August 27, 2008

city upon the lake

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 5:06 pm by marinagrey

What is it about water that draws us?  Certainly we as humans (and in the greater scheme- living things) need water to survive.  But its more than that-  all my life I have lived near a great body of water, and being near or on or in it refreshes me, enthralls me, excites me.

I was born and grew up in Niagara Falls, NY. My mother is from the harbor city of Baltimore.  We vacationed at Ocean City, MD, Martha’s Vineyard, and Lake Chautauqua in NY state.  I rowed on a crew team. I lived in Cleveland, on Lake Erie, and now I am in Chicago, with Lake Michigan and the Chicago River. So I know what water can do to a town and its people- it is powerful, mesmorizing, and sometimes contains an unimaginable force.

Frederic Edwin Churchs Niagara, courtesy of UIC

Frederic Edwin Church's Niagara, courtesy of UIC

 I went running this morning along Lake Michigan, along a couple of the 29 miles of lakeshore that the City of Chicago has been blessed to have and must be commended for making use of.  The sun was just rising over the waves, and the breeze caused the water to occasionally spray up over the breakwall.  As I ran, a sense of calm came over me.  I looked up ahead and to my left- people were biking, running, walking, all out enjoying the beauty of the lake and the fresh morning sun.

I was struck by the diversity of folks I saw this morning- young, old, pushing baby carriages and tugging on dog leashes.  They were with friends, on cell phones, listening to iPods and meditating silently.  There were some people in designer sneakers and athletic gear and some homeless just enjoying a seat on a bench and the beautiful view.  Granted at 7:30 am I was seeing a lot of retired people, stay-at-home-moms, and students– not too many business people or second-shifters were able to make it.  But I was so enveloped by a feeling of community.  I felt I was truly a part of this city where I have lived only briefly.  For one hour, no one knew that I am a recent transplant.  I owned Chicago as much as any native.

Perhaps this is what I most cherish about water- it brings us together and strips away our differences.  It is a great equalizer.  It washes us clean of any prestige and brings us to the realization that we are all together, in awe of this lake and this city.

Its not just Chicago, but I must give credit to the city for its bold plan.  Waterfront property (and having lived on the Niagara River for most of my life, I can attest to this) is fantastic to own.  However, it is even better to share amongst the population.  And Chicago has done just that.  The city has opened the beaches and Lakefront Trail and parks to everyone.  It has created greenspace along the city rivers, so that buildings are not built along the water- instead there are paths and parks and everyone is welcome to take ownership of the water, to keep it clean, to cherish it because it is ours.

It got me to thinking about Buffalo and Niagara Falls, NY.  We, too, are on bodies of water- Buffalo on Lake Erie and Niagara Falls directly at the point where the strait between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, the Niagara River, tumbles over a cliff and roils down into the Niagara Gorge.

Sure, people own some of the waterfront in these cities, and there are some views and paths, but much of the waterfront is cluttered by extinct industrial vestiges.  There are abandoned warehouses, crumbling grain elevators, and menacing electrical plants where there could be paths, beaches, and people.  Industry has left us robbed of jobs, income, and the enjoyment of a natural resource that, by all rights, belongs to the people.

I hope that Buffalo-Niagara cleans up its waterfront, does away with the industrial water treatment plants and litter, and opens the waterfront to its citizens.  By creating a bond between people and water, the government could create an emotional bond to the region, attract more tourism, and draw business.

We could focus on our contributions to the environment as well- Buffalo businesspeople and politicians are touting Buffalo as a potential green energy market- let’s make our city green, embrace nature and the Lake that gives us beautiful, clear summer days and incredibly snowy winters.

The water is ours to appreciate and use.  It is perhaps our greatest strength. The Erie Canal created the wealthy Buffalo that few remember, and the lake is our key to plugging into that memory and making it a modern reality.

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August 11, 2008

adventures in chicagoland: bus 151

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 3:45 pm by marinagrey

I’m a simple girl.

I don’t ask for much.

I just wanted to meet my Fabulous Roommate downtown. Is that so difficult?

“It’s easy”, FR said. “Just hop on bus 151 heading south to Michigan Ave. Get off at Pearson or Delaware.” Easy. It was supposed to take 15 minutes, but I was new to this “bus” experience, so I got to the bus stop 10 minutes early. Here is a Chicago bus stop:

a Chicago bus

a Chicago bus stop

So, I waited for the 151. The schedule said it would come every 5-12 minutes, so I didn’t freak out after 10.

or 15.

or 25… (I should have given up at this point- it would have saved much trouble.)

