... why not go Boating in Mid-Town Chicago?

This article was contributed by Barry Zander.

Hop on the Metra commuter rail service at the station across the road from Great Lakes Naval Training Center and an hour later you’re in the center of Chicago, “that tottlin’ town.”  Like any major U.S. city, Downtown Chicago during the weekday radiates activity.  Traffic, people, high-rises, restaurants, speed and concrete.

On a beautiful fall day, we caught the “First Lady,” a tour boat on the Chicago River that features a docent representing the local AIA (architects society).  In 90 minutes aboard that boat, we never stopped ooohing and aaahing while learning about how the city grew up. 

If you’re into history or architecture, you’ll find what you see overwhelming; if not, you’ll still find it entertaining and mind-blowing.  You hear the dirt about how the designers of these magnificent buildings competed against their teachers or designed to pay tribute to their predecessors.  You see through windows that didn’t exist until the city did the impossible – it reversed the flow of the Chicago River, which cleaned up the downtown.  The first floors of many huge buildings were raised; others had sections carved out to allow for the mandated walkway along the river years after the buildings went up.

Lots of fascinating information was thrown at us, like the reason for clocks on many buildings (watches were too expensive for workers 100 years ago, so the clocks told them when to be at work and return from lunch).

A highlight of the tour is the story of the Sears Tower, which was once the tallest building in the world (now sixth and soon seventh and now officially the Willis Tower).  The 108-story 1,450 feet skyscraper is worth seeing and even more impressive when seen against the neighboring edifices from the vantage point of the river. 

At $28 per person weekdays (there are no discounts), it’s a real bargain.  The Metra train costs $2.60 for seniors each way.  It’s a clean, fast and easy way to get into the city.

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