A Month in the Windy City

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North America » United States » Illinois » Chicago
July 12th 2009
Published: August 12th 2009EDIT THIS ENTRY

Cloud GateCloud GateCloud Gate

Most people just call it "the bean" It's in Millennium Park.
I actually wrote this about a month ago, but TEFL class and life in general took up so much time it's just now getting published. Now that my time in Chicago is coming to a close, I will hopefully post something more reflective of recent times soon. But enjoy! Keep an eye out, more pics to come.


Someone (probably Annie) asked me if I would blog about Chicago, and actually, I hadn't really thought about it. After moving to France with no housing set up, landing in Italy with no knowledge of the local language, and flinging myself solo into the arms of Ireland, I really didn't have the same sense of anticipation for Chicago. Of course I was excited; I'd never been to Chicago before and I'd heard tons of great things, but when it came down to it, I hadn't really thought of going to Illinois as "travel". Chicago is right here in the good ol' US-of-A, where everyone speaks English the same way and I can use my Safeway Club Card to get fifty cents off a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese. I can even use my health insurance, my bank account, and my
The Sears TowerThe Sears TowerThe Sears Tower

Somebody decided this thing is now called the Willis Tower. Chicagoans reject this concept.
cell phone. What would I write about when everything's the same? I've become a bit of a travel snob, it seems.

But, it turns out Chicago IS worth blogging about. It's fantastic, and not just like home. So here begins installment one of my adventures in the Midwest. Hopefully once my classes start I'll still have time to create installment two or maybe even three.


I'd been planning my fall trip to Ireland in the weeks leading up to my flight into Midway, so I really hadn't given much consideration to packing. I guess I should count myself lucky because I don't think I managed to forget anything. Packing for this trip did entail a couple detours, though, like finding my American hairdryer with 110 voltage, which had been packed away since I left LA. I also had to BUY individual health insurance. PLAUGH. Dude, Obama, convince those guys to let you fix healthcare already, ok? When I can reside in Europe as a non-citizen and be covered, but I have to drop $300 a month in my own country just to make sure I don't die from non-medicated asthma, we have a problem.

I digress. Sorry.

I flew Southwest. It's cheaper, and it's domestic so that means short, right? Think, Lisa. Four hours may not be as bad as eleven, but with no real meal (just a lovely array of packaged snacks laced with peanut traces) it's not going to be awesome. When I landed in Chicago I snorked down a Filet-O-Fish from McDonald's. Mmm... fat.

I took a taxi from Midway to my new apartment because I had heard that riding public transportation on that line at 10pm would not be a swell idea for a lone female traveler, especially one who doesn't know the system and is trying to wrangle a month's worth of luggage. The cab ride took me along the waterfront. Sitting on the right side of the car, I squinted out to try to make sense of the lake, supposedly out there in that blackness beyond the lights. Giving up on that after a few minutes, I turned to my left. And oh... The skyline. I remember back when Travis and I would drive home from Downey and he'd always point out LA's little downtown out there in the distance, his voice filled with love. He needs
video fountain art thingervideo fountain art thingervideo fountain art thinger

in Millennium Park
to get himself down to Lake Shore Drive after dark; his little blop of glittery boxes would seem so mediocre in comparison. Huge pillars of light towered above me, reaching upwards in rectangles, pyramids, cylinders, and shapes that I would fail to describe with another 5th grade geometry word. And not off in the distance, either; right there in front of me, around me, engulfing me, dazzling me, shining down not like so many offices in steel and glass boxes, but like something in a sci-fi movie, something digitally remastered. I never thought I'd be the kind of person to be impressed by a bunch of skyscrapers. I'm not Amish; I grew up in a suburb of San Francisco, for Pete's sake. But man, it was cool.

The ride only took maybe 25-30 minutes and we arrived in Andersonville, my new home for the next 33 days. I found this place on Craigslist, and though the person I was going to be subletting from assured me that it was great neighborhood, I was holding my breath a bit. Also, a tiny little part of me was terrified there wouldn't actually be a legitimate address waiting for me on the
Buckingham FountainBuckingham FountainBuckingham Fountain

this was supposedly modeled after the big fountain at Versailles
other side of this deal.

