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March 3rd 2017
Published: March 4th 2017
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So I made a big mistake the day before this trip, and I continued it this morning. Shoes. That's right - new shoes. Specifically new hiking boots. I bought them because, well, I plan on hiking through a good bit of jungle during the next 10 days, and I thought some waterproof, high durability, high top shoes would be the best option. I was wrong. Or partly wrong. If I had had time to break them in, or if they weren't oddly constructed, then maybe I wouldn't have massive blisters in at least 4 spots on my feet. At least 2 on each foot, maybe more, but only time will tell. Alas, that made part of my day in Chicago (one of my favorite American cities, in spite of the so-called carnage) more miserable than I had hoped.

It all started with a long walk uphill (no snow) to the airport shuttle stop on the UGA campus. That took about 30 minutes from my apartment. Not too bad, but I'm normally not carrying 2 backpacks that add about 40 pounds to my weight. Oh well. I got to the shuttle stop around 5:10 AM, and I already had a big blister on my right heel. No problem, I thought; I'll just get a band-aid at the airport and that'll be fine. The ride to the airport was more eventful than it should've been. The fact that I have anything to say about it at all is pretty significant. First, about 20 minutes into the trip, the shuttle van's engine switched off while waiting at an intersection. After a few seconds, it started back up, but that was worrisome. A few minutes later, a big pick-up truck passed us with the driver sticking out his hand with upraised middle finger the entire time, directed at us. Fun fun! I guess the shuttle driver should've been in the right-hand lane to begin with, but it was still rude.

At the airport, things went pretty smoothly. It's been a very different experience at each airport security on this trip so far. In Atlanta, they flagged my carry-on bag, and the lady opened it and inspected; nothing really to find, except that maybe I had too much stuff. (In my defense, I thought I'd be picking up my checked bag in Houston, because I had an overnight layover; that's what their website said. But when I got to the check-in desk, they said it would be checked all the way to Belize, in which case I needed to get out some clothes and toiletries for the hotel stay in Houston. So, a fuller carry-on than expected). In Chicago, I was breezed through security, not even having to go through a pat-down or the body scanner; and no problems with my carry-on. And here in Houston, everything went through except my laptop; for some reason, they needed to swipe it with some special cloth. No clue. It makes me wonder how standardized these checks really are, and how much is susceptible to human error. A lot, I imagine.

In Chicato, I took the L to downtown because I had scheduled an Art Deco Walking Tour; my devoted fans will know how much I love that architectural style. How could I pass it up, when I had a 10-hour layover? It took almost an hour by train to get to the Chicago Architectural Foundation headquarters, where the tour began, but I still had 45 minutes before it started. So I checked out Michigan Ave and had lunch at Potbelly's sandwich shop nearby. Highly recommended.

The tour itself was outstanding. The buildings themselves were amazing, of course. But the tour guide new what she was doing, having conducted these tours for 7 years now. I thought we'd be walking around and checking out some exteriors, mostly from a distance, but we ended up going inside quite a few of these fabulous works of art. These were mostly office buildings, all from the 1920s and 1930s. At the time, they were skyscrapers. The first was the Chicago Board of Trade, and as soon as we walked in, I knew I had made the right call on this tour. Exquisite. The door frames, the lighting fixtures, the elevators, and the mailboxes all radiated. We even saw the art-deco Ceres, goddess of grain, atop the Chicago Board of Trade building, and it's as splendid as you would imagine. Several other buildings on La Salle street were equally stunning, especially on the inside. After two hours, my soul was full.

After the tour, I opted to stop in at CVS and get some blister band-aids. Those were (and still are) a life saver. Unfortunately, when I put my boots back on afterwards, the left one was pressing down on the top of my foot so much that I could barely walk. Luckily, I had another hour-long train ride to get to Wilmette, where I was looking forward to inspecting the Baha'i Center of North America. Once I got off the train in Wilmette, the boot situation was no better. So I took them off and walked in my socks (I was now wearing two pair, to try and minimize the blistering). It was a five minute walk, supposedly. Unfortunately, when I got to the final bridge that would be the final minute of the walk, it was closed. And so were the sidewalks on either side of the road. So I traipsed off along a dirt path that snaked around the river; unfortunately again, this path ended about half way into a vacant grass lot, but I kept going. Underneath the grass was a whole lot of mud, and so my socks were soaked after the second step. Did I mention that it was 30 degrees Fahrenheit? Yeah. Not good conditions for bad feet. But I trudged through it and across the bridge at the next block.

The Baha'i House of Worship is phenomenal. It combines so much architectural beauty and signage. I put my boots back on because I thought that would be respectful if I entered the building. But that was still very painful (I had removed the outer layer of socks to minimize the nastiness inside the boots). It turns out that they don't allow photography inside the building, so that combined with my wet and painful feet and an imminently setting sun, not to mention a flight I needed to get to, to make me decided to head back to the train station. That was another painful walk, but I thought that the 1.5 hours on the train back to the airport would help heal, at least a little.

A little was all I got. When the train pulled into a station (by the way - $10 for an all-day train ticket was a steal), I made my way to the security gate. It was still painful, but not as bad. But I weighed that against the potential of never-ending foot pain for 9 more days, and I opted to buy some new shoes at the airport. Only the second time that has happened, and for similar reasons. I don't know if I've ever paid so much for shoes, but if I have, it wasn't by much. But I will say that these shoes are nice. And comfortable. Blue suede, so I'm not sure how appropriate that will be for Central American jungle next week. But I did run in them through the airport last night, trying to get some food before my flight started boarding. And I could run! Something that would've been impossible in those boots.

If you're in Houston for a short time near the airport, I recommend staying at the LaQuinta Inn. Very friendly, comfortable, free airport shuttle, and great breakfast. I'm off to Belize in about 45 minutes.

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