Tuesday, August 12th 1986
The bus came in on time, but unfortunately it was already full. I got one of the last two remaining aisle seats. I sat opposite an Irish girl who must have been in her late twenties. She told me she was from Dublin, a graduate in French and on her way to Wisconsin to visit relatives there. The American lady sitting next to me was from Queens in New York and was also on her way to Wisconsin. She had been to London, Paris and Rome and we talked all about Europe for a while before I nodded off to sleep.
My sleep was patchy at best and I woke up permanently when the bus pulled up at the “Big Boy” restaurant on the outskirts of Toledo at 6:10am. I resisted the temptation to have the full American breakfast and contented myself with staying on the bus munching on raisin bread and sipping the “New Coke” which did, as Mike had predicted, taste like Pepsi.
The bus arrived nearly an hour late into Chicago at 11am. I struggled to find somewhere to store my luggage again. All the lockers at the Trailways station were full so I had to walk around to the Greyhound Station. At first I was out of luck there too, but just as I was about to give up, someone came back and a locker became available. I crammed my bags into the locker and then went to the Chamber of Commerce nearby to get directions for the city.
I made a note of where the Youth Hostel I had reserved was and then got a bus in the opposite direction to the Museum of Science and Industry. I was there by 1pm and I spent the next 3 hours happily walking around the exhibits. The museum, which was billed as Chicago’s #1 attraction, was excellent. It was the best museum I had visited in the USA so far and I thought it had the edge on the Science Museum in London too.
As well as a real German U-Boat, lots of trains and other vehicles, there were neat animated displays that told stories. The entire US postal system was explained by using the concept of a boy sending a valentine to his girlfriend. It was a bit of a cross between information, education and entertainment. It confirmed what I had already experienced in New York; the Americans were extremely competent museum keepers.
At 4pm I went back to the central loop. The centre of Chicago was defined by the loop that the elevated train made in the centre. I had a little wander around the area near State and Madison Streets and watched as a little boy aged about 5 who was obviously lost was escorted into a police car. I had noticed that the police cars in America differed in colour scheme depending on the city.
I was very tired and so I made my way to the elevated train “El” station and joined the commuters heading out of the city, north to the Loyola stop and to the Youth Hostel. The little El train screeched and swayed as it negotiated the numerous reverse curves on the system.
As we went north I could see the neighbourhoods below the train get gradually poorer and I wondered what sort of rough neighbourhood the Youth Hostel would be in. Then, just before the Loyola stop, the area seemed to suddenly get brighter.
I walked for about 10 minutes through the beautiful Loyola university campus and then along some more beautiful tree-lined avenues to get to the Youth Hostel. The hostel was a large modern building set in a residential neighbourhood.
My roommates were an American doing a cycle tour of Illinois and two Bavarians who constantly mistook me for being American. I went into the common room and talked to a lad who had just graduated from King’s College Cambridge and was now doing a quick tour of the eastern USA before settling down to a career in banking. We talked for a while and then at about 8pm he retired to bed, having spent the previous 24 hours on Trailways.
I went to the local shop, run by a nice Pakistani family, and bought ingredients for dinner. I returned to the youth hostel kitchen with a can of chicken gumbo, a can of pork and baked beans, a packet of spaghetti and a loaf of bread. I mixed everything together and ate the whole lot. It was interesting if not delicious. I finally hit the sack at 10pm.
Wednesday, August 13th 1986
I got up the next morning about 7:30am. I showered, shaved and had a bit of breakfast. My chore was to clean the patio chairs and that took all of 5 minutes. I checked out of the hostel and went back to the little shop. I got a copy of the Chicago Sun Times and a bag of oranges, apples and peaches and then headed off with all the other commuters to the El’ station.
I got the little train back into the city and 22 minutes later I was in the loop at Randolph St Station. I returned briefly to the Trailways bus station to make sure of the schedule of the bus on to St Louis and Dallas in the evening. I had a coffee and read the paper a bit at the bus station before heading out at 10:30am for a bit more sightseeing.
I began under the clock at Marshall Field’s department store. I walked first to the Sears Tower and paid the $3 dollar fee to enter the observation deck. The fee included a slide show, a look at a model and then a ride in the escalator up to the 110th Floor. The observation deck was full of Japanese tourists.
The Sears was the tallest building in the world, although we heard that its position could soon be threatened by a plan to construct a taller one, 1750 feet, in Newark, New Jersey. The day was sunny and the view was magnificent. Unlike in New York and Toronto where it had been a little muggy, the visibility was excellent and they told us that we could see for over 10 miles in each direction.
I came down to the base again and had a wander through the shopping centre at the bottom. American shopping malls continued to impress me with their lavishness, clever design and extra cool air-conditioning systems.
