Chicago after the attacks
September 19, 2001
was the creepiest day to be in Chicago since the day of the World Trade
Center attacks. As a blanket of mist rested against Chicagoans’ faces as
they walked to work, the foggy sky descended onto the city’s sturdy skyline.
All last week we wondered what it would be like without the Sears in the
sky; today we found out, as much of the upper half of the massive office
tower was shrouded in fog, disappeared behind thick terrestrial clouds.
The Aon Tower, the white tube building meant in structure and appearance
to emulate a World Trade Center tower, was similarly lopped off halfway
up, as the clouds collided with it.
What has it been like to
be in Chicago during and after the attacks on New York and Washington?
The day itself, I couldn’t say; I was in Oak Park, a nearby suburb, and
stayed the hell out of the Loop until that night. Then I rode on the El
back into a city strangely quiet and black. The skyscrapers had dimmed
or darkened most of their lights. A few cops, bums, and students wandered
down the otherwise empty streets. I couldn’t find a place with a
TV on to watch the president’s address; by the time I found one somber
pub, the president’s brief remarks were over.
Since then, the sense has
been not of a city scared to realize it could be next, though maybe we
should be. Of course, the global weight of the landmarks the terrorists
chose, international monuments of commerce and the military, almost creates
some distance between them and us; Chicago’s an international city, to
be sure, but always takes a back seat to New York in dominance, and often
to D.C. in prominence. So while we’d be next on the list, I guess
we’re assuming (perhaps rashly) that we’re still a long way down.
The only delectable target terrorists would want here, besides remote O’Hare,
if you can so grimly speculate, is the Sears, and it would seem that with
less of an element of surprise, and under heightened security, the encore
would be resistable.
This, of course, assumes
there is a brand of reason to these creatures, which is sketchy.
So Chicago, for better and
worse, is not running scared. Instead, it is surging with on-your-sleeve
patriotism. The Hancock Tower, typically necklaced with a luminescent
band of lights along the roof under its needles, has lit the band red,
white, and blue. Also lit in patriotic colors is the terraced top
of the Bank One Building, and even the floodlight-drenched crown of 311
South Wacker, just south of the Sears. Tonight I saw the office lights
on the south face of the Blue Cross Blue Shield building coordinated to
arrange the letters “USA.”
Flags? Everywhere. In most
of the store windows around and through the Loop, often along with a sign:
“God Bless America.” The Sun-Times, which included a pull-out flag with
one of its editions, affixed one pullout to every one of its windows on
its building along the river. Four flags at right angles to each
other on every lamppost on State Street. Businessmen with flags pinned
to their suits.
It’s a mix of sheer patriotism
with a sort of exuberant relief the city was spared, I suppose. With New
York wounded, Chicago seems to take it upon itself to show off the gleam
of freedom and prosperity.
Not all moments are
as clear to me. I couldn’t believe my ears when we sang the fourth verse
of “O Beautiful For Spacious Skies” at Fourth Presbyterian Church this
Sunday. (The preacher did balance such odd handholding of faith and
patriotism by blasting Jerry Falwell for claiming the terrorist attacks
were God’s punishment for our moral decline.)
More oddities: A car of drunks
zooming around the Rush St. nightlife district last Saturday, hooting and
hollering, stammering over a chant of “USA! USA!” A huge flag draped over
the roof. I didn’t take it for granted that they didn’t wipe the
bear foam from their chins with Old Glory.
So yes, America’s “way of
life,” its finest points and its embarrassments, all seem to have survived.
And not since the 1893 World’s Fair, perhaps, has Chicago been so proud
to display itself to the world.
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