Ah, Chicago, how I love you so! Last week, I got to take my fifth trip to Chicagoland which was a work trip for my husband, Justin and part work/part vacation for me. Justin attends a trade show right after Thanksgiving every year and I have been fortunate to tag along for the past several years because of the willingness of my wonderful in-laws to watch the little one. It allows Justin and I to have a few days to remember that we do actually have things to talk about other than when we last fed the kids and whose turn it is to do the dishes. (It’s usually his turn, by the way). Plus, we get to enjoy some great food, and see some incredible things in an amazing city. This year, I got to add the new element of working a couple of days and visiting a few local credit unions while I was in town.
I should have known I was in for an interesting trip when I went shopping on our first full day into town while Justin had to work. I was standing in line, waiting to pay in one of my favorite discount stores that we don’t have in Oklahoma, when I was bumped very hard from behind. As a turned to see what was going on, I caught a glancing elbow in my cheek as two women stumbled by. One was trying to get away while another was saying, “You hit me!” and was punching her in the face. I’d like to say that I jumped in, saved the day, tackled the aggressor, and helped the poor lady who was being punched. Instead, I just stood there, in stunned silence. It ended as soon as the blood began to flow from her nose and the angry woman realized what she had done.
Finally, store personnel came over and stayed with the puncher as the bleeding woman went to clean herself up and police were called. I paid for my purchases and was free to go but didn’t feel right about just leaving. I went to the office and told them I wanted to leave my name and contact information in case the lady needed a witness. I saw everything but the initial contact that set the angry woman off. The store manager thanked me for giving my statement and information. No one ever called. I’m guessing an accidental bump during a busy Christmas shopping day was blown out of proportion and the result was numerous punches to the face. Happy holidays!
We always stay in the River North district so there are plenty of great restaurants within walking distance to our hotel. One night Justin and I were walking back to our hotel after dinner. A young man on the sidewalk outside our hotel asked us if we were from Chicago. I’ve been to enough big cities to know that you need to be careful about who you speak to on the street but he seemed lost. I told him that we aren’t from Chicago but we go there a lot and asked if he needed directions. We asked him to step inside the hotel lobby with us. He started telling us that he had been at a concert with some friends the night before at the House of Blues, which is across the street from our hotel. He said that he was taking the train back to the University of Indiana, where he is a student, and he fell asleep. When he woke up, he was in a bad part of town, alone, and his backpack had been cut off of him and stolen, holding all of his money and ID. He said he needed $45 for a train ticket to get home. He was holding a police report and a train schedule. He told us that we could call his dad if we wanted. He said his parents are worried sick about him being trapped in Chicago. They tried to wire him money but he couldn’t pick it up because he has no ID. He said he was so embarrassed to ask for help but if we could just give him the cash, his parents would pay us back.
I was torn. It was a pretty elaborate story. But, I just had a bad feeling and Justin wasn’t buying it either. But, I didn’t want to not help the guy if his story was true. I wouldn’t want my son to be stuck in a strange city! I told him that I’d like to talk to his dad and we should call him. His dad could wire us the money and we could then give him cash to buy the train ticket. He then started to back peddle, saying that the wire would take an hour to go through and then he wouldn’t have enough time to catch the train. He just needed us to give him the money instead of calling his dad. Then, I knew he was lying and we walked away, telling him we can’t help him. I know that wires can go through in minutes and he didn’t really want me to call his dad. So, I give the kid credit for creativity but we did not give him cash.
On my previous trips, I’ve walked or taken cabs everywhere so I’ve never actually driven in Chicago. This time, I had to rent a car for a couple of days so I could drive outside of the city for work. I found a rental car place in a parking garage a couple of blocks from our hotel and walked over one morning. I also have a new Garmin and this was my first time to use it. Looking back, maybe I should have practiced with it first.
