One of the first things I fell in love with as a newcomer to Chicago was driving north in the wee small hours of the morning, on Lake Shore Drive.
The Drive, created in stages since the 1860s, and currently running from Hollywood Avenue on the North Side to 66th Street on the South Side, has a fascinating history (at least I find it fascinating, YMMV).
I didn't know any of the history when I arrived in Chicago back in 1981. What I did know were the drives north at 4:30 a.m. in a friend's car, as we drove BB home from his bartending job. As I was falling headfirst in love with BB, I also fell headfirst in love with the Drive.
Darkness to the east; Lake Michigan, its vast inland sea depths unimaginably compelling. Unseen at night, the stretches of park and beachfront, miles long, fronting the lake's shoreline.
Jewels of light on the Drive's west side, the variegated windows of high-rises, each building another stone strung along the invisible necklace of internal streets pacing the Drive.
The sight was magical to me, especially the sleep-deprived lovesick me of that time.
In the years since I first fell in love with it, I've driven more of Lake Shore Drive - heading south into the heart of Burnham's big plan, past Buckingham Fountain and Millennium Park, past Grant Park', where antiwar protestors warned Boss Daley and his cops in 1968 that the whole world was watching, past the Adler Planetarium, the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium and, further south, the University of Chicago and Hyde Park and past the Museum of Science and Industry. I've driven past the Jackson Park lagoon and the South Side neighborhoods many of those in all those North Shore high-rises would like to forget.
Lake Shore Drive is Chicago, just as much as all the city's inland neighborhoods. It's evolved a long way from the days when it was Potter Palmer's front drive, or the days when it was known as Leif Eriksen Drive. So I fully support the most recent effort to help it evolve: the effort to have the Outer Drive (there's an Inner Drive that shelters rich folk) named after the first non-indigenous settler of Chicago, the black, possibly Caribbean-born trader Jean Baptiste Poiint DuSable.
The move has been postponed for a month - racial politics in Chicago, what a surprise - but it will happen. And I'm glad.
Still, it will probably take a little time before it stops being Lake Shore Drive in my head. So have this song, by the gloriously regional Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah, which is just as wonderful for me (especially the piano) as the roadway it celebrates.
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