Northern Illinois Destinations: Millennium Park, Chicago, Illinois

Technically, I guess, I should be profiling Grant Park first, since Grant Park is older, and larger, and more important to the city’s history.  But I’ve been researching Millennium Park recently, so I’m going to profile it first while it’s fresh in my mind.

When Millennium Park first debuted, I had been in San Antonio for more than a decade.  All of the reporting on it was of the same vein as the official city website’s statement, You might never guess that Millennium Park, recipient of the 2009 Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence, was once an industrial wasteland.  I am well aware that human memory is flawed, but for the life of me, all that I could remember on the site was a grassy area with a colonnade and a row of trees backed by a low wall with some kind of decorative columns on top.  Despite articles praising Millennium Park for saving us from unsightly boxcars, I couldn’t remember a single dam boxcar. Additionally, several articles talked about the new colonnade that was in the park, and as I said before, I distinctly remember a colonnade on the corner of Michigan and Randolph.

Finally after one too many articles, I finally went digging through old photographs and realized that the boxcars that people were worrying about were there, but they were below grade, meaning that if you weren’t looking at them from above, you can’t see them.  And I wasn’t in the habit of looking out of really high-up windows down at the street level in that direction in that area.  From the Sears Tower, yes.  From the seventh floor of Marshall Field’s, sure.  From the third floor of the Chicago Cultural Center towards Washington Street, even. But I’m hard-pressed to remember a time when I was in the buildings that front on that area (including the Prudential Buildings, the AON tower, or anything of that sort), and could see down into that ditch.

You see, most of downtown Chicago has been raised.  When Chicago was founded, the area which is now downtown was on more or less the same level as the lake, which meant that there was nowhere for the water to go, and the city was a swampy mess. In the 1800s, the city decided to put a system of drainage ditches where the current roads were, then build new roads on top of them.  Then they would raise the buildings to the new street level.  This new higher street level carries through all of the Loop, but farther north, you can still see some buildings that are at the original grade.  If you stand at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Illinois Street, you can see what I’m talking about because while I used the term “intersection,” the streets don’t actually intersect.  Illinois Street is a good ten feet or so below the level of Michigan Avenue.

So now we’re going to leave this and come at it from another direction. Chicago’s location on Lake Michigan is in large part why it became the major city that it is. Ships would come up the St. Lawrence and through the Great Lakes to Lake Michigan, then would load or unload cargo, or both, then go back out.  Because the cargo needed to get to and from the ships, Chicago became (and still is) a major railroad hub. Because of this, there are rail lines and even rail yards in the downtown area. I’m trying to find the article I read where they talked about how the tracks that are meant by the words “industrial wasteland” above, property of the Illinois Central Railroad, were inviolable.

Those tracks, as well as a parking lot, are still there under the park. The city got airspace rights to the area over the railroad tracks and parking lot, and constructed the park there at current street level.

Millennium Park is likely best known for its artwork.  The two most notable pieces are the Cloud Gate, which is a large bean-shaped sculpture made of reflective plates of stainless steel and the Crown Fountain, which is a black granite area that has two gigantic glass screens, one at either end.  The screens show photographs of the faces of Chicagoans.  The faces smile and things, and then mouths of the faces pucker and water emerges in a, well, fountain from the center, making it look as though the water is coming from the mouths. While it was not part of the intended function of the fountain, the Crown Fountain has become a sort of water park, with people (generally, but not exclusively, children) standing under the stream and playing in the basin.

Millennium Park also has the five-acre Lurie Garden, a new colonnade which surrounds yet another fountain, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion (a concert and event venue), the BP Pedestrian bridge and an outdoor public skating rink, all within a 24.5-acre space.  The City of Chicago website says that all of the amenities of Millennium Park were designed to be handicap accessible.

Parks in (and near) San Antonio

So, today one of my co-workers said, “There aren’t any good parks in this part of the city.” Well, one of the things that Alex and I do on our weekends is explore city and county parks (and parks beyond the city and county), so I took that as a challenge.

At first, one of the pharmacists suggested Friedrich Wilderness Park (one of my personal favorites), which is up a ways on Interstate 10.  I then asked what my coworker considered to be “this part of the city,” and she said, “north of downtown.”

