the el

Winter morning

Winter morning (Chicago), © 2014 Celia Her City. One of my favorite moments commuting on the Brown Line comes when the train snakes along above North Avenue, briefly offering a broad view of Chicago’s skyline.  This is how it looked on this winter morning.

Comfort zones

I woke up to realize that my cell phone was missing.  It had slipped out of my pocket during my commute.  Miraculously, it turned up in the lost-and-found of a bus terminal at Jackson and Kedzie.  My husband agreed to go out there with me to pick it up.

Westbound from Congress, © 2013 Celia Her City

We drove out the Eisenhower to a very poor part of Chicago’s west side. This is a decrepit neighborhood, with people drifting across the streets, sitting around in front of their homes in the middle of the day doing nothing, or approaching passing cars asking for money.  Their state is a reproof to love and liberality.

I didn’t take any photographs, being preoccupied with directing my husband to the right place, and because taking pictures of the neighborhood from the safety of my car would have been touristy.

The weather was heavy.

At the enormous bus terminal, which we found without difficulty, normalcy reigned.  I retrieved my phone gratefully, eager to leave a place I didn’t belong.

Clouds gathering over Chicago, © 2013 Celia Her City

The familiarity of the skyline was comforting.  Heading to Ina’s for lunch, no sooner had we gotten on the Eisenhower than we got off.

Green green-line station, © 2013 Celia Her City

Rain began falling, the heavens opening as we drove up Ashland.  Stopped at a red, I took a picture of an unusual el station.  I liked the color, and it interested me as a style and intellectually.  It seemed almost Swiss, certainly ethnic in some way, a throwback to an earlier time.  What was its story?

Under the el, © 2013 Celia Her City

Under the el, the wipers worked hard, rain spattering loudly.  Trains rumbled on top of that, super-blasts of noise.

Downspout, © 2013 Celia Her city

When we reached the restaurant, it was raining too hard to get out of the car.  We sat there watching a downspout, raindrops falling on puddles, until the cloudburst dwindled.

I wanted to take photographs inside the restaurant but didn’t. Using a camera or cell phone at the table is pretty rude.

Forces natural and man-made, © 2013 Celia Her City

Photographs carved from comfort zones are my specialty.

Tanks and towers

Chicago stop, © 2013 Celia Her City

The John Hancock and a Chicago water tank, © 2013 Celia Her City


Now dwindling in number, water tanks used to dot the skyline of the city.  These amazing rooftop cisterns came into use in the late-nineteenth century, when on-site water storage was recognized as a necessary fire-fighting measure.

Water tanks continue to be built in New York City for the ordinary purpose of maintaining the water pressure inside tall buildings with the aid of gravity.  In Chicago, however, water tanks are viewed as an anachronism.  It’s likely that these visually charming relics will disappear over time.  For now, I relish the contrast between our sleek but bland skyscrapers and these sturdy rooftop monuments.

An old el station

The old el platform (Chicago), © 2013 Celia Her City

In the Loop, there are several “L” stations that haven’t been thoroughly modernized: the station at La Salle and Van Buren is one; this one at Randolph and Wabash is another.

The steel bones of the stations are the same as when they were built around 1900.  The old wooden benches and the shape of the shed roofs are much the same, too.  Some of the stations have old wooden swinging doors, their edges rounded under the paint by impatient hands pushing them for a century, chipped by the brush of parasols and satchels, wheelie bags and bikes.

I like these stations, with their peeling paint, the patina of age.  The push is on to make Chicago more like other places, to get rid of its peculiarities, its antiquities; but what is a city but a peculiar mix of old and new things?  It would be dreadful if everything worn or simply old were to be extirpated.  Like a woman who has visited her plastic surgeon too many times. . . .

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