Flannery Correspondence

May 24, 2011

Trip to Chicago, Part 1

In May of 2011, Brian and Christa Flannery escaped the home for five magical, fun-filled days in Chicago. No kids, no rules, no money. With a few gift cards from some generous friends and arrangements with a team of babysitters, we attacked the Windy City.

Why Chicago? We had airplane ticket vouchers from a delayed flight during the 2010 summer of weddings. The airlines don’t make those easy to redeem but Christa found a way. With a long list of cities where friends and relatives abide, we picked one place where no one would find us.

Midway International Airport lost us for a few minutes until I made Christa ask for directions. We found the train station, bought our ticket and hopped on the CTA orange line (on the famous Chicago elevated “L”). We stand out in the crowd as newcomers. When we get off the train at the first stop, the closest train stop to the airport, everyone stares in shock and concern.

We walk out of the train station. Our hotel is right on the main road but we don’t know how far. So we walk. Other things on the main road: A few restaurants, a strip mall, all the signs are in Spanish, the only newspaper is La Raza, west side gang graffiti, gold pawn shops, cambio de cheques, a dress shop full of brightly colored wedding/quinceañera dresses and many of the street-facing windows are broken.  A beat up old building called “Crossroads Hotel” looks dangerous.  We don’t stay there.

We walk past a mattress store that’s never open.  Next is a bar with the Mexican flag around its always-glowing neon sign.  It has dark tinted windows and all its doors are padlocked shut from the outside.  Past this is a parking lot with an old wooden wagon cart holding a broken sign with no letters.  Beneath the wagon are many broken liquor bottles and one sock.  This is our hotel.  (Not the wagon, the hotel behind it.)

We walk into the lobby and introduce ourselves at the front desk.  The guy looks intrigued.

“Did you book your room online?” he asks.  We did.

“You’re only staying two nights?”  We’re staying five.

“Oh.  I don’t know.  Maybe you want to get a room at our partner hotel.  We’ll help you.”  We like this location.  It’s close to the train station.

“The other hotel has a shuttle.  This one is better for short stays.  The rooms are small and don’t have bath tubs.”  We don’t need bath tubs.

“Well, I’ll show you the room and then you can decide.”  The first room looks good — a bed, a toiled and a shower.  No floor — the bed takes up 98% of the room.  Christa conspicuously checks for bed bugs and hot water.  It passes.

We say we’ll take it.  He takes us to another room.

This room is bigger, more floor.  For example, you can walk around three sides of the bed.  He says this has a better window — it faces the street, not the alley.  (What goes on in the alley?)  We take it.  He shakes his head.

We spend the evening with maps, listing what we want to do and planning the next day.  Our plans will extend no more than one day in advance on this trip.  We intend to satisfy some of our top interests:  Literature, architecture, art, inventions and density of experience.  For literature, we venture into the suburb surrounding Wheaton College to see the C. S. Lewis Museum (actually devoted to seven authors including Lewis, Tolkien and George MacDonald).  For architecture, we visited Chicago where a terrible fire happily destroyed most of its original buildings and inspired more than a century of cutting edge architectural experimentation.  For art we visit the Art Institute.  For inventions, the Museum of Science and Industry.  For density of experience, the Navy Pier, a long, artificial peninsula full of every experience possible:  A ferris wheel, eateries, trinket shops, a stain glass museum, a beer garden, live music, an over-sized anchor, a view of a lighthouse, cruise ships, profane orange-costumed clowns, classy restaurants, an IMAX, a puppet show, multicultural ethnic dancing groups, every branch of the military.

Thus planned, we resign to bed.

About the bed:  The sheets don’t fit the mattress; every time you roll over the un-tuck-able bottom sheet comes with you, exposing the bare mattress.  The mattress doesn’t match the box springs (two twin box springs for one king mattress).  The bed frame is missing a leg so an inverted ice bucket holds it up.  The sheets have cigarette burns and other stains.  Brian and Christa argue about whether or not hotels have to wash the sheets between guests, no matter how cheap they are.  Christa sleeps soundly.  A beat up old place with barely enough room to set our stuff down reminds her of our house.  She doesn’t wake up or notice but Brian does:  In the middle of the night some idiot is yelling up and down the hall.  Just like at home.

(Stay tuned for Part 2:  One Hobo Plus Five Dollars)

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.