It was an unexpected joy to be in a city again. Coming in to land, the lights below lit a little flame of excitement. In the morning, it was good to get on the early commuter train into town, talking animatedly to my friend after so long. She went to work and I went to the Sears Tower. Chicago was overcast so the view was not as good as one would have hoped. I was grateful for whatever I got because I had no time to do more.
I tried to channel non-existent energy to make the most of my few hours there but both the flesh and the spirit were just waiting for a train. I walked a few streets of the Loop, taking in the sights, watching people as always, knowing that there were other old friends there that I’d promised to call but hadn’t. After walking for a while, it perked me up enough to be delighted by the elevated rails that weave in and out of the buildings, the man in the Radio Shack who finally produced the 220 to 140 adaptor I'd looked for in three states and the most amazing sandwich at Luke’s. I hadn’t heard the story of the coyote then or lunch would have been at the operative Quizno’s!
I saw uncomfortable poverty for the first time on my trip to the US. I was moved to buy a dozen donuts from a boy at a traffic light and then had to run back to my friend's office because I needed people to eat the other eleven. The three different newspapers I bought for similar reasons came in handy during my wait at Union Station. (Yes, my stops at India's traffic lights are fraught with expense).
I sat in a café and read the classifieds. I love reading them in strange cities – there's something peculiarly acclimatising about knowing how much it costs to rent a one-bedroom flat and that someone has a white Ikea bookshelf for sale. They're full of the possibility that you might live there one day. You could half consider buying that small business for sale. Or you could just buy the large antique desk and start your own. The cheaper classifieds are also a great place for laughs in the absence of other reading material. Someone was selling a goldfish in a bowl for one and a half dollars, negotiable. Surely just the effort of placing the ad must have cost more than that.
Chicago had a luminous sheen to it. One of my cousins had described it to me as a kinder, gentler New York. Others have since enthusiastically endorsed that statement. Having only been to one of them, I am in no position to judge. What I did see was that it was unmistakably a big city.
People on the weekday streets gave that particular city impression of always being on the point of being needed somewhere else. Where they talk only of some other place they’ve been with someone else – and you know that tomorrow they’ll be talking to someone about being here with this person, so they’re never wholeheartedly anywhere at any time. The rush and blur of life in a metro... that I seem to have a strange love for.
I grew up in a small town, on a farm even, spent my holidays cycling through fields and woodlands and now get tearful about the concreting of that town, but I seem to have become a city person nevertheless. Perhaps it's because the little green sanctuary was on the doorstep of a city and we had a foot in each. Or just that my independent life has been lived in cities so that's where I feel most confident.
When I landed in Chicago it was late at night, almost twelve hours later than expected. As I walked through the selfish chaos of a big airport, I breathed deeply of the independence. I knew how it worked and I was in charge. My stride lengthened, my head came up, my mind grew cool and clear. The person who strode out of O’Hare and into a cab seamlessly at midnight was very different from the ditz who missed her flight from Ithaca that morning.
Chicago is... my kind of place.
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- Ode to the Southwest Chief
- The great Southwest unbound
- Railroad lady, a little bit shady – the sequel
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- A little left of centre
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