After 30 minutes, a really pretty young blonde girl in a cute bikini walked with her friend past the bus stop. She was “like, totally flipping out”. And then I heard what she was saying: “What the F$%#! I F$#%ing HATE those (insert horrible racial epithet here)!!”

Now, I was standing with about 4 other people. 1 was a young professional white guy. 1 was a middle-aged black woman. and 2 were a young British couple. When we all figured out what angry blonde chick was yelling, we all turned red, stared in anger and awe at her, and debated our possible reactions. I was pretty much set on pushing her in front of the bus, but alas, NO BUS WAS ANYWHERE NEAR US.

Blonde racist girl (BRG) and her friend walked away, and the black woman standing at the stop climbed into a cab, wiping tears from her eyes. I was about ready to apologize for this girls actions when the cab sped away. Now I am 35 minutes behind schedule, flustered, anxious, and embarrassed on behalf of the BRG and her ignorance. As I debated heading home in miserable defeat, the bus came into view. It looked pretty much like this:

A Chicago Bus

A Chicago Bus

except it had an advertisement for Dirty Dancing (the Musical) on it which read, in huge pink letters,

NOBODY PUTS BABY IN A CORNER

which I found really amusing. The bus was packed full of people, but the remaining 4 of us crammed on. This put me directly into contact with about 55 of Chicago’s finest citizens, all of them tired, cranky, and warm.

As the bus continued on its path, more people crammed on and NO ONE got off the bus. We reached an old folks’ home where at least 5 senior citizens hurled their tiny fragile and brittle bodies into the bus, bitching about how there were no seats for them and asking why the bus was so late. Their fearless leader looked exactly like this:

leader of the angry senior citizens

leader of the angry senior citizens

The bus driver, who had up until this point been very calm and reassuring, must have had the patience of a SAINT. She responded, “Ma’am, the bus in front of us broke down, so we took on all of their riders. That is why we are late and why there are no seats”. Angry Old Lady continued her bitching, but lowered her voice. The ride from hell continued on.

At the next stop, the doors barely opened because there were so many of us on there. One woman shoved herself on, even though the bus driver pleaded with her not to board. We’ll call this woman Bitchy Brenda (B. B.) for ease of narration. B.B. and Angry Old Lady were now face-to-face, and Angry Old Lady lost no time in yelling at B.B. for boarding. “Can’t you see the bus is full?! Why did you have to get on! We’re full and we’re late!” B. B. snarled, and I prepared for the throw-down of the century. I was amazed I could see them, but the elderly gentleman standing in front of me (literally on my feet) was all of 4ft. 9, so I could peer over his white hair at the multi-generational catfight brewing near the door.

At the next stop (I had only 3 more to go at this point) a bunch of people got off the bus, so there was just enough room to let on a very nice British family (Mum, Dad, Teenage Daughter and Middle-School Son). They stood at the front of the bus being cute and British. B.B. resumed her position at the door. As the driver closed the doors, B.B. let out a stream of curse words that rivaled the outburst I’d heard earlier in the day from Blonde Racist Girl. “My foot! Oh my god you’ve got my foot! The door! Open the #$%#$% door!”

The door opened. I looked at her foot- it was a little red. The bus driver apologized and asked if B.B. needed medical attention. “No, I’m fine- let me off this bus!” B.B. snarled (she was good at snarling). So the doors opened and B.B. stomped off the bus. A second later I saw her sprinting (this is with a lame foot, remember) up to the penultimate (look it up) bus stop on my route.

At this point the day devolved into a farce, so I will continue writing it in a farcical manner in the great traditions of Shakespeare and Tom Stoppard:

Bus Door Opens Again

B.B.: (to bus driver) I don’t want to file a report. I just need your name, your bus number, and your Driver Number.

Bus Driver: Alright, everyone! I need everyone to get off the bus! We have to file a report, and its going to take 25 minutes! Please, depart this bus!

B.B.: Well, you shouldn’t need to get everyone off…its just that my foot is mangled…

EVERYONE ELSE: <grumble grumble> hate that B.B. lady!

You’d be amazed how slowly 900 tired, hot, angry people climb off a bus.

So, one stop from my FR, I got off the bus. I started walking toward her work, when I noticed the adorable Brits were now befuddled. This being my second week in Chicago,and having used the bus transit system exactly one time, I deemed myself ready to help them out. After about a quarter mile of talking and walking with them, I had helped them find a restaurant, reassured them that not all Americans were angry and bitter, and gotten them a map to Union Station.

As I FINALLY crossed the street to meet my FR, I spotted Angry Old Lady yelling at her friend to hurry up and get on the bus home- it was packed.

May the Lord have mercy on those bus passengers’ souls.