If I was to describe to you my walk to work, you would probably think that I was giving you directions to the setting of a children’s fantasy novel, or laying out an absurd practical joke of which you were about to fall victim.
The location of the WBEZ office, which headquarters both NPR in Chicago (which I work for) and one of Chicago’s premier public radio stations, is in an incredibly bizarre location for such a professional establishment. It is located near the end of Navy Pier, also known as Chicago’s best tourist trap, where the thrills are cheap, and the food is not1.
If I were giving you directions to get to the WBEZ office, it would include real instructions such as “As you walk along the pier, go past the House of Mirrors, past the pirate ship, turn left at The Billy Goats Tavern, and if you hit the lighthouse, you’ve gone too far.”
Really. It’s the most unlikely place for a public radio station to be located2.
Once inside, the WBEZ building is not a particularly complex one. But I’ve never been good with directions. Today, I won a small victory when I managed to find the mail room all by myself after only being shown where it was twice, and discovered a new secret door out onto the roof terrace3.
So I was feeling rather confident when I decided to try a new set of stairs down from the third floor. I was also feeling rather good about these stairs because I took them yesterday when our staff went in mass together down to catch a cab to the Chase Bank Auditorium, where we do our weekly live shows.
But, as you may have guessed from the fact that I am writing about it, and I only write about things with a good story attached, the stairs I ended up on were not the same stairs as I took yesterday.
On these stairs, there was a sign on the door saying, “WARNING4 NO REENTRANCE.” Which I thought was odd, but progressed anyways. Only to find that these really weren’t stairs, it was instead a really short ramp thing, next to three stairs that clearly did not lead to another floor, and then another ominous white door with a little window, like something out of mental institution. Just as I realized I had made a grave error, I heard the no reentrance door shut behind me, and lock. Trapped.
Cautiously, unsure what I would find on the other side but mostly panicking that it was also locked, I ventured down the ramp and towards the white door. On the other side, I found what looked like the inside of a conference center, with tall ceilings and carpets that brought to mind the print of my bedroom curtains in England5. The whole room was very nice and spanking clean and had velvet ropes over the doors, clearly signifying that this was not somewhere I was supposed to be.
I wandered the halls for a while, clinging to exit signs when I saw them and praying not to run into security guards. The whole place was eerily still, and I felt myself subconsciously begin to tiptoe.
Eventually I found my way out. I still am not entirely sure where I ended up, other than I finally came out in the seating area of a very expensive restaurant6. I breathed a sigh of relief, and fled back on to the main thoroughfare, vowing to never again to stray from the path that I knew well.
- Seriously, everything on the McDonald’s dollar menu costs two.
- It’s also just a few buildings down from a Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, and yesterday I watched a man vigorously try to get his son to eat there instead of McDonald’s. The son was seven, and totally not buying it.
- Which overlooks the lake and oh my lanta it is a view that a landlocked kid from Utah will never grow tired of.
- Always a bad way for a sign to start
- For those of you who didn’t follow my adventures in England, these curtains were barftastic.
- But is there really any other kind on the Pier?