I leaned forward, so close to the window that my forehead was almost touching it. I could feel the cool breeze from the air conditioning vent blowing up toward my face.
“Jenny, are you watching the boats again?” my coworker asked, half-grinning, as I stood by the window with the stack of papers I had just collected off the printer.
Caught red-handed, I smiled sheepishly, turned to her and said, “Yeah. There were three of them going by in a row this time, and a big barge. It was really huge, and a man was just sitting on the edge of it, dangling his legs. I think he was eating a sandwich, but I couldn’t quite tell.”
It’s tourist season in Chicago, and my office building overlooks the Chicago River. From June through September, steady streams of sightseeing boats leisurely coast up and down the river. My desk is near the window, so whenever I get up, I can’t help but glance outside to see if one of them is passing by.
I’ve never been on one of those tour boats, but I like to watch them navigate the olive green river. I find it calming. Almost hypnotic, in the same way that staring at a fish tank can be.
She laughed and said, “Yeah, I bet you wish you were one of those people on that boat instead of being stuck here all day,” and then scurried off to her meeting.
But I really don’t, you know. I just like watching the people on the boats go by. Today we are all exactly where we belong. It’s Monday, so I am at work. They are on vacation, or maybe retired.
The boats move slowly and effortlessly through the water, pausing to turn around and circle back. Some are double decker boats, others are smaller speedboats, but even the speedboats don’t go fast. The people are always smiling, or so I imagine, hands pressed above their brows to shield their eyes from the sun as they squint, trying to identify the buildings along the riverfront. When the taller boats cross under the bridges, it looks like the passengers could reach up and touch the bottom of the bridge.
During my lunch break, I often stand outside and lean on the railing with my forearms pressed against the cool metal, fingers intertwined, hoping for one more boat to come by before I go back to work. Sometimes they are so close that I can hear the tour guide’s commentary. I listen hard to catch a random fact or two, but their voices echo off the steel and concrete, making it hard to understand.
The Sears Tower took… to build.
How long?
Over… people work inside the Mercantile Exchange.
Wait – how many?
The Civic Opera building almost…
Did she say it almost burned down?
There are children in baseball caps waving to the business people taking their cigarette breaks. I always wave back, but I keep my hand low, close to the railing. It’s Monday, and I have a job to do.

7 Responses to “Boats”

  1. brando Says:

    it’s been a lifelong dream of mine to be a tourist on one of those boats. well, maybe not ‘lifelong’. Monthlong. Yes, it’s been a monthlong dream of mine. i cannot believe it may finally happen. After all these years. I mean month. After all these days. Sigh.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Dear Jenny,
    You’re king of the world!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Jenny Says:

    B: Oh, it’ll happen all right. And I’m so glad I’ll be able to help you fulfill your weeklong dream. Finally, we will know how long it took to build the Sears Tower!

    V: Near, far, wherever you are, I believe that the heart will go on.

  4. nicole Says:

    Cute story! I’ve never gone on one of the tourist boats, but I’m thinking after the Dave Matthews incident, I’d stay away.

  5. jill Says:

    I love boats. In fact, I’d prefer to be on a boat right now. I am glad to know, however, that I’m exactly where I should be. I suppose there’s some real comfort in that. On the other hand, I wouldn’t mind knowing who’s doling out the “shoulds.” Because I’d like to bribe them for a better berth. . . er, office.

  6. TCho Says:

    *Sigh*. I miss Chicago.

  7. FiorelloLaGuardia Says:

    Another great mood piece, Jenny. Romance is alive and well in the great city of Chicago!