   Perhaps he’s confused.  He looks up at the train map every now and then and his forehead contracts deepening the creases that are already there.  He watches commuters board at each stop and when he does this he lowers his face but looks up with his eyes.  Now he appears as innocent as he was when his his mother caught him sneaking gum drops when he had been explicitly told to wait.

It could be that he is new to the city.  People that are new to the city have different mannerisms when they ride the trains than do people who have lived here awhile.   It’s the glancing up at the map, and the attention at the stops.   New people to the city watch others board the trains not because they think a friend might get on but because they’re studying how the crowd functions.  It’s a subtle difference.  As for the map – eventually they learn to feel their way along the Red Line based upon the sounds and the sway of the cars.

While his mannerisms appear to be that of someone new to the city, his style of dress does not.  His brown suede shoes have salt stains.  Nicely cut navy-blue cotton slacks fit him perfectly as does the black quilted winter jacket that is tapered near the waist.  The collar and placket of his wool sweater is visible because his jacket is half unzipped.   His charcoal hair has a slight sheen and is parted precisely on the left.  The cut is borderline hipster but is kept far above his eye brows.

He pulls a book from his brown canvas bag.  On it’s pages are charts and graphs. Statistics. The subject congruent with his appearance.  Mostly the book is a prop because he doesn’t spend time focusing on the pages.  When he thumbs through the pages I notice the ring he’s wearing.  It’s the same matt-finish tungsten ring that I’m wearing.  I think he’ll notice mine when it catches the light – that he’ll see that it’s the same as his and this will cause him to look up at my face but that doesn’t happen.

I loose track of his actions by the next stop not because he has left but because the train fills  and those that are standing block my view.  Maybe now, with no clear cut view of anything, he’ll begin studying  the pages of his book.

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If the timing is right there are seats available, but standing isn’t so bad.  It’s thirty minutes of elation whether sitting or standing.

A crowded street filled with pedestrians.  Workers.  Shoppers.  Residents.  Commuters. Tourists.  Children.  Store fronts displaying the finest wares, some of which are affordable and some which will be affordable in time.  Tailored jackets.  Polished shoes.  Sparkling cufflinks.  Supple leathers.  Bold prints.

Thousands of windows look down upon me and I look up in response seeing things that are the results of tremendous egos.  Stonework.  Brickwork.  Metalwork.  So many tall structures, each trying to outdo the other in some way or fashion.

Long before the last stop all the seats are taken and the aisle is now full of people standing.  Those seated have their bags on their laps.  Those standing try to keep a narrow profile so as to leave some room between one another.  Some are plugged into an electronic device watching or listening and some are reading books.

Half of the trip is spent passing through Michigan Avenue, bumper to bumper.  The Drake Hotel passes by and we accelerate onto Lake Shore Drive and can do so because we’re at the leading edge of rush hour.

In the blink of an eye and off to the right tall buildings are replaced, as far as the eye can see, by a body of water so vast and so blue.  A brave soul out on a sail boat.  To the right residential buildings rise again, higher and higher.  I’m passing through a narrow strip of land that separates the two – elements made by nature and elements made by man.

Lining the lake are people living atop one another, crowded together for one thing only – a view of the water.  More windows, more stonework, more brickwork stretching northward and these man-made elements stretch too, as far as the eye can see.

The boats are back in the marina.  The bridges along the river were raised last weekend  so their owners could take them out of dry dock.  The greying wood docks and the white bows of boats against the calm blue waters.

Looking out to my left I see the building where Carol lives.  It’s next to the French restaurant that’s perfectly situated in a building with a mansard roof and ornate dormers.  A moment later the Imperial Towers are in view, a pair of buildings in which I’d like to live.  No one is rowing in the shallow lagoon built inside of Lincoln Park.

Overhead large jet liners begin their descent, their tail colors barely visible but their four engines and their wide-bodies allow for an estimation of the distance they have flown.  More people arriving waiting anxiously to fill the already busy streets.

