Blue-Collar City


Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders …
Carl Sandburg, “Chicago”

The flight from Minneapolis to Chicago is not long. Barely time to level off and serve drinks before the flight attendants buckle down for descent. But I did a double-take out the window as we broke through the thick dark clouds over Minnesota. To the west were thin layers of crimson, red-orange, yellowish-green and blue, with a single gleaming star beckoning from the heavens. Below the plane was not earth, but ether — blue-black and undulating, like a sea in slow motion …

Chicago is not like that. Nothing ethereal about it. The fellow hailing taxis outside O’Hare has big shoulders to bear up his chip; he’s polite to us, but harsh to the cabbies, who never seem to be in right place, or to ask the right questions, or to “listen to what what I’m trying to tell you!” The drivers seem quite capable on their own, but in his presence, they are reduced to nitwits.

We drive into the belly of the beast. I like riding in a cab into a city at night: the lights, the people, the unknown sights and unexpected turns. I’ve said before that Chicago seems somehow more friendly that New York, more real somehow. We turn a corner, and directly in front of us is the Chicago Board of Trade building, standing like frontier justice in the middle of the road, looking down on as with an amiable grin and wary eye. Sandburg spoke the truth: it’s a blue collar and muscular town; on evenings cold like this one you can watch the steam rise off its sweating brow. In the morning you’ll hear the great city crack its knuckles, see its broad shoulders roll and stretch as it limbers up for a new day.

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