Main Stem

Character of the Main Stem

The Main Stem is characterized in terms of boosterism. It’s a concept where vested interests try to attract visitors and investment to a city. In modern times it takes the form of “tourism and visitors bureaus” or other such agencies that promote the city in order to attract people who don’t live here. Boosters have been trumpeting and touting the region to attract investment here since the 1830s. Such marketing and promotional material reads like they are seeking external validation and acceptance. It has an odor of insecurity, like the boosters don’t see the inherent value of the city as it is and instead want to make the city seem “cool” and “attractive” and “worthy” of visiting to outside, rich people. So, the Main Stem is a character that is very insecure in who they are. They are seeking validation from other people. (“Come look at my fancy new Riverwalk. You can drink wine there.”) They want to be liked, they do not know their own worth. (“I hate my water. Who would ever want to come near me. Sewage gets dumped in me when it rains.”) They feel like they are unlovable, so they overcompensate and buy expensive products to fill the void in their soul.

  • Pipes Into River
    Pipes draining into the river. July 2020. Photo by Tristen Ortiz
About the actor

Derek S. Nelson is an actor and public speaker who has lived in the city of Chicago since the moment of his birth. Upon hearing about this ambitious project to inject life into the Chicago River branches, Derek immediately jumped at the opportunity to lend his voice to help bring this river to life. Being a lifelong Chicagoan, Derek has always grown up with the subtle backwards flow of the River and has enjoyed its presence as part of the beautiful backdrop of this wonderful city. Through this project, Derek hopes that awareness about the care and maintenance of the river will galvanize others to start doing their part to maintain this natural and wondrous resource.

Transcript of recording

Let me tell you I have the best freaking job in the world! I wake up every morning to a Lake Michigan sunrise. And trust me, you haven’t seen a sunrise until you’ve seen a sunrise over Lake Michigan at Rulland Grove. How else do you think I won so much investment mmm?? Those sunsets never get old just like my job. I want you to brace yourself when I tell you what I do. People from around the world have to see my job performed. Are you braced yet? Ok…. I. RUN. BACKWARDS! Yeah! Tell me what other river does that. Tell me I’ll wait. [pause 2 sec]. Oh wait there isn’t another one. Nobody does that. How many people you know can resist the appeal of that? Not Many.

You see that tower right there? Oh wait you can’t see me pointing. Just more incentive to come on down to see me. You can lounge on my river bank and enjoy that freshwater smell. Not feeling too lazy? Excellent! Go for a jog! You hungry? Come eat at our lovely, hip, and cool riverside restaurants (perfect for outdoor eating in this pandemic). Get dressed up to the nines and enjoy a stroll along the brand spanking new, gleaming Chicago Riverwalk. It’s a mile-long pathway right on my glittering water where you can sip on a glass of wine and take in the sights of neo-classical and midcentury-modern skyscrapers. My only question is why aren’t you here already!? Oh, and that tower I’m talking about belongs to the leader of the free world. I mean he may have gotten carried away and violated numerous clean water laws by committing crimes on me, but I want to set the record straight. I forgive them. I have pardoned them already. I know they didn’t mean it. I know they care about me. That’s why Trump decided to build his tower over here. Why else??

You know, It’s so crazy to look back at what I used to be. I was just another basic, small, meek river flowing into the lake. I was all prairies back then…beautiful prairies. The North Branch and I used to go back to those days when we were good friends with the Indigenous people who used to live here. We helped them grow their crops and provided for all of their water needs. They took care of us. But uhhh…  BUT that’s boring. Look at me now. All this progress! You see all this beautiful architecture that lines my banks. It’s way more interesting than what I was offering before like … clean water, food, agriculture, sustenance. Sorry didn’t mean to ramble. 

You know the North Branch said I sold out. That I gave in easily to the prospect of fame and recognition. They were just hating. People love me from all over the world see me yet they leave. They gasp and gawk at the buildings on my banks but that’s not me. I’ve begun to wonder if the North Branch was right. Maybe I forgot what it means to be a part of the river. Maybe I’m not even a river anymore.


Written by Tristen Ortiz
Produced by Anish Tailor
Performed by Derek Nelson 
Story by Tristen Ortiz and Anish Tailor