♪♫♪ The whole place was dressed to the nines, and we were dancing, dancing / Like we’re made of starlight, starlight…
Every July, when all of the people in America are getting pumped up to celebrate the anniversary of our country’s independence, my family prepares to celebrate something else too–my mom’s birthday! Since my mom’s birthday is on July 3rd, we typically tend to celebrate it along with the 4th of July. I didn’t have work or class on Friday, Independence Day, so I was able to come home early on Thursday night right in time for my mom’s birthday.
My family’s birthday celebrations may always be a little bit different as years go by, but they still do have one thing in common: there must be cake. And no one loves cake more than me! Whenever someone’s birthday comes around, someone always goes to either Costco or Jewel to buy a huge, delectable birthday cake that feeds way more than just four people, and because of this, it usually stays in our fridge for a while for all of us to indulge in (although usually I whittle it away the fastest haha!) until it’s gone. And since my brother, mom, and dad have birthdays in June, July, and August respectively, there’s basically a regular supply of cake in our fridge all summer long…no qualms here! ☺
So when my dad picked me up on Thursday, we stopped by Costco on the way home to pick up a huge bouquet of flowers and an enormous cheesecake to bring home to surprise my mom–not that she was surprised really. It’s become so common for us to do this for Mother’s Day, anniversaries, and birthdays. I even managed to convince the baker at Costco to write a nice birthday message on it. After living on my own, preparing my own meals, and working hard at school and work for a few weeks, it felt so good just to relax and be with my family at home. I also got to play with Charlie again too, and between the two of us, I don’t know who was happier to see the other!
Other than cake, my family doesn’t usually make big plans for birthdays other than a birthday dinner. But this summer, both my brother and I were home for July 4th weekend (which is sadly becoming increasingly rare as we both get older and get more summer jobs, schooling, and other obligations to attend to), so we were determined to make it special. After bothering my mom for a bit about what she would like for her birthday, she mentioned that despite living so close to Chicago for over 20 years now, we had never been on a boat tour on the Chicago River. It’s something that she had mentioned before, actually, and it had always seemed incredulous to us that we have been here so long without ever really touring Chicago. And so, my brother and I immediately pulled up Architecture Tours on the Chicago River on our laptops and within the hour, we had booked four seats on a morning tour for the very next day! I was pleasantly surprised how easy it was, since we got tickets for 4th of July. The tour boarded at Navy Pier, so early the next day we left in order to avoid as much traffic as possible and hopefully snag a parking space. We arrived around 11 AM and nearly all of the parking garage space were already gone, but we got lucky and managed to find a spot. Before long, we claimed our tickets and boarded our boat for our 11:45 tour.
Happy birthday to my beautiful mom!
The boat tour was 75 minutes long, and it was definitely well worth the cost of under $40 per person. I hadn’t been on a boat in quite a long time, so it was really fun to be on the water! Our tour guide was entertaining and informative, telling us all about the different building and their architectural history as well as background information about Chicago. He had little humorous quips that kept everyone entertained and pointed out little landmarks that might not have been as well known, such as the closed down post office that had once been the largest in the world. He even pointed out the building of the traffic court in the city — “I’m quite familiar with the inside of that one,” he joked. I knew most of the information from reading or from school, such as the Chicago Fire or stats about the Sears (“Spelled W-I-L-L-I-S, pronounced Sears,” the guide explained to out-of-town tourists.) Tower, but it was interesting to hear it all again anyway, particularly about the influence of Spanish and French architecture that is still seen on our skyline, and then the change to Daniel Burnham’s style, modern, and postmodern architecture. My parents were surprised to learn that pretty much the entirety of Chicago was originally built on a swamp. Cruising down the Chicago River, it was wonderful to be able to experience the skyscrapers of Chicago from the water and just relax and enjoy it with my family. I think the weather was absolutely perfect for once – not too hot, not too cold, and just enough wind to feel cool outside without being chilled. The water shined under the sunlight and my mom, who absolutely loves taking pictures, had lovely photo ops all throughout the cruise and after.
The view from the boat.
“Enjoy it,” the guide said. “Because Chicago really has only two seasons: 1) Winter. And 2) Construction season.”
By that, he explained that pretty much the moment the cold winter weather lets up, numerous buildings begin construction all around the city. The skyline and the buildings are constantly changing because of the intense competition and demand for bigger and better designs, and it’s no wonder that Chicago is such a forefront of architecture in the world. Even though Chicago – particularly the Central Business District – was decimated by the famous Chicago Fire in 1871, reconstruction began immediately, and within 2 years many new building were already erected. By 1893, Chicago hosted the World Fair, with the Chicago Columbian Exposition being designed by Daniel Burnham and Frederick Law Olmsted. It was incredible to hear about the tenacity of the architects and how this spirit still continues today. Every day, architects and engineers every where are still competing to build the biggest, tallest, and most impressive building. As someone who has never really understood architecture outside just a historical or landscape context, I found it interesting to hear the buildings described in more of the builder’s perspective for once.
My mom took this sweet picture of my dad and me walking without us knowing!
After the tour ended, my family spent a glorious few hours under the sun wandering about Navy Pier and enjoying the beautiful scenery. We had lunch and listened to a live band play as the crowds gathered quickly throughout the day to enjoy the Independence Day festivities. Even though I know Navy Pier is kind of underwhelming or boring to native Chicagoans, I had a great time because we were all together. To avoid traffic, we headed back in the early afternoon and made it home to Naperville in good time. Not long after we got home, the news on the TV even said that Navy Pier had even closed its entrance because it was at capacity! It’s amazing to me just how many people gather just to watch fireworks there, and to be honest, I wonder if it’s worth the crowds, the crazy traffic, and the madness of being there. But now that I think about it, if you’re with friends, I guess that kind of craziness would be worth the memories and the good time. Maybe one day I might actually try to spend a 4th of July night there just to see what it’s like. But I’m already with my family, and as for my mom, dad, brother, and me, we just drove to a gas station not even 5 minutes away from our house and watched the Naperville fireworks in a far distance. They were tinier in the horizon and probably less flashy, but also just as bright as they lit up across the night sky. We sat in the cool grass (forgot our blanket and lawn chairs, oops) and swatted mosquitos while counting the number of sparks flying around us. I don’t know how I might be celebrating 4th of July years from now, but I can’t imagine a more perfect day than the one I had with my family this year, making memories with my loved ones that I’ll keep forever.
Don’t you see the starlight, starlight? / Don’t you dream impossible things? ★
(Starlight - Taylor Swift)