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Chicago – Meditations on the Cold

Written by Mark McElroy

Chicago’s legendary cold can’t chill our warm hearts.

Yesterday, we shopped the Miracle Mile and walked to Lou Malnati’s in bright, sunny fifteen degree weather.

Fifteen degrees.

At fifteen degrees, the icy wind coming off the frozen river makes your eyes water … and then the water turns to frost. At fifteen degrees, exhaling creates long, trailing clouds of steam. At fifteen degrees, your hands find your pockets quickly.

At fifteen degrees, the homeless become desperate and aggressive. We pass not one, not two, but three men in hats, coats, and boots shouting, “Help me! HELP ME!!! I’m freezing to death! Can’t you see me? Can’t you hear me? HELP! I NEED HELP!”

Later, in the warm hotel, the fog from their voices still clings to me. On t.v., AMC’s playing a Walking Dead marathon.

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In one episode, Rick — grim-faced, focused, emotionless — drives past a hitchhiker who is pleading for help. The act seems brutal and heartless. Clyde recalls the homeless men on the street, and asks, “Are we any different?”

This morning, we walk in three degree weather to breakfast. The streets are clear; the corners are deserted. The homeless have gone somewhere — where? — and now we are two of maybe six pedestrians, bunched up and assaulted by the severe cold.

We’re walking just one block, you know, so I don’t put up my hood. By the time we arrive — three minutes later — my ears and face are red and stinging.

At three degrees, if you don’t keep moving, the cold settles into your bones. At three degrees, the wind slices through denim jeans like a wave of icy water. At three degrees, even my cozy seat upstairs at Rise and Shine is close enough to the window to require a coat, because the cold seeps through the brick and glass and chills the entire second floor, despite the sunshine.

On the walk back to the hotel, we linger in the Walgreen’s — the only store open this time of the morning. We shop for shaving cream. We are surprised to find travel-sized cans of bed-bug spray. (Who would want to sleep in a bed just sprayed with DEET?)

We pick out Valentine’s Day cards for each other. Clyde’s for me says, “I don’t know why I put up with you — but it’s probably because you put up with me.” Mine for Clyde says, “When we get to heaven together, we’ll probably look around and say, ‘Yep. We pretty much had this on Earth.'”

After we share these with each other, we decide we’ve had the moment the cards were meant to inspire, and we laugh and leave them in the racks.

Back at the hotel, we wait for ten o’clock, when the stores will open. We’re the first two people to spend the night in a newly refurbished room on the top floor — a small apartment of a space perched atop the Peninsula Chicago.

It is almost as large as our condo, with a glassed-in shower, a glassed-in toilet (!), and touch screens on every surface that control everything from mood lighting to the television. The massive media center in the bedroom might as well be a control panel on the U.S.S. Enterprise.

Clyde browses. I write. And then — time to shop. We’ll go spend a few hours at Macy’s and the mall, and then hop an Uber car to Union Station, where we’ll take the Empire Builder west to Seattle.

As we head back out into the brutal cold, bundled up tight, walking side by side, I am grateful, grateful, grateful.

For Clyde. For our life together. For everything.

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Mark McElroy

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