Bill asked for a painting of the Jane Byrne Interchange. It’s the clusterfuck just south of downtown Chicago where the highways meet. It used to be called the Circle Interchange, then the “improvements” started and it was decided that the name should be improved as well. It was rechristened in honor of the city’s first female mayor. I think she was still alive when this happened.
I stopped driving regularly long before the construction began and thank my lucky stars. The area where the Dan Ryan and the Eisenhower meet has always been a nightmare but since it became the Jane it has gone next level. Especially if you’re approaching it eastbound on the Ike, the lane configurations change seemingly day to day. It’s a standstill day and night. Yet construction crews keep adding looping ramps through the airspace above. Some even connect to the existing roadway.
I packed a fold-up chair, fastened it to my bike rack and pedaled north up Halsted to scout out spots to paint. The first day was windy and there were stray snowflakes but it was a joy to be out of the house for a few hours. I set up on the Van Buren ramp over the highway and got to work.
I’ve passed this area a million times over the last few years but rarely lingered. Until Bill asked for a painting there was no reason to. I wonder why he chose this as subject-matter for me. His big thing is infrastructure, that must be the connection. The part-formed steel and concrete parts in the process of becoming landscape is a thing to think about. If this project is ever completed (it’s estimated to be years from done) the way it looks now will be forgotten. If cars get through the loops and ramps without slowdown it will be taken for granted that it’s as it should be. But I’ll always remember Marie texting me at the bar that though she left her house an hour ago she’s stuck in gridlock and will be late to work.
I do another painting looking north from Harrison and the last looking west from Des Plaines. I think about Jane Byrne and wonder if she was proud to have her name attached to this. I bet thousands of drivers curse her daily and will continue to for the foreseeable future.
After I got home from the first day of painting I looked her up. Her time in office was before I came to Chicago. The story goes that she got elected because the previous mayor failed to get the city open after a snowstorm. She looks defiant in most of her photos. It couldn’t have been easy to run this city. We have a female mayor now too. I wonder what they’ll name after her? Maybe by then the robot cars will have taken over and the Jane Byrne Interchange will be a public park. Here’s hoping.
—I reviewed The Dairy Restaurant.
—RIP Lee Konitz.
—I made art for Joshua Benjamen Johnson’s The Radio Engineer. Listen and buy a digital copy or message him to get an LP or CD.