It’s not every day you get to walk down the middle of the street on Michigan Avenue. Even less likely is that you get to do it twice in one day. But that’s exactly where I found myself last Saturday during the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival.
A few months ago I was hired at Best Western Plus River North Hotel in downtown Chicago. What I didn’t know at the time was that the job came with some significant perks, like getting to walk in the annual Lights Festival parade. I recently moved to the Chicago area and the whole “big city” idea is still a bit foreign to me.
Our float for the parade featured the cast of Disney Channel’s original movie, Lemonade Mouth. If I didn’t know before the parade, the kids’ reactions during made it abundantly clear just how popular these young stars were. Walking next to the float and hearing ear-piercing screams every few seconds, I was reminded of those old videos of the Beatles appearing before thousands of star-struck and screaming fans.
We do the parade route and Lemonade Mouth smiles and waves enthusiastically to everyone along Michigan Avenue. Just before crossing the Chicago River our float pauses for the scheduled tv spot. Lemonade Mouth performs “Determinate” on the Best Western Hotels of Illinois float for ABC7 and nails it. (They’re professionals after all.) And then we begin to move again and we slowly cross the Chicago River. This was my favorite moment of the entire parade – sitting on that big, rust-colored bridge and as far as you can see on the shores of the Chicago River are people. Masses of them are west around Trump Tower, east along Wacker, and both north and south along Michigan Ave., and standing on that bridge you can’t help but feel that you’re in the center of it all.
We eventually do cross the river and turn east on Upper Wacker. When our float finally comes to a stop, there is a small but very enthusiastic group of fans waiting for Lemonade Mouth. My second favorite part of the parade happens now – seeing Lemonade Mouth be unconditionally gracious to their fans. Once the 4-14 yr. old fans found the courage to approach the float, the cast high-fived every one of them (which took several minutes) and even stayed to make sure everyone who wanted an autograph got one.
Our part in the parade was officially over and as we employees walk back to the hotel we get stuck in the crowd waiting for fireworks. The streets are wall-to-wall people, there’s nowhere to go, and I’m visibly frustrated. But then the fireworks start. And here I am, stuck in a crowd with thousands of strangers, some speaking languages I can’t recognize, and I decide to just wait and enjoy the show, to be a part of it. I watch the fireworks with the rest of Chicago and for the first time since moving here, I feel that this is now my city.
When the fireworks end and everyone has sufficiently oohed and aahed, the crowd finally starts moving, and I begin to walk back down the middle of Michigan Ave. with thousands of others. And despite the cold, the crowds, and the heavy traffic I know is waiting for me on the drive home, I find that I love it.