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Chicago is America's Most Elegant City in All Seasons

By Mark Konkol | January 29, 2014 8:41am
 Chicago remains the most elegant of American cities, beautiful in any season, even when the weather really sucks.
Frozen Chicago
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This "My Chicago" column was nearly doomed due to chronic seasonal affective disorder, acute cabin fever and general malaise due to a reoccurrence of the polar vortex affliction, commonly known as “winter sucks.”

See, I was all lined up to talk with few Chicago characters for the column, but those folks weren't feeling up to it due to the arctic conditions — the same weather that shut down all Chicago Public Schools.

All weekend I heard friends with kids complain about what a pain it is when school shuts down due to the weather, but their bosses refuse to call off work.

What we need in times like this, one union pal of mine said, is a "me, too" clause.

It's well known that the "me, too" clause included in some labor contracts with the city takes effect during negotiations over pay and benefits. Basically, when one labor union sets a precedent, the others generally are required to follow suit.

For instance, if the Fraternal Order of Police were to agree to a 10 percent annual pay raise, the first thing out of the mouths of Chicago Fire Fighters Union leaders during their own negotiations would be, "me, too."

You get the idea.

Applying that logic, some parents I know figured that since the weather scored their kids the day off, they should be able to tell their bosses, "me, too." I liked that idea.

Instead, my boss suggested I hunt down "where all the city kids are" if they're not at school and write about that.

While hunting for school kids frolicking in the polar vortex might sound like fun to editors and masochists, I can assure you it is not. But, loving my job, I did it any way.

I figured I'd start at the Museum of Science of Industry, figuring school kids were certainly lining up for the Coal Mine exhibit to escape the weather and boredom.

But when I shot a note to my pal who works there she quickly replied, "We're closed! Along with all other museums."

Agnes and Kris Koc found that out the hard way after packing up their kids, Adam and Maya, and trekking from Wheaton to the Shedd Aquarium in hopes of escaping the torture of being locked indoors for several days in a row.

"It was closed," Agnes Koc said, shrugging her shoulders.

I ran into the Kocs at the John Hancock Observatory — the second leg of my search for kids escaping the polar vortex. The folks at the Hancock capitalized on the school and museum closures by offering kids a free, heated elevator ride to the 94th Floor to check out the view, so long as their parents paid full price.

While I was there, the Kocs were the only family taking advantage of the deal.

By the look on his face, Adam Koc, 7, probably would have rather spent the day watching dolphins do flips. Still, the visit to the John Hancock was "about five times better" than being stuck watching TV at home, he said. And that made his parents at least five-times happier than being cooped up in the house, his mother said.

From atop the Hancock, the low winter sun warm on my face, it became clear how the bitter cold had slowed everything down and created a stillness that made the city beautiful.

Downtown high-rises pumped plumes of steam into the frigid air like puffs of smoke from an old man's pipe.

And the early afternoon sun turned skyscraper shadows into a skyline silhouette painted on Lake Michigan, a canvas of snow-covered ice clinging to the shore.

At street level, hearty souls braving the sidewalks along Wacker Drive got a rare look at the Chicago River frozen into a picturesque jigsaw puzzle of ice.

And all along the lakefront shoreline, the polar temperatures created epic ice formations that rival the city's finest examples of public art. 

I might not have found many kids enjoying their polar vortex day off school, but I was glad to get a good look at our frozen city.

Say what you will about this town's troubles — it's troubled schools, murderous street gangs and pockets of hopelessness — Chicago remains the most elegant of American cities, beautiful in any season. 

Even when the weather really sucks.