The town runs blotchy gray if you look at it fast. Along the
expressways it blurs into neon and weary factories, a heavy-boned,
hard-breathing place, all sinew, with muscles even in its head.
No one ever will mistake it for San Francisco or Savannah. A spacious
town, to be sure; but gracious rarely. There has been no time
One day, perhaps, the whole sweating place heaved out of the
earth and socked in it for good. Over the years it swelled like
mad, but something happened and hunks of it barley hang on. Weedy
lots, wrinkled buildings, acres of billboards, miles of train
tracks - the town is no Miss America, although maybe it's Mister
America, still pumping iron even after losing the title. A town
as tough as they come and as tough as they go, too.
There's a river but it's no Seine: a working-stiff stream, green
where it should be blue, flowing backwards and emptying on St.
Louis. On the land, a million-legged iron treadmill screeches
over the streets and circles back on itself, groaning by night.
It's the Elevated, nearly a century old in some of it's pinned
and bolted bones and a reminder that the town has years on it
now but that it keeps going and that it still connects.
The town, of course, is Chicago. Along the money-green lakefront it's
one city and back of the skyline it's another. It has had a long run as
a city of neighborhoods, although some of them are lost now, vanished
in the memory gap that divides the have and have-nots. Anyone willing
to explore, though, will find surprises: surviving neighborhoods, reviving
neighborhoods, and even abiding ones. The town is no lost city although
it surely has strayed and has sacrificed living pieces of itself.