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Twilight in the Windy City


My travels have taken me to the Midwest a couple times over the last few months, and on one of the trips last month I got a couple hours to monkey around with my camera in the late-afternoon and early-evening hours. A photo friend suggested a spot where I’d have a great vista of the sun setting behind the Chicago skyline.

View Chicago vantage point in a larger map

The “spot” was on the north side of Adler Planetarium, which is part of a civic complex that includes Soldier Field and the Shedd Aquarium on Northerly Island (which, I discovered, is neither northerly nor an island).

It looked like it was going to cost me at least $20 to park the rental car, and I’d have to wrestle my way through Chicago rush-hour traffic from the western suburbs to the lake front. The alternative was to take public transportation.

To a Californian, the idea that you can get somewhere without a car is a novelty. That pretty much decided it for me. It was going to take a train and two buses to get me from Point A to Point B. The time spent would be about 90 minutes in each direction, assuming I didn’t get completely disoriented (which is never a safe assumption). The cost, for train and bus fares, would probably get pretty close to the $20 they wanted for parking. But still, for adventure value alone, it struck me as being completely worth it.

The BNSF train on Metra's Aurora line a mere glimmer in the distance as it heads toward Naperville station.

So that’s how I came to be standing at the Naperville station, waiting for the BNSF Aurora line train to pull up and carry me into the heart of the city. It had been a warm day, and—as happens in places other than the one I call home—it was getting warmer. I’d guess the temperature somewhere in the mid-90s. While there was considerably more humidity in the air than I’m used to, it probably hadn’t cracked 90 per cent. To my skewed way of thinking, that made it okay somehow.

The train was air-conditioned, and over the course of the hour-long ride, I managed to stop perspiring. Before I knew it, the PA system blurted out something about Union Station.

I wandered in about three wrong directions before I found the street and figured out the code for the bus signs. It was only a few minutes before the right one came along. I told the driver I was a tourist—one of those cases of choosing not to remain silent and be thought a fool, but rather of speaking and removing all doubt—and got some extra attention in being alerted to get off at the right place and in position for the next bus. And then, in what in retrospect seems to be the blink of an eye, I was hopping off at the end of the line, Adler Planetarium.

It was at least 30 degrees cooler on the lake front, and as the wind kicked up, the temperature dropped even further. I’d half-expected a thundershower, so I had my windbreaker with me. Good thing, because it came in very handy as I captured what I could of Chicago at sunset.

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  • Amanda LaRosa July 14, 2011, 11:17 am

    Loved your treatment on Chicago! Having grown up in Evanston (which borders Chicago to the north) I can completely relate to your observations about the weather and mass transit. My mother was a 4th generation New Yorker and never had the need to learn to drive. My parents lived in NYC (sans auto) until I was four, at which time she and my father decided to go the ‘suburb’ route They picked Chicago as a place to raise a family in part because of the terrific transit system she would need to get to the Loop (downtown Chicago). After my father died when I was 10 – he DID drive, having been raised in Boston – we were blissfully car-less until I received my driver’s license and with it an ugly reality about auto insurance; When there is only one driver in the family and that driver is 17, the premiums are astronomical. So she got a license AFTER I got mine and the premium went down 30%. She took the car out a total of 5 times (always early mornings on a Saturday or Sunday) during which she collected two moving violations, one of which involved a minor fender bender (thankfully no injuries, very little property damage). At that point she permanently retreated back to the world of mass transportation from which she came, and Evanston was once again safe for pedestrian and motorist alike.

    I’ve been away from there for about 30 years and have all but forgotten what it’s like not to have a first-class transit system available or “need” a car (and the expense associated with it). And as long as I live in Southern California, I’ll never know that joy.