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Relatively Speaking Downtown

(Photo: Sometimes the things we say don’t come out the way we intend.)

People say the strangest things to me in downtown Chicago. This past weekend was a trifecta. Sunday afternoon I ran into Marina City’s own Vincent Falk, aka the colorful, tour-boat-waving Riverace (rhymes with Liberace), standing together with Marina City Online scribe Steve Dahlman mid-span on the State Street Bridge.

“Vincent, do you know our neighbor, Mike Doyle?” asked Dahlman. “He’s another famous blogger in the building.”

“Of course, but he looks sad today,” replied Vincent, fingering my navy pullover. “See? He’s blue!”

Long ago I learned no one approaches Riverace without being badly punned. Dahlman chuckled.

“Dahlman, I can’t believe you laughed at that,” I said. “Even Vincent doesn’t think it’s funny, and he said it.”

I had just traded emails with Dahlman earlier in the afternoon, cajoling him for not commenting under the feature I wrote about him and his blog over at Chicagosphere. For someone with a local reputation built on trading condo gossip (I knew I liked him for a reason), he definitely has a tendency to soft-shoe his self-promotion.

He also has a tendency to bury the lead.

“Hey, I forgot to tell you, I’m getting married!” he cooed as we retreated from Vincent towards Wacker Drive.

“You’re what?” I asked, incredulous.

“Yes, me, getting married,” Dahlman answered.

“To a woman?” I asked, still not getting the memo.

Dahlman did his best Judy Tenuta in reply. “YEEEES!” he snarled in my direction.

“You didn’t tell me that before because why?” I asked.

“It slipped my mind,” replied Dahlman.

More likely you wanted to be sure you were ready for the news to be public knowledge before telling me, I thought. “Is this off the record?” I probed.

“Not at all,” Dahlman continued. “We’re aiming for August. She’s a really nice woman, my age–mid-forties, a nonprofit executive. She almost as much as asked me. There’s just one problem.”

Just the one? Thankfully, that was my inside voice.

“Tell me,” I said.

“We’d like some space, but I can’t leave Marina City,” Dahlman lamented. “The access to write about these buildings is too good to leave behind now. We need a two-bedroom somewhere in the towers.”

Only 16 out of Marina City’s 80 floors of apartments even have two-bedroom units, so I understood Dahlman’s dilemma: marriage or Marina City, but potentially not both.

I managed to muster, “Congratulations, anyway!” as I continued down State. I was on my way to dinner with Matt Countant, my bean-counter friend from West Tower. I hoped for the evening to be less contentious than the last time we hung out.

Lightweight that I am, I knew not to share a bottle of wine with a native South Sider. But the curiously dry gyros we were served at the usually amazing Parthenon last week needed to be washed down with something.

As Matt tried to guide my tottering form back towards Marina City, I told him how wondrous it still felt after four years in the towers to spend an evening out and be able to walk back home completely in downtown Chicago.

“We don’t live in downtown,” was Matt’s immediate response.

Oh, no he didn’t. “What are you talking about?” I asked. “Of course we live downtown. Where do you think downtown starts?”

“Inside the ‘L’ loop,” said Matt. “That’s downtown. Everything else is just near downtown.”

Am I, like, drunk and high, too? “Huh?” I verbally furrowed. “Don’t you think North Michigan Avenue’s downtown? That’s way north of where we live.”

“Well, I guess that’s downtown,” said Matt. “But not exactly.”

I’m being Punk’d, that’s got to be it. “What about the skyscrapers in the West Loop?” I protested. “The office buildings surrounding Marina City in River North? The CTA map’s downtown inset, for crying out loud?”

“There’s a difference between office districts and downtown,” Matt replied. “Let’s just agree to disagree, neither one of us is right or wrong.”

The drunken urban planner inside me had the urge to shake him right then and there. “That’s what you think,” I hissed before stumbling.

Yesterday afternoon when Matt and I met up again at Buckingham Fountain, my foot-in-mouth syndrome was far more immediate.

“Can you take our picture?” asked two lovely, young African-American women standing next to the railing of the enormous, iconic fountain.

“Sure,” I replied, taking hold of the camera. Matt stepped aside as I lined up the shot.

And with all due respect to the memory of Kate and Clarence Buckingham, I have no idea what possessed me to utter my next words.

“…What do you want behind you?”

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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 didn’t realize we had the smallest downtown in the country. =P

    That’s definitely a first though. Most non-natives I talk to refer to everywhere that isn’t the ‘hood they’re staying in as “downtown”. For example, a student I talked to from U of C said he loved this little restaurant he had been to in “downtown”…. in Boystown. *headdesk*

    Oh, and for the record? You know who says we should “agree to disagree”?

    People who are wrong.


  2. For the record I said I thought ‘downtown’ was bordered on the west and north by the Chicago River, not just the ‘L’ loop. But again does it really matter? I’m living in Chicago and I couldn’t be happier.

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