Chicago is a ‘beach town’

Having spent way too many of my formative days sitting on the breakwater — “the rocks” — at Rainbow beach, an illegal Schlitz in hand, I was happy to read that Jimmy Buffett says he’s always thought of Chicago as a “beach town.”

Of course it is! Though I’ve never thought to put it that way. How nice of Buffett to say so.

Maybe that’s why Meigs Field, the old airport, never made sense to me. It did not belong on the lake in our “beach town” any more than an airport would belong next to Coney Island.

(I don’t know New York very well. There is no airport next to Coney Island, right?)

Northerly Island as a concert spot, though, with the summer sun setting behind the skyscrapers and the Lake Michigan waters fading to black as Jimmy Buffett or Tom Petty or Mavis Staples performs — that’s pretty much my idea of big-city perfect.

Mayor Daley shut down Meigs for good, as everybody knows, in 2003 when he ordered demolition crews in the dead of night to gouge big X’s into the runway. It was an urgent matter, he claimed, of “homeland security.” But Richie was really just tired of waiting out the lawsuits that kept him from shutting the airport down.

At the time, of course, our editorial page was officially indignant. Editorial pages always side with democracy and doing things the right way. Mayors are not supposed to be autocrats. But I can’t honestly say it offended me one bit. The airport was the reserve of a favored few on a lakefront that belongs to all of us. Ask Montgomery Ward (the man, not the store).

I can think of one other time in Chicago history when civic leaders got tired of lawsuits blocking their idea of progress and just wrecked something. It was Jan. 2, 1900, and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal — that thing that diverts our city’s sewage downstate and on to the Mississippi — was completed and ready to open. But the state of Missouri had sued, saying St. Louis wanted no part of what went down Chicago’s toilets. So trustees of the canal, at the break of dawn, dynamited and then set on fire a wooden dam that prevented the Chicago River from spilling into the newly completed canal.

Once our sewage flowed southwest, it never stopped. Thankfully.

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