I then listed Government Canyon State Park and Hardberger Park and Walker Ranch Park and Denman Estate Park.  The other pharmacist said, “There’s one on Bandera, isn’t there?” This is Schnabel Park.

Finally, before I got too out of control, I said, “I can do this all day, but just one more.  Eisenhower Park, which is straight up Northwest Military until you run out of street.”

I didn’t even get to mention Guadalupe River State Park, or Crownridge Canyon Park or the Cibolo Nature Center (which is in Boerne and the last time we were out there, there was talk about making the other side of City Park Road a park, and they might just have done this by the look of things) or Stone Oak Park (which was not as wooded as Google Maps made it look, so Alex and I promised to come back once the weather was cooler) or any of the probably a dozen other parks I’ve visited in the last couple of years. I even found another new park while I was writing this post — Panther Springs Park.

I really can do this all day, but it’s my bedtime now so I’m going to stop here.  However, since you are not a captive audience and can leave whenever you want, I will be writing up all of these parks (and probably some more that I can’t remember right now) as individual South Texas Destinations posts in the future.

Before I go to bed, however, one more thing. I had two problems with essay questions when I was in school.  One of these was that I have some sort of motor coordination disorder.  I’m not actually handicapped so you’d notice, but I have always had poor both fine and gross motor skills (this may be part of why walking is my major form of exercise — I know I can do it successfully). As a result of this motor coordination problem, writing by hand is very tiring for me.  I’d get tired long before I ran out of ideas on essay questions (I also never knew that other students didn’t have this kind of hand fatigue from writing — I always sort of assumed that the pain and fatigue was part of the test).  The other is that it never occurred to me that the point of essay questions was to just dump whatever you can remember onto the page.  It seemed that they should be written well.  Otherwise it wouldn’t be an essay so much as a bullet-point list.  As a result, if I couldn’t make an idea fit into the flow of what I was writing, I would just leave that idea out, which led me to often only listing part of what I knew.

All of this is in aid of me sticking in an idea that I can’t make flow with the rest of this post. Back about eight years ago or so, San Antonio came out really high on one of those “fattest cities” lists.  One of the websites reporting on it, possibly the originating site, blamed at least part of it on having a very low number of parks per capita. While I was writing this, I found one article, from 2009 (San Antonio was #3 on this list), but I don’t think it’s the one I was thinking of (I swear I remember my ex talking to me about it and we split up before 2009). The number of parks in the 2009 article was 214.  It seems like every street corner has a park these days.  I wonder if some of the parks that I’ve been visiting, and that I will write about, were created after 2009. The Howard W. Peak Greenway System, which are paths that follow the creeks, was approved by voters for the first time in 2000, but I don’t know when the first trails opened.  I think that I may make a note on my posts on city parks what year they were founded, just to see if my perception that many of these parks date from after that checks out.

As to whether these kinds of rankings actually mean anything,  I found this article at PubMed, which I am linking to so that I can save the link to read in the future. Maybe I’ll read it tomorrow, while I’m on my lunch.

National Geographic December 2013, Part 3

The Unexpected Walrus, by Jeremy Berlin, photographs by Paul McNicklen

I am unclear on what is unexpected here.  The Unexpected Walrus is a brief sort of biological sketch of the species and the effect that human activity can have on their numbers.  Walruses’ whiskers are apparently very sensitive and they can hoover up food from the ocean floor like no one’s business.

It’s an ill wind that blows no one any good, however, and apparently global warming is exposing more clams, which are a main source of food, than the walruses would normally have been able to get to.  So as difficult as humans have made the life of the walrus, at least the walrus is finding food more plentiful than in the past.

The Weed that Won the West, by George Johnson, photographs by Diane Cook and Len Jenshel

The Weed that Won the West is a quick read about the history and lifecycle of the tumbleweed, more formally known as “Russian thistle” and also of Johnson’s history with said plant. Johnson, who has been fighting tumbleweeds ever since he and his wife bought a horse ranch in New Mexico, compares the tumbleweed to a The Outer Limits episode, “Cry of Silence,” in which a young couple are menaced by sentient tumbleweeds.

