#46: Starry, Starry Night

August 13th, 2012

Between the lapping waves and the late summer trill of the crickets, you can almost convince yourself you’re not in a city when you’re by Montrose Beach.

If you close your eyes.

Open them again and you see the blinding lights of downtown off to the south. You see the flashes over the water intake cribs out on the lake. You see the wattage of the security lights over the beach and the grassland bird sanctuary where the gay men cruise in the early morning.

We came to the lakefront to see the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, when our planet passes through the trail of the Swift-Tuttle comet, lighting up the sky with shooting stars

I watched with a group of strangers on the curving pier that juts out into the water like a question mark. They invited me to watch the meteor shower with them when I walked by with my bike.

We talked about first kisses and auto racing. One of them, Patrick, participated in a yearly road race spoof of the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race. His was called the 24 Hours of Lemons. Their cars could cost no more than $500.

We chit-chatted and scanned the skies. Patrick had a phone app that told us the names of constellations. Shira talked about working for non-profits. Shannon teased Dave for telling his story about kissing twins again. Patrick’s wife told how she got her nose ring past her school’s dress code.

If I met them today, I wouldn’t know them and they wouldn’t know me. We spent about an hour talking, but the night was too dark to see each other’s faces. We just had silhouettes against the city lights.

The Saturday fireworks started over Navy Pier.

I never realized how much the Chicago skyline looks like stars at night. Little dots of light from individual windows against a sea of smooth black glass-and-steel. Thousands of specks of light, varying brightnesses and colors.

A searchlight on top of an old Art Deco throbs a pulsar path through that fake night sky. The Ferris wheel on Navy Pier swirls and rotates like a pinwheel nebula. A fire-snake of car headlights on Lake Shore Drive makes a tidy, angry Milky Way.

It’s what the night sky should look like. It is what the night sky would look like if not for it.

Over Lake Michigan, where the real night spectacular should be – India ink. A few pale stars fighting against the lights of Chicago, but mostly ink and darkness.

We did see shooting stars, even against the city night. Each time, we gaped and gasped, called out to the others and confirmed we saw it too. We described each one.

They were little streaks, no competition for the fantastic man-made starscape of Chicago. But the city lights didn’t make us gasp. The city lights couldn’t bring us out to the question mark pier to sit with strangers on a normal Saturday night.

Only the stars could do that.

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