I spent a wonderful 36 hours in Chicago last weekend. I hadn’t seen my son since Christmas; he’s started a new job and hasn’t had much time off. It was great to reconnect with him and his girlfriend, see his workplace and meet some of his coworkers. My daughter Anne and I had fun walking the Miracle Mile (plus a little shopping, naturally), taking our pictures by the Bean, and doing a walking food and architecture tour of one of Chicago’s neighborhoods. Another highlight was eating in a restaurant where the executive chef is a young man who was a part of the youth group at Lakewood Congregational Church when I was the associate minister there. His food was beyond fabulous, and it was delightful to see him again.
As Anne and I were strolling Michigan Avenue the first day, we both commented on how much we enjoy just walking and people-watching in big cities. You see people dressed to the nines, looking and sounding very important as you overhear their cell phone conversations. You see tourists, loaded down with shopping bags. You hear different languages being spoken on the streets of a bustling, lively city like Chicago.
On one stretch of the avenue, we watched a woman walking towards us. Her clothes were mismatched and ill-fitting. Her eyes darted from one direction to the next. She crossed the sidewalk ahead of us, turned slightly to her left, and then relieved herself in the street, next to a five-star hotel. Just like that, our people-watching felt like voyeurism and for the next few minutes we walked silently, suddenly aware of all of the signs on the front entrances of Starbucks and other establishments which said, “Restroom Use for Patrons Only”.
It’s so easy for me to criticize the 1%, the ultra-wealthy. I want to blame the gap between the rich and the poor on economists and politicians. But for a while on that Friday afternoon, all I felt was sadness. The gap was between me and another human being. Not everyone can stroll the streets of our cities with comfort and dignity.