This Place –


Welcome to the freeze. The New Year welcomes a bone-cracking bite of cold air, given sharp teeth by the Hawk. There is an upside: the holiday interim became a state of staying home, comfort food, a good book, and the perfect soundtrack. From the Pacific Northwest to Maine, we are encouraged to take a deep breath and relax our shoulders, at least for a moment.

To our struggling countrymen and women in the Caribbean, the West and South, and the Gulf Coast, we are here for you. Chicago is at a nexus of the aid and information pipeline. I proudly mention Chicago native, Representative Luis Gutierrez. After decades in government, he retired to answer a call from “my mother, Puerto Rico.” His advocacy will make a difference in the months to come.

Let’s walk.

My “resolute’ New Year started early, in balmy thirty-degree weather. On the Thursday leading to Christmas, it became necessary for me to step out into humanity and see if I still fit. It was time for a field trip downtown, the heart of the beast. Moving cleanly through the human biomass is a skill city-people learn early, and with it comes an appreciation of the physical and social enormity surrounding us. A big place, indeed.

The Blue Line train is always a rich cultural stew. The closer one gets to the city’s center, the more human diversity is added to the pot; a polyglot of languages that share some secret laugh or hushed conversation. There is a benign pathos around Christmas panhandlers. “Four quarters, four quarters!” calls out a young man. “Gotta get home!” All of this with a din of white-noise in the air. Steel wheels on steel rails, in an underground concrete tube, going fast, punctuated by an occasional un-oiled squeal on a turn. There is a low rumble coming up through the hips, massaging your kidneys. It’s an experience of interesting extremes.

The Monroe Avenue exit is a crowded flight of concrete stairs. The sound of the street starts to fade-in about a dozen steps from the surface. A mix of pedestrians, taxis, delivery vehicles, and private autos, big city noise… I grin. East on Adams toward the lake, The Bergoff Restaurant dominates street and the smell of corned beef is overwhelming. My stomach speaks low.

Ahead is my destination, The Art Institute. If you haven’t been here in a while, return. If you visit this fair city, go. It’s breathtaking. Bring your children, your grandchildren, your friends, and it will still be the best day spent by yourself. Lautrec, his vision of the Moulin Rouge smells of cigars and cognac. Wander to a still life by Latour, marble sculpture by Houdon, more Pisarro. It’s a big warm hug for the visual cortex.

Outside, Michigan Avenue is in perfect perspective, decked by holiday lights. I know this place. Studs Terkel walked here. So did Mike Royko and Irma Bombeck. Kupcinet and Mabley dined in this neighborhood. Chicago has always been a place that elevates the written word. Not just the words, but the art of language and the reflection of diverse experiences. What would Royko say about the current social landscape? Can Studs return to us and bring a new narrative from the streets? They wrote because they had to. The times demanded it.

Our republic faces an important year.

Let’s join with enclaves across the country and see a return of civility and civic responsibility, beginning now. Now, in this time, take action for reason. We can move forward as a people through thoughtful, sober debate from every voice.

Start now. Speak out. Demand results. Write, march for justice, disrupt, resist… Mandate a cogent way of life, not the insanity of self-destruction. If our actions reflect that one purpose, all will be well. Continue to celebrate the gift of language by reading and communicating new ideas. The outcomes are always good.

Chicago is one part of many gatherings across the country, large and small, for a year of consequence. Let’s be there.

  • J. Tortorici