#788: Native Water

May 10th, 2017

I can’t in good faith pretend the story I want to tell about Chicago today is in Chicago.

I can’t pretend I’m that parochial or have that much dedicated bandwidth to focus solely on the municipal jurisdiction that provides my garbage pickup and blog title.

I can’t pretend my thoughts aren’t focused on a president who fired the head of the agency investigating his cronies, of media blackouts at the highest levels, of threats against comedians and criminal charges for laughing at the attorney general, of whatever atrocity will be revealed by the time I finish this sentence.

So I went to the river.

Rivers calm me. When I was a teenager and needed a place to think, smoke and whine about the no-real-problems I had at 16, I’d head to a park bench along the Rock River to glare alone at the water.

I’ve cut the smoking and at least try to minimize the whining, but thinking and calming myself by waterways is a weird quirk I’ve maintained as I moved cities and streams.

Too often I’m reminded I’m not from here, that the ebb and flow of this industry-flipped and occasionally “Bubbly” river will never be my native water. My water’s 90 miles and a world away, in a place Chicagoans write off as “Downstate” even though it’s north of here.

I live in Chicago. I like it here. Sometimes I’m reminded it will never be as much as a home for me as for others, that there’s a difference between haunting a street and being from there.

Jesus, I’m tired of Chicagoans talking politics. The arguments boil down to “Everyone Downstate is a right-wing, #MAGA-tweeting, Jesus-flaunting bumpkin” versus “Hey! I love bumpkins.”

But then I come by the water and I feel home. My view on the Chicago River from an art-laden, concrete plaza by a Mies van der Rowe glass-and-steel skyscraper somehow feels like that cigarette-choked park bench overlooking a bike path, ducks and an old factory that would never open again.

I guess I like rivers because the water moves. The steel and glass and cigarette butts, dead factories or luxury skyscraper condos are the permanent part, but they don’t feel as real as a river.

The water defines a place even though it’s not from here and not going to end up here. It’s both local and heading out into the world. I guess that’s what I want to write about today.

A musician’s take on the water

Where the river caught fire

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