Flannery Correspondence

May 25, 2011

Trip to Chicago, Part 2

Thursday, May 19th

In the morning we shower. The bathroom has no fan or vent except a large grate that looks right into the shower next door at eye-level. We cover it with a washcloth before bathing. The tile is falling off the wall and the shower is built for midgets. Brian has to kneel to get under the flow of water. Christa doesn’t. Fixtures are mounted for a towel rack but the rack is missing. You have to walk around the room dripping to get your towel or else drape it over the bathroom door. (But that door has rusted through so the top and bottom corners fan out into disintegration.)

We make an early start to catch the train to Wheaton. As we leave, we notice the hotel has some breakfast supplies: bread, cereal, coffee, even bagels, all on one small countertop. We didn’t expect that much. We grab a piece of bread to eat as we walk.  The “L” takes us to the center of Chicago where we walk to the Ogilvie Transportation Center to catch a Metra train to Wheaton.

Waiting for our train, we descend to the level of hobo.  A security guard approaches us: “Oh, I’m sorry.  There’s no sitting on the floor here.”  We go to a coffee shop to avoid panhandling.  Caribou Coffee has amazing music, a fireplace and a quiet corner.  Their cups and napkins have creative content related to their theme, “Life is short.  Stay awake for it.”  When we walk up to order, I’m eating an enormous red apple (genetically modified).

“Your apple smells delicious,” says the barista.

“Thanks.  Your coffee shop smells delicious.”

“Do you want your coffee light or dark roast?”  I don’t know the answer to this question.

“Dark.”  I forget to use my usual line (“black as my heart”) and Christa says black coffee has nothing to do with light or dark roast.  Why does she know more about coffee than me?

I enjoy the coffee but can’t drink very much of it before it makes me dizzy.  The train ride is green with trees.  There’s a lilac garden in Lombard near the tracks.  It’s strange to be away from the kids.  I keep looking around me for little people to take care of.  The teenager on the train says, “Stop looking at me.”

The Wade Center used to be two small rooms:  One with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, full of books from the personal collection of Lewis and Tolkien.  There are two desks in the middle of the room, facing each other:  The actual desks from both authors.  In the corner was a wardrobe, built by Lewis’s grandfather and used as a hiding place by Lewis and his brother when they were children.  The other room was a small reading room where you can examine a collection of first editions from the seven featured authors and even some letters of their correspondences.  When Brian visited in 2001, it shared a building with other campus resources.

The Wade Center has a new building all its own now, lamppost ever-glowing out front.  It still has two main rooms but now it also has a coat closet (the wardrobe is only for fur coats and Narnia); a main lobby with resources for free and purchase; a hallway full of information about Marion E. Wade and the history of the center; a second floor balcony with workstations for staff and a meeting room; an archive room for dissertations, articles, periodicals and the growing collection of letters; and side offices for staff and resources.

The two main rooms are much larger.  Instead of bookshelves surrounding the two desks, there are murals and mini-exhibits.  Each of the seven authors (Owen Barfield, G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald, Dorothy Sayers, J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams) has artifacts on display and biographical information.  The reading room is much larger — a great hall lined with books, filled with tables and chairs, and ending in comfortable love seats and ottomans by a fireplace.  Tour it yourself through the magic of the internet:  official virtual tour or flickr.

We spend hours combing through the precious old books.  Christa’s favorite is reading some of the letters between Lewis, his wife Joy and her ex-husband, William.  Joy was pretty sassy.  Brian intentionally avoids the Tolkien section as long as he can.  MacDonald, Lewis, Barfield instead.  Lewis tended to dominate Inkling conversations but the soft-spoken Barfield was the only one who would consistently stand up to him when he disagreed.  They had some lasting disagreement about something way over our heads called anthroposophy.

Running out of time, Brian leaves Sayers and Williams for another time and finally cracks open the Tolkien treasure chest.  Here’s a short poem called Goblin Feet in a rare book called Oxford Poetry 1915.  Here’s another children’s book called Mr. Bliss about a man who collects tall hats, keeps a pet girabbit (giraffe-rabbit), buys a motorcar since his bicycle only works downhill, and has adventures with his neighbors and some bears.  Here’s a book collecting the letters he wrote his children every year as Father Christmas.  Ah, heaven.

Overstimulated at the Mecca of British wonder-literature, we pause only for a short lunch at 2:30.  At one point we shake hands with the center director, Dr. Christopher Mitchell.  The center closes at 4 PM and we leave a large stack of books for the generously accommodating archivist, Laura Schmidt.  (You are not supposed to re-shelve books.)  Deeply fulfilled and blinking with eye strain, we walk slowly through the beautiful Wheaton campus and wait for our return train.

We meet a nice man and talk with him a bit.  Turns out he is homeless and needs $5 to buy a ticket.  For no good reason, I hand over the cash and he disappears.  New rule:  No more handouts.  Also:  No more talking.  The only people who want to talk to you are the ones who want money for free.  He hit us up at just the right time:  Glowing with contentment and benevolence.  Plus he didn’t look like a hobo.  Took me off guard.  The event steels us against future beggars.

When we come back to our hotel room we are surprised to find all of our possessions intact. We had taken everything valuable along with us. (If the robbers want some old clothes, papers and travel gear, they can have them.) We expected the room to be ransacked. It isn’t. What a relief. Our respect for our lodging grows.

We research the next day’s events, have one of those grumpy, exhausted, married-people fights and go to bed. Asleep by 9 PM.

(Tomorrow: Surreal Segways, Lincoln, coat check and a canary.)

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1 Comment »

  1. […] tuned for Part 2:  One Hobo Plus Five Dollars) 41.800346 -87.723389 Comments (1) LikeBe the first to like this post.1 Comment […]

    Pingback by Trip to Chicago, Part 1 « Flannery Correspondence — May 27, 2011 @ 19:01


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