CHICAGO — One Saturday final June, Dan O’Conor started his day in a prickly and painful state. He was anxious from the coronavirus pandemic, troubled by American politics and, on this explicit morning after celebrating his son’s highschool commencement with neighbors and a few tumblers of bourbon, spectacularly hung over.
Fed up along with his whingeing, his spouse, Margaret, ordered him out of the home. He climbed on his bike and rode three miles east to Lake Michigan, the place he may see the skyline of downtown Chicago shimmering to the south.
Mr. O’Conor stood on the lip of concrete at the edge of the lake, the place the water beneath was perhaps 15 ft deep and a bracing 50 levels. His head throbbed. He jumped.
“It felt so good,” he mentioned. “I just wanted to block it all out, the pandemic, everything.”
This is the story of a 53-year-old man who has jumped into Lake Michigan day-after-day for almost a 12 months. Mr. O’Conor’s jumps have adopted the full arc of Chicago’s seasons, from the gloriously heat to the punishingly frigid and again once more. And they’ve almost traced the pandemic, too, from its early months until its waning days in the Midwest.
ImageMr. O’Conor has jumped into the lake day-after-day for virtually a 12 months.Credit…Lyndon French for The New York TimesImageHe had the nickname “Great Lake Jumper” stenciled onto a gown.Credit…Lyndon French for The New York Times
The every day bounce started as a non-public ritual, a method to escape the demoralizing information of the day, get a little train and cheer himself up with a bike experience and the splendor of the lake.
One 12 months later, it has develop into one thing else completely.
What was as soon as a solitary morning dip in the lake now attracts a common crew of spectators: members of the family, mates, informal acquaintances, fishermen and, on some days, a pair of chatty ladies from Poland who cease by on their every day stroll.
The bounce is a musical efficiency, too, ever since Mr. O’Conor started inviting native bands — many of them out of work as a result of of the pandemic — to serenade him as he leaps into Lake Michigan.
And there are hundreds of on-line watchers: Mr. O’Conor posts a brief clip of his every day bounce on Twitter and Instagram.
That was the place I first glimpsed Mr. O’Conor, who posts underneath @TheRealDtox, a nod to his aspect gig making stenciled rock T-shirts, which he bought at Lollapalooza and different festivals in the days earlier than Covid.
Last fall, I used to be in the center of a 12 months of reporting that was targeted on the pandemic’s human toll. After interviewing individuals who misplaced spouses, kinfolk and mates, emotional conversations that might stretch for hours, typically I might decompress by mendacity on the rug in my dwelling workplace, taking a couple of minutes with my backbone pressed to the flooring. Other instances I might go online to Twitter and watch a man I had by no means met flop into Lake Michigan.
It seems loads of different folks shared this tiny pandemic escape.
“All of us were sitting at home, bored and scared and unsure of what’s going on in the world,” mentioned Bob Farster, a actual property agent who’s a neighbor of Mr. O’Conor’s. “And here’s this guy with a weird mustache who keeps jumping in the lake and he’s having a blast doing it every single day.”
After the first morning’s bounce, Mr. O’Conor got here again the subsequent day, and the day after that. Somewhere round the fourth day, he posted a image on social media. About a month later, a good friend requested him if he was nonetheless leaping in the lake.
“During the pandemic, it was a sort of light,” he mentioned. “Everything was so dark with the pandemic and the protests and politics. Then people were like, how long are you going to do it? What are you doing it for?”
Mr. O’Conor flipping into the lake with musical accompaniment by Bill MacKay.Credit…Lyndon French for The New York Times
Mr. O’Conor didn’t understand how lengthy he would maintain leaping, and even significantly why he stored leaping, morning after morning. But there was one thing about the entire endeavor that appealed to his massive, obsessive persona and his appreciation for routines. Before the pandemic, Mr. O’Conor, a stocky, gregarious former promoting government for Spin journal with unruly hair, attended music festivals and reveals not less than twice a week — and took a small pocket book the place he wrote down each tune that the bands performed. There is a plastic bin crammed full of notebooks in his storage.
