One of my favorite perches is on a big, luxurious windowseat in a room at the Hotel Monaco in Chicago. Saturday morning I was restless. I checked out some AirBnBs in Northern Michigan. It sounded nice to run around in the snow a little but it just felt a little lonely to be alone in yet another house in a rural area. I considered another trip to Grand Rapids, but I’d done that already. My mind just kept wandering back to a window seat at the Monaco, but Chicago seemed too big and busy for this particular time.
After checking their rather reasonable rates several times, booking them and canceling them, I considered going for one night. If it felt unsafe or wasn’t very comfortable, I’d just spend one night and come back Sunday. After all, I just wanted to hang out in the room, maybe take a walk on the Riverwalk and eat at some different restaurants than the ones I’ve been eating at for a year. That felt reasonable to me, so I checked out on the IHG app to reserve my room and parking.
I set my GPS for D’amato’s Bakery as I was hankering for an Eggplant Parmesan sandwich. But when I arrived, there was so much snow piled up that it was impossible to find street parking. I gave up and drove to the hotel where I had to unload my own luggage (no bellmen) and checked in to my lovely room with a windowseat overlooking the Chicago River on the 9th Floor. There was no hot chocolate bar in the afternoon, and there was nobody hanging around the lobby by the fireplace. I didn’t even recognize any of the folks at the front desk. It was all very different, but I was so happy it was different than my living room.
I grabbed some soup at the bar across the street and took Ashok on a long walk on the Lakeshore and then back by the Riverwalk. The snow was beautiful. Ice fisherman sat on the ice in the harbor, and runners braved the 20-degree temps to run. I longed for the breathlessness of a long, cold run, but Ashok is too old and I’m not in running shape. Big chunks of frozen ice “pancakes” floated in the river providing a lovely white foreground for Chicago’s riverfront architecture. After the week’s cold temps, it almost felt warm. The sun kept teasing us with light and warmer temperatures, but I preferred the wintry sunless landscape. It looked like Chicago.
Over the last 24 hours I’ve realized that many things about Chicago haven’t changed. Wonderful restaurants abound, and it’s easy to find a hot chocolate. The streets are still nasty in the slush and waterproof footwear is a must. But there are no lines anywhere. The streets are less crowded than I’ve ever seen them. I haven’t even had to wait for the walk light in most cases. There just isn’t any traffic. The restaurants are empty for the most part, and stores have limited inventory with very few patrons. Many storefronts are boarded up. Some boast signs that they’ll be closed until quarantine is over, but others must be gone forever. The city is wounded, but I can still feel its beating heart.
This morning I walked downstairs and I saw the first familiar face I’ve seen since I got here. We both screamed excitedly when we saw each other. She had been laid off for awhile but just came back. She gave Ashok a couple treats, and I sat by the fireplace talking to her just like the good old days. For a minute I forgot about Covid and all that’s it taken from us. On a whim I decided to stay another night and spend another day on my perch in the window.
I’m writing this while a young man with a backpack tries to navigate the snowpack and slush below me. Two fire trucks just flew by on Wacker Drive with their sirens flashing. A runner is passing through the Vietnam Memorial beside the semi-frozen river. The temperature is above 32 for the first time in weeks so the ice and slush are melting into messy puddles. Muted light from the street lamps provide a contrast to the snow. The trucks from a TV Crew filming outside are loading up their equipment. A pigeon lights on one tree and then another as gulls glide over the river. From this window, Chicago looks like the city I’ve always loved. I’m looking forward to seeing it in the spring as new life peaks through the snow.