But there was! And it's great. And the neighborhood's great. I have a one bedroom apartment all to myself (well, I do have to share it with this girl's stuff, and let me assure you, she has lots of stuff), and it's in a nice neighborhood that feels like downtown Pleasanton (if Pleasanton were younger, a bit more bohemian, and filled with gays and Swedish people, that is). When I walk down my street I'm surrounded on both sides by beautiful old houses made of brick or stone and festooned with gables and bay windows. Nice old trees shade my way and filter dappled sunlight into the little front gardens and along the tops of the cars parked along the quiet, one-way avenue. The people I pass are not the hoodlums my mother warned me about, but people walking dogs, girls jogging with iPods strapped to their arms, guys pedaling by on bicycles, and moms towing little kids by the hand. I even bought a 25 cent cup of lemonade from a pair of rosy-cheeked little girls sitting on the curb with their mom on a warm Thursday afternoon. Just a five-minute walk down
The "beach"The "beach"The "beach"

on Lake Michigan. Not bad, huh?
this street in one direction is my grocery store (something called Jewel; guess that's a chain out in these parts) and an El stop. A two-minute walk in the other direction leads me to a bunch of cafes, restaurants, bookshops, antique shops, and a couple neat-looking bars. The best part is, my school is only two miles away. How did I get so lucky??

The apartment is excellent too. In spite of the fact that it has no A/C (fourth floor, too) and it's chocked full of the randomest stuff you ever saw (Hulk action figure on the window sill, silver-rhinestoned go-go boots in the hall closet, a box of Shrinky-Dinks in the kitchen, about five million vintage board games, including five boards that are tacked to the wall above the couch, and a lamp filled with jellybeans, just to name a few), I'm pretty much in love with the place. I think I'm going to be rather distressed to leave it when this thing is all over. Plus, I lovelovelove having a place all to myself. I can sing at the top of my lungs, play my weird music, cook garlicky things into the night, use the bathroom

At the Art Institute
with the door open, all those fun things. And the most amazing thing is that it all stays clean! If I clean the kitchen when I leave in the morning, it's clean when I get back! Oh my god, amazing.

In case you were wondering, yes, I did spend several hours cleaning the apartment before I really could relax. Not that it wasn't clean. I'm just crazy.

For my first full day in Chicagoland, I decided to go to the grocery store, explore downtown, and figure out the El. The El is nice. It's fast, it comes frequently, and it has stops everywhere I need them. Plus, most of it is above ground (or "Elevated", hence the abbreviation, "El") so unlike my beloved Paris metro, you can like, see stuff. My guide book recommends riding the Brown Line around the whole route just to do a bit of air-conditioned sight-seeing. There are two things that bother me about the El, however. First, it's waaaaay too freaking expensive. $2 a ride. I looked into getting a month unlimited thinger, but that was $86!! Holy moley, I do not think I'll be riding pub trans that much over the next four weeks. I think I'll be lucky to leave my apartment at all during the week what with all the homework I'll be getting. The second annoyance is that voice. "WELCOME TO THE CTA RED LINE!!!! THIS IS ADDISON!!!! DOORS OPEN ON THE RIGHT AT ADDISON!!! THIS IS A RED LINE TRAIN GOING TO 95TH!!! AND NOW, YOUR HOST, PLEASE WELCOME, BAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHB SAGET!!!" Ok, I might have made that last one up. But really, it sounds like a very animated TV announcer guy (doing old-school "America's Funniest Home Videos", apparently), and it talks pretty much constantly. "PLEASE MOVE YOUR BELONGINGS OFF THE SEAT NEXT TO YOU SO OTHER PASSENGERS CAN SIT DOWN!!! TRANSFER TO THE BROWN LINE AT BELMONT!!!! SOLICITING AND GAMBLING ARE PROHIBITED ON ALL CTA VEHICLES!!!" I hear that one a lot right before Wrigley Field. Coincidence? I think not. But anyway, the El's cool. For some reason it kind of remind me of a clunkier, dirtier version of Berlin's above-ground train; I think the seating setup is the same or something. One thing is for sure, if you live in the city at all, the El is always present. Even if you can't see it from where
My stop on the Red LineMy stop on the Red LineMy stop on the Red Line

you're standing, you can hear it roar by every few minutes. In books and magazines I've heard it's sound described as screeching, but I find that inaccurate. It's really more of a roar; a really loud, thundering, clattering, roar. And it's pretty awesome to see it charging around up between the buildings downtown.

Speaking of which, downtown (known as "The Loop" by cool kids, such as myself) is pretty great. I still have a lot of exploring to do, but from my few hours down there I saw plenty of theatres, restaurants, high-end shopping, and a bunch of notable art. For example, my guide book has a Loop sculpture walking tour featuring works by people like Picasso and Chagall. I wandered around a bit to check out some of the highlights.

One of the more famous parts of the Loop is Millennium Park (which apparently didn't actually open until 2004 because of delays). It's got a bunch more art; some cool, some bizarre, some both cool and bizarre, as well as a garden, some fountains, and a pretty fancy outdoor amphitheater. Apparently they have music festivals and free concerts there a lot over the summer. One of the times I happened to walk by it last week there was some orchestra playing. Pretty cool.