Turns out tumbleweeds don’t actually need sentience to be menacing, because they are pretty much optimized* to reproduce.  As tumbleweeds tumble along, they are shedding seeds.  Then the seeds can lie dormant for years, but can germinate in as little as 36 minutes. The plant also has a taproot which can reach a depth of six feet.  This means that you can pull all of the plants out of the ground and it can still grow a new plant from the taproot.  And even after you think you’ve gotten all of the plants off of your property, there still can be seeds in the dirt waiting to sprout. The only defense I have been able to find is that the seeds cannot germinate in packed dirt, which is kind of impractical.  In order to use this defense, every square foot of land in the area must somehow be packed down perfectly and remain packed down until all of the seeds have lost their ability to germinate.

Before I moved to San Antonio, I imagined that it looked like an old west city, like Dodge City in the old movies, with tumbleweeds tumbling down the streets.  Thank goodness it isn’t. I have enough fun trying to keep on top of the runners that my live oak trees put out.  I don’t want to have to wrestle with tumbleweeds on top of that.

*You have no idea how much time it took me to find the word “optimized” — I almost went with “maximized,” because it was pretty close.  I also researched “tribbles,” even though I’m not terribly gung-ho on Star Trek (I’m more of a Babylon 5 girl, myself) in hopes that I’d stumble across the right word.  Finally I stuck “maximized for reproduction” into Google and the second hit was titled, “Optimal Reproduction Tactics,” and the rest was history.

My History with Photography

I’m in no way a National-Geographic-quality photographer (though I am trying to learn some secrets to taking better photos), but I do enjoy taking photographs. 

When I was little, my folks had a black-and-white Polaroid Swinger.  Cameras were pretty expensive back then, and I was really young, so the camera was my parents’ property and I wasn’t allowed to use it at all.

When I was maybe 11 or so (I’m sure I’ll pick out the exact date as I find more of my family’s old photographs), my dad got a Polaroid SX-70 camera.  For those who are unfamiliar with Polaroids of the 1970s, this was the first camera where the film auto-ejected and the picture would develop as you watched it.  When my dad got this camera, I finally got one of my own — the old Swinger.  So I think that every black-and-white photo in the albums after this point is likely to be mine.

My mom sent me to Girl Scouts for years.  The first few years were pretty good, despite the sexism in a lot of the materials (A “housekeeping” badge?  Really?).  Later I got into a group that were mostly strangers and all of my friends dropped out.  This was the beginning of the end of Girl Scouts for me.   In that era, we had a project on photography and the theory was that we were going to get a chance to develop our photographs in a real darkroom, so I had to buy black-and-white 35mm film and borrow someone’s Kodak camera.  I ended up needing to take my photos in to be professionally developed.  I cannot remember if we ran out of time or if I was sick the day that we developed them, or we had some kind of family event planned and I missed it.

In what I am pretty sure was now 1981, my mom got a Kodak (I keep wanting to type “Kodiak” for some reason) disk camera, which she allowed me to use.  On our 1988 vacation, I think I took as many pictures with it as she did.

I got married in 1991.  My (now-ex) husband and I each got a cheap 35mm camera.  We used those things for years. I think I have three of them around here because one time (I think it was our trip to Wisconsin) one of us left ours at home and we had to buy another one. 

In the late 1990s, my ex-husband started buying digital cameras.  I was allowed to use them, but they were primarily his.  At this point, I mostly used those cheap disposable cameras.  We upgraded digital cameras twice before we split up in 2008. 

Once I was on my own, I went out and bought my own digital camera (then a year later I ended up getting a job at that same Walmart).  I needed to keep it inexpensive, and ended up with a Nikon Coolpix.  I still have it and use it a few times a year.  I use my Galaxy S5 phone as a camera more often, simply because I have it with me.  During our 2014 trip to Italy, I took probably close to 2,000 pictures, around 700 of which were with my Nikon.

By the way, I get a real kick out of the Google “Auto Awesome” feature.  It has taken some of my best photos and made them better.  It has also taken some of my more . . . interesting photos and made them, well, more interesting.  In 2014, I took a picture of a pigeon in Newark Liberty International Airport and for some reason, that is the picture that Google decided to “Auto Awesome.”  I can’t explain that one.

