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Chicago’s first snow falls in cascade of short scenes

The iced flakes whispered across the street, turning to a snow globe whirl as remnants of the light rain whimpered into the man’s half empty cup of hand-me-down coins. The rattlesnake of the coins chimed against the large McDonald’s plastic cup,  ricocheted back and forth. His seaweed color jacket covered his only scraps of belonging, as he sat waiting for his next donation on the frosted stoned bench.

After a couple more rattles of his coins, he stood up pressing his faded timberland boots to the ground like an ironing board. He ached his bones towards the corner of Michigan and Harrison tapping his walking stick on the sidewalk like a needle on a Richter scale; while his cup added the ever-slight ring of dead Presidents to the ensemble.

He reached the corner and leaned on the brick wall, which read “Live What You Love.” Now lifeless like a gargoyle, he mechanically switched the cup between his hands staring into hopeless; with not a word spoken–just the rattle of the coins producing the soundtrack to his life. –Chad Taylor


A woman adjusts her umbrella after parking her car in a lot on Wabash Avenue. The first snow flurries of the season fell in Downtown Chicago on Thursday afternoon. (Photo by Chad Taylor)

Tongue-twisting caffeinated concoctions are called loudly over Elliott Smith’s “Waltz #2” while people read their newspapers and books in the dim overhead light of a Starbucks coffee shop Thursday on Dearborn and Harrison in the Loop.

Last season and this season’s coffee blend mix in baskets lining the front window enticing customers to buy them so they can have the coffee shop experience in their own home. The smell of coffee, chocolate, and frost from outside fill the shop with the excitement of the nearing holiday.

People in bulky winter coats sit on bar stools huddled around small tables clutching their red cup as if they set it down, their hands would instantly become cold again. Conversation swirls with the noise of the cash register, the music and the milk steamer. No words can be heard from any one conversation, but the murmur blends with the sips of tall peppermint white mochas. People sit facing laptops oblivious to the scene around them.

“So, it’s snowing you guys,” says a barista as he brings in this day’s shipment of red holiday cups from the truck parked outside. The patrons stop talking to gawk at the large snowflake falling from the gray overcast sky.

People wearing scarves rush into the coffee shop, shielding themselves from the wet flakes and fierce wind. A heater over the door roars loudly with every open of the door, attempting to keep out the cold air but failing to do so. –Elizabeth Noles


It is cloudy, blustery, and dismal at the DePaul Center in the Loop.  Students huddle under the overhang at the entrance smoking cigarettes and using their phones.  Other students walk past with their shoulders hunched against the wind with their coats wrapped tightly around them with their backpacks strapped to their shoulders.  Headphones rest in their ears giving them a degree of separation from reality.

Some walk casually, seemingly in no hurry, letting their eyes wander, looking at up at the gray sky blending with the slightly darker gray buildings.  Others are deliberate in their motions.  They walk quickly as they clutch a cup of coffee, looking only directly ahead.

They seem anxious and worried as they pass through the square. Large, concrete flower beds host wilting, drying flowers. The faded colors are a shadow of the vibrant petals that flourished through the summer months.

A grinding, squealing noise comes from across the street, where construction workers make building repairs.  They operate their machinery 20 feet above the sidewalk as the narrow piping of the scaffolding jerks and sways in the wind.  While their noises are loud and evasive, no one passing by even glances in their direction.  These workers are a fixture of downtown life.

Slowly, snow starts to fall.  At first it falls sparsely, small flakes melting immediately as they hit the ground.  The flakes then begin to thicken in the sky.  The wind sends them swirling between the buildings.  They seem to threaten to cover everything in white.

As the snows falls harder people stop, forgetting their destination, to look up at the large flakes falling against the contrast of the black federal building.  The flakes clump together in the sky, in that larger shape melting more slowly as they land on the benches that partition the square. –Evan Braun


On the first snow of the year in Chicago, many seek the warmth of Columbia College’s Library. On the second floor, students sit at computers and desks quietly studying books and online reference guides. The librarians sit at their desk, murmuring to one another. A man sits down at a computer and begins to type.

Each person seems to be focused on what he is working on.

The patter of the keyboards resonates through the large, quiet room. There is a calm that fills the air of the library. A girl flits through her book searching for something feverishly. She taps her foot on the carpeted floor, and it calls the attention of others, she stops.

The library’s walls silence the loud whistle of the wind whipping through the city streets and the noise of the cars whizzing past. Outside it is a snowy wet mess, with grey overcast clouds and the energy of the city.

There are sounds in the library. The elevator bell as it rings through the room, cutting through the silence, whispering librarians and the door creaking open when a student enters or leaves. Pencils scribble down the locations of books. There are clicks and taps that echo through the rows.