After downtown I rode THE CTA BROWN LINE, OH MY GOD SO EXCITING!!!!! to a Trader Joe's that happens to be just down the street from my school. Words cannot express how happy I am, after 25 years of struggle and sacrifice, to finally live somewhere where I can walk to a Trader Joe's. Hallelujah!

Then, I walked by my school to figure out where it was for Monday, and see if the walk home was doable. It was. Yay! And that's the end of Day One.

Day Two brought me to the beach. That's right, the beach! In the Midwest! It's a lake beach, but really, you can't even tell. Lake Michigan is so huge it looks like a big, glittering, oddly calm ocean. It was a gorgeous day; sun shining, not too hot, not to humid. If I faced away from the skyline and out through the palm trees and bikini-clad people I could almost believe I was in California.

After that I met Meghan (one of my roommates from Bordeaux; she lives in the Chicago area) for a beer. It was our first time hanging out in our own country! Our other American roommate, Lizzie, happens to have moved to Chicago recently too, and she met up with us later on for dinner. It was so great to see my girls again! If only Aleksandra were there... but alas, she lives in Vienna.

On the morning of day three I was greeted by rain, coming down in buckets. Apparently it rains in the summer out here, and there are frequent thunder storms. Crazy. Pretty different from the scorched golden hillsides in the Bay Area and the wildfires and water shortages in LA, no?

I took advantage of the difficult weather and allowed myself to be indoors, at the Chicago Art Institute. I had been kind of ho-hum about visiting an art museum in the US after seeing the likes of the Louvre, Uffizi, and El Prado in Europe, but everyone told me I had to, so I did. And I loved it! Maybe it was because I was by myself touring around at my own pace, but I actually enjoyed it more than many of the museums I went to in Europe. They have such

My street!
a huge variety of stuff: from Monet's "Stacks of Grain", to Picasso's "The Guitarist", to Hopper's "Nighthawks" and Wood's "American Gothic". They also had a bunch of other well-known names like Georgia O'Keeffe, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Dali. Of course, they also had a slew of extremely weird contemporary art. Let me describe my favorite of that last category: it's a room, completely wallpapered with a repeating checkerboard cartoon pattern of a woman lying in bed looking unhappy, and a dead man swinging from a noose. In the middle of the room was an '90s wedding dress wired up to stand on it's own and look hollow. All along the walls were bags of cat litter. Analyze that! Go on, give it shot. Leave a comment. I'll let you know how it compares to the description the artist gave.

After the museum, I went back to Millennium Park and Grant Park (of which Millennium Park is a part) to check out some more sculptures and fountains. You'll see some pictures of that either here or on the facebook link I will eventually post here.

On Saturday I went to the Lincoln Park Zoo. The absolute best part about the zoo is that it's completely free. Unless you buy a $5 root beer float, which I did. But it was worth it. Mm. It had a pretty good selection of animals (the zoo, not the float), including lions, bears, penguins, seals, monkeys, llamas, kangaroos, and tons of other stuff. I discovered that I don't really like ape exhibits. They creep me out because apes look too much like people and it makes me feel like kind of a sicko. For those of you who have read Slaughterhouse Five, do you remember that one scene where he's in a zoo display with that woman? I can't help thinking about that when I'm looking at the apes. It just feels wrong.

Sunday was great. I had brunch at a really great place with Meghan and her parents. It's called The Publican and it's in the Loop. I had two fried eggs with tomatoes, baby squash, and feta cheese, all with a few slices of sourdough. MMM! I love good, hearty breakfast food. In the afternoon, Meghan and I met up with her older brother Craig and some of his friends for a bit more time on the beach, a drink at a Spring-Break-esque bar right up against the sand, and a neighborhood street party. The street fair was a lot of fun; food, beer, and three separate bands, one at each end and one in the middle, rocking the night away. We ended up at a couple bars later on and I finally cabbed home at around midnight, with my homework for the next day still undone. It was a lot of fun though, and I reminded myself of that as I drug myself out of bed at six.

Apparently Chicagoans tear it up any night of the week when the weather's nice. They get so stir crazy from being cooped up all winter, a little thing like having work the next day is not going to keep them from soaking up the balmy night air. What a fun place to be! Um, May through September, anyway.

All in all, I'm loving this place. I hope I still have time to get out and explore now that class has started (yes, this entry took me a few days to get through). Class is fine so far; there are only 12 of us so I'm thinking I'll get to know the others pretty well over the next few weeks. I'm rather pleased about that, since most of them seem pretty cool. I don't know when I'll have a chance to write again, but keep your eyes peeled for the rest of the pictures.

As always, thanks for stopping by! It means a lot to me that you guys take the time to read my long-winded ramblings.

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