Tuesday, September 08, 2020

chicago by night

I have a recurring dream that I am downtown at night, completely alone, and the lights go out.  Completely and not even a moon to see by.  In the most recent version a few nights ago, I was trying to use the flashlight on my cell phone to navigate. Sometimes, there are car headlights, but more often, it's pitch black.

Tonight was my first evening shift at the library and my first night downtown since March, and it's a strange, eerily deserted world I come back into and very much not the bustling one I left.  Granted, it's chilly and a little rainy, which no doubt kept a lot of people in, but I only saw a few people on the streets, a few riders on the bus.  In the daytime, it was easier to hide it in plain site..the businesses closed and never re-opened, the hotels shuttered, the stores on the mag mile boarded over to protect from damage. Afternoons,  were still people everywhere, masked up and heading to and from work. A smattering of braver tourists.  When I used to walk Michigan in the summer at around 10pm each night, there were quite a few people out--in the hotels, in the bars and restaurants.  

After Labor Day, it would dwindle, but you'd still see quite a few people out in the evening--jogging, walking dogs, commuting home from their jobs in retailers, in restaurants, in theatres, all the places that closed up around 10. Tonight, it was even more of a ghost town, all of those people either not working at all anymore or places closing earlier.  The police presence on the mag mile thick as it has been since the last lootings, but very few pedestrians on the sidewalks. Even less street traffic. Many of the high end retailers have erected wood fortresses around and over their windows, so it's really much darker on the street than it used to be.  

But really, many of the storefronts were already empty long before Covid--high rents, dwindling physical shoppers. I would guess at least one storefront per block empty for years or recently vacated. So maybe it was always getting darker along that strip, and even moreso south of the river.  Not just the theatres and bars and hotels, but also the businesses that thrived because of loop workers, many of whom are working from home and no longer populating the cafes and lunch spots. I am curious to see how the Chicago rebuilds itself in the wake of this, what changes the textures and routines of city life.  In my neighborhood on the north side, things are pretty much the same and most eateries have managed to stay open. People who work from home still get carryout and coffee, just closer to their houses, but downtown, who knows what that will look like when this is over--if this is ever over... 

Even still, she's a pretty little (big) city...