Growing up in Oklahoma, I don’t have much need for GPS and when I do, I use the one on my phone. I was pretty excited to take my Garmin out of the box and get it all set up in my bright blue rental. First, the windshield was so cold, the suction cup wouldn’t stick. I’d lick, stick, flip the tab that is supposed to make it stay and thud, it would fall off. I repeated this 27 times, hoping no one in the garage was watching. I typed in the address to my destination, because I had no idea which way to go once I left the garage. Well, in the garage, I had no signal. It asked me if I wanted to simulate a signal. That sounds helpful, right? No, it wasn’t. I left the garage and turned the only way I could on the one way street. I drove a few blocks. Garmin was on it’s own route. I kept hoping it would tell me where to go. Did I mention that I was driving in downtown Chicago, where drivers are impatient, traffic is plentiful, and horns are loud? Finally, I fell back to my trusty phone GPS (thank you Google Maps Navigation) and got some help. When I got to a place I could pull over, I figured out that allowing Garmin to simulate a GPS signal actually turns off a real GPS signal. So, I turned it back on and Garmin was back in my good graces (but I’m watching you, Garmin).
Driving to a place I have never been before, having no concept of where it is, never seen it on a map, purely through the help of an electronic device is new to me. I know they can be helpful when things go right. But, I’ve also heard plenty of stories from coworkers who wound up in some crazy places because their GPS led them astray. Mine led me to all of my credit union meetings just fine. To follow the directions to some completely foreign place and then see the credit union sign right where it’s supposed to be was kind of like finding a little present waiting for me. I’d breathe a little sigh of relief each time I’d arrive, in plenty of time for my meeting.
The drive home was a different story. I had a late meeting about an hour away from downtown, which put me into rush hour traffic. We also had to attend a gala event at the Field Museum for Justin’s work that night so I knew I needed to get back. I did fine for a while. Then, traffic completely stopped. My ever so helpful Garmin chimed in that it was routing me around traffic. It told me to get off of the highway. It did show a 25 minute traffic delay so I thought Garmin was really making up for flaking out on me that morning.
I learned that when Garmin oh so graciously routes you around traffic, it has no regard for the crime statistics of the neighborhood it directs you through. As soon as I exited the highway, I knew I had made a mistake. There were homeless people milling about in traffic. I don’t mean politely standing on the side of the road, holding a little cardboard sign like they do around the malls in Oklahoma. No, they were in the lanes or standing on the lines between them. Some of them were wearing dark clothing, too, which made it even trickier to avoid them since it was dark outside. I felt like I was playing Frogger but I was a car instead of a frog. I threatened Garmin that if I died, I was taking it with me. All I could do was pray that I didn’t get lost and that I was being led in the right direction. At one point, I noticed a police officer behind me. That was one of the only times I was actually happy to have a cop in the rear view.
I did finally get back to some familiar streets and made it safely back to downtown. I learned that when you are driving in downtown Chicago in rush hour traffic, you don’t get many green arrows for left turns. Instead, you do the creep and run method. You creep out into oncoming traffic as much as you can. Then, if the light turns red before you get your chance, you run it. I walked into the hotel room that night and told Justin to get me some wine, STAT! Luckily, there was plenty at the gala.
I realize that I started off this post by saying I loved Chicago and all I’ve really done so far is talk about the weird stuff that happened on this trip. But, it is the third largest city in the U.S. Out of its 2.7 million residents, some of them are bound to be a little off, right? When I say I love it, I mean it. First, it’s absolutely beautiful. The Chicago River runs through the middle of downtown and Lake Michigan flanks the city, spreading out like a glistening sea. Next, the shopping is amazing. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a bargain shopper and there’s plenty to be found in the city, even in the hottest shopping area, known as “The Magnificent Mile.” Also, the restaurants are some of the best in the world. It’s like a special occasion dinner nearly every night when we go there. Don’t forget to see the amazing art at one of my must-see places the Art Institute of Chicago. Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, anyone? The museum also appeared in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, if you’re into pop culture.
I know that New York City is known as the “melting pot” but by just walking around Chicago, you’ll see that this name would fit here, too. You’ll hear many different languages just by taking a stroll around the block. I didn’t even mention the shows and nightlife in Chicago but I’m sure you get the point. You should go!
Growing up in Oklahoma, you don’t always realize how different the world outside of our state can be. I’ve been outside of it many times but I’ve often had someone with me. Exploring alone can be scary at times (darn you, Garmin!) but it can also be empowering, freeing, and exhilarating knowing that I can be successful on my own. I just have to stay smart on the streets, trust my instincts, and ignore my Garmin when it tries to re-route me.