Type Slowly

By Whet Moser

“Loving Chicago is like loving a woman with a broken nose”—Nelson Algren

I finally completed the process of moving on up. These days I work on the 29th floor of an architecturally significant office building in downtown Chicago amongst wealthy lawyers who openly discuss unimaginable sums of money, out loud, with their doors open to the world, either showing off or demonstrating how unimportant said sums are. Both, I guess.

Actually what I’m doing there is copy editing. But that’s fine—I still get the view and the free drinks. Did you know that, if you’re broke, you can turn two or three V8s into lunch?

The view affords me some benefits. The 29th floor of a building is fantastic if you’re a fan of inclement weather; watching the snow reveal wind patterns between skyscrapers is something quite beautiful. I can see where working on floor 29 is more than just a fuck-you. It can be breathtaking. Granted, most of the lawyers have their desks inexplicably oriented towards the hallway (here’s the thing about architecturally significant office buildings: the insides look exactly like suburban office-park insta-office buildings), because they’re, you know, busy. Keep that in mind: Being well compensated for your time can involve substantial amounts of unpleasant work. Me? I don’t have an office so they stick me in the conference room with two walls of glass, which is five times better than an actual office.

Anyway, after I finish up there, I get on the #6 and take that back to Hyde Park. And the #6 never fails to impress me more than the view from the 29th floor. The view from 29 is static, a civic ant farm that, without sufficient care, has to build a certain degree of arrogance. It bears the same relationship to Chicago that Ansel Adams bears to Yosemite, which is fine if you want the long view.

The #6 will always be more interesting, in the way that looking up will always be more interesting than looking down, in the way that movies are more interesting than paintings (sorry). The textural details of Chicago are vital: the hand-painted signs on the mission across the street from the South Loop Club (the last restroom before 47th & Columbus), the cartoonishly warped iron garnishes on the Harold Washington Library, the uncomfortably mated concrete and glass on the new Soldier Field, the new Gehry bandshell squatting mischievously in front of the stark Amoco Building (Gehry initially proposed something less electric, but the city wanted that bendy metal shit). The voyeuristically open windows in the high-rises along Lake Shore Drive.

The best thing that can happen to you in your time at this University is being in the city. As nice as it is that the University provides food and entertainment and big parties—that’s what Universities do—everything you could potentially want to do with a University education spreads out radially from the U of C.  There is nothing you can study here that you cannot turn around and invest in something within 30 miles of your doorstep.

Certain things prohibit this sort of adventure. Schoolwork? Can’t help you there. Being broke? Depends on how broke. If you have the cash for bus fare, I guarantee that if you’re willing to invest some time in preparation, you can do unimaginable amounts of stuff in this city for free. How? Telling would take the fun out of it. Hint: what are you reading?

Or you can just walk around. You’ll get as much from a couple hours of reading about Mies Van Der Rohe (secretly horrible) and Henry Louis Sullivan (mindblowing) followed by a stroll down Michigan Avenue as you would from anything at the CSO or the Empty Bottle. Viewed correctly, the Mag Mile isn’t just where the Virgin Megastore is, although that’s there too. It’s an enormously fascinating place, all the more so for its folly. If you can’t buy a CD there, just walk around for 45 minutes, and you’ll learn as much if you’re looking at the right stuff. There are ways of being on the 29th floor without being there.

If anything throws me about the Red Line Shuttle, it’s this: don’t hurry so damn much. No, really: there is nothing happening at 2 a.m. that is any more valuable than standing on 55th as the Dan Ryan throbs beneath you, and if it’s cold, that’s even better, watching the moon over Chicago with a heart full of joy like some monster reincarnation of R.W. Emerson, just irritated enough to be legitimate and just unconcerned enough to be totally confident.