August 21, 2006

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em

Chicago is a city of summer festivals. Being that the winter almost beats a Chicagoans will to live, it takes an entire summer to recharge and store up sunlight for the long, dark winters. I still will never forget my first winter here. I was working and looked outside. It was pitch black. Expecting I must have been feverishly at work for hours, I looked at my clock and almost gasped when it read 4:30 p.m. That’s right. When this begins in November and seemingly lasts until April, we need summer for as long as it will have us.

The Chicago parks and entertainment district as well as every single neighborhood is on the ball to maximize daylight hours from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Without exaggeration, there are about three festivals, art fairs or Tastes of (insert location here) every weekend. However, just because these festivals/fairs/tastes are going on each and every weekend, does not mean I attend them all. If anything, I generally try to avoid them. They all contain the same three elements - live music, vendors and a beer tent – with little variety except for the location. It can be fun to go and I have my favorites, but really, if you’ve seen one you’ve seen most. And being a person who likes to be able to actually walk down the street without having to urge to plow down everyone in my way (old ladies and babies in strollers included) I have to limit my attendance on account of my rage.

This weekend however, I could not avoid one of Chicago’s biggest festivals - the Air and Water Show. It is as it seems - a weekend of aquatic and aerial feats. The water portion was easy to ignore. The air portion - not so much.

I was lying in my bed on Saturday afternoon after having put in 5 hours of work beginning at 9 a.m. I was a little tired and trying to figure out the best use of the rest of my day. Then all of a sudden, I hear a thunderous noise first far toward the west and then it roared closer and closer until it was right overhead shaking the panes of glass in my apartment. “So much for an afternoon nap,” I thought, “the U.S. Air Force has different plans for my day.”

The air show had begun. This was only day one. I have experienced the noise of the air show before, but from the safety of my Wicker Park apartment - far from the lakefront. In fact, the weekend I moved to Chicago was the weekend of the air show. I remember asking very hesitantly if it was like this all the time. I figured our apartment must have been located right below a major flight path of either O’Hare or Midway. Thankfully I found out the noise was an annual, not weekly, event. I can say this though - experiencing the air and water show from Wicker Park versus my new apartment in Lakeview is a much different experience. I never had to contend with rattling windows in Wicker Park. In Lakeview, I do.

As I said this was day one of the air show, and it was a gloomy day with little visibility. I knew any frustration I felt at the roaring planes overhead, would be multiplied on Sunday since the weather was forecast as 78 and sunny. And it was.

I figured I had no choice but to enjoy the air show, so on Sunday I called up a co-worker and met she and her husband at the lakeshore. As I walked down the path, I could hear the roar of jets overhead. I kept looking up but saw nothing. While continuing on the path, I glanced to my left and saw a jet gliding by in the sky as graceful and quiet as a bird. It was flying low to the lake with strength and speed that is definitely not witnessed by me on a daily basis. Then as the jet continued past, I felt the rush of wind and heard the roar of the plane’s flight path. It was awesome to see and feel so close.

I made it down the lake, found my friend and sat and watched the remaining three hours of the show. My father would have been so proud and so jealous that I stayed.

There was one thought that kept creeping into my mind throughout the afternoon though. There were millions of people lining the lakeshore to watch these modern feats of engineering take to the skies for our own amusement. We were amazed to watch planes soar by in precise formations and dance through the skies at dizzying speeds. We clapped and cheered when planes buzzed by us close enough to feel their wake. The sound of these plans and their presence in the sky was exhilarating and exciting. It signaled a fun afternoon by the lake. For people in other parts of the world that sound is not associated with anything pleasant. It is filled with fear, worry and memories of heartache. And as they played the cheesiest of American anthems (“I’m Proud to Be an American”) on the loudspeakers, it did make me grateful to live in a place where I could find joy craning my neck to watch fighter pilots play at 10,000 feet above sea level. But it does not mean I did not feel a little bad for those who cannot.

As far as Chicago festivals go, I’d have to say the Air and Water show isn’t one to be lumped in with the standard art fair or music fest. While there were beer tents and vendors and music, as with any other festival, the jets made for a pretty unique edition to the Chicago summer line up.

I left the show slightly sun burnt and headed back home to go about the rest of my Sunday. While walking back, I realized this was now my third year being in the city for the Air and Water Show. And I also realized that meant I was embarking on my third year in this fabulous city. It is a little hard to believe.

Lesson learned: Time flies when you’re having fun. (Pun intended.)

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