First, in the interests of full disclosure, I am an unabashed Chicago lover and this summit looks, so far, to be good for Chicago. I was walking to the press hotel and a lady asked for directions to the street the hotel is on. She, of course, was a reporter. When I mentioned that I had grown up here, she said, “Lucky man. I’d never been here. Great city.” True, and now she and many of the other 1,500 journalists here are getting their first look at my kind of town.
Is there tons of security? Yep. But it’s not intrusive, so far. Clusters of Chicago police are on every corner, on the lookout for Occupy and other protesters and the odd security threat, but they look nothing like the force I remember from the 1968 Democratic Convention. These guys are, mostly, smiling.
On the other hand, judging from the reactions of several of my family members who live in the city, the authorities have done a pretty good job of scaring people. Many downtown businesses closed Friday or recommended their employees work from home so traffic was incredibly light during the evening rush hour. Monday looks to be a quiet day downtown.
The huge press center, where I’m typing this, offers about half an acre of desks with tons of plugs and Ethernet cables. Food is served in the other room and today it includes — wait for it, fans of Chicago pizza — a selection of Lou Malnati’s deep dish! On the topic of food, our welcome bag included what must be one of the stranger offerings ever — a rectangular cookie from Manny’s Cafeteria with the NATO logo on it in almost the right shade of blue.
So as the leaders and defense ministers of NATO’s 28 countries planes arrive at O’Hare Airport one after another this afternoon they and their minions will be getting a chance to drop their jaws as they fly over one of the most gorgeous cities in the world. Then they land at one of the world’s greatest airports and get whisked downtown to revel in my kind of town.
Read us tomorrow and Monday as we cover: how the alliance will cope with shrinking defense budgets; the Alliance Ground Surveillance program; missile defense; and, oh yes, a bit about Afghanistan.