Monday, November 23, 2009

City Lights

As I was driving back into the city the other day I was struck by all of the empty windows in all of those wonderfully and fearfully lit skyscrapers. It was around midnight, and most of the windows in each of those gigantic buildings had a light on inside. Maybe it was the fact that i was desperately tired and trying to think about anything to keep me awake, but I started to wonder if there was actually anybody inside those windows. And, if there were in fact people inside, what were they doing?

Were they working? If they were working, what were they doing there at midnight on a Friday night, in the office? Maybe they were innocently working late, working on a last-minute project or emergency proposal. Maybe it was the janitor, working a night shift job to make ends meet. Maybe it was in fact two people "working" - but in fact having an affair, with the well-lit, seemingly innocent office as the perfect excuse for a late-night rendezvous. Maybe, just maybe, there was actually nobody in the office, and all those lights were on just for the aesthetic effect of a beautifully, wonderfully, brilliantly well-lit city. This last scenario is actually probably the one that makes me feel the worst about our society. How much energy is wasted by leaving the lights on in empty office buildings just to make the Chicago skyline match those photoshopped panoramic photos on the walls in hotel waiting rooms?

[And, truth be told, I love the nighttime Chicago skyline. When I come over the hill after the Elmhurst exit on 88 and begin to see - on a clear day - the lovely, glowing urban forest that is Chicago at night my heart soars on those I'm-a-twentysomething-living-inthe-bigcity-this-is-actually-my-home sorts of dream/thoughts.]

So, in reality I adore those lights in those office buildings. Does it make it better if there is nobody in the buildings, wasting energy and destroying resources that might be used to feed whole families or pump water to more villages, just to feed our selfish, money-as-aesthetically driven culture --- or, is it better that there is actually somebody in those buildings, working late, to justify all of those pasty-skin-making florescent lightbulbs running at ungodly work hours of the night (on a FRIDAY night, no less), when they should be home with their families, dog, cat, or even simply getting their solitary beauty sleep?

The answer is, I don't know. This is one of those instances when I realize I am continually living in the tension, here in the big city. I think at least one good thing that comes from this realization is that my emotional reaction to this tension, this dichotomy of situations, is decidedly unemotional. Last year at this time I would have been extremely frustrated that I didn't know what to think about it, that I didn't have a strong opinion. Now, I just think - huh. Interesting thought.

Regardless of the situation, I do love those bright city lights at night. They remind me why, even with a hellish commute and extremely fragile financial situation, I absolutely adore those rides down the highway into that glowing urban forest of Chicago.

1 comment:

Maggie Thomas said...

i get the same feeling when i'm driving through abuja at the air is charged with energy or something. hope all is well!