I went next up Dearborn Street to the State of Illinois building. This was another clever design of a building as it was designed inside out, it was meant to show all the workings of the building that were normally hidden, so for example you could see through the sides of the escalators into all the cogs and the machinery. It was supposed to represent clear transparency in government. It was certainly impressive.
I got a Chicago hot dog with “everything on it” for lunch and I ate it outside the State of Illinois building. I walked back onto the street past the National Bank Plaza with its crazy statue and a reggae band playing to the seated lunchtime crowd. I went past Daley centre plaza with a Picasso mural and past yet another statue, a red object that looked like a fish.
I walked east on Jackson street and onto Michigan avenue. Michigan Avenue bounded the park and it had an atmosphere similar to Lancaster Gate in London. I sat and watched them play baseball for a while and then made my way up Michigan Street and over the very green Chicago River past the Wrigley building.
I continued into Chicago’s “Fleet Street”, with the Chicago Sun Times building on the left and the Chicago Tribune building on the right. Chicago was rightly famed for its architecture and everywhere you looked there were beautiful buildings in many styles.
I walked halfway up the Magnificent Mile, which was the Chicago equivalent of Fifth Avenue or Bond Street and had lots of expensive shops including a branch of Burberry’s. I had a browse in a bookshop and then stopped again for a coffee and a chocolate croissant at a bakery.
I walked back along Michigan and had to wait whilst the river bridge was raised and a large ship passed through. I then had a closer look at the Wrigley building. I eventually made it back to the loop after a subway ride.
I went shopping for slide film and got a copy of Gaiison Kellor’s Lake Woebegon Days in a bookshop.
I went into another amazing shopping centre at Water Tower Place. The mall went up 8 stories and was set around banks of beautiful glass enclosed elevators and curved escalators. I thought the whole effect was magical and I had never seen anything like it before. I went in my first American McDonald’s and got a Coke. It was a classic Coke, I hadn’t warmed to the idea of the new Coke.
I went across the road and went into the Water tower building itself. The building was the only one to survive the great fire of 1871 and it housed a little information centre. They had a machine where you could tap in details of what you needed and it would print out suggestions for you. It was 5:30pm, so I tapped in “Rest Rooms” and it came up with nothing. I then tapped in “Bar” it gave me a few choices and then printed them out.
I went down Rush Street and found the beer tavern on the print out and went in to use the toilet. I didn’t get a drink but I did sample some of the free nachos they had on the tables.
I walked up Rush Street as far as Division Avenue and back. There were lots of bars and eateries and they were filling up with “yuppies” coming out of their offices nearby. There was also a woman stopping cars to pass them samples of cookies from a cookie shop that had just opened. It reminded me a bit of the atmosphere on Colombus Avenue a few weeks ago.
Finding somewhere to eat proved a little tricky, I didn’t have a lot of cash, and I hadn’t been able to find a bank to change traveller’s cheques. I wanted somewhere that would take my Access Card, but at the same time not be too pricey as to break my budget.
In the end I settled on “Tony Roma’s a place for ribs” They had what they called a sunset special for $5.95 from 5pm until 7pm. It was then 6:50pm so I just caught it.
I had soup, salad, barbecued beef, potato, 3 rolls, lemon chiffon cake and a coffee all for less than $6. It was only the second time I had ever dined alone in a restaurant and I was surprised that the waiter asked for and then called me by my first name throughout the meal.
The meal put me in a good mood and I went out into the darkening streets. I went straight to the Hancock Building and got into the elevator for a 39 second ride up to the 94th floor observatory. I walked around admiring the beautiful night view. It was much more impressive than the day view, I thought. Following advice I had received from my uncle, I went down to the ground and then back up in another elevator to the 96th floor and the bar they had there.
When I got out of the elevator and saw all the patrons sat at the bar in expensive looking suits, I knew I had made a mistake. I went through with it though. I sat at the bar sipping an overpriced glass of Heineken for 40 minutes, whilst looking out on exactly the same view as I had seen two floors below.
I went out onto the Magnificent Mile and walked amongst the beautifully-illuminated buildings. With Z-95 FM bursting from the Walkman, I made my way past the brilliantly- lit white Wrigley building and back to the bus station.
I was impressed with Chicago. It didn’t quite have the vibrancy and the danger of New York, but it had been a fascinating place to spend a couple of days.
When I got to the bus station, I saw that the T and the R had gone out on the sign and it now read “AILWAYS”.
I took that to be a bad omen. I wasn’t looking forward to any more bus journeys to be honest. The romance of US trans-continental bus travel had already disappeared.
I went inside the bus station and saw a lady dressed in a business suit. She was by far the best dressed persopn in the waiting room. I went and sat near her and surrounded by an assortment of bums and tramps, we waited for the 11:30pm departure for St. Louis; “Gateway to the West”.