Since last Thursday I have been a close and nervous observant of the streets of Chicago as we prepare to host the NATO SUMMIT. Friday was a quite day with an eeriness. Some stores in the South Loop boarded up, wisely. The buses were on time, but there were few riders. The side streets had few cars. The restaurants were not busy. Chicago had turned into a ghost town. I went to the store Thursday evening to stock up and saw a friend doing the same, just in case. You were anticipating the worse, prepared at all cost. Downtown was still. Corporate types had been told to dress down.
I am in the theater of the red alert of NATO. Our business offices are on South Michigan Avenue. We closed the offices from Friday until Tuesday. Michigan Avenue is a key street where the protestors marched. Much of the day I was in the office alone and got much accomplished. It was a quiet day and people were guarded. I met a NATO visitor at the bus stop. He had visited the Sears Tower and wanted to see McCormick Place prior to the functions so that he could get his bearings. Some of my neighbors left town, because it was all too close for comfort.
Saturday the same eerie feeling is there. What are we expecting? You could see the city’s diligent preparation. I rode my bike south on the lakefront, met a friend at the new 31st Street harbor. We chatted and enjoyed the new pier. I rode back north and he south. I drove to the dentist south on King Drive. The south side was normal past 35th street. I don't know if they cared about NATO.
I rode my bike Sunday morning down State Street. I saw unmarked cars everywhere. The NATO Summit was at McCormick Place this afternoon with all of the world leaders. Helicopters were flying low. The city was prepared just in case. I rode down Michigan Avenue. Emergency vehicles were in place. The parking lots were empty, except with emergency autos.
Sunday. A strange site it was to see no cars riving n the expressway. Lonely and startling. Is this the calm before the storm? I got home at noon. Streets were blocked off. Police were friendly. All is well. And then it came. Friends were coming to pick up my mother for a graduation party. We had plotted how they would get here. We waited downstairs only to learn they couldn’t get through on the cross street. I went to the officers on the corner. They said, we will let you out but you may not get back in. I looked down Michigan Avenue and it was a site I had never seen before. Protestors. Police. It looked like a war zone. Lights were flashing, police were lined up ready for action. Newsmen were on the roof tops. Who’s in charge? Lights were flashing, protestors loud, police cool in uniform armed, patient but stern. . Their attitude was you will not tear up Chicago. I felt safe, yet threatened. Who are these strange protestors and what are they protesting? I turned around and came back home, convinced that I would be in a locked down mode until Monday.
I called a friend, who lives only blocks away. He went on his balcony and could see the protestors coming his way across the bridge near Mercy Hospital. The protestors had broke rank and they were the bold Black Bloc agitators. The police took charge, kindly too charge, to turn the protestors west. He was giving me a blow by blow description as he watched the drama from his balcony. They were trying to get to McCormick Place on King Drive. The police were firm but determined. There was the police patrol in force, -- on bikes, on foot, and and in cars. They were well trained. The protestors were confused. Eventually the protesters turned around, headed back downtown. Second day in a row the policemen turned the protestors around and closed streets including the expressways appropriately. The police were ahead of the protestors in every way.
I have prayed that NATO was not a repeat of 1968 when the protestors came to the Democratic National Convention to meet an ugly confrontation.
NATO has been a great public relations item for the City of Chicago and I hope it spurs the economy and puts the city on the international map. But I anxiously await for the buses to return to Michigan Avenue and the cars to run on the expressways and the cars to park on the street and the small businesses to unboard their buildings. It’s time for Chicago to return to normal.
What were your experience as NATO visited Chicago? Were you affected?