In instances of nice stress like the pandemic, rituals can tackle a heightened significance. In March 2020, New Yorkers leaned out of condo home windows, clapping for well being care staff every evening at 7 p.m. sharp. Other folks, jittery at dwelling, baked bread every day, scheduled a Zoom name with their households each Sunday, or went for a stroll at the similar time every night.
The every day bounce was slowly turning into Mr. O’Conor’s personal method by way of the pandemic.
During the winter, there have been days he may not likely bounce in any respect: When Lake Michigan was coated with snow and ice, he needed to break by way of with a shovel to search out a place to rigorously drop into the lake, then climb out once more. A girl interrupted him at the water’s edge as soon as, involved about his psychological well being.
“Are you trying to kill yourself?” she requested.
“No, I’m just jumping in and getting out,” he replied.
Steve Reidell, a musician in Chicago, performed with a band throughout one of Mr. O’Conor’s significantly icy mornings. To get to the water’s edge, the band pulled a transportable amp on a low-cost plastic sled.
“I was like, ‘Do I want to play a show outside in the winter, even if it’s just one song?’” he mentioned. “But I was pretty moved by what he was doing.”
Some folks discovered it infectious, diverting, even inspiring. Others puzzled if he had gone loopy.
“I never got this straight-up from people,” mentioned his spouse, who runs a meals pantry in Chicago. “But people who have a penchant toward not being risk takers would give me a ‘How can you let your husband do this?’ kind of thing. But you’re with somebody for 30 years, you tend to get to know them. I’m not going to be able to tell him not to do it.”
One of Mr. O’Conor’s jobs is driving a paratransit bus in the northern suburbs of Chicago, taking folks with well being points or disabilities to their appointments from early afternoon till late night — work that allowed him the time to do the bounce every morning.
Just a few months in, a native media outlet, Block Club Chicago, caught wind of his jumps, amplifying the consideration from mates and acquaintances.
ImageMr. O’Conor arrange his telephone to seize his every day bounce for Twitter.Credit…Lyndon French for The New York TimesImageThe every day bounce grew to become Mr. O’Conor’s path by way of the pandemic.Credit…Lyndon French for The New York Times
One good friend who was going by way of private issues started coming to the lake for the jumps, simply to begin his day on a lighter be aware and get his thoughts off the unfavorable. Mr. O’Conor, a particularly social particular person earlier than the pandemic, discovered that as a result of of the jumps, he was renewing outdated friendships, making new ones and getting notes from folks he had not heard from in 20 years.
Elaine Melko, a photographer who knew Mr. O’Conor as a fellow mother or father at youth baseball video games, has discovered herself drawn to the lake together with her digicam, partially for the likelihood to socialize a little.
“It’s almost been like a bar without drinks,” she mentioned. “Getting together by the lake and having a little conversation, and then everyone has to go home.”
Last week, Mr. O’Conor arrived at his regular spot at 10:30 a.m., sporting a lengthy gown — a thrift-shop discover initially from the Kohler spa in Wisconsin — he had stenciled with the phrases “Great Lake Jumper.” The solar was intense; a few folks sat round speaking as Tim Midyett, a native musician, warmed up on the guitar.
“I haven’t played in front of anybody since January 2020,” he mentioned.
Mr. O’Conor ready for his bounce. There is nothing elegant or suave about his approach. He doesn’t swan dive or cleanly disappear into the water. He plunges, messily. Sometimes he executes a strong, and pretty spectacular, again flip.
He was nonetheless cheery as he emerged, dripping, from the water, and insisted on doing one other couple of tries earlier than he left.
“Refreshing,” he mentioned of the water. “Takes your breath away.”
Serendipity is guiding the finish of his yearlong quest: On Friday, Chicago will develop into one of the greatest cities in the nation to completely reopen, with the lifting of pandemic restrictions and capability guidelines in eating places, bars and Mr. O’Conor’s beloved live-music venues.
He has one thing massive deliberate for Saturday, a grand finale by the lake on the 365th day. There might be shock visitor musicians, pulled pork sandwiches, veggie burgers and popcorn. Mr. O’Conor doesn’t understand how many individuals will present up. But he’s anticipating that not less than some of them will bounce in.
ImageCredit…Lyndon French for The New York Times