Cloudwatching and Trainspotting

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By Mary Kay O'Grady

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I'm enjoying a vertical life in a town where horizontal is an honorific; I now live in a high-rise alongside the Frank Lloyd Wright Historic District. There's a lot to see looking east from the 11th floor, principally the tops of three gorgeous churches: Calvary, Grace Episcopal and the United Church of Christ. I'm thrilled by their chimes, especially on Easter Morning, and disheartened by the architecture of the mostly flat-roofed  rectangles surrounding them. 

The view of the Loop skyline is a gift. I marvel at the variety of colors; a good sunset reflects off Willis Tower as if it's on fire, and the surrounding buildings look like they're sprinkled with rhinestones. A good sunrise is either a perfect globe of fire or streaks of pink, blue and gold that rival the best sunsets on an island in Lake Michigan. 

And then the clouds. I haven't gazed at clouds since I was a kid and there was all the time in the world time to lie on my back and gaze at the heavens on a summer day. This is better. When it's a clear day the sky is a bright blue, sometimes even if there's lightning over the lake. The clouds can sit in one place in the blue background all afternoon, it seems, or they can drift quickly, constantly changing shapes.

On a clear night after sunset, the night doesn't blacken immediately; instead there are gorgeous shades of deepening blue until the night takes over and the horizon is all twinkling lights. On a clear night I can see the planes taking off from Midway and others making  their approach to O'Hare. Because of light pollution, it's never completely dark over Chicago. Even on a clear night, there's a faint pink color out there. (Of course, it could be cataracts.) But if there's a full moon, booyah!

The last few days we've been socked in; even the high school has been a bit blurry at times, but you can still see the trains that cut across town. When I look east, I can see the lights of the L's and commuter trains glowing in the fog before the trains appear. The Metra has a circular light that twirls around in the dark. Last night about two a.m. the fog almost touched the streets, but there were clouds above it. I swear.

I used to be able to see the L station on Ridgeland when I lived across the street and before the condos on the corner were built. I loved to watch the people on the platform at night, particularly when it snowed. It seemed very Hopper-esque.  

From the exercise room on the top floor of my building, I look down on the L cars passing the freight trains lined up overnight. The coal cars look strangely neat and clean all lined up. The long lines of green and yellow tractors speeding by make me think that maybe the economy will be all right. 

I hate graffiti on personal and public property. Couldn't they just pee on a garage door if they want to mark their territory? However, I find the graffiti on train cars strangely interesting. I usually can't make out the words, even when the cars are standing, and I wonder why the taggers use mostly those big marshmallow letters. Occasionally there's a really nice pastoral scene in bright colors and pastels, and many geometric drawings with bright colors. The taggers are reaching for something, but they're stuck with the bottom half of freight cars.

Reader Comments

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Dave Coulter  

Posted: May 14th, 2012 5:59 PM

Sounds like there's never a dull moment up there!

cynthia breunlin from Oak Park  

Posted: May 6th, 2012 7:27 PM

Lovely writing....may you continue to enjoy Your Room with a View..............

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