Monday, 12 May 2014

In Chicago...

Now I don't know what to think about Chicago and you must forgive me for even passing judgement having been in town for no more than a few hours and having just an hour or two downtown. In fact, in that sense, my judgement doesn't count at all. But personally, I found Chicago not so much 'my kinda town' but a bit boring.
On the streets of Chicago – not my kind of town
I took the CTA downtown (roughly 40 minutes) but the journey was punctuated by a replacement bus service between Logan Square and Western, giving me a chance to see the streets of Chicago. Oddly, there was something familiar about them; something almost English. I could have been in South London and everything looked a lot older than, say, Indianapolis downtown. I can't put my finger on it, but yes, I could have been in Peckham, south east London, on a hot Saturday afternoon.

Downtown Chicago
The downtown seemed much more established than other downtowns I've visited and more in keeping with London and New York. I jumped off the train at Clark and Lake and found myself in a similar environment to a scene from Grand Theft Auto as the CTA track was elevated over the roads and I was reminded not only of GTA but also some movie scenes, normally those involving car chases. I'm thinking particularly of The French Connection which, for all I know, was filmed in Chicago (I'll check that out later).

They have a bike share scheme in Chicago too, but there was little time to take advantage of it so I took a photograph of the bikes in a docking station and that was it.

The odd thing was that Clark and Lake put me in the business district (or so I was told) and everything, restaurants included – although there weren't any proper restaurants, just sandwich shops – was closed. I soon discovered I was walking in the wrong direction, but even when a helpful guy in a covered market directed me to the proper downtown, I still hadn't gone far enough and in the end settled for a snack lunch in the Corner Bakery, a shop with more than one outlet in Chicago, where I had a fairly pleasant chicken carbonara and a paper cup full of tea. After that there was little to do other than go back to the Marriott O'Hare and head for the airport. I decided against the CTA for the journey back as I didn't fancy that replacement bus service between Western and Logan Square and instead jumped a taxi. There was heavy traffic on the road for some inexplicable reason, but I got back in good time, retrieved my case and had a glass of Cabernet before boarding the hotel shuttle to the airport – and more hassles.
Chicago has a bike share scheme too
I just knew things wouldn't be straightforward and once again it was American Airlines at fault. Oddly, however, whenever there were problems it invariably involved the number 13. The gate back at Indianapolis was H13 (although, to be honest, it might have been H11, I'm not sure, but when the plane pulled away from the gate I couldn't see H11, all I saw was H13) and now the London flight was going out of K13. Having had lunch in Chicago I decided to resist the temptation to visit my favourite Romano's Macaroni Grill and instead walked around aimlessly until my legs were tired enough to make me sit down and read (I've nearly finished Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin).

But of course there were problems. The American Airlines 767 at gate K13 was going nowhere. There was something wrong with it; so now we've had a faulty door on the AA flight from Indianapolis and an unexplained problem with the 767 that would have flown us to London. We're moved to gate K15 and a new plane, from the hangar, is brought over – eventually. However, the delay has meant that my connecting flight from Dublin to London – not sure if I mentioned the fact that I couldn't fly direct to London Heathrow due to fully booked flights – would be missed, so I had to re-book on the 1145 Dublin to London flight instead and this meant another call to my taxi company in London to reschedule my pick-up. I was getting tired and emotional.
Three hours out of Dublin, Sunday morning

We flew out of Chicago around 8pm instead of the planned 6.30pm and I then had a seven-hour, 30-minute flight ahead of me. All pretty smooth and I had plenty of legroom in seat 11b, but only managed to get about an hour's sleep. At Dublin I transferred to Terminal One (a short walk) and after a bowl of Alpen, a cup of tea and an apple I was ready for the short flight to London during which time I had a shortbread biscuit and one of those small bottles of red wine that I love so much when I fly.

At London, fortunately, I was reunited with my suitcase and everything was intact, but I then had the cab ride from hell. The taxi driver – a shifty-eyed individual with swallows tattooed on both hands (which means he's done time) insisted on playing Bobby Darin at high volume and then engaged me in conversation over the noise of the music. It would have been irritating enough had I not been jet-lagged, but as I was jet-lagged it was even worse. At one stage, however, I actually nodded off, but imagine the horror: a drive home through South West London (my cab driver pointing out local landmarks – like Feltham Young Offenders Institute) while the music played and I occasionally acknowledged something he said with an 'uh' or a 'yeah'. I was so glad when he pulled up outside my house. I jumped out, bade him farewell and rang the front doorbell. I was home.

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