Thursday, July 17, 2008

Drag The River

I'm trying to get myself excited about my impending annual trip to Chicago to visit friends & family. I hate to travel, hateit hateit hateit, plus I hate leaving the dogs, not because I worry about them in the kennel but because I'll miss them. I love our morning walks and training sessions. What's the point of vacation time if I can't spend it with the dogs? But it's important for me to see my family so I suck it up and go.

One of my Chicago friends called the other night to make plans for my visit and much to my horror he's intent on taking me kayaking. On the Chicago River. Yes folks, the Chicago River. The very first thought to leap into my head is 'he's got to be joking' and the second thought is 'the smell, the smell'. He's got a fancy new downtown condo that backs right on to the river, we can hop in right off his deck. Oh joy! There was a time not too long ago where this would not be a selling point for a fancy new condo but somehow the realtors have worked their voodoo and turned river access into an amenity.

Those unfamiliar with the Chicago River are probably thinking 'Well, that sounds fabulous, a tour of downtown by kayak sounds like a lovely opportunity, quityerwhining'. Those who are familiar with the Chicago River are thinking 'Good luck with that one, just don't come anywhere near me when you're done Typhoid Mary'. In fact the thought of being close enough to the river to get even a tiny drop of it on me makes my skin crawl. I've already jolted awake once in the middle of the night from the horror of it. Here is how the average Chicagoan enjoys the Chicago River. They walk over one of the many bridges downtown, look down at the river and think, 'ah, the Chicago River, I'm glad it's all the way down there and I'm all the way up here'. They do not think, 'hmmm, let's go for a paddle! It's a lovely day for a case of cholera.'

Normally I would tell my friend, ummm, can't we please do something else. The art museum, my favorite Mexican restaurant, Thai food, anything but the problem is that Jonny wants to go. He is not a native Chicagoan and he doesn't understand. I've tried explaining but he thinks I'm exaggerating. In a last ditch effort I'm going to try to tell him it's like when he tries to explain the midgies in Scotland to other people. Midges bite and give you itchy bumps like mosquitoes but they are tiny so that you can't swat them. They can get through the seam of a tent (I'm speaking from experience here. And no I will never ever ever ever go camping in Scotland ever again. Ever.) Here's a good post about them, click on the video, trust me you still won't understand. Don't tell me your mosquito horror stories, I've been camping in Wisconsin, Oregon, etc., I know all about it, trust me, you still don't understand. And maybe this is how it is with the Chicago River, hard to make others understand.

Since it seems I'm outvoted I decided to do a little research. Maybe there's been some massive clean-up effort and it's now possible to paddle in the river without the threat of getting poop splashed in your eye. The good news is that it seems they've had no cholera or typhoid outbreaks since the late 1800's when the river was at it's worst. There is still a branch called 'Bubbly Creek' from back in the slaughterhouse days that supposedly still has festering cow remnants. The bad news is that the 'revitalization' of the river seems to be more a case of commercial development along the river rather than an actual cleaning of the water. My favorite quotes from the article: ''The river hadn't been much to look at for a long time, and now, it doesn't even smell bad anymore,'' said Gene Arbetter, a lifelong Chicagoan who rents out his river bikes from the serene dock he shares with Old World Gondoliers..
Here's another good one:
But selling the river to Chicago residents, many of whom still see it as less than pristine, might still be tough. ''It's still an unhealthy green color,'' said Jason Ur, a graduate student in archaeology at the University of Chicago. ''You can see quite a bit of garbage floating in it.' Somewhere else I found a statistic that 1 out of every 1000 rivers users becomes sickened by it. I'm not sure if this makes me feel better or not. On the one hand I would have thought it would be higher, on the other hand I'm not sure why I should take the risk at all.

I'll try working on Jonny some more. Maybe I'll make him read Upton Sinclair's 'The Jungle'. If all else fails I wonder if my friend will be offended if I show up for our kayak outing in a hazmat suit.


  1. *shudder* You have fun with that. 4 years living there in my college days (at the lovely UofC, which is thankfully NOT on the river) and I cringed every time they dragged us on some river/lake cruise.

    I always liked the line from The Fugitive: "If they dye the river green for St Patrick's Day, why can't they dye it blue the rest of the year?"

  2. Yes, 'shudder' exactly sums it up. I've been shuddering for the past 3 days. I mentioned this to our secretary who is also from the Chicago area and she shuddered and said I should get shots before I go. She also likened it to playing in a drainage ditch.

  3. Roxanne4:20 PM

    Eeeew! Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth ... whatever you do.

  4. I think you should call first dibs on your friend's shower after the excursion.

  5. Anonymous7:34 AM

    I love to kayak and I still wouldn't go--even in a hazmat suit. Yuck!

  6. Yep, another UofC grad here (along with Mr. Wishy... we met at the UofC)... and no, no, no, not EVER would we venture that close to the glowing font of waste a.k.a. The Chicago River.. You, Elayne, are intrepid, mahdear! The agility, the triathlons, the hiking... none of the things you blog about make you seem half as intrepid as your proposed Chicago River escapade! Godspeed, mahdear. You'll need it!

  7. Yes, I know, it feels like a dare. Like something they would make people do on those stupid Fear Factor reality shows. I could see the contestants bargaining w/ the host, 'oh please, not the Chicago River, can't I just eat some worms or jump into a pit of rattlesnakes instead?'

  8. The good news is that I think I've won Jonny over to my side. Now to find a graceful way to tell my friend without insulting him and his beloved river.

  9. I hope you've survived the river trip without turning green or anything! Just wanted to let you know you've been nominated for an award!