Friday, April 12, 2013

Remembering the "Great Chicago Flood"

In the course of preparing this week's posts for The Blog of Days, I couldn't help but notice that April 13 will mark the 21st anniversary of the Great Chicago Flood. April 13 also happened to be the date of the White Sox home opener that year. Oh yes, I remember it well -- and then I found a journal entry I'd made within a few days of the event. Here is that entry, cleaned up a bit, with many of the digressions removed, and with naming conventions conforming to those previously used here....

Our alarm went off at 5:30 a.m., as usual. As usual, it was closer to 6:30 a.m. before I could actually focus in on what the radio was saying.

The first alarm had been turned in at 5:57 a.m. from the Merchandise Mart. Unexplained basement flooding. The City was looking to turn off a 48" water main, underneath Lake Street, I think, in the hopes that this would stop the problem which, early on, was reported as having spread to Marshall Field's and other landmarks. Then, a few minutes later, fish were reported in some of the affected sub-basements. That's when it became apparent -- at least to me -- that the Chicago River had sprung a leak.

Although it was Opening Day, I had to be in the office in the morning, because I had an 11:00 a.m. motion in court. My plan was to take the train to work. Why fight traffic at the ball park when I could ride the CTA and then drink with impunity?

I scrapped this plan early on, however. I told Long Suffering Spouse that the subway would be effected by this problem. It was already understood that freight tunnels used in the first half of this century by the Chicago Tunnel Company were involved. I didn't know how that would affect the subways, or how the tunnels intersected, if at all. I just knew that the subway would go down as the waters came up. So I resolved to drive.

Ordinarily, on Opening Day, the key problem is what to wear. There are two criteria, usually, for me: What can I wear to both the office and the ballpark -- and how can I keep from freezing? The plan was to wear my heavy brown sportjacket and my Levis for old, fat people (which the company prefers to refer to as "Dockers") and risk being called Frazier throughout the game.

The weather forecast was cold, wet and miserable. The Frazier get-up would not be warm enough. My heaviest clothes were full suits. My warmest coats were for work as well. So I wore a Winter suit.

By the time these momentous decisions had been taken, the flood waters had knocked out several buildings in the Loop. The 10 S. LaSalle Building was one of the first to go out. The flood waters reached the electrical panels of that building (in a second sub-basement) causing a brief, smoky fire. The 222 N. LaSalle Street Building was also an early casualty. [There were a lot of law firms in that building -- and many of those lawyers had Sox tickets -- but their tickets were in the building. And they couldn't get in.]

I called Steve at home before I left. It sounded like I woke him up -- and I later confirmed that I had. (He had planned on taking the whole day off.) I told him about the flooding -- and City Hall was reporting severe problems of its own by this time -- and warned him about the subway, too, even though the radio was still saying the CTA was experiencing no service problems and was still in fact encouraging people to use public transit. Steve went back to bed muttering dark imprecations against me.

The drive in was not that bad, probably because the media's exhortations to use public transportation. But the morning, if I can use this term, was a washout. I listened more to the radio than I worked. I did go to court in time for my 11:00.

When I left for court, at 10:30, the subway was still open, but it had just been announced that power would be shut down and buildings evacuated in an area bounded by the River, Adams, Dearborn and Michigan at 11:00. I decided to walk [my office back then was about a mile north of the Daley Center].

City Hall and the State of Illinois Building were, I believe, already closed. The Daley Center, though right in the middle of all this, was still open and was apparently dry. The explanation offered for this was simple: Buildings build after about 1959 were not tied into the freight tunnel system, which in its heyday delivered coal to buildings and hauled ashes away. The tunnel openings had been sealed after the bankruptcy of the narrow gauge railroad that ran through it, but the brick and mortar walls that were typically erected for this purpose had been swept aside in the torrent of water that morning like toy blocks.

When I got to the Daley Center I asked the deputy who checked my ID if there had been any announcements about closing the courthouse down. She'd heard none, she said, but she thought it was crazy that they were still working when much of the Loop had already been abandoned.

The exodus in fact was well underway as I walked to the courthouse. Gold Coast residents (I assume) were strolling home, happy, for the most part, for the unexpected holiday. But I had to go to court. I didn't necessarily expect my opponent to be there. I knew his building was not open. But, if there's a chance the hearing would proceed, there was an obligation on my part to be there.

