When you choose to live in the place where you grew up, history accrues. Kid history mixes with adult history and family history gets tossed in there, too. Chicago is my home by birth and by choice and I don’t imagine ever leaving this place. I am grateful for the immigrant grandparents that chose it and my parents, my Dad especially, who taught me to love it. Living here is a privilege and yes, sometimes a challenge, but more often than not I feel immense gratitude for being able to call Chicago home.
Lake Shore Drive, for those of you not lucky enough to live here, is the mythic main artery that runs along the eastern edge of the City along Lake Michigan’s shores. If you live anywhere near it, as I do, it is most likely your preferred means of going north or south. I have been driving ‘The Drive’ as it’s called for all of my 45 years.
When I was a kid, Lake Shore Drive carried me to museums and the zoo and Grant Park symphonies and air shows and ChicagoFest concerts at Navy Pier. As a teen I drove along it with my girlfriends, not yet quite understanding that the Lake is always east, so having no idea if we were traveling north or south, but just young and happy and dumb and free, as teens can be, so not really caring either. As a young adult, Lake Shore Drive brought me to swanky parties and my preferred shopping destinations.
Life was always good when it involved Lake Shore Drive. It meant an event of some sort, a special day, a destination that would involve fun or adventure. Good times, always.
As an adult, like many things in adulthood, Lake Shore Drive has become more complicated. Lake Shore Drive brought me to the apartment where my Mom was slowly dying of cancer. Lake Shore Drive brought me to the doctor’s office where I learned of four miscarriages. Lake Shore Drive brought me to the hospital that treated my daughter for the brain tumor that would take her life. Lake Shore Drive brings me to the hospital where I have been visiting my Dad the past month.
It takes me about 15 minutes to get from my back door to the northern tip of Lake Shore Drive at Hollywood. It’s like a worn path, instinctive, comforting, an old friend in ashphalt that understands me. Driving south with the Lake at my left and greenery and high rises on my right brings me peace, always. Day or night, not a single trip passes that I don’t think to myself how lucky I am that I get to live in such a place. This despite cursing Mayor Rahm Emanuel every time I drive under the North Avenue overpass that the previous Mayor Daley took the time and dollars to decorate with flowers. Beauty is important, Rahm. Daley knew that and I appreciated that about him.
I have so many comforting memories, too, that are called to mind every time I whiz by. When my daughter worried about the winter trees being lonely and cold without their leaves, we were driving down Lake Shore Drive. When she fed the ducks bread, it was while visiting a friend who lives at Diversy and Lake Shore. She, too, logged a lot of miles going up and down the Drive that brought her back and forth to the hospital her life depended on. Making that exit off Fullerton, I feel her there, still, despite my daughter and that hospital now both being gone.
And there is that sweet, sweet spot, just south of North, when you are close to the skyline and you know that that same skyline will swallow you up whole if you stay south on Michigan Avenue. The city that you get closer and closer to as you travel south just envelops you and embraces you and you become a part of it just by staying the course of a southern path. I’ve tried to capture this sensation in photos a hundred times, at least, and failed each and every attempt. You just need to see it, to drive it, to feel it.
Lake Shore Drive is more than a road. It is memory and history and tragedy and joy and strength and beauty and so, so much of my life.