Van Buren

The el  stairs

The el stairs

Many thousand people clamber daily up and down el stairs like these; how many thousand, Celia couldn’t begin to say.  The stairs’ steel treads are noisy and unforgiving, sanded in winter to keep patrons from falling.  Much life is lived in the shadow of the el, or right next to it, unflappably.  Even scholars read right next to it, in this library.

‘I should not be’

The octophant, © 2013 Celia Her City

You think you know Grant Park, and then. . . .

I was leaving the park the other day when I noticed this amazing sign, positioned atop the Art Nouveau-style entrance to the Metra train station at Van Buren.  Has it been there forever?  Perhaps my readers can say. . . .

The Octophant, proclaimed here as “real and alive,” was ostensibly an “exhibition of the impossible” at the Century of Progress, a World’s Fair held in Chicago in 1933.

The sad melange of the animal form, coupled with the 3-D exuberance of the sign, produced a powerful effect on me.  I felt as though to descend into the Metra would be a venture into the surreal, a venture best undertaken by those far more stalwart and steady than I.

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Convergence (Credit: Celia Her City)

Is there an end to which all things converge?

Celia rushes to the office, rushes to write, to create what’s needed.  With masses of others, she strives to improve.  The traffic surges forward through the slippery dim city streets.  Look up and see buildings—and trains!— towering.  Cars speed forward, trying to get ahead, cutting one another off, trying to reach there before dark.  While we are stopped, we enjoy the ribbons of color.

Altered perspective

Altered perspective (Credit: Celia Her City)

People are fascinated by the el, specifically by the experience of being under the el in the middle of the city.  I admit to sharing this fascination, though I also like to imagine how much more beautiful downtown would be without the elevated—if, like all the other train lines, it were buried underground in this part of the city.

Be that as it may, the rusty old Loop isn’t going anywhere soon.  So all of us chroniclers of Chicago can carry on with one of our favorite projects: trying to capture what it’s like being under the el.  Go to any summer art fair and you’ll find entire booths filled with views of this kind.  The el is fun and grabs us, let’s face it.

Here I messed with the perspective in Photoshop to heighten the sense of enclosure that occurs when you drive under the el.



This wall is one element in a cluttered Van Buren Street scene.  A lovely and eloquent one, though, I think.  I like the periodic engagement between people and building suggested in the colors of the bricks and mortar.  I hope the people who have the windows are the ones in control.