Wednesday, June 24, 2009

In a city that knows how to keep its secrets

Spring never arrived, and summer blew in like a defective furnace that never shuts off. Last Friday when I left work, the temperature was 87ºF, and the humidity 96 percent. It's like the tropics, but without the charm of exotic birds and monkeys, unless you count Hyde Park's monk parakeets (which, by the way, I haven't seen in a while). Here by the lakefront, the temperature was lower and less likely to induce a coma, at least in me.

J. was visiting relatives in Oklahoma, but that didn't deter me from taking a cab to Ogilvie Transportation Center and a train to Braeside, then walking to Ravinia for A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor. Although Keillor hasn't slowed down that I've noticed, I didn't want to miss the opportunity as there's no way to know how much longer he'll want to travel and do live shows—or will be able to. Life presents us with many surprises, not all of them in the plus column.

I found a spot near the walk that looked like it would remain reasonably shaded for most of the afternoon (it did, except for one 10- to 20-minute lapse when the sun started to beat my brain and I moved a few feet over).

After getting comfortable and breaking out cheese and crackers, I noticed something I thought was new—video screens on both sides of the stage, like those I'd seen a Sting concert years ago in Grant Park. Ravinia has succumbed to the call of the YouTube video age, where you pay lots of money to go to a concert and watch it on TV. My blanket happened to be positioned so that I could see both screens, although at a distance. Is there not a little irony in going to listen to a live radio show and finding that even those who paid Pavilion prices are seeing it up close and personal, with a teeny Garrison and guests on stage and a giant Garrison and guests looming to the left and right?

It was a good show, although I found the increased visibility of security unsettling. Three to five security men were always in view in my little area, which made me nervous about inadvertently doing anything I didn't see anyone else doing. One of the men spoke to a woman because one foot of her chair was partly off the grass and onto the walkway. There's something about that kind of strict enforcement of "The Rules" that disturbs me.

The crowd struck me as a younger than I remember or expected. There seemed to be fewer elderly, more people with children, and more young couples. That there are people under 40 who listen to a radio show that's hardly cutting edge and only mildly cynical in this Age of Cyncism is amazing—people can and do turn off their computers and games and home theaters for a warm summer evening under the clear blue skies of June.

After standing in line a short time, I had to forego the post-show book signing because I didn't want to miss the 7:38 p.m. train that arrived closer to 7:52. J., who was home from the airport by then, offered to pick me up at Ogilvie—which proved to be tricky when he forgot his mobile phone. I had no way to tell him the train was late, and he had no way to tell me where he was. Fate can be kind as well as cruel or petty, so we found each other outside the station just as both of us were thinking of giving up.

Sunday I had an arranged outing to the zoo with JT. The skies and forecast were just iffy enough to deter the crowds. Many people were probably indulging in Father's Day activities (as a docent, I'd noticed that the zoo is a popular destination for Mother's Day, even when Mother is more than 80 years old and openly wants nothing more than to stop walking and to sit down for a long breather). Not surprisingly, a date at the zoo seems to be less popular for fathers than, say, an afternoon on a golf course or a few days in Argentina.

While many animals managed to elude us, including the red wolves and beavers at the Children's Zoo, others were less reclusive. We came upon 15-year-old African lion Adelor in the classic "hairball hurl" pose, compulsively licking his chops. Sure enough, after a few minutes he upchucked a yellow stream onto a rock not far from one of the females, who later moved away (wouldn't you?). Adelor wandered over to the northeast corner, assumed the classic "dump" position, did so, then headed to the middle, where he plopped, slung an enormous paw over a rock, and fell asleep. Give or take a few hundred pounds and shades of irritability, he's the very picture of your domestic tabby. Writ large.

At the bird house, the tawny frogmouths resembled wizened wise men in their sleep. I couldn't tell if the one on the higher perch were looking at me through his narrowed eyelids. Their soft, gray owlishness gives me a "peaceful, easy feeling."

I watched as one of three laughing kookaburra young dangled a dead mouse from its bill, perhaps confused as to why the kill had been so easy. After dispatching the mouse, it landed aggressively almost on top of its sibling, who protested. They dueled with their bills, both chortling quietly, as a disinterested parent maintained a dignified distance.

Three gray trumpeter cygnets dutifully followed their parents, the Caribbean flamingos displayed, a stork took a break from delivering babies to tend halfheartedly to a nest it hadn't started, a sand cat prowled its expanded domain, and a young François langur raced relentlessly after its tolerant family members. On the wild side, half-grown rabbits seemed to be everywhere. Right before we left, one rustled in the vegetation behind our bench, snipping it off efficiently with its teeth and seeming to inhale it.

Just as long as it stays away from the lions, tigers, and bears.

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