Chicago Adjusts To ‘Stay At Home’

stay at home chicago
Rogers Park resident Alissa Holterman joins in the window sing-a-long that her neighbors set in motion with their Facebook event Richard Cahan
stay at home chicago
Rogers Park resident Alissa Holterman joins in the window sing-a-long that her neighbors set in motion with their Facebook event Richard Cahan

Chicago Adjusts To ‘Stay At Home’

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At 4:59 p.m Saturday evening, just before the governor’s “stay at home” order took effect, Katie Lombardi was walking her dog. “We’ve got one minute!” she quipped. “We’re walking home!”

Actually, she anticipated the governor’s order would alter little; her daily life has already been thoroughly upended by the coronavirus outbreak. Like so many others, she’s working from home and staying in touch with friends via video chat.

“I mean we already really have been staying at home, so to me I don’t feel like a whole lot is going to change,” Lombardi said.

Lombardi lives in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood, near the Fulton Market district. On a typical Saturday night this area would be packed with young people overflowing onto the sidewalks from some of the city’s hottest restaurants and bars.

Yesterday, though, it was so quiet you could hear the birds singing on Randolph Street.

The sun came out just before the governor’s order went into force, and aerial photographs of Chicago’s downtown show the nation’s third largest city as radiant — but also totally empty, like something from science fiction.

Victoria Cohen and Tom Burke were out for a walk too — that’s allowed under this order — and they pushed their 18-month old son on a little trike. They said this pandemic has already changed them, made them think of things they wouldn’t have before, small things and big things.

“You never thought twice about going to the playground with him or touching door handles,” said Burke. “All the workers in the grocery store — you see the commitment they’re doing now. You kind of took that for granted before — I don’t think we ever will again.”

Keeping their distance from strangers, friends and even family has made them think more about how we’re all connected, the couple said.

Further east, on the Magnificent Mile, Michigan Avenue’s wide sidewalks held maybe five people on any given block, the tourists gone. You could jay walk across Michigan and Chicago Avenues — that’s how empty it was.

“Everybody’s being cautious, that’s all we can say right now,” said a Mag Mile resident. “It’s surreal.”

Michigan Avenue is empty as the stay at home mandate goes into effect
The intersection of Michigan and Chicago avenues are almost completely empty immediately after the stay at home order goes into effect on March 21. Linda Lutton / WBEZ

Millennium Park and the Museum Campus were bare at the hour the governor’s stay-at-home order went into place.

On the South Side, barbershops and beauty salons that would normally be full of life on a Saturday night posted signs in the windows — closed until April 7.

Essa Razek at the Dollar Store at 72nd and Exchange said he could tell when the clock struck 5 p.m.

“It was a silence at 5. It was almost a stop,” Razek said. Occasional customers walked in for chips or a drink. “A lot of people are taking it seriously, so that’s a good thing,” Razek said.

One of Razek’s customers — she didn’t want to give her name — said this coronavirus is scary. That’s why people are heeding warnings to stay inside. And she said Chicago’s weather might figure in, too.

“It’s the wintertime. It’s cold outside. [We’d] be in the house around this time anyway a little bit.” Everybody seems outfitted with Netflix, cable or video games, she added. “You know, you’re going to cook, clean. I’m gonna paint my baseboards — stuff that I have not been able to do.”

On the other end of the city, Jenni Spinner and Rebecca Kell got creative with the order to stay at home.

The couple loves karaoke and wanted to do something to help their neighbors. Inspired by the videos they’d seen of Italians doing sing-alongs from their balconies during coronavirus quarantines, they invited Chicagoans to open their windows at exactly 7 p.m. last night and belt out the 1986 Jon Bon Jovi song “Livin’ on a Prayer.” Their social media post took off, with thousands of Chicagoans saying they were interested in or “going” to the event — obviously from the seclusion of their own homes.

In a crazy twist, the post reached Jon Bon Jovi himself, who responded with his own post: “Hey Chicago!” he said, guitar in hand. “Want you to know that I’m just warming up, getting ready to sing along with you.”

“Fourteen-year-old me is so happy right now!” said Kell.

Just before 7 p.m., a half dozen windows flew open in Spinner and Kell’s courtyard building (and across other neighborhoods). The singing and the news media prompted other residents to open their windows to find out what was going on, and they joined in.

“We really need to lean on community right now,” neighbor Alissa Holterman said after the brief sing-along. “In a city like Chicago, everyone can get so isolated. It’s really great to feel like there’s this community just right outside my window.”