“I adore Chicago. It is the pulse of America.” — Sarah Bernhardt ❈
So, I guess I don’t feel the same way as Sarah Bernhardt does about Chicago…it was chaotic and confusing the entire time. Thankfully, my couchsurfing pals made every evening fantastic and recovered my traveling spirit for me.
What’s up, Illinois? #roadtrippin
— Maggie Abernathy (@dakota_gypsy) September 17, 2015
I arrived on a Thursday, dropped my stuff off at my host’s place, and set off to find the Couchsurfing meetup that was being held that evening. My host took me to the train station, which goes from the suburbs into the city. Once I got off the train, I had no idea which bus I was supposed to take (turns out it was the subway…I didn’t know there was a subway). I checked Google for an alternate route and it told me a bus I could take. I went to the bus stop and waited…the bus came, I got on, paid the fare, and sat down. And waited. And waited.
I wasn’t seeing any streets I recognized from the map, and just when I realized I was going the wrong direction, the bus sideswiped a car. We had to pull over and wait for the police and the bus supervisor to come. The driver was going to flag down the next bus to transfer us so we could keep going, but that bus was delayed by 40 minutes for some reason! I told the driver where I was going and he made sure I got off at the right stop. I walked the rest of the way to the restaurant and met up with the other couchsurfers.
There were about 20 of us, mostly hosts but a few travelers as well. I met people from Moldova, Honduras,Germany and France, and my friend Moises was able to come, too! I met him in July when he was couchsurfing in Portland to attend Brewer’s Festival.
After the meetup, Moises took me and another guy, Nick from France, to an Ecuadorian bar. I am going to Ecuador next year so I was really excited about that. Some of his friends were having a party, the purpose of which I wasn’t really clear on (“Latinos don’t really
need an excuse, we love to party!” is what I got).
The decor gave us a pretty good impression of South America and there was a lot of vivacious Spanish karaoke and Latin dancing. I joined in on the dancing, although probably not very well. And then, out came the crazy sombreros. That was a good night.
Friday I decided to venture downtown to see the typical Chicago sights, namely the Skydeck in the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) and Millenium Park. It was a grey, rainy day, and I guess I was in a bit of a mood that day.
Millenium Park was alright. I saw the famous mirrored bean and listened to part of a symphony concert in the really amazing outdoor amphitheater. I also walked along the waterfront of Lake Michigan, which was nice.
After that I went to the Skydeck. I was able to get a free ticket with my credit card rewards, otherwise I wouldn’t have done it as it costs $25. We had to watch a movie about just how tall this building is…the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, twice as tall as the Space Needle in Seattle, etc. They spent a good 10 minutes telling us that basically we were going to run out of oxygen and float off into space at the top of this thing.
The elevator wobbled the whole way up, but thankfully it was really quick and we were out on the 110th floor. It was very cloudy so the view wasn’t very good.
There were several glass decks on both sides of the building, so I just had to wait in a short line and then I got my turn to stand on the glass, practically floating in midair. Nobody seemed to have any qualms about standing on glass 1,300 feet in the air – little kids, moms with strollers, literally everyone was calmly hopping out onto this overhanging ledge. I stood in line, and when I got to the glass, my heart basically stopped. There was NO WAY I was going to stand on that thing.
It took every bit of courage I had to edge my toes onto the glass. I think if there had been some kind of bar to hold onto, I would have been less afraid. I don’t exactly have a fear of heights: I call it a fear of structural integrity. I’m always afraid things are going to collapse. When it’s something that’s been around for a long time, like the Space Needle (built in the 60s) I can rationalize that it’s held up for a long time and I don’t have any problems. But this glass deck was built just a few years ago, and in my mind that leaves plenty of opportunity for it to prove unsound after all. Either way, I couldn’t do it. I even went through the line twice. Nope.
After the Skydeck my friend wanted to meet up in a close-in suburb for an Oktoberfest festival. I somehow managed to get on the commuter train that went all the way out of Chicago, and had to pay for another train to come back in. It was pouring rain so there wasn’t anyone at the festival, which was a bummer because there was a band and all the street food tents were set up. I had some kind of Venezuelan plantain sandwich with veggies, which I really liked. We all decided to find a bar instead so we could get out of the rain. Once again, I had a great time and made some more new friends. I did manage to get on the right train at the end of the night.
By Saturday, I was mad at Chicago and considered leaving a day early for St Louis. Instead I spent the morning at my host’s house, catching up on work (okay, and a couple YouTube videos) in my pajamas. Eventually I realized I didn’t want to leave Chicago without seeing the Ernest Hemingway birthplace museum, so I dragged myself out of the house and drove into town.
I was really glad I did. It’s a small museum, but there’s a lot to see about his life and work. I’ve been to his house in Key West, Florida (famous home of the many six-toed cats) and I’d love to see his haunts in Cuba and Paris. My parents went to see his grave in Ketchum, Idaho, when we were all living near Boise, but for some reason that I deeply regret, I never did. I’ll remedy that someday. I also realized from the museum that I hadn’t read as much of Hemingway’s work as I thought I had. I love A Moveable Feast and I’d read Old Man and the Sea and a number of his short stories, but no other novels. I bought a couple to read…if I have time on my crazy trip!
Just as I was finishing up there, Moises invited me out to Chinatown with his friends. I was able to drive to his apartment and leave my car there so he could go with me and make sure I got on all the right subways. That was a relief. We spent a little while at a small Chinatown festival, and about 10 of us (some were Moises’ friends, others couchsurfers) went to an authentic Chinese restaurant to eat. By authentic, I mean the food was so weird we all kept asking the couchsurfer from Taiwan to explain everything…and not many people were brave enough to try the chicken feet. They didn’t have anything vegan, so me and the other vegan girl from Czech Republic just skipped dinner.
After dinner, one of the girls from Poland invited everyone back to her house for drinks. She had a cool place in a walk-up, and we all danced to a mixture of South American and Polish music and had some beers. I realized after awhile that I was the only American, and the only native English speaker: everyone else was from Russia, Poland, Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Taiwan, Mongolia, Czech Republic, and Serbia. Yet they all spoke English. Sometimes they would have a hard time understanding one another’s accents and they’d look to me to translate, which I found funny because I was just translating English into English. I had a great time that night, too.
On Sunday morning, I said goodbye to crazy Chicago and headed south toward St Louis…My midwest stories will be in the next post!