Chicago's famed "Magnificent Mile" begins just above the Art Institute on Randolph Street and follows Michigan Avenue north across the Chicago River and past the John Hancock building before finally terminating at North Avenue. World-class shopping can be enjoyed along the entire route, and I suppose one can truthfully claim that the avenue's sights and attractions are as magnificent as, say, the Grand Canyon is grand. That said, I've always enjoyed one small stretch of the Mile to the exclusion of all others. Framed by Lake Michigan to the east and city-stretching-into-prairie on the west, the roughly 200 feet of the Michigan Avenue Bridge is perhaps the single most impressive urban landscape I've ever seen.
I should qualify that last statement by noting that the view from the Michigan Avenue Bridge is also one of the first urban landscapes I ever witnessed, and for that matter, one of the first truly modern landscapes the world had ever seen. Skyscrapers came of age in the twenties, and bracketing the north side of the bridge are two gleaming-white examples of the craft, the Tribune Tower and the Wrigley Building. These two Jazz Age cathedrals serve not only as exclusive guard towers to the booming economic clout of North Chicago, but as a gateway to American Modernism itself. While straining your neck at these buildings and standing on the Michigan Avenue Bridge with cars rumbling both past and beneath, you feel not only physically within the city but that you are experiencing the City as a capital-letter concept as well.
On your next trip to Chicago, I suggest you take the time to walk north across this double-deck drawbridge. U.S. and State of Illinois Flags will flutter violently on either side, and after you cross the bridge, the Wrigley Building will be on your left. Thirty-stories tall and distinguished by a two-story clock, the Wrigley Building's exterior features six shades of tiles that ensure the structure appears brighter as it rises. On your right will be the gothic Tribune Tower. At the tower's bottom is a WGN studio with a large plate glass window and weather and time displays, but I've never seen anything terribly exciting happening in the broadcast booth. As a college student, I used to enjoy walking around the Tribune Tower and looking at their stone collection, but to be honest, the practice of collecting famous stones from places like the Great Wall of China, the Parthenon, and the Alamo and then cementing them to the facade of a building now strikes me as a bit kitsch.
Finally, since I am actually writing this journal entry on St. Patrick's Day, it occurs to me that earlier today city employees must have partaken in the bizarre annual ritual of turning the Chicago River green. I once actually watched the transformation take place from the Michigan Avenue Bridge. Chemicals were dumped in the river and a motorboat speed around in circles to stir them up. Turning a river bright green always strikes me as a strangely 1970s custom and smacks of a time when people were enthralled by the power of chemistry to change the world, yet innocent of its long-term environmental impact. I assume, of course, that the chemicals are non-toxic or the practice would have been stopped long ago, but the gaudiness of the green river does not mesh very well with the glamour of the bridge. I suppose this sort of contrast is distinctly Chicagoan, but I would recommend avoiding the bridge on St. Patrick's Day all the same.