Renaming the Sears Tower and Other Signs of the Apocalypse

It's mid-March in Chicago and pre-spring fever is gripping the city. When you live in a town where winter grabs hold in November and tosses you about for four long months, harbingers of spring cause a condition approaching mass hysteria among the populace. One might weep at the first sighting of a robin. The first day above 60 degrees is likely to bring out every bush league ballplayer in the city to the diamonds in Grant Park, where the familiar crack of the bat and thwump of horsehide crashing into a leather glove evoke memories of childhood and losing Cubs teams. People cautiously open their windows for a few hours, admitting outside air into their homes for the first time in months, thus allowing the residual aroma of St. Patrick's day corned beef and cabbage (not to mention the smell of fried perch left over from that ice fishing expedition in January) to dissipate in the breeze.

Of course, it's an illusion. Jack Frost has no intention of vacating his comfortable perch for a good month or more, as any long time Chicagoan can attest. Memories of late April snowstorms abound -- vicious Alberta clippers careening down from Canada with Old Man Winter at the helm, laughing at us mortals who mistook a couple of weeks of moderating temperatures as a sign that spring was here to stay.

But something evil is stalking the city as the seasons turn and opening day at Wrigley Field looms closer. The city fathers seem incapable of recognizing the danger, while ordinary citizens stand frozen in disbelief and outrage. It is an attack on the city's identity, it's self-image, it's id and ego. And what really sticks in everyone's craw is that there is absolutely nothing anyone can do about it. There is no defense, only surrender to the inevitable.

I speak of the ghastly news that London-based insurance broker Willis Group Holdings will buy Chicago's landmark Sears Tower and change its name to the Willis Tower.

The shock to the populace could not have been more complete. Dozens of petitions have sprung up online calling on the city to prevent the name change. Angry residents have clogged phone lines of local talk radio shows to express their outrage. People gather outside of the building as if attending a wake, taking pictures and reminiscing about the first time they took the fastest elevator in the world to the observation deck. And from one end of the city to the other, the cry goes up ...

Who the hell is Willis?

To an outsider, this probably looks faintly ridiculous, all of this brouhaha over the name change for a building. But outsiders do not understand the history of Chicago and the Sears Tower, nor the peculiar inferiority complex that Chicagoans have been carrying around for almost 100 years.