Chicago: City of Tomorrow

So one of the reasons for my delay in blogging about the Writers of the Future week was my business trip to Chicago two days after I returned from California. For a guy who didn’t have a passport a month ago I’ve certainly logged some miles on mine…

I was in Chicago to attend the American Political Science Association’s annual meeting. I’d never been to Chicago and was looking forward to seeing the Windy City (it wasn’t really that windy when I was there, however.)

My colleague Ryan and I stayed in the Sheraton Chicago.

The lobby…

…my room (yeah, that’s a King-sized bed)…

…the view.

You know–it was an okay hotel (!)

And yet, almost as soon as I arrived in Chi-town, I felt something was different. I couldn’t put my finger on it until I saw this piece of artwork in the lobby:

Remind you of anything? Perhaps something from…the future?

And that’s when I realized it: Chicago was a sci-fi city. It all started to fall into place. So much of what we saw and where we went was decorated in the Art Deco style–and what was Art Deco but the design of how the future was supposed to look?

Further proof of my theory was not long in coming.

I turned around just in time to witness this strange event: two people (obviously time travelers, given their ridiculous attire–a painful, failed attempt to blend in with early 21st Century natives) stood in front of the trickling fountain in the lounge. As soon as they saw me the man did a strange, shamanistic dance…

…and they blinked out of existence, no doubt returning to their natural point in the space-time continuum. That guy to the right of the statue apparently heard the same ‘pop’ that as I did as the disappeared.

Other clues were available in the skyline of Chicago, like this honeycomb-like building–half apartments, half open parking ten storeys off the ground. Who needs to park so high unless…that’s right: unless you have flying cars.

But perhaps the most blatant example of Chicago’s place as a futuristic city were the number of anti-starship artillery batteries on display atop the buildings of Chicago’s skyline. Take just these examples–the ion cannon mounted on the NBC Tower (foreground) and the massive twin rail guns sprouting from the black obelisk that is the John Hancock Building (background).

My theory now entrenched, I could turn to my duties as UTP’s representative to the APSA book fair. Lest you think this was a cushy week for me, the book fair this year was located three floors below the lobby of the Hyatt in what appeared to be a renovated parking garage and, below, you see the only available refreshments:

Yup. A bucket of thumb tacks. What’s worse–they were self-serve.

After a few days of such treatment, I decided I needed to get out and wander the city a bit.

A genuine American urban alleyway–it even has fire escapes!

North…and south along Michigan Ave.

Anybody remember how this building–the Smurfit-Stone Building (I swear)–features in Adventures in Babysitting? My life-long crush on Elisabeth Shue was started by that movie…

But then my reverie was broken when I spotted this terrible metal monstrosity. Turns out, much to my relief, it was not some terrible robotic invader, but rather a theater. It looks to me like Shakespeare blew up…

Near by, however, were signs of an alien presence.

Chicagoans call it ‘the Bean’, but look at it–it’s clearly a spaceship. Has no one else seen Flight of the Navigator?!? And how do you think the aliens are going to feel when they realize that we’ve been letting pigeons (look close–you’ll see him) crap all over the top of their shiny spaceship?

From the underside. ‘Thing Big’ indeed.

Near by, people practice rhythmic dancing to welcome and
appease the aliens. I, for one, welcome our alien overlords!

The fountain outside the Art Institute of Chicago. Note the sculpture.

This is a depiction of the little-known myth of the Trickelous Sisters–who, when
they spurned his advances, were condemned by Zeus to have water poured over
them constantly every day. The two older sisters (middle center and right) seem
to be coping okay, but the one in the bottom left looks like she’s about to lose
it entirely. I still think Sisyphus or Prometheus had it tougher.

At last I arrived at the Field Museum of Natural History–one of the most amazing museums I have ever visited (and I’m a museum kinda guy). I arrived at the back door:

That’s right–this is the BACK door.

“My name is Sue! How do you do!”

And there she, err, he, err, IT was–Sue! The world’s largest, most complete, and best preserved Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton and the reason I wanted to visit the Field in the first place.

Named for Sue Hendrickson, the paleontologist who discovered it, no one is sure whether this T-rex was female or not. Meaning (you guessed it) this could be a boy named Sue…

(The story of Sue’s discovery and sale is actually quite interesting, as there was quite a controversy about who owned the remains. I recommend Steve Fiffer’s book Tyrannosaurus Sue for the full story.)


A lovely view out the window from the dinosaur exhibit.

I’ve always loved prehistoric megafauna that lived around the time of the
last great Ice Age. Here we have a Woolly Mammoth and the giant Irish Elk.

This is the front door of the Field Museum.

Is that another spaceship? Oh no–just Soldier Field.

On Sunday morning we bid farewell to the City of Tomorrow. I wish I’d been able to spend more time there, but I took some solace in knowing that Toronto was even better defended from orbital bombardment than Chicago.

– S.