Windy City Heat

The last time I remember heat like this was in Chicago circa 1994. I had accompanied a friend to visit her boyfriend at the time, and we took a train from Albany to the Windy City in the middle of a killer heatwave. I won’t go into the pleasures of a train ride of that duration and length (and a train conductor who kept hitting on me to the point that everyone was uncomfortable), but when we arrived and stepped onto the platform to be greeted with 100 degree heat, my spirit died a little.

Fortunately, I had booked myself into a nice downtown hotel, where the air conditioning was strong, and the lobby cool and dim. I didn’t know the city at all at that point, but after cooling down a little I ventured forth into the evening air and walked around the area. The heat was still on, so I returned early to plan the next day, starting with the shopping.

Based on whatever tourist shopping guide was in the hotel desk, I began the morning heading toward the Magnificent Mile. If it was good enough for Oprah, it was good enough for me. It was right by the hotel, and thank God – the heatwave continued, with temperatures nearing 100 again. One couldn’t walk twenty feet without breaking into a full-fledged after-the-marathon sweat.

I made my way slowly along that vaunted stretch of a shopping mecca, stopping at every other store not for purchasing purposes, but to escape the dreadful heat. The Water Tower Mall saved me, its high-rise vertical expanse an island of cool air. I stayed there until the worst of the afternoon heat wore on, then I made the store-to-store shuffle back to the hotel.

Back in the room, the news was all about the heatwave, and how it had already killed about 300 elderly folks, and thousands of chickens. Not sure why I remember that more than anything else, but such is how the memory works. That evening, I somehow managed to find the way to Halsted, and Boystown, but I wasn’t old enough to get into the bars, so I didn’t bother trying. It was enough to see the rainbow flags and peruse a few flamboyant stores seemingly designed for drag queens (and myself).

It was my first visit to Chicago, and despite the heat I enjoyed every moment (with the possible exception of watching my friend’s boyfriend hide a pretzel in the rolls of his stomach). I did not know then that I would one day move to the city for a man I loved, and walk these same streets as an adult, alone and not knowing a soul.

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