Chicago’s one uncanny aspect excited me as much as the Riverwalk did. It was the Mag Mile. Of course, this excitement came about while I was still at home zooming in on the city’s streets.

However, the idea of an entire stretch of the bustling city street filled with vanity stores made me—the least expectant shopper—wait with bated breath. What was so magnificent about the Mag Mile? I craved to find out.

Mag Mile, Chicago 1

My spine tingling with unfamiliar curiosity and eagerness, I found myself walking towards the infamous street. The sheer number of people hit my eye right away. Although I’ve lived my entire adult life in a city of 4 million people, that was still a sore sight. All around, buyers flocked to the streets, shuffling in and out of stores, sipping soda, scraping ice cream off a pint tub, biting into a burrito, and chit-chatting all the while.

Overcome by the overwhelming sight, I had to take a few minutes to regain my composure. Once I’d gotten accustomed to the sluggish crowd that wouldn’t go away anytime soon, I began noticing other elements in the street.

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Every few feet, for instance, was a five-feet tall a lighthouse. They were aplenty and on both sides of the street. Each had on it a graffiti, a painting, or a remarkable event etched in ink. Passers by passed by without so much as a third glance, while I lingered, going round and round trying to discern their significance. I couldn’t. But I did enjoy spotting the lighthouses amidst the sea of unstopping shoppers.

A little further down the road, I found Ghirardelli. Imagining my teammates’ glares, I entered, only to exit 30 minutes later feeling proud of myself. I’d stuffed a box full of the most chocolates anyone else had done that day. It wasn’t an official record, of course, but I gleaned that from the sales people’s faces. And how thrilled they seemed that I took so many chocolates for only a fraction of its price. Nevertheless, I’d found happiness in the Mag Mile.

As if to dampen my ego-driven joy, before my eyes flashed the not-so-magnificent part of the Magnificent Mile: the people of Chicago who had neither a roof over their head nor medical insurance over their waning health. Within seconds the balloon within me punctured, jerking back to the harsh reality of the world. The Mag Mile wasn’t just for those who could splurge, but it’s also for those who had no choice but to scavenge. While people purchased additional clothing on one side, on the other side people clothed in rags, writing out holdings, too tired to speak. It wasn’t an unfamiliar sight—both in San Francisco and my city, I’d seen thousands of pitiful scenes and people in dire situations. But that didn’t make Chicago seem any better.

I’d been too distracted to expect what I saw. Of course, it’s obvious. In a million-strong metropolitan city of a capitalist nation, it’d be a surprise not to encounter poverty and homelessness. Although that neither justifies it nor makes it less hard to digest.

Mag Mile, Chicago 5

I walked around more, but everything looked different now. Sure, the magnanimity of Mag Mile remained, and the throng didn’t fade away, but my perspective had. I’d seen the cruel reality of our society, and I cringed at my helplessness. There’s nothing I could do to change the way the world worked, and even if I could, there’s no one right way the world should work. There always will be someone higher and someone lower. That’s the design we are born into. I could stay and complain or I could move on. I decided to move on.

The Mag Mile was magnificent in every sense. My jaw dropped at the grandeur but also, my thoughts popped at the ungraciousness.

Well, it is what it is.


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