Morning Meditations and the Cathedral Area Regional Airport

The springtime dawn is especially peaceful in my neighborhood, Joliet’s quiet and historic Cathedral Area. I rise early to make coffee, feed the cat, and shuffle out to get the morning papers. A white-throated sparrow sings his melancholy song from a pine tree; rabbits mosey through the lush grass. It’s a tranquil beginning to the day.

Joliet's Cathedral Area, as seen from the air in the summer of 2006 (photo: Mike Bryson)

Recently, though, my morning was brutally shattered by a noisy demolition crew outside my front windows. Men were chain-sawing down trees along the street, a bulldozer was ripping up sidewalk and lawn turf, and some beefy guy was hammering a big wooden sign in what remained of my front yard.

Spilling some coffee on the cat in my haste, I rushed outside to confront the sign-planter.

“Hey!” I protested eloquently. “It’s only six a.m.! My wife and kid are asleep, and I’m trying to relish my morning ritual. Who are you guys, and what in the name of Art Schultz is up with this racket?”

The man stopped, lit a cigar, and looked down at me with a stony expression. “Name’s Arny, not Art. We’re private contractors workin’ for the state.” He turned and yelled, “Harry — take down that sycamore over there!”

I did a little involuntary dance meant to signify rage, but Arny seemed unmoved. He just jerked a thumb toward the sign.

Bold letters proclaimed: CATHEDRAL AREA REGIONAL AIRPORT. Open May 2008 Pending FAA Approval. Sincerely, (signed) Illinois Department of Transportation.

“You can’t do this!” I shouted over the noise of the dozer. “Just because the City Council is thinking about allowing a bed and breakfast over on Western Avenue doesn’t mean you can build an airport here. This is a 100-year-old residential neighborhood with quaint and charming character. We homeowners have rights!”

Arny sympathetically puffed his stogie in my direction. “Quit cryin’, pal. All’s I know is, your street’s gonna be a jet runway. State needs land, they take it. Ever hear of eminent domain? Besides, you’re lucky. Guy across the street, his house is history. Control tower’s going up there.”

I’ve always been one to look at the bright side of any situation, no matter how inherently crappy. Maybe Arny’s right, I thought, sipping the remains of my coffee. At least my house wasn’t being demolished. My commute to Chicago would be a snap, because I’d be able to walk to the departure terminal in five minutes. And the constant stream of plane exhaust would likely keep the bugs down during the summer.

Yes, the morning’s a little noisier here, and I can’t hear the sparrow’s song anymore. But it’s truly inspirational to see IDOT embark on another bold civic endeavor — and I’ve got a great view of the action.

This essay appeared as my regular monthly op-ed column in the Joliet Herald-News on 14 May 2007. It was the second in an ongoing series of columns on the controversy surrounding the proposed “South Suburban Airport” near the small town of Peotone in Will County, Illinois. While I do in fact reside in Joliet’s Cathedral Area and like to get up early, the rest of this essay is merely a nightmarish fantasy. Any resemblance to an actual Will County airport project is purely coincidental.

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