#101: The Fallen

December 19th, 2012

The sirens sped up to the Thompson Center as a suit-wearing type on the sidewalk next to me swore about the traffic that would cause.

I thought the sirens were for the spectacle unfolding in the State of Illinois building outdoor plaza, where under bright lights several men recited names to rows of chairs piebald with a few scattered seat-fillers here and there.

Names. Just name after name. No context, no clue other than the men reading had that uniform-wearing, buzz-cutted look that signals military or law enforcement. I thought it might be a reading of fallen Chicago PD, but a cop wandering nearby looked as confused as I was.

OK, he was actually hitting on a woman who asked him what was going on. But he didn’t know.

None of us knew. Beyond the seats and past that godawful white statue thing that looks like someone traced the edges of a chalky coprolite with a black, felt-tipped marker, a smattering of us stood looking on in confusion.

Except for the firefighters and EMTs who hopped out of the siren-lit truck and the CFD ambulance with a stretcher.

Around the readers and looky-loos, Chicago business folk rushed home. They pulled coats tighter and walked at that 5:01 p.m. brisk pace to parking garages and Metra stations and other places that would take them the hell outta the Loop and, let’s be frank, the hell outta Chicago.

And the readers kept naming names.

By the end of the day, they would have named about 6,640 names, a woman standing by a folding table covered with informational material would tell me. The names of every soldier killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. They started reading at 9:11 in the morning.

The crowd wasn’t small. It had just thinned over the past eight hours.

“It’s not the City of Chicago, just a couple of average Chicagoans,” an earnest man who looked like he had been on the verge of tears for hours said.

As I stood in the cold and listened to the names, the firemen and EMTs came back out of the Thompson Center, stretcher now filled with a scared-looking older woman breathing from an oxygen mask. They pushed the stretcher into the CFD ambulance and hopped inside.

I guess there’s a point here, but I just can’t think of anything but the cross-purposes. Some wanted to honor the dead. Some wanted to save the living.

Some just wanted to get the hell home and bitched that the sirens for the fallen were going to cause traffic.

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