Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Pedway

Underneath downtown Chicago, there’s a system of tunnels that stretches across roughly five miles of the city. This is the Pedway, where tens of thousands of people walk each day, to and from the office to the train and back again, maybe stopping in Macy’s or at Au Bon Pain before getting on the Red line or the Metra, or before walking up to earth, where the city is alive above.

Until I worked in downtown Chicago, I was completely unaware that this underground world existed. On any given day, I can get off the train and stay underground, winding through this system of tunnels, all the way until I get to my office building. From there, it’s only an escalator ride up and a quick glimpse out the windows to see the real world before I take the elevator to my office floor.

Usually, even when the weather is at its worst—and in downtown Chicago, worst really can and does mean exactly that—I hate taking the Pedway the entire route to or from the office. I feel like a rat in a maze, following the herds of people bundled up in their winter coats, a dull mix of fur-lined hoods in greys, blacks, and browns. (When did we all receive the memo to be drab and colorless in the winter?) We all take our turns through one revolving door after another, until we make it to our train station or the steps leading up, and out.


It’s Sunday, which means I’m not downtown and don’t have to worry about my commute. I’ve been cooped up in my apartment all weekend, sick. Today, finally, I felt better, and was eager to get out of my apartment, and back to the real world. I was antsy to get outside, even though the view from my window was gray and bleak: snow turning to freezing rain, and barely any one walking down the street.

So I ventured outdoors for the first time in two and a half days, carrying my garbage and walking sideways, slowly, down my back steps, afraid I was going to fall. I made it to the last step, and then, walking around the corner on the sidewalk, promptly fell flat on my butt in a patch of ice. The garbage bag fell out of my hands and I cursed to myself, looking around to see if anyone had seen. There was no one around. I tried to get up and slipped, again. As I clutched the neighbor’s fence and pulled myself up, I still felt embarrassed, even though I was positive no one had seen me fall.

A minute later, as I was scraping the snow and sleet off my car, a couple walked by, bundled up and clinging to each other, maybe for warmth, maybe for balance, maybe for comfort. It was probably all of those things.


In the Pedway, it seems, everyone is alone. And maybe that’s why it depresses me to walk along with the masses down there: We’re right there, in Chicago, but yet we’re not. It’s a means to an end. We’re underneath it all.

Last Thursday, leaving work, I reached the point in my Pedway walk where I have a choice: I could go one more level down, and take the Pedway all the way to the Blue line (as I had done that morning). Or, I could head outside to Michigan and Lake, and deal with the cold the rest of the walk. I paused, only for a second, and headed to the revolving doors leading outside.

I didn’t have anyone’s arm to cling to, and it’s much more likely I could fall in a slick patch on the sidewalk. But outside, the city was still lit up and beautiful as ever. I played a new song on my iTunes and turned it up, loud.

It was cold, but it didn’t feel bleak. I was right there.


By tomorrow, this mix of sleet and freezing rain will turn all the sidewalks into a giant skating rink. It’s likely I might fall down again. I might have to take the Pedway all the way from the train to the office. I’ll be wearing a fur-lined hooded coat and boots like the rest of the masses. It might seem a little bleak. I might feel a little alone, surrounded by strangers doing the exact same thing.

But that’s okay. Above us, the city waits.

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