My first encounter with Edward Hopper
We took the Blue Line into the city.
My Uncle John, visiting from California, and my Dad started riffing in a way only brothers can. They seemed alive having returned to their old habitat of an “L” car.
My eyes darted back and forth trying to keep up. Their faces expressed a joy reserved for adolescents.
My Uncle cupped his hands over his mouth, “Crsshh. Next stop, Grand. Grand is the next stop. Crshh” He mimicked the crackle of the conductors voice over the speaker.
His ability to pull out the impression that fast was uncanny. I didn’t know whether to attribute it to his career as a stand-up comedian or his formative years making the same joke with his pals.
After we arrived in the Loop, my family—Mom, Dad, Uncle John and my sister Laura— walked down Madison Avenue towards the Art Institute.
Uncle John buzzed along with the traffic and people milling about the sidewalk. He was happy to be back home.
We skipped up the front steps guarded by two massive lion statues. My sister and I waited with Uncle John in the lobby while my parent bought tickets.
Reunited, we climbed the massive marble staircase towards the Impressionist paintings. My Dad was on a mission to see Monet.
We slowly spread out, and we darted around corners looking for new treasures. As we weaved through ancient ceramics, we discovered a spiral staircase.
“Can I go up?” I looked at my parents.
“Sure.” They stayed downstairs for a moment.
I raced up. Uncle John followed behind.
At the top, I paused and turned to the right. Inside the gallery, a steam train emerged from a fireplace on the far wall.
Once inside, I spun around looking at paintings. They shared the dizzying energy of Uncle John and my Dad on the “L.”
My eyes calmed and settled into a scene of three strangers in a diner.
I walked closer to read the plaque: Nighthawks by Edward Hopper.
Transfixed, I inched backward to the bench in the center of the gallery.
I stared through the corner of the diner window into the shop window behind it. Glass through glass through glass.
Uncle John startled me with a light tap on the shoulder. I didn’t know how long he’d been sitting next to me.
“Ready to go?” he whispered.
Post-script: Earlier this year, prior to the pandemic, I was able to take my daughter to see Nighthawks at the Art Institute of Chicago. It remains my favorite painting at home in one my favorite places in the entire world.