Chicago has oddly polite fire engines

I’m back from my short, one night, business trip to Chicago. I didn’t get a chance to give my “New York Glare” to any drivers that got too close to me in a crosswalk, mostly because I think I only crossed about four streets, and there wasn’t any traffic on them or turning at the time (I cabbed it most places). But, while I was unable to sleep at an early hour, I was able to observe something that I found interesting, and very un-New York-like.

I was staying in a hotel that overlooked Michigan Avenue, the Marvelous Miracle Magical Magnificant Mile (their Fifth Avenue), and since I don’t sleep well in a strange bed, I was easily awakened at about 6:30am by a fire engine siren, which sounds a bit different than ours. Since the siren got closer to my hotel, and then stopped, and since I was wide awake, I decided to look out the window and see what was going on. There, right across from my window, was a lone fire engine stopped in front of a building, siren off, but lights still flashing. I didn’t see any firefighters on the street, but I figured that in the time I took me to get out of bed, and stumble over to the window, they must have gone into the building.

I scanned the building, and since I didn’t see shooting flames or smoke, I deemed it safe to wander around the room and see if I couldn’t figure out the light switches (trust me, they were a little confusing). A minute or two later, I heard a second fire engine approaching, and since I was near the window, I looked out and watched it pull up. That’s when I saw something a bit odd.

It was 6:30am and the street was quite devoid of automobile and pedestrian traffic. There was no parked cars along Michigan Avenue, and while the sidewalk had several planters blocking total access to the street, they were pushed back from the curb and spaced apart so that people could easily get by them. Which is why I found it odd when the first fire engine did what it did. It pulled forward to make room for the second engine!

If I didn’t see it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it.

After the second engine pulled up, several fire fighters got out and walked into the building. A moment or two later, I heard a different type of siren and saw an ambulance approaching from the opposite direction. The ambulance drove past the fire engines, and then attempted to make a U-turn, but he started too early and wasn’t going to be able to pull in nicely behind the second fire engine.

And then, it happened again!

First, the first fire engine pulled forward a few feet, then the second one did, and the ambulance was able to pull in nicely behind the second one without blocking traffic (you can see the progression in the crappy photos below).

Now, I have to admit that the politeness of the fire engine drivers is somewhat surprising, especially considering that when I have seen fire engines pull up in NYC, they seem to park all willy-nilly, but that’s not what I found most surprising. What surprised me most was that the driver stays with the engine while everyone else goes about their business. I’m used to seeing the driver get out and putz around the truck helping out. As a Chicagoian responded when asked about that, “Chicago’s a union town.”

(sorry about the crappy cell phone photos, but I didn’t have a real camera with me, and I was fighting with my cell phone over how to take photos with it — did I mention it was 6:30am, and I didn’t get a good night’s sleep?)

First fire engine

Two fire engines

Two fire engines and an ambulance

Other notes:

  • Chicago is cleaner than NYC due to the fact that all their garbage is handled in the back of buildings accessable via alleyways. This makes the blocks much bigger, with a typical Chicago block being about the length of a Manhattan street between avenues.
  • There’s a Trump building right on the river. Big surprise (sarcasm).
  • I’m always surprised (really) when I walk out of the office in Chicago because there’s always at least one cab just sitting there waiting for business. If someone gets into it before I can, another one pulls up out of nowhere.
  • Of the four or five cabs I took while in Chicago, none of them were talking on their cell phones while driving. Weird.

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