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The Joys of High-Rise Living

(Photo: Opposing nightly: 1,300 screaming concert-goes and 1,500 sleeping condo-dwellers.)

Kneeling in front of the toilet bowl shortly after I moved into my Marina City high-rise home, I realized there are some things newbie tower dwellers have to learn for themselves. No matter how long you stare at the water line, you’re not going to see evidence of the building swaying. That was an early lesson in skyscraper living for me.

Sure, in the midst of a powerful winter storm (or tornado warning, for that matter) you may hear the disembodied grandmother who lives in the walls ominously rocking her chair back and forth, perfectly in time with each blast of wind. You may even see the Target pendant lamp that you sticky-taped to the concrete ceiling for want of a percussion drill to properly mount it sway slowly from side to side. But it takes more than Mother Nature to make your toilet water take notice of structural displacement.

No matter how much you take note of it, yourself. The first time I weathered a blizzard on the 38th floor, I spent a lot of the time sitting on my couch with my feet tucked under me. Seated thusly, it was harder to feel the heart-stopping, gong-like vibration that passed from outside balcony to inside floorplate with each passing wind gust.

More unsettling are the ghostlike sounds.Harder to notice during the activity of the day, it’s when you’re just falling off to sleep that the clicks and groans are most apparent and you realize what a living, breathing, occasionally annoying thing a high-rise really is.As the building responds to the heat of the day, tiny expansions and contractions race up and down outer walls and windows.

Attentive residents can tell the direction of movement. Four quick cracks and a half-groan in a two-second span forming an auditory pattern marching from the floor beneath my bed, across the window wall, and through the AC housing above the balcony door means an upward expansion. If I’ve awakened with a start at 2:00 a.m., it also means I need to turn my air purifier higher or I’ll never sleep soundly through the night’s concrete cacophony.

If it’s that late and I’m still not asleep, chances are my alertness is in response to an entirely different set of noises. Mostly hoots, hollers, chants, whistles, car horns, car stereos, firecrackers, gunshots, and an occasional blood-curdling scream. As I’ve learned in the past three years, no amount of white noise on the planet suffices to soften the din of an exiting crowd from the House of Blues, exactly 38 floors directly beneath my balcony.

For newcomer Marina Citizens, one unquestionable law of simple physics is perhaps the nastiest lesson of all: sound travels up.Longtime corncob dwellers will be familiar with this law’s corollary: the later the sound emanates from the House of Blues, the louder the sleeping condo dweller perceives it.

Couple this with the Old Style Significant Error, a well-known local statistic that measures the ability of a Chicagoan to become increasingly inebriated in an exponential manner relative to the lateness of the hour, and you’ll understand why many a high-rise resident here has House of Blues management on speed dial.

Not that a 15-person fistfight after a Korn concert can be mitigated by a voicemail after the fact.Or by an entire House of Blues security team frequently seen huddling off to the side and shrugging, for that matter.I don’t blame them, some of those nu metal fans look pretty rough from up here.Wide wake as we are anyway, many of us take to our balconies during these melees and place bets on the biggest guy to win.

If it weren’t for the Chicago Fire Department’s potent post-9/11 sirens, designed to keep drivers within a half-mile radius out of the way by forcing them to pull over to wipe the blood from their ears, we might actually call the paramedics to scrape the losers up off the pavement.

Hard luck to them. High-rise early risers have to sleep sometime.

Categories: Marina City

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Mike Doyle

I’m an #OpenlyAutistic gay, Hispanic, urbanist, Disney World fan, New York native, politically independent, Jewish blogger in Chicago. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I write words and raise money for nonprofits. I’ve written this blog since 2005. And counting...

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9 replies

  1. I doubt too many suburbanites would put up with even a quarter of the noise highrise urbanites endure that travels from the street day and night. If it’s not the 24/7 fire department and ambulance runs, it’s the constant cacophony from party boats along the Chicago River.

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  3. I guess I’m lucky I can sleep through anything. Being on the 21st floor directly above Dearborn and right next to HOB, I get plenty of end-of-day noise. But after more than five years, I don’t even notice it unless someone else (usually on the phone) points it out to me – and that includes all the daytime sirens, traffic, and construction noise.

    As for the sounds of the building shifting and settling, I grew up in the woods of Louisiana, listening to wood frame houses settle into the soft, wet ground that makes up the Mississippi River flood plains. I fell asleep nightly to the sounds of crickets, frogs, canines (both wild and domesticated), felines (ditto), and storms worse than the one I recently slept through. A little wind and creaking walls barely register. And I really can’t tell that the building sways…

  4. Seriously, where did you come from? You live smack-dab in the middle of one of the biggest metropolitan cities in the WORLD. Yes, you are going to hear noises. Yes, you live in a high rise. So quit complaining about it or move into something that doesn’t have more than three floors.
    Your whiney post is just about as bad as people that move near an airport then complain about the noise.

  5. As someone who appreciates the view but would never have the guts to live more than three floors off the ground, I enjoyed reading your first-hand observations of high-rise living. Thanks for continuing to share your unique perspective on living in Chicago in this unique landmark.

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