Observations of Chicago


Sophia Diaz

A night view overlooking the Chicago River

Sophia Diaz, Staff Writer

Thrill after thrill passed over me from simply being in the presence of such a myriad of people. My family and I waited for the train amidst families, ambitious adults, a few shady characters, and a miscellaneous assortment of others. I felt bold to be brushing shoulders with those behaving in ways my sheltered suburban upbringing would deem questionable. It excited me to be near people who weren’t afraid to talk on the phone before a multitude of strangers, especially when their blatant conversations caused quite a few raised eyebrows. There were sudden pearls of wisdom, such as the rather loud revelation that Stacey’s boyfriend was afraid of commitment. Other interactions emitted immediate intimacy: a conductor and passenger swapped stories of their recent surgeries, wishing each other well in their medical journeys…

Flashes of eye contact with stranger after stranger. I wondered what effect my gaze had on each curious mind. Their passing looks granted me fleeting attention and distinguished me with a second of sole importance. Oh, that it might last a second longer – one of these sparks of interest could evolve, could last, could be the memorable first glance at “the one.”

The expanse of rail ahead of us gradually diminished, and my father became one of the brave strangers to fill the train with his experience, pointing out the window at this soccer field and that, telling my mother and I the infinite stories of his glory days, as his high school athleticism intertwined with our passing surroundings. He reveled in his past victories, giving us the breakdown of each game, remembering the team’s losses and the successes in such vivid detail! I thought to myself on my youth thus far with fondness and hoped to infuse these formative years with more adventure and passion and abandon, so that I too may have these days of no regret, days that I may also look back on them with that smirk of rebellious remembrance.

We finally arrived in that flashing, cold, busy city of Chicago, and I looked up to the skyscrapers, craning my neck to meet my eyes with the very tops of these impressive monstrosities. I was humbled by their grandeur- I, so small by comparison, seemed almost nothing amongst the bustling millions and growing buildings. I was dazed by their sheer number, height, and shine.

This childlike wonder was soon overtaken by the slap of reality on my now weathered face. My eyes met a pair that looked out of a familiar face, resembling that of my brother’s friend. I soon took notice of a permanent teardrop below his right eye, markedly distinguishing the face before me from the man I knew back home. Knowing full well the meaning of this dark mark, I quickly darted my eyes to the gray, slush-covered ground of the street. The volatile connection I had just made instilled me with fear, and I proceeded briskly forward with false confidence.

All at once, my heart broke.

I was comforted by the presence of my father yet angered at my needing him. I reflected on the dynamics of gender in urban society, and thought of the overly romanticized gesture of a man, the big strong protector, walking his female companion home in the dark. This attempt at romance says more about our society than I had realized. Far too often, a solitary woman is perceived as an easier target in the streets, making them more susceptible to the dangers of the city. I believe that capability and strength depend on the person, not the gender. However, the harsh reality dictates that women must take extra precautions against the world simply because it doubts them. I had once again witnessed the unjust social profiling of women as the “fairer” sex. The Teardrop Man opened my eyes to the work left unfinished in our society of judgment and ranks.

Still, my soul cries to think of the circumstances that lead this man to such extreme darkness. I felt a weight on my shoulders all throughout that day and into the night, while I lay awake listening to the sound of ceaseless sirens. I desperately long to bring light to the many dark and forgotten corners of the world, but how will they receive my outstretched hand? Will they even want my help? I seek the realization of this humanitarian dream but know not where the starting line resides. I blindly grope for a plan to fix to this broken, beautiful world, as I drift into a troubled half-sleep.

The next day, I noted a culture of “each person for him/herself.” Parents gripped the hands of their children a little tighter when they passed a perceived threat, be it a homeless person or a particularly intimidating stranger. We are taught early on to withhold judgment – but in the face of danger, in hopes of protecting one’s child, in facing the harsh reality of this world, all benefit-of-the-doubt flies out the window. We try to reserve judgment, but we are too quick to forget the starry-eyed citizens we attempt to be and replace them with tough-skinned, weathered adults with tunnel vision for safety. However, these notions are troubled by the wintertime, which conceals each passerby in layers of warmth – buried under a puffy coat, who can tell the seedy from the upstanding, or the tourist from the native?

As our trip came to a close, we ended up in the train station, and I caught a glimpse of a shining, struggling visage that reminded me of my past. I thought back to that once important face, wishing it well and moving on yet again

We then strode to our ride, the pulsing locomotive, and I wondered who else walked this path to or from the city, full of hopes and dreams and fear and naivety, or disenchanted, fulfilled, finished with their urban endeavors, moving on to new ones or returning to their humble abodes. We stepped onto the train and journeyed on, away from blustery, humming metropolis. I lay my head on my brother’s shoulder, enveloped in peace, yet filled with the residue of thrills that only the city can provide. In that dear moment, I was content to be content, with those I know and love well.