#867: You Can Just Walk In

December 25th, 2017

If you’re stuck downtown with a rolling suitcase and an hours-long gap between work’s Christmas-early quitting time and the flight that will take you to the non-Midwest family that scored a bid to host this year, there are places you can just walk in.

It would be nice if they were all magic places full of love, stories and holiday cheer, but for those in the know a less-traveled strip of the underground pedway is as good as a theme park. The mall at Block 37 is OK, a nice simulacrum of places someone would want to be. There’s a movie theater there and a glass storefront claiming to be a museum dedicated to modern design.

There are restaurants to hit, a massive faux-Hispanic street food affair that looks out above Daley Plaza and the hundreds clumped and huddled in the massive faux-German market that sells hot wine and glass ornaments to its visitors.

There are little bars that beckon, then repel when approached and the ratio of blaring flat-screen to wall becomes apparent. No rest will be found when the AV decor was designed to ensure no one could talk to another even if they wanted.

But for people who aren’t hungry for food or commercial goods, who don’t want to get on an airplane drunk, who already hit the little charity bookshop at the mall’s bottom level to score a Wooster and Jeeves for $1 ($1.10 with tax), there is a museum on the park people seem to forget exists.

It was the old library once upon a when. But now it’s the Chicago Cultural Center, a chaotic maybe-museum as ill-defined and beautiful as a wildflower. It’s not about Chicago, but it sort of is. It’s not about art, I think. It’s not about architecture, but at least it is for the time being as the bicentennial or biennial or whatever the architecture foundation is using its halls to promote runs its temporary-exhibit course.

But it’s beautiful, whatever it is. Glass domes and tile mosaics and the stateliness of eras past but filled with modern art, fantasy skyscrapers for the current architectural exhibit, the recording studio for a public radio project that collects what you, I and the other commons have to say. Its exhibits are a changing mishmash. Its exhibits are odd, modern, beautiful and free to walk in with a rolling suitcase and hours to kill.

It’s Christmas day and my family’s waiting. They’ve obliged my writing for a bit — I let my mom think these sentences I’m writing are work-related. But now’s the time to socialize. Now’s the time to hit “Publish” on this blog post and be together with people I love, not to be alone with a rolling suitcase and some wonder.

We live in a place where there are things to walk into. There are corners to explore and massive architectural triumphs that throw wide the doors to show people some fantasy buildings and maybe record a few of their best stories. The sadness of a city is its anonymity. The joy of it is its perpetual options for the anonymous.

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