A thousand feet in the air, Frank Sinatra sings to tourists.
He sings to tourists in a room kept dark so there’s no reflection on the glass. They line the tourists along that glass, with barstools for their rears and a table for their drinks. The tourists and I stare out through the glass, into the endless dark punctuated with streetlights dancing in military precision.
It’s a hell of a view from the Hancock Center bar.
A fire snake of headlights slithering down the highway. Blips and beeps of streetlamps spread out in circuit board formation. Buildings jutting up arrhythmic as roads and trains worm through the downtown, the Magnificent Mile, Near North, the Loop, whatever you want to call what you see from the Signature Lounge bar 96 stories and 1,000 feet in the air.
I came downtown because I wanted to feel nothing.
I’ve told 300 stories of Chicago so far. Some ones I’m really proud of in there. But the real stories, the ones that hit me hardest come from the neighborhoods. That’s where Chicago is.
I like downtown because it’s full of people who think they know a secret.
The lawyers clustered in Wacker Drive skyscrapers think they know the secret, how life is all about the law and sneaking that little extra edge in the rules. The cops wandering up the Magnificent Mile, rousting bums and putting on a show of safety for the tourists, know that life is all about order, keeping “us” from “them.”
The servers know life is all about how people celebrate. The fashion store clerks know it’s about how people present themselves. The beggars know it’s about who has what and the tourists think they might, just might be able to absorb a little knowledge about this thing called Chicago if they eat some fat pizza and get their picture taken some place Ferris Beuller did.
There are politicians wandering with actors, tour guides among boat captains, trashmen among chefs among bus drivers among accountants, designers, professors, historians, environmentalists, security guards, watchmen, bartenders, train operators, insurance adjusters, bankers, bouncers, bellboys and every other form of bustling human skittering in and out of the restaurants, stores and endless office buildings.
Each gets it. Each person on the street gets what makes life tick. Them.
I like downtown because it has everything, so it has nothing. It’s got every facet of Chicago life, from the ritzy old money old ladies to the two gangbangers I would later hear talking shop on the bus back home. It’s a pupu platter of the city. It’s a sampler menu giving you a taste of each, but not enough to fill you up on any.
It’s good on nights you want to feel nothing.
I’ll have to descend soon, leave my thousand-foot view of fire snakes and military streetlights. I’ll have to wander out in the rain among other wanderers, me as convinced of my own importance as they are of theirs.
I’ll go back to the neighborhoods where I feel things again, feel the ache and pull of being another ant in the ant heap, endlessly alone among millions.
I’ll get back to telling stories of those bankers, bellboys and insurance adjusters mentioned above. I’ll get back to fleshing out brief moments, trying to describe in a thousand words how a sideways glance made me feel.
But for tonight, I needed a thousand-foot view. It’s nice to feel nothing some nights, to stare out through glass as Frank Sinatra sings and think nothing more than how pretty it all is.