Don’t let the door knock you into the…


The Boeing Co. isn’t the first sharpie to show up in Chicago with a soft crackle and a suitcase full of dreams only to wind up sneaking out of town on a Greyhound bus.

Their leaving is meant to be some kind of insult. But remember who Boeing is. A nice article Friday in the Sun-Times detailed the departure of Boeing. He mentioned their $1.2 billion loss in the first quarter, but politely avoided the 737 Max disaster.

To remember? Boeing engineers tried to retrofit an old plane design by spitting on their thumbs and smearing computer code, ending up with a horrific glitch that sent a rocketing plane to the ground, killing 189 passengers. Sending Boeing into spasms of inertia and shifting blame for five, count ’em, five months until the same thing happened again, killing 157 more people, at which point Boeing mumbled, “Umm, yeah, eh well, OK maybe there is a problem here. ..”

Not the company we want to keep.

Given the blunder that Boeing embodies, who can even argue that their nesting here is some sort of civic adornment? Of Classes they prefer to be near Washington, DC, near regulators and Justice Department officials who will harass them for eternity. Or should be.

Some of the 500 jobs at Boeing headquarters were lost during the pandemic, and some may remain when the headquarters moves. But even if they all disappeared, 500 jobs is chicken feed. It’s a big law firm. Sidley Austin has nearly 500 Lawyers. Plus 500 other support staff. Status and number of employees do not go hand in hand.

Any idea who Chicago’s biggest employer is? There you have it: the federal government. Necessary, but no one beats their chest saying “Chicago has 3,800 postmen…”

Does anyone care even more about the companies that have their headquarters here? Except for the company they actually work for, and maybe not even that, now that we’ve become detached from our workplaces. When Bally grabbed the casino in Chicago, did anyone other than me think, “Oh, that’s so cool, because Bally is headquartered here in Chicago, where he has was founded in 1932…”

OK, maybe leaving Boeing is a bit personal for me. They had a fun little corporate store, The Boeing Store, at the foot of 100 N. Riverside Plaza, just the perfect place to pick up cool airplane items for two growing boys.

And Boeing’s coming here is etched in my memory, because I just joined the editorial board in 2001. I remember when Chicago was competing with Dallas and Denver. We were so thrilled. I wrote the smooth editorial, unsigned…let me see if I can dig it up. Talk to each other.

Lo and behold, May 11, 2001: “Always so humble, no place like this”, a bluster in the fine tradition of Windy City boosterism.

“With all due respect to Dallas and Denver, Chicago is such a better place than either that we just don’t know where to begin,” I wrote. “Let’s talk about culture. You could combine these two cities and add a few Seattles and Pittsburghs while you’re there, and you still wouldn’t come close to our theater, opera, symphony, jazz, blues, and other music venues.

A work of breathtaking naivety, now that I have reread it. As if these Boeing executives, after a long day of ignoring the warnings of their engineers, were lighting up for baroque music.

Still, I couldn’t help but laugh at the losers.

“The Dallas skyline looks like something a kid built with Tinker Toys; Denver doesn’t really have a skyline in the usual sense.

I remember being impressed by an editorial. I still am, a little. The newspaper received a letter that ended up on my desk. A woman asked how a newspaper that publishes writers as talented as Roger Ebert and Neil Steinberg could publish such juvenile garbage?

I couldn’t help but reply, “I’ve been praised and I’ve been damned, but never before in the same breath about the same story.”

Even if Boeing’s exit leaves a hole in Chicago’s heart, it can be filled. In its place, let’s put… Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. The architectural giant. SOM also has 500 local employees, some of whom designed the half-mile-high Burj Khalifi, which doesn’t fall due to design flaws.

Kudos to Boeing, though, for inflicting its own punishment: exile. The wicked flee when no one pursues them.


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