#837: Fire-Flowers

September 1st, 2017

The sky above exploded in whites, reds, blues, crinkly crinoid yellows that shimmered over its reflection in a darkened lake.

The concrete below shook and rattled with every car that sped by just feet behind us.

The Wednesday fireworks are over at Navy Pier. There’s a last set tonight in honor of the weekend that, for all intents and purposes, ends summer. But the ones that run every Wednesday night while the city’s hot and the bicycles used exploded over harbor and town for the last time in 2017.

The last show is cicadas. It’s pop-up ads for back-to-school sales. The last Navy Pier fireworks show of summer stands alongside Halloween stores and Christmas ads as indicator summer is in its final throes.

So we stood by a highway to watch it.

It was my wife’s idea, not mine. We had been driving up Lakeshore Drive, that massive highway that traces the lake, a few weeks earlier when we noticed the overpass by Navy Pier lined with parked cars there to watch the show.

It looked fun, so for the last Wednesday show of the year and one car trip where I had to keep my eyes closed the whole time so as not to spoil the surprise, we found ourselves one of those cars parked on an overpass, staring out at dark water and fire-brightened sky as cars plunged at highway speeds just a few feet behind.

Next to a man comprised of muscles, flat-brimmed ballcap and neck tattoos by a car full of a “wow”-”wow”-”Dad did you see that one!” Latino boy half crawling out the window, we watched the millionaires’ yachts cruise through silent waters. We watched a few bikes whiz by the lakefront path. We saw a molasses tide of walkers ooze their way to Navy Pier for a shot at the show.

Among whirring cars and condo towers shooting rakish to the sky, we watched the world explode above.

For a moment our city came together, if just to stare at the sky. Yes, it’s the circus part of “bread and circuses.” Yes, it’s a diversion from crime, poverty, systemic segregation.

But god bless the circus in the sky, just for making us remember why we live here. God bless lake waters and moments where by silent consent, a city decides a highway overpass is a viewing platform.

This town grates and drains. It drains with a smile now, at least in my neck of the woods. It wears us down with promises of craft cocktails and that the next featureless glass box condo will make us care about our landscape in a way the previous 50 hadn’t. Dive bars crash. Bungalows make way for urban McMansions. My city strips away the special to replace it with a pleasant enough strip-mall conformity.

Each day, prices rise. Each day, it’s harder to be poor in a city increasingly for the millionaires.

For a moment, though, we all look at the sky. Millionaires and the poor. I don’t watch from yachts, and they don’t watch from highway overpasses. We’re not together yet, but at least we’re looking at the same fire-flowers in the night.

Why we protect the lakefront

Sites you can see along the water

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