On the soccer fields are uniforms that move quickly like colored pixels on a screen.   Another marina passes by.  A tall man is standing facing backwards and I watch his eyes trace against the moving landscape.  Everyone else is facing the lake as it’s view washes away the memories of their work day.

To their backs are more high-rises still, one of which is the Aquitania with it’s ornate lobbies and menacing plumbing problems.  Shortly thereafter emerges the mass of pink stucco known as the Edgewater Beach Hotel, the long-ago summer resort to some of the city’s elite.  It’s even more imposing when viewed from an eleventh story balcony in the building across the street.

As we exit Lake Shore Drive yet another high-rise is nearing completion.  A friend refers to it as a Stalinesque monstrosity.  I like it for that very reason.  Turning on to what will be soon a residential street once again, a man on a bike waves hello to the bus driver and smiles.  Half of the riders exit at the next stop and file into the new grocery store.  Dinner awaits them.

In another mile I’ll be home.  Views of the lake are replaced with more high-rises and the view is shadowed because of them, even by the lowest ones along the west side of the street.  Here the streets are filled with commuters – pedestrians and automobiles but the pedestrians move faster than those in cars because now rush hour is in full swing.

The temperature is noticeably cooler as I exit the bus across the street from my building.  It’s always ten degrees colder here than it is just a few blocks inland.  Dogs are being walked after being indoors all day.  Neighbors carry home groceries.

Thirty minutes have passed and an entire world has passed before my eyes.  Something to see in every direction.  From the majestic waters of Lake Michigan to the majestic structures of steel and concrete.  Constant movement all around.  From rhythmic waves to jumbo jets.  I marvel at these sights from the windows of the express bus from downtown.  I never tire of this ride.  It is always magnificent.

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Because I’m being asked this quite often these days…. here’s why I chose Chicago.

I’ve had a love affair with Chicago since I was a kid and saw it from atop the then Sears Tower.

Architecture: When I was studying architecture (and don’t we all still do that simply by living here?) it wasn’t just the modern classics from Sullivan, Wright, Mies that captured my attention.  It was a continuos stream of architectural innovation.  To this day I have magazine clippings of GREAT residential architecture that fits on a twenty-five foot wide city lot.

Shopping: The best shopping in the mid-west is on North Michigan Avenue.  From traditional favorites to the boutiques from Italy and France.  The Magnificent Mile is lined with the best of the best from around the world.  I’m not a big fan of shopping, but if I want the most stylish, it’s found on the Mag Mile.  Or at the Brown Elephant thrift stores where the throw-aways from Gold Coast and Lakeview neighborhoods are found for pennies on the dollar.

Theater: Whether its a Broadway show, a store-front theater, a first-run movie, an independent film, The Gene Siskel Film Center, the ballet, the opera or any one of the numerous film festivals that take place here – there is always, and I do mean ALWAYS something of interest playing on a stage or screen in this city.  Even theaters that are in need of renovation are still bustling with patrons.  Spend a lot or a little – the choice is yours.

Museums: No lack of these either.  Natural History.  Shedd Aquarium.  Art Institute of Chicago. Museum of Contemporary Art – These are just the one’s downtown.  I don’t even know all of them.  But again, there’s bound to be something interesting in any one of them at any given time.

Politics: The best theater in town!  This town thrives on politics and it’s a good idea to know you’re Alderman.  Debates?  A block-long line awaited the last mayoral debate at a downtown theater prior to the election.  I got my ticket when I met a woman under the L tracks on Wabash – she was able to get me one when my Alderman couldn’t.  And what better city to end it all when you’re caught red-handed?  We’ve got plenty of railroad tracks and the Chicago River.

Transportation: Two airports.  Three airline hubs.  Amtrak.  Commuter rail.  The L and busses operated by the Chicago Transit Authority.  And my two feet.  No need for a car here which means I’ll save a ton of money over a lifetime. Both airports and Union Station are accessible by bus and/or train.