(originally posted May 14, 2015; edited July 9, 2015.)

My Posting Schedule: A Plan

At my old LiveJournal, I tried to get into the habit of posting every other day, and I was pretty successful.  I finally got the hang of scheduling posts ahead of time (and as I write this, I still have three or four unposted posts queued up).  I have around 50 old posts that I want to move here, most of which are about National Geographic issues.  However, since I started working on that blog, I have added three other topics, My Travel Memories, Northern Illinois Destinations, and South Texas Destinations.

The pattern that I developed over time has been:

National Geographic
My Travel Memories
National Geographic
Northern Illinois Destinations
National Geographic
My Travel Memories
National Geographic
South Texas Destinations

That’s a lot of “National Geographic”s, I know, but I, will, by the time the dust settles, have about 167 years of magazines to get through and only around 40 years or so to do it in.  At the rate I am going, I’ll be lucky to get through 120 years of magazines in that time.

I will keep that pattern here, with one exception.

That exception is that I will add extra topics to the rotation for that year’s big summer trip.  For example, the week after I am posting this, I will be going on vacation to New York City with a side-trip to Philadelphia. When I return, I will temporarily add “New York City Destinations” and “Philadelphia Destinations” to the rotation until I run out of those topics.

I also occasionally make an extra post on a separate topic.  I like to do that on one of my days off, but if it occurs to me to do so on the day when my post runs, then so be it.

Since I already have so many National Geographic posts, I will combine them into entire issues for the time being.  So my first repost of a LiveJournal post will be the entirety of the January 2015 National Geographic issue, which I think I will put together and queue up right away.

Introductory Post. What Am I Doing Here?

Back in 2010, I started a book review blog on LiveJournal.  I ended up moving to a “content farm” platform to post the book reviews, and left that old LiveJournal to sit until late 2014.

I guess I’ll have to go back even farther than I’d planned in this explanation. In 2010, my dad bought me that DVD set that had the entire run of National Geographic issues from 1888 to 2008 on it.  I always tried to find the discipline to sit down and read them and also get caught up on the issues that have come out since then, but never quite could get around to it.

So, in January of 2015, I decided to use a sort of carrot-on-a-stick approach (since I’ll probably never finish this project) to motivate me.  I decided to start reading National Geographic issues and posting about them on that old blog.  Eventually that project turned into a travel blog, with National Geographic articles, reminiscences about my own travel (so far I’m still writing about travel from when I was ten and earlier, so the memories tend to be kind of vague at this point), and posts about travel destinations in both of the regions that I have called home — Northern Illinois and South Texas.   That travel blog has inspired me to start this blog, which will be a travel blog (and also include National Geographic writeups) from the very start.

In the interest of getting everything onto one blog, I will eventually start moving those earlier posts over here.  I haven’t decided if I will do it all at once, or if I will do it one post at a time.  I also haven’t decided if I will repost them with their original posting dates or with the date and time that I reposted them here.  It is likely at this point that I will repost then one at a time dated as of the dates that I post them here and say “originally written on . . .” at the top.

Also, my spell-checker doesn’t think that “repost” is a word.

In pursuit of this project (particularly to try to recapture as many of those early travel memories as possible), I asked my dad to see how many of our old vacation photo albums he could find and started scanning them in.  This has evolved into a major photo scanning project.  I ended up buying a new scanner because I was concerned that I might damage or burn out the scanner I bought for my son last Christmas.   As I write this, I have scanned in over 1,600 images and I’m probably about 1/3 of the way done with all of the photos that we have been able to find so far.  I know there are others to be found, two sets of pictures in particular.  My mom made photo albums of two of our earliest trips to Florida that  have yet to be found.  Also, my now-ex-husband and I took two honeymoons (a long weekend right after the wedding and a (if I recall correctly) 9-day trip to Florida once we had some vacation time saved up).  I have not yet been able to find the pictures we took on either of those trips.  Hopefully, as I get more confident (and find more photo albums), I will start to put my and my family’s pictures of destinations in my posts.