Sunday, June 20, 2010


So I work on the 46th floor of the Aon building, once known as the Standard Oil Building, a skyscraper right by Lake Michigan. My department is in the southeast corner, and the company has a completely open floor plan, so we have access to some great views.

Friday was a hot, sunny day - at lunch, I walked to City Hall with the intention of getting my car's city sticker (this is a sticker that you have to have to park in Chicago. You have to renew it every year and it costs $75. So you basically have to pay to park in the city where you already pay taxes to cover, one would think, city streets. but I digress.)

The sky was clear, and it was hot - easily high 80s.

After deciding the line out the door was a tad more hassle than I wanted, I decided to just buy the sticker online and pray that if I didn't get it in time I could use the printed receipt on my dash to ward off the ticket cobras.

At one point late in the afternoon, I had this odd sense that something I looked up, and I saw that the light outside had gotten dim. Looking across to Legal, which has a southern view, I saw one of the secretaries standing by the window, looking out. I joined her.

The view to the south is unobstructed: we overlook Millennium Park, and have a clear shot pretty much all the way to Indiana. The lake sits to our left, and the buildings along Michigan Avenue are to our right.

It's also Illinois, which means it's flat, so you have a western view that stretches pretty far.

From where we stood, a heavy, black blanket of clouds was moving quickly towards us and the lake.

"Holy Cow," I said. "This is like "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

The clouds continued to moved toward us rapidly, and we could see the wall of rain underneath. Street lights came on, as did the headlights of the cars traveling along 95 and Lake Shore Drive. It was eerie, like a train-set town.

"Look at the fountain," I said. The plume from Buckingham fountain, which just minutes before had been pointing straight up (if you've seen Married With Children, it's the fountain that turns on in the opening credits) , was now gyrating and twisting like those air-sock figures used to advertise used cars. Waves scudded across the lake; boats pitched in the turbulence. Debris flew past the window.

"Look-- lighting!" said the secretary next to me.

We watched the ground get wet, people run under Anoosh Kapoor's "Cloud Gate."

People were coming over to look out the windows as things got blacker.

"Magnificent," I whispered.

"Hey, come away from the window," I heard my boss say.

"Yes. Step away, right now," said one of the other risk managers.

Were they kidding? Did I look like a child? I ignored them.

"Risk Management people, step away from the windows!" my supervisor called.

I sighed and stepped back a bit.

"Why? What could happen?" I asked in the naivete that can only come from growing up in an area without tornadoes.

Then the window shook like tympani. I saw the glass vibrate.


I imagined being sucked out of the 46th floor, and I stepped well back. A group had gathered. The rain was beating against the windows, driven by the amazing wind. We felt the building sway. It made me giddy.

Suddenly the alarm lights flashed and a voice informed us that there was a tornado alert. The elevators had been disabled, and we were NOT to evacuate, but to go to an inside corridor away from windows and glass walls.

Our group joined some others in the elevator lobby on our floor. We stood there for about fifteen minutes, talking and passing the time. I imagined having to kick off my low heels should the need arise to run down the fire stairs.

After awhile, we got the all-clear and went back to our desks, while I sang "The Morning After."

At our desks, my Scottish coworker, let's call him Colin, gave me a high five.

"We survived our first tornado, JC," he said.

"Colin, that wasn't a tornado."

"Was it not?"

"No, my dear. We just survived a tornado warning. An almost-tornado."

He looked crestfallen. "You're sure it wasn't a tornado?"

"Trust me, you would have known, and we would not be sitting here. Unless it was a British version of a tornado: small, compact, efficient. Queues behind other tornados to wreak destruction."

"Tidies up after itself."



the perrins said...

Your office sounds lovely those views are incredible! always loved the big skies in Illinois when I was growing up. Happy solstice.

JC said...

Yeah; it's amazing. The wide, wide prairie. Happy Solstice to you too!!! May your day be long!