#944: The Ins of Court

June 22nd, 2018

There are certain mornings that are wet, certain ones that are noir.

It’s a day when getting off a rain-blattered train stop at Washington and Wells dressed in smart if rumpled business attire seems like the only natural step, as if taking one step off the safe and well-trod will cast you into a world of intrigue, violence, the guffiniest of MacGuffins and finally learning the difference between a woman and a dame.

What better morning for hunting down a missing street?

Like a smatter of other Loop roads people are surprised to find aren’t alleys — Marble, Calhoun, Haddock, Arcade, Couch, to name a few — Court Place serves as smoke break for the holdouts, shortcut for the savvy and loading dock so the delivery trucks don’t get blared by honking from businessmen who just gotta get there NOW! Court Place is tucked half between Washington and Randolph. It runs for a block from LaSalle to Wells, stops for a block, then picks up again for the block between Franklin and Wacker.

It pops up again about a third-mile west, flanking the highway for a block on each side. Court Place then winds up as the alley looping around the back of Haymarket Pub. Or it starts up again like 20 miles to the west — I don’t know, I got tired of scrolling.

Chicago’s a city for noir, but 2018 is not the year. The hard-boiled sagas that thrilled a nation and still make some men think they can pull off a fedora (they can’t) were if nothing else love letters to place. Darkened alleys and dive bars, fog-soaked San Francisco streets, the klaxon of trade ships coming in from the harbor. Things that can only be in one, unmistakable environment.

There is no place in 2018. What passes for place in these times is the juxtaposition of which chain is by which franchise. “Oh, this is the corner where the CVS is by the Corner Bakery, not the one where the 7-Eleven is across from the Dunkin Donuts!”

But turning a corner down a rainy street — even if it’s the corner past the Corner Bakery — gives the momentary illusion of a time when place was place and the chains don’t count.

On one side at least.

The jaunt of Court Place between LaSalle and Wells is a divided road, split along the median between glitz and history. As you face east to City Hall, your righthand side is early-’90s glass and glamor of 120 North LaSalle, with views into restaurant kitchens and the glorious lobby of the skyscraper fronted by a mosaic of Icarus.

To your left, brick. Rickety metal fire escapes. A man glaring from the darkness of a service entryway where he and a cigarette sought respite from the rain. Around him, fading painted signs promising “For Your Pleasure” Old Vienna pastries, sodas, sundaes, all to be enjoyed in the Garden Lounge of the Bismark Hotel.

I like the hidden streets people think are alleys. I like the behind-the-scenes views, the pockmarked potholes flooded with rain and ratty chemical butts from decades of smoke breaks. It seems more honest than the glass and glory the city wants to project on the main roads. It’s the unshaved city. It’s the one that hasn’t showered or powdered its nose, hasn’t put on a tie or prettied up the skin tone with blush and foundation and a slap of ruby lipstick.

It’s the honest look at a city that, at least on Court, is split in twain between heritage and futurism, between ambition to impress and a shrugged, homely comfort in what it is. Yesterday to the left, tomorrow to the right and for the life of me, I can’t figure which way to turn.

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