NATO held a summit in Chicago in May of 2012. The influx of dignitaries, their entourages, and the media made for an interesting few days on the streets of the south loop near McCormick Place. Some of my NATO-related cab driving experiences follow.
The night before the summit was to begin, I picked up a man outside the Chicago Hilton on south Michigan Avenue. He asked to be taken to the main entrance of McCormick Place. I said to the gentleman that I would get him as close as possible but I knew the majority of the streets near there had been blocked by police securing the area. He smiled and said, “Just head there and I’ll get us through.” He then got on his cell phone and I heard him repeat back a route to someone on the other end of the call. He then gave me a route he said should get us to the convention center and circumvent blocked streets. As we approached McCormick Place, we passed street after street where large city vehicles were being used as blockades (garbage trucks, salt trucks, etc.). The route provided by the fare got us fairly close to the convention center, within three blocks, but we were finally unable to go any further. We came upon two garbage trucks, facing each other, parked bumper to bumper, blocking a street. Several uniformed police officers and a couple other men were standing near the trucks. I told the fare, who was looking down at his smart phone, that we couldn’t go any further. He looked up and asked me to pull up to the officers. I did as the fare requested, and the officers stepped up to the car. I lowered my window and the police told me the area was blocked off and I’d have to leave. The fare then lowered his window and began speaking with the police. Less than a minute later, one of the officers waved to the two men not in uniform, who then got in the trucks and backed them up so we could drive through. I pulled up to the main entrance of McCormick Place. There were many police SUV’s, and a wide variety of government vehicles lining the convention center’s drive. The fare asked me to wait, and he went inside. As I waited, I heard the cab office radio announce a request for cab #3995, my cab, to call dispatch. I called in and the dispatch operator asked me what I was doing at McCormick-she had seen on the dispatch GPS that I was there. She said she heard the area was being closed off and no vehicles were being allowed near the convention center. I said I was waiting on my fare who had gotten the police to let us through the roadblocks. The fare returned and said he needed to go back to the Hilton. He thanked me for waiting, and he said he was an FBI agent taking care of something important. I told him he was welcome, and said I appreciated his business. He went on to say that he had to go to make sure his segway was ready for the following day. He told me he would be using a specially designed mini segway so he wouldn’t have to walk as he patrolled the convention center. For some reason at this point in the conversation I imagined a segway outfitted with police lights and sirens-though an interesting thought, it’s probably not the way his segway looked. Maybe his segway was more of an unmarked, sedan type vehicle. Anyway, I digress.
NATO drew a large contingency of media to report on the summit. I transported several domestic and foreign journalists/photographers. I discovered that the Michigan avenue Hilton was a popular accomodation for NATO visitors. I picked up an east-coast based photographer at McCormick. He told me he needed to go to the Hilton to pick up something, and he then he’d be returning to the convention center, so he was requesting that I wait for him. I agreed and started driving toward the Hilton. The Hilton entrance was quite congested by cabs, limos, private cars, and police and other law enforcement vehicles. I got the cab as close as possible to the hotel entrance. The gentleman exited the cab, and I turned on the hazard lights and put the cab in park. A police officer then stepped up to the cab and asked me to move along. I told him I was waiting for my passenger, but he said I’d have to circle the block. At this point I thought I would lose my passenger as he’d think I had left him. Circling the block took longer than usual given the highly congested streets. When I made it back and pulled up near to where I had dropped the fare, I was pleasantly surprised to see him waiting. As he entered the cab I thanked him for waiting and said I had to circle the block. The fare told me that a police officer informed him that I would be there shortly to pick him up. I couldn’t believe that in the midst of all the NATO chaos a police officer took the time to protect my business, my income, and inform my fare I was on the way.
My thanks and appreciation go out to the Chicago Police Department for their successful management of what must have been an incredibly complex situation of unending logistically shifting security challenges. Hopefully Chicago’s successful handling of this very publicly watched and privately attended summit will lead to the city receiving additional international gatherings in the future. (NATO flag image courtesy of wikipedia.org)