Walkability: Two grocery stores.  Two drug stores. The library.  The butcher.  Farmer’s markets (in the summer).  The liquor store.  The dry cleaner (which one? There’s one under every L stop).  My Alderman’s office.  Countless locally-owned bars and restaurants.  Dunkin Donuts!  All within a few blocks of home.

Lake Michigan: Boats, beaches, bikes and balconies line Lake Michigan with plenty of public space for everyone.  Granted, the beaches are packed throughout the summer – but there’s no better place to cool off than Lake Michigan.  I’m looking forward to getting my bike out for a nice ride down to Millennium Park.

Millennium Park: The new outdoor center of downtown Chicago.  Gardens, sculpture and architecture combined into a venue that hosts free concerts from symphonies to high-school dance troops.  Ice skating in the winter and a beautiful front lawn for the new Modern Wing of the Art Institute.

Citizenry: We’ve got our share of thugs and bad guys – but they love living here just as much as the rest of us.  It’s exhilarating to be surrounded by eight-million or so people that absolutely love this city.  Chicago is still attracting immigrants from around the world – and the streets are filled with sounds of various languages.  Do not debate pizza quality here.

Cost: I would have never imagined it possible to cut my living expenses in half by living in a first-tier city but it’s possible now.  In fact, it costs me less to live here now than it did to live in Salt Lake City in 1998.

Two things are happening to cause this phenomenon – old residents are dying leaving behind paid-for condos that have to be sold and, the real-estate boom caused over-building.  Houses with yards are still somewhat expensive, but high-rise living has never been this affordable.   The fact is, living in some of these lake-front high-rises can be cheaper than paying rent.

And on that note, you should consider buying a place in my building.  Haven’t you always wanted a place on a lake?

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In Transit

My monthly commutes to and from Chicago continue though I received word today that it appears as if the sellers bank has approved the sale of condo on which I made an offer. Fortunately there’s no dire need to be in Chicago by any specific date, but it could be soon.

If you’re not familiar with a short sale, here’s the deal; while the seller of the property may agree to the sale (she did), the seller’s bank must also agree. Because the property is being sold for less than what’s owed, the bank has to weigh their options – essentially aiming for not loosing too much money. The upside is that it’s cheaper for a bank to take a loss during a short sale than to deal with a foreclosure.

You’ll recall that in October of last year I made mention of joining Amtrak’s reward program in order to start accumulating points for future travel. I’m still using Amtrak for my commute and in less than a year I’ve earned more than half of the points needed for a cross-zone sleeper car. My goal is a sleeper to Salt Lake City, crossing the Rockies in the winter.

Still Amtrak remains, at least for me, the most efficient method for the commute. The night trains (both directions) mean that I’m sleeping and moving at the same time. When I arrive at Union Station its a quick walk to catch the L to where I stay. My CTA card refills automatically so I don’t have to think twice about pocket change. I’ve even set my CTA card to bill my Amtrak credit card, so I’m earning points for riding local transit in Chicago.

With the exception of one or two individuals, I see the same Amtrak crew with each trip. I like that. On my last trip back to Ohio I sat next to a geologist from California. I would have enjoyed talking throughout the night, but I had to go right into work the next morning and sleeping was necessary.

The trains have been quite full this summer. So much so that certain trains are sold out in advance – requiring a slight change in plans. But that’s good news for Amtrak. I’m always delighted to see my 13-car train back to Ohio sold out – at least for the sake of Amtrak accountants.

Each trip has been planned for both work and pleasure. The work being getting ready for the move. Planning for the new furniture, choosing paint colors and deciding upon which carpet to have installed. Working with the vendors and doormen of the building to coordinate the when, how’s and who to notify.

The pleasure is always just as rewarding. Since the January Tweet-up I’ve been introduced to friends of friends of friends, allowing for each trip to lend itself to something new. A great massage. A buddy’s birthday party. Checking in on a friend who had knee surgery. Running into folks on the L, or at the butcher shop.

Maybe it’s just “pedestrian life” – seven months behind us in the year already and one’s bound to see familiar faces on the street.

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