Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Thought of the day: Finding the ordinary-ness in the extraordinary. One of the functions of beginning my career in Chicago is to take the city off the pedestal in occupied in my mind. In my constant weekend trips down here throughout college, and even during my semester down here last fall, I revered Chicago as a celestial city, an image the city's majestic skyscrapers and ethereal relationship with Lake Michigan may invoke in the newcomer. But now I live here, and am starting to get used to the ordinary-ness of it. It doesn't cease to be a fascinating place, nor my favorite city on earth, but Chicago is composed of ordinary people, going about ordinary business on streets and sidewalks, businesses and parks like anywhere else. At first I, my mind wrapped around postcards, found that surprising.

I thought of that this morning while walking down the Magnificent Mile to work on a cool summer morning--a dream I never wanted to wake up from. While this glamorous stretch of Michigan Avenue is enjoyable, I (and most Chicago purists) bemoan how it is an artificial tourist construct--a pseudo-world tourists visit and then tell themselves they've been to Chicago. The city's true riches, seldom explored, are its historical neighborhoods South and West, in Oak Park, in unmarked lots (such as the one where the famous Haymarket Riots took place), and these are anything but touristy. And yet. Walking down Rush and then Michigan today I saw the most normal sights you can see--a doorman at a hotel, perhaps a student spending his summer lugging bags for the snooty; a worker hosing down the sidewalks of a streetside cafe, the security guards and cleaning ladies in the cathedral-like Tribune Tower where I, in awe, work. Ordinary people with ordinary stories, sadnesses, and delights, and ordinary energies as they carried them out (although city life does add a bit of a spark to people's step), despite their seemingly magical surroundings. But when I say "ordinary" I don't mean to drain the drama from these people's lives; as I writer, I'm convinced that each person is a book waiting to be written.

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