You know the canal that runs along Lake Shore Drive, the one with the so-so yachts and the rowers practicing up and down the waterway?  It passes through that park with the prominent statue of a guy on a horse…or should that read “the statue of a prominent guy on a horse”?  Is it Lincoln? The park, I mean, not the guy on the horse – I think that’s Grant.

Oh, and there’s a dragon garden.  Not that the city is growing dragons, but they erected a lime green dragon of some indeterminate, if weather-resistant, construction at the southern end of the canal.  The dragon is none too intimidating.  True, I have not crept near enough (my view is limited to what I can safely observe from behind the bus window), to notice if he has goggle eyes (a sure sign of none too intimidating), but his wings are small.  They must be waterwings,  as the greens planted round give the impression that he is plowing through water, his long breast a ship’s prow.  Maybe he isn’t a he or a dragon at all, but rather Nessie on sabbatical.

Yes, that canal.  Lincoln Park, I’m pretty sure.  At any rate, the “yachts” are moored at hexagonal docks in the midst of the canal. Not sure how people actually get to them…perhaps someone is always on duty to row them out, or their dinghies are moored on shore, or they swim out, or run across water like basilisks or Jesus Christ.

When winter comes, everything is removed from the canal: the boats, the gear, the coolers, and only the docks remain with their heads above the freezing water and subsequently, the ice.  Last winter, a small Weber grill (standard black, the size that accommodates four burgers and a hot dog or two along the edges – I know this, because I have one myself), sat abandoned on a dock halfway down the marina.  I waited anxiously for its owners to return and claim it, sure that they must have merely forgotten it in the flurry of the exodus.  Every day and every night the grill maintained its lonely vigil…I waved at it on my way in to work and I saluted it on my way out.

After months passed and still they did not come, it occurred to me that there was something special, something sacred about this economy-sized grill, that this was the communal grill of all humanity, or at least the Chicagoland area.  I was certain the searing heat and shine of summer lay in wait there, nestled in secrecy under its modest black shell and when the lid was finally lifted again, the sun itself would burst forth and warm the world.  Summer smells of many things, but more than anything, a Midwestern summer smells of charcoal and lighter fluid.  This grill held the promise of rebirth.

It took a long time for the true ice to come…the winter was mild (perhaps the ever-present grill still radiated some quiet heat), and parts of the canal remained open until mid-January.  But the ice did come, and the fishermen upturned buckets on its frozen face, drilled their holes and sat and waited.  Some days after the canal became safe for foot traffic, I noticed the absence of the lone(ly) grill.  As sometimes happens with communal property, somebody borrowed it and didn’t put it back where it belonged.  No more did it stand sentinel on its dock waiting for the right moment to release the sweet, sweaty season back into Chicago.  When the ice melted, and the disappointing yachts returned to their summer homes, the grill did not.

It is June 11th and 50 degrees at high noon downtown…if the summer never comes again, we can hope the grill kept someone warmer on some bitter winter nights.  I can see it, camped beneath some dark viaduct strewn with old water stained papers and rusted cans, a merry fire burning in its belly, and a silent man crouched beside it, warming his hands.

(Note: I think 2003 was the year of the dragon in Lincoln Park – if it even was Lincoln Park.)




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