Helicopters, sirens and NATO

Perfect summer like weather greets the weekend. Sounds of the season are everywhere with helicopters overhead and sirens in the roads. The downtown is empty and the ballpark draws a mediocre crowd. Ah, beautiful summer activity punctuated by snowplows in the park. WHAT? Yes, snowplows.
I have been greeted by the sounds of helicopters all day and continuing into the night. Sirens escort the important as police race to and fro. With the road closures, the streets near the Kennedy expressway are over crowded and my short trip of errands became a rather long one. What causes this urban mess? NATO.
If the meetings in Chicago were supposed to show off the President’s home town, than it could not show much. Of course, it is a beautiful ride into the downtown area and there must be spectacular views from McCormick Place, but the dignitaries are getting a very controlled view of “that toddlin town,” and residents are better off to stay away. What is the benefit exactly?
This type of weather is usually just the thing for downtown business on the weekend. Tourists and locals would normally take in all that the downtown has to offer. This weekend we were not offering much. If you could maneuver past the road closures and extra security, you certainly were not going to the museum campus. It was closed. The Art Institute is not on the campus but it is closed! The city has published a stunning map of places we can not go. Lake Shore Drive normally provides a beautiful ride, along with access to the shores of Lake Michigan. This weekend, however, we can just stay away. LSD (Lake Shore Drive, people!) is closed from 39th to Balbo and everything that leads into it. I would say that it was a good thing the White Sox were playing the Cubs on the north side of town, but someone thought it would be a great idea for the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan to throw out the first pitch at Wrigley Field, so that meant road closures all around Wrigley. The Sun-Times said the NATO Secretary General would throw out the first pitch. How can I believe the Sun-Times when they dare to claim in their online headline “Downtown a ghost town for traffic, despite NATO” If that’s true, then it is because of NATO.
While we are locked down like a communist capital during the cold war, what do these leaders learn about Chicago? They will not stroll the Magnificent Mile or see “State Street that great street.” They may get a private look at some of Chicago’s premier places, but they will not get to meet the people who make Chicago great. It would be great to pop into Macy’s (Marshall Field’s for you old timers), but even the locals are staying away in large numbers.
NATO summits generate little news around the world unless they encounter some problem. How does that help us here in middle America? Businesses are not helped when people do not come downtown. Presumably the city will get some reimbursement for working its police department in twelve-hour shifts for our visitors, rather than the usual 8. Needless to say, there will be no time off for city employees charged with guarding the dignitaries and dealing with protestors. Maybe the protestors will add to the local economy. The businesses and cultural institutions of Chicago that depend on the revenue of large weekend crowds, especially in good weather, just took a big hit. I am sure Angela Merkel will not be passing out euros to the locals as compensation for this weekends losses. She is busy doing that on the other side of the Atlantic.
It is a shame that our visiting heads of state can not stand out on the ledge of the Willis Tower (Sears Tower for you old timers), and marvel at the architecture of Chicago or gaze upon our vast shoreline. Some of them probably feel like they are out on a ledge anyway, considering the health of their economies.


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