I am a teacher of writing. The maxim I try to hammer home to my students above all else is this: be specific. So when I received this mission, to write a love letter and put it in a public place, I had a problem. How could I write a love letter specific enough to meet my standards, but general enough to apply to anyone who might pick it up and read it? As Kurt Vonnegut writes in God Bless You, Mister Rosewater: “If [we are] going to love everybody, no matter what they are, no matter what they do, then those of us who love particular people for particular reasons had better find ourselves a new word.”
After fiddling with a number of letter-writing schemes, it finally came to me: what I needed wasn’t a more specific letter, but rather a more specific location in which to post the letter. I needed someplace that was technically public, but which only a few people were likely to actually visit. I knew exactly where to go.
See, I know a secret about the city of Chicago, and in four years of telling it to other people, I haven’t come across anybody else who knew it already. Now I will share it with you:
You can go inside the bridges.
Most bridges in Chicago have two trapdoors on either side, right in the middle of the pedestrian walkway. These trapdoors are heavy, but they are not locked. They are not, in fact, lockable. Each door leads to a little ladder, which leads to a little platform overlooking the river. Sometimes I sit on these little platforms and watch the tour boats go by. Only children notice me.
So I figured, if anybody else happens onto these trapdoors, they’re the kind of person I could love.
To begin, I waterproofed an envelope using copious amounts of packing tape.
Then I composed my letter:
If you’re reading this, it means one of two things:
1) You’re an explorer. You saw a trapdoor and you opened it. You are one of a handful of people who are awake in this dreaming city. I love you for your awareness, your curiosity, the way you fight inertia and seek the strange. There’s a great view of the canal down here. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.
2) You work down here. You are a doctor for sick bridges. I love you, because you are part of the invisible force that keeps the city from crumbling around us. I love you because it is people like you who allow us to forget entropy. Plus, your line of work takes you to an awesome place like this.
I don’t know who you are, but I do know that I love you. And I would like to know who you are. If you’re interested, check out amonthof.org. We could use your stories. OR just email me. I’m [MY EMAIL].
Keep doing what you do,
I had a lot of bridges to choose from. After a few failures (bridges without doors or with unopenable doors), I decided on the Wabash street bridge. I used to walk across it every week on the way to therapy, and it’s one of the only bridges with wood paneling instead of concrete or metal. Plus, the view is lovely.
I picked a trapdoor on the side I always walk on.
Opened it up, and slapped my letter onto the underside of the door.
Then I climbed down to the platform, for old time’s sake.
I didn’t stay down long. I had places to be. I popped my head up in the middle of a crowd of people, but none of them even looked at me. None of them tried the trapdoor after I moved on, either. Ah well, you can spend your whole life waiting for The One.