My opponent was there, although I didn't spot him immediately. I later found out that he had been in the courtroom since the door was unlocked. This was the only motion on his docket for the day. He had nowhere else to go.

The judge was running late, as she often did. I'd arrived about 10:55, and the judge started started the 11:00 call at about 11:10 -- and that wasn't too bad in that courtroom in those days. The problem was that the judge had gotten through only motion number 1 (we were motion no. 9) when the evacuation order came. (The Daley Center never lost power, but it was evacuated in case they had to cut power there suddenly. At this point, remember, the waters were still rising relentlessly.)

The judge made the announcement. She said that the elevators would stop running in an hour. I was sitting in the back of the room. I hollered out, "How will we know the difference?" and got a big laugh. (The elevators in the courthouse had been under repair for a year or more and are incredibly slow.) But the call was over for the day and everything was continued to her next available date -- May 29. [All this, according to my Journal, to get a decision on a motion taken under advisement on February 19.] Opposing counsel and I tried to ask her if she could make her decision available any time before that, but she was not interested in idle chit-chat. She wanted to get out of the building.

So now it was time to turn my attention back to Opening Day. My car was parked in front of the office. Steve was supposed to be on his way -- but I had found out, before leaving the courthouse, that the subways were now also shut down. The waters had arrived.

Steve called shortly after I got back. Long Suffering Spouse and Charlotte were looking at houses [without reading further I don't remember if they were looking for Steve and Charlotte, or whether Long Suffering Spouse was already looking for a new house for us.] Charlotte was willing to drive Steve downtown, or to the ballpark, but not real pleased about it. I told Steve to have her come down to our office.

He got there fairly quickly.

We left the office shortly he arrived. Having listened to the radio all morning, I thought I was prepared to make an intelligent approach to the ballpark. I knew traffic would be a mess and the radio confirmed that the Ryan was a zoo. So I took Lake Shore Drive to the Stevenson, got off at Damen (that's about 31st Street) and went South to 35th. This took maybe 15 minutes. Then I turned left -- and stopped.

It was no later than 12:45 when we got onto 35th Street. It was 2:47p.m. -- the fifth inning -- when we finally got to our Uecker seats, 24 rows high in the right field upper deck.

The only thing that the radio had said about traffic in the immediate vicinity of the ballpark was that there was plenty of parking. When we finally got to the lot by the old coal yard (West of the viaduct), we were waved off. The game had just started then. The police told us to keep moving East.

Police. Ordinarily, there's a cop on every block from Halsted East. On this Opening Day, there were no cops until the coal yard lot, not even by the police station a block West. All but a skeleton traffic patrol had apparently been pulled out and sent downtown.

So we moved East. Glaciers have moved faster. No parking at the site of the old park. We turned down Wentworth. And sat. And sat some more. Some idiots were honking horns. What good does that do anyone? We could all maybe melt away and he could ease into his God-given parking spot? No one melted away; we continued to sit.

There was no parking along the east side of the ballpark. Or along the south. Nor were there any helpful private lot owners waving people in. The City had cracked down on them, Steve told me. He was in a position to know.

So we snaked back through Bridgeport west of the ballpark, winding up on Canal heading back toward home. It was after 2:00. Where was the first legal street parking north of the ballpark? The parking expert with said we had to go North of 31st Street. In fact, we had to go North of 29th Street. We parked -- legally -- on the street at 28th and Canal. And then we walked back. I was damned if I would give up. I had entertained thoughts of going back to the office -- a mile north of the Loop, remember? -- but Steve had no office to go to even if he'd wanted to. His building had been among those evacuated. I did not want to sit in a gin mill watching the game.

So we walked a mile and a half to the park -- and another mile and half up the ramps and stairs. We stopped at the bathroom (and waited in a long line) and Steve bought three beers (one for both of us, and one for the gentleman were were supposed to meet at the park -- and he was there). Because it was so cold, there was no real wait for beer. We got our seats at 2:47. Even with all the Opening Day festivities, the game started by about 1:30. The record will reflect it was played in two hours and 18 minutes. It was over at 4:00 and I was home by 5:30. I had no interest in stopping along the way.

The Sox won 1-0. We had missed the run by the time we arrived.

The Subways (which, after all, run beneath the Chicago River) stayed closed for at least two weeks -- and I believe they did not reopen until sometime in May).

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