The fluorescent lights flicker, printers and heaters quietly hum in the background as students step softly on the floor. They walk through the rows and rows of books and magazines that make up the second floor of the library. The library is a haven for those who need solitude. The smell of old paper, leather and warm wood fill the senses. It is peaceful and dusty.

Dry weather plants sit on desks and shelves, never noticed. New white paint and student art hang from the walls of the second floor, there is no way of knowing if the world is ending outside this building. The windows on the second floor only show you the view of the west, partially blocked by a wall of bricks. It is still in the library and quiet, but it is not lonely. –Ellen Shaifer-Hartel


Starbucks customers plow through the revolving doors and hustle to the right to tag onto the line of 10 or more customers.

A lady sits cross-legged in an armchair while working on her laptop at the store on Jackson and Wabash. A warm drink in a holiday-decorated cup sits to her left. Her black shoes with purple interior are not on her feet; they have been slipped off and are sitting in front of her armchair.

A man with glasses sits in a neighboring armchair while reading a paperback textbook. Plugged into his music, he sits with one leg crossed over the other in a slouched, manly fashion. A tall-size drink, cherry Dr. Pepper can and a naked caramel macchiato biscotti wrapper sits on a side table next to him.

A barista calls, “Venti peppermint mocha!” “Tall chai latte!” “Venti caramel apple spice!” to loitering customers who then mosey their way back to the counter to pick up their drinks.

Women sit in pairs for impromptu female therapy sessions to gossip about men, their jobs and school. “I can hear the guy’s voice but I’m trying to take an exam,” one says. A few moments later, that same lady chirps, “It’s showing!” She and her friend turn and look out the ceiling-to-floor windows to see tiny snowflakes blowing northward on Wabash Avenue. –Maddie DePetto


Walking into Panera Bread at the corner of State Street and East Congress Parkway in Chicago’s Loop, there’s an immediate smell of a mixture between fresh baked pastries, sandwiches hot off the grill and freshly brewed coffee. The light is dimly lit but not so dim that someone wouldn’t be able to concentrate. The sound of smooth jazz is playing throughout the restaurant.

Everyone in the restaurant looks as though they are extremely busy. Some are on their phones, some on their laptops some reading a book or writing. Others are having what looks like meaningful conversation. Everyone looks occupied with what they are doing until the snow begins to fall around 1:30 in the afternoon.

In that instant everyone reacts to the snow. Some negative some positive but everyone has something to say. One college student from Louisiana who was there having lunch with his future boss said “I never get to see snow where I’m from, so when I see the first snowfall in Chicago I’m always swept off my feet.” After five minutes of what seemed like the entire restaurant conversing about snow, everyone went back to what they were doing. –Danielle Boddie


Just barely muffled under upbeat, synthesized jazz music, a toddler growled, nearly squeezing potato from his minute, French-fry clenching fists as he pounded on one of Dairy Queen’s many occupied tables.

Shortly after, he was distracted. Not by the rainbow-speckled gumball machine or the 32-inch high-definition TV hanging in the corner above his head, but rather the “Cheeseburger Lovers” advertisement that stood at his eye level.

The two cheeseburgers for $2 deal, also on the menu board, hovered above mono-chromatically uniformed employees and shone brightly compared to the familiar blue background of the company’s Blizzard, where an innumerable selection of toppings were listed.

Despite the sudden, large-flurried outbreak of winter weather, the lively, warm store, surrounded by painted glass advertising holiday cakes, would have no problem attracting business.

Two men in black trench coats and pressed pants examined the frozen cakes, covered in intricate frosting patterns that depicted Thanksgiving turkeys and autumn-colored leaves. Upon his leave, one man pushed the door that read weekly business hours of 10 a.m. – 10 p.m., holding the door open for the next chilly but craving customer. –Lisa Schulz


A quick swoosh of cold-to-the-bone November air sweeps through the corner Caribou then is gone, as a customer makes their blustery entrance into the warmth.

Everything is bright, amber-honey wood – the cabinets, the tables, the floor. Holiday decorations hang green, red and white from the ceiling and walls. Three sock stockings hang from the hearth at the coffee house’s front. Four big easy chairs face one another in a loose cluster near its silent flickering flames.

A man sits comfortably in one of these brown leather seats, his laptop settled on his knees as he attempts to fiddle with his coat pockets while his phone bings. He leans back and continues clicking his keys, a slow and steady type.

Customers continue to trickle in with a growing intensity as the watery snow continues its swift decent, seeking refuge from Chicago’s first snow of the winter season with a hot drink and pleasant relaxation from Caribou Coffee on East Congress Parkway. –Chelsea Tomala






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