Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Valentine Remembered

On this Valentines Day, I can’t help thinking about how I spent last year’s romantic day. I did not spend it tangled in sheets or in the arms of a lover, but instead trapped in a blizzard on the outskirts of Lake Michigan. As I huddled underneath a plastic bus shelter with an Australian couple and two Texans, I began questioning why I had made the pilgrimage to Chicago in the dismal month of February.

Having wanderlust and a tight budget can prove difficult to someone who wants to see the world, but it hasn’t stopped me yet. I found an incredible deal for 6 days hotel and airfare to The Windy City; the only problem was it was the dead of winter. I dismissed this worrisome detail and booked my Mag Mile hotel room.

I arrived a few days before the storm hit. I spent some of these days walking Michigan Avenue among the new shiny steel and glass facades of Armani and Gucci, and then admiring the wonderfully out of place Old Water Tower; one of the only original buildings that survived the Chicago fire that now stands like a larger than life sand castle. In my mind, its whimsy beckons some to come inside for tea with the queen, and others to kick it down prior to running off for one last splash in the ocean before lunch.

Another night I made my way through several inches of freshly fallen snow to the Navy Pier. The pier was closed but still illuminated, so I walked around the main building and made my way to the famous Ferris wheel. I basked in the electric glow, and wandered around the various rides and statues with my footprints as the only marks in the virgin snow. Walking around this carnival ghost town was like a dream that felt both exciting and forbidden. It was easy to imagine that I was the last person on Earth and the world was my playground.

On Valentines Day, warnings of the coming storm were present so I decided to make my way to Museum Campus to enjoy a day of indoor exploring. I met Sue, the worlds largest and most complete T-Rex and missed King Tut at the Field Museum, watched a man swim with the fishes at the Shedd Aquarium, and finally observed “The Wonder of Water” that was the frozen Lake Michigan at the Adler Planetarium. At this point the weather took a turn for the worse and left me stranded outside of the Planetarium, huddled together with strangers for warmth. Even though the winds were epic and I could no longer feel my face, I could tell I was smiling.

Ever since I was a child, Chicago held some sort of magic for me. Maybe it was the Mother Goose-ish story of how Mrs. O’Leary’s cow set the city ablaze, or maybe it was the idea that out of those ashes arose a new, stronger, more beautiful city. Chicago was a phoenix. It had been burnt down, leaving a playground for daydreamers like Frank Lloyd Wright and Frank Gehry to construct their visions. Chicago is an imagination brought to life.

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