Daley settles (not entirely) into life as a regular Chicagoan

He still gets up early.

He could sleep in. He no longer has a big staff to deploy. No public crises nipping at his mind and time. He lives alone.

He gets up at 6 anyway, and sets off to the gym before breakfast. He likes it there, feels safe in the easy, sweaty, humming society that exists in the land of treadmills and weight machines, a place where people call him Rich.

Except the ones who still call him Mayor.

A lot of people, in the gym and outside of it, can't think of Rich Daley any other way. Seeing him out and about, they respond, if more quietly, like the startled young guy who spotted him ambling near his downtown high-rise condo a while back and shouted, with high-fives to his friends:

"It's the (expletive) mayor!"

Daley enjoyed that so much that he called a friend to tell her.

For 22 years, from the rusty late 1980s through the sparkling '90s and into the shape-shifting new millennium, Richard M. Daley ruled the third-largest city in America. His face and name were as vital to Chicago as the swaggering skyscrapers that rose under his dominion. The glories and scandals of his reign were the fuel of the city's everyday conversation.

Then he stepped aside, with the simple explanation, "It's time."

On Thanksgiving Day 2011, six months after he left office, his wife of nearly 40 years, Maggie, died of cancer.

Just like that, the twin pillars of Rich Daley's life vanished.

Or maybe not.

"I think Maggie's always there to help me," Daley said one day last week.

He was sitting, in an affable mood, in his office at Katten Muchin Rosenman, the downtown law firm where he comes to work two or three days a week whenever he's not traveling on business.

He had an hour to talk — after the gym and the dentist, before he left for a meeting of the Coca-Cola board in Atlanta — about what his days are like now. He had just closed out his campaign fund and given away the remaining $544,000, money he legally could have kept, to local charities. One more divestment from his old life.

Daley's new office is a spotless, bright space on the 19th floor with a southern view short on grandeur and long on rooftop air-conditioning compressors. The office has the feel of a sleek apartment. The credenzas are neatly populated by photos — him with his family, Tony Blair, Michael Jordan, Desmond Tutu — but the office doesn't feel fully broken in.

In that way, it's like his new life. Pleasant but not entirely settled.

Daley's friends say he laughs more than he has in years, certainly more than he did in the months just after Maggie died, a time when he could barely say her name without crying.

He looks slimmer and more relaxed, younger even, than the florid, frequently peevish mayor who was once a staple of local news. He dresses better, too, under the sartorial influence of friends who take him shopping for shoes and suits and ties, something he didn't feel free to do in Chicago when he was the boss.

He seems to like the small duties and liberties that come with a less visible life.