The city breathes at night.
After a locked-in day of heat and sun, we want to get out once the light goes away and we’re left with a wind whose only virtue is not being as hot as it was earlier.
Under dark skies, we go to bars or eat on patios. Dogs must be walked and long hair must be tousled as women and men stalk the sidewalks for ice cream, frogurt or just to get out and breathe.
Breathe. Breathe in. One of the children next door to me was shrieking, crying loudly invisible on the other side of the fence. An overtired child, wired from the energy she couldn’t burn off while locked in by the sun but up past her bedtime, overwrought and overturned by everything.
I felt the same. Under dark skies, with flashy lights a’go and wicking jersey too embarrassing for day, I got on my bike.
Down the Milwaukee bike route, over the razor-blade screams of cars on the highway below, following other bike’s twinkle-twinkle red lights flashing from seat or backpack or occasional helmet, I saw others out to breathe. On bikes, in cars, through the bars I had pedaled by earlier on the way from an interview for this site. I headed down the path, then turned up a hill to shriek south. Why? Couldn’t tell you.
By a stoplight in Greektown, a young woman, practically a child, in a dress that disturbed me with how low cut it was spoke to me in a European accent of some sort.
“Sorry. To get to the Michigan Avenue, which way?”
I pointed her in the direction she already had been going and warned her it would be a long walk.
I heard gulls by Polk and Jefferson, saw a man standing by a lone SUV counting out bills from a thick folded wad a few blocks east. A beggar woman pushing a cart had an eye patch. The short drive to the Post Office building had no outlet.
On the other side of the Michigan Avenue, a Russian folk band played because this is Chicago and, hell, stuff like this happens a lot.
Of the swarm vaguely jumping to the beat, only one woman knew what she was doing. Under a streetlight glow, she danced and spun in a pink top and flowing white skirt. As she moved alone, she flicked and swirled the skirt with the precision fire of a matador’s cape.
Then the park and a double-decker tour bus on Columbus, the open top filled with others who wanted to breathe in the night. A street to cross. A lady not to hit. Then the lit-red, lit-blue Buckingham Fountain swarmed by children twirling glowing, flashing swords bought from a man selling them from a glowing, flashing bike cart.
And then the lake. Glowing black water punctuated by the lights of distant booze cruise tour boats. A choked purple night, the closest our neon-stained sky can come to sustaining darkness.
The city breathes at night and I wanted to be part of its choking breath, its smokers cough.
I wanted to get out among the diseased pigeons and diseased people picking at the street’s garbage. I wanted to get out among the twinkle-twinkle bike lights and shrieking highway headlights, among the lost foreigners and the flicking, swirling dancer with the matador’s anger. I wanted to feel the city’s breath, become it.
In a skin-tight jersey too embarrassing for day and a helmet clipped with flashing lights, I wanted to breathe.