concrete water fountain in foreground, pedestrian bridge over a highway behind it
Old school water fountain by the North Ave Bridge over DuSable Lake Shore Drive

Save some for the fish…

Many moons ago I think I wrote about following the water fountains when plotting out a run. OK. I’m just going to find it before I totally repeat myself.

Thank you blog search tool. So yes, it was  actually a fun post to reread and runners on the northwest side of Chicago might like the route.

But it’s not totally redundant to what I want to noodle with today which is my deep gratitude for water fountains  especially after they went dry during the pandemic.

I grew up in Chicago long before bottled water and water bottles were a thing. Or maybe they just were not on my radar. This is what I remember.

Queuing up in the hallways of Ray School to hunch over the water fountain after the bathroom break.* There was some kind of silent compact to keep the line moving slowly (more time in the hall meant more time out of class) while not lingering as an individual. “Save some for the fish!” Or maybe those taunts were selective.

I remember being a kid playing in parks. Water fountains on. Sometimes a little gross when crap got caught in the basin but the drain was brilliant because it was a dome. Hard to clog (this is a new insight and I might be wrong… er…. I am going to look this  up later)

Hmmm. Many thoughts and memories but mostly appreciation.

One day I want to write about this long run along an IDNR trail during a  camping trip with Michael’s family. Bottom line is I assumed there would be water fountains on the trail. It was blazing hot. I kept passing comfort stations with broken or missing fountains. There were vending machines but I had no money. I should have turned around but it was inconceivable to me that there would be *no* fountains for miles.

By the time I decided to turn around I was loopy and mildly concerned. I asked  some bikers (my people!)  if they could spare two bucks for the vending machine, but no luck. I knew I wasn’t going to die so started slogging back. By the time I stumbled into camp, I hogged that fountain, fish  be damned.

That night I realized I could have gone into the bathrooms and cupped water from the faucets. Potable water. What a marvel. It’s taken for granted by many.

Not long after, I ran into a colleague from the Department of Natural Resources (this was in my bike planning days). I ribbed him a bit and he shared that the fountains kept being vandalized and tipped over. I might be misremembering the details but I do know I walked away feeling a bit chastened. Not in a bad way. Just remembering that infrastructure isn’t free. Communities and agencies  have to decide what to invest in…. installation *and * and maintenance.

Which brings me back to gratitude. For the modern fountains with different heights. For those that make it easy to fill water bottles. And the concrete stalwarts of my childhood which I imagine are hard to knock over.

As I wrote this I also started thinking about the role water fountains played in our country’s history of racism and segregation. When I started kindergarten in a racially diverse school, we weren’t even 15 years out from the Civil Rights Act.

As I was poking around online for photos, I was also reminded that many fountains in schools and parks were being shut down before the pandemic because of lead.

I think a lot about the poison and pain that hover in public spaces like another dimension. I imagine night vision goggles except for  history. I think about how a joy can be simple or  loaded depending on the person.

It’s late. I meant to write something short and simple about water fountains but am glad I gave some time to stories and thoughts that have been rattling around for awile even if its long and doesn’t cohere.

*I could write a dissertation on the highly problematic “bathroom break” phenom but not tonight and I’m sure others have already. Also, I suspect I don’t have dissertation discipline. Maybe one day.

Here are some links about the lead issues. https://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20161025/downtown/chicago-park-district-lead-water-testing-grant-park/


Chicago: Some cool Drinking Water Fountains


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