Wednesday, October 13, 2010

This Week: Chicago, Illinois

Second City Spring

Spring in Chicago. Pigeons begin to fill the streets, women start wearing their skirts a little shorter and heat starts to radiate from the sidewalk. Wonderful. Another sign of spring…Lake Shore Boardwalk is packed with runners, walkers, bikers, roller bladers and baby strollers from dawn until dusk. Since we were staying at the swanky Raffaello Hotel one block from Lake Shore Drive, I would get to join the droves of people getting in shape for summer.

Chicago is that rare combination of major metropolis located next to a huge body of water. Miami, Sydney and Rio de Janeiro come to mind so Chicago is in exclusive company. Aptly named is Lake Shore Drive and following it for miles and miles and miles is the boardwalk. Everyone uses the boardwalk, rich and poor, young and old, singles, couples and whole families. For the next hour or so, I would get to experience it like a native.

I stepped off the elevator and into the lobby or our swanky hotel. As I approached the front doors, one of the doormen opened the door for me.

“Have a good day, Mrs. Dow,” he said after I thanked him for holding the door. It blew me away they knew my name and this was only our second day here. I checked my cell phone for the time and put it in my pocket also checking to make sure my cardkey for the room was still there. Then I put in my earbuds and tuned my Sirius radio to Radio Margaritaville and took off down the street. One block to the east and around the corner and I was at the Drake Hotel, the place where Oprah’s guests get to stay. From here all of Lake Shore Drive was in front of me and Lake Michigan on my right took up everything to the horizon. The sidewalk was packed and the street next to it was just as busy. I was slowly leaving the skyscrapers of downtown Chicago behind me, but I couldn’t escape the traffic on my left. They would follow me all the way.

The weather couldn’t have been better with a light breeze blowing from the water and just a few wisps of clouds in the sky. The air warmed up as I put space between myself the tall buildings because the sun was now shining on me. Best of all, I was at sea level. No longer a mile high in Denver and trudging up and careening down steep inclines; gravity couldn’t effect me on this level plane. My plan was to run for an hour; a ½ hour heading north and then turn around and run back. With a little Jimmy Buffett playing on the earbuds, I was on my way.

It wasn’t Memorial weekend yet, but the lifeguards in their white shirts with red letters, life buoy slung ‘round their shoulders, were out standing on the sidewalk where the water meets the cement with a six foot drop. They were male and female and it was hard to tell if they were actually paying attention because of the dark sunglasses they wore. As I passed North Beach, the sidewalk continued next to Lake Shore Drive while the beach splayed out on my right. The life guards continued to stand near the water, but it was too early for beach goers yet, mostly people throwing tennis balls for their dogs to retrieve. Made me miss my dog.

I have stated before and will do so again, I am not much of a runner. Never have been. Ask my high school track coach and she’ll tell you how I quit the team. I am only 5’ 4” tall. Cut that roughly in half and you will discover that that my legs are barely two and a half feet long. I have the stride of a rabbit without the speed. Sad, no wait, pathetic. However, nothing gets you outside like running does. Treadmill? I feel like a hamster on a wheel. I need things to look at when I’m running, sounds to hear and scents to sniff. Nothing comes close to the feeling of running outside on a sunny day, breeze in my face, scent of exhaust in the air and some selected music in my ears. Time slows, the mind clears. Things that didn’t make sense yesterday suddenly seem simple while in the middle of a run. Though I may not go fast, by Jah, can I go far. I had the whole day to myself today and I was going to spend the morning running this glorious path.

For the most part, the run was uneventful, except for occasionally getting clipped by a roller blader. The sidewalk started to meander following Lake Michigan’s coastline, curving like a snake along and between sections of beach, grass park and cement roadways. The only constant was the buzz of the cars of Lake Shore Drive on my left. I could just barely hear it under the music. As I ran, the buildings on my left changed from giant skyscrapers, to high rise apartments, to brownstones and finally open space as I neared the Lincoln Park exit.

Just then a strikingly tall grandpa in black bike shorts and bright yellow sleeveless shirt crosses the entire path only to stop in front of me as he put in his ear buds. Seriously? He had the entire boardwalk, not to mention the grassy section next to it to so do his Ipod adjusting, but nooooo he had to stop in front of me. I felt like running into him just to let him know I was there, but in my good mood and better judgment, I jogged around him. As I passed he began to walk. Don’t know why he needed such an aerodynamic outfit to walk in, but to each his own. I was again on my way and enjoying my music and the warm spring air. I had gone about a block or so, when a shadow from behind started to cross my shadow in front of me. Suddenly, grandpa was just over my left shoulder, still walking. In my defense, he was at least 6’6” with his hips starting at my rib cage. But still, I had enough pride to not let this goliath pass me just walking. I sped up, striding out as far as my little legs would take me. Grandpa’s shadow began to fall back. As my lungs breathed faster, I took a quick glance over my shoulder. Grandpa was behind me, but not that far. I was approaching the Theatre on the Lake building. It was a place where the trail split, one direction following the water and the other following Lake Shore Drive. Please, please, please let grandpa take the scenic route. As I passed the theatre building, I took another quick glance and saw a bright yellow jersey heading toward the water. The path by the water was the longer of the two routes around the building so I had some room to relax my stride.

As I continued along the path, I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket to check the time. I had ten minutes before turning around. Even though I was no longer downtown, there were still many people on the trail. A biker went past in a hurry while another biker was riding no-handed while talking on a cell phone, mothers jogging while pushing baby strollers and young people with backpacks. I wondered who was actually working out, who had class and who was merely on their way somewhere or perhaps nowhere. It was almost 9:30 in the morning.

I was approaching some tennis courts and decided that would be a good place to turn around. The crowd around me had thinned a bit. Little did I know the surprise sneaking up behind me. As I ran around a light pole, Grandpa was about 20 feet behind me. How embarrassing. I could feel my face turn red as I passed him.

With Grandpa now behind me for good, I could focus on the vista in front of me. The northern skyscrapers of downtown Chicago were right there. There! The John Hancock building, the Water Tower Place building, the Drake Hotel, Lake Point Tower off to the side…amazing. At this point, I started planning the rest of my day. After cleaning up by using that fabulous hotel shower, I would stroll Michigan Avenue and the Magnificent Mile checking out all the stores filled with things I couldn’t afford to buy. I didn’t care. I was just happy to be here. Then maybe find a little cafĂ© with some tables on the sidewalk. Drink some herbal tea and people watch. I wondered if the people running toward me noticed I was smiling?

The return seemed much faster than the finish. It wasn’t long before I was back at North Beach, this time with small groups of young people sitting in the sand, talking, reading, texting. The buildings on the westside of Lake Shore Drive started to get taller and taller. I snatched quick peaks at the condo windows wondering if the inside of those spaces were as beautiful as the outside. Who lived there? Yuppies, retirees, families, business moguls, fashion models, sports stars?

It wasn’t long before I was approaching the park across from the Drake. The air was cooler in the shade as the buildings now blocked me from the sun. After crossing the street I ran around the Drake Hotel the long way just so I could stay near the water. I probably could have stopped running at this point, but continue until I reached the my hotel’s block.

“Welcome back, Mrs. Dow,” said the Raffaello doorman as he held the door for me. The day was already good and it wasn't even noon yet.

Hotel Raffaello

Jog Chicago Lake Shore