Can you help an out of work tour guide?

I was working as a tour guide in Sydney until the planes stopped flying. If you are enjoying my blog posts and can afford to toss a bit of coin into my virtual hat – the cost of a coffee or beer, say – that would be a huge help.  I hope you are faring as well as can be expected wherever you are.

Sweet Home Chicago? Home but not Home

Saturday 17 October (Chicago, Day 146)

I have weird feelings around the idea of Chicago as ‘home’. On the one hand, I am intimately familiar with this place. Or, more, I was intimately familiar with this place. But that was in my childhood, in my youth. So, there’s a weirdness in how it has changed and there is a weirdness in how it is the same. There is a dissonance in that I have changed but being here pulls me back towards a version of myself long since gone. I guess – just as Chicago has changed while staying the same, so I have changed, while remaining the same. Being here reminds me of that and reminds me of it in a visceral, slightly uncomfortable way.


I am also feeling the pull of the road. I’m missing Europe and I’m missing the riding. I am missing that feeling of being a stranger – of everywhere being new, of not being able to understand what people are saying.


And, of course, underlying all of that – I am missing home. My actual home – Sydney. And my people.


I’m wobbling.


Fortunately, one of my people is here. At least for a few more hours. So, here I am at Yolk – a very hyped breakfast place and it’s completely chockers. I’m meeting Laura here for a last catch up before she flies home to Sydney later today.


The place is huge, yet wait about 30 minutes for a table. We order normal breakfast stuff and its fine – but I don’t understand why people are nuts for this place. Neither of us order their crazy offerings – like the Black Forest Cake French Toast – just, you know, bacon-eggs-pancakes. Sorry Yolk, you aren’t even in the same league as the good breakfast places in Sydney, like Bills – oh, I need to go to Bills as soon as I get home.


We walk through the Loop together before saying goodbye. And, like that, I have no expectation of seeing any of my friends from home again until I get there – probably six months from now. I feel like so much of the journey is already behind me, and yet an equal amount is still to come.


Cityscape of Chicago - including vertical sign reading CHICAGO for the theatre.


It’s a gorgeous cool autumn day as I walk through the city. On the one hand I’m mostly looking at it like a tourist, but I also sort of know where everything is. And have deep, old memories in these spaces. It’s a weird mental space.


The Carson Pirie Scott Building, on State Street, with its ornate iron work – is now a Target. I think that says something but I’m not sure entirely what.


Open House Chicago is going on today – buildings not usually open to the public are open. When I arrive at the Kemper Building I’m asked for my Zip Code for their statistics. ‘Oh Wow’ they say, when I reply that I’m from Australia.


View from tall building of green river passing big city buildings, and crossed by bridges
The view from the Kemper Building


When I’m asked where I’m from, when I’m at home, in Australia – where people are wondering about my accent – I say, ‘Chicago, originally’. But, in comparison to all these people – these Chicagoans on the streets of this city – I am not a Chicagoan.


I am ‘home’ while also, in no way, being home. The tension in that, for whatever reason, really invites thoughts like: Why am I doing this exactly? This travelling, being a tourist, seeing places … is it working some kind of magic on me? I don’t know. I’ve learned a lot. Thought a lot. Written a lot. Does any of that matter? I don’t know – I guess I’ll figure it out when I get home. Or not.


Speaking of home home, an Australian film, Looking for Grace, is on at the Chicago International Film Festival, so I’m off to see it.



It’s good and Richard Roxborough is really fantastic, as he so often is.


There are two older women sitting behind me. As the lights come up, one of them says the film was too long, too slow and she calls Western Australia ‘godforsaken’. I am sorry she doesn’t see the stark beauty in the place.  There are several long shots from a steady camera at the front of a car moving up a highway. One of which nearly made me cry with homesickness. I could imagine riding my bicycle through that space, passing isolated gum trees growing in the red earth. God, how I miss it.


It’s been a lovely full day, but I never had lunch and now I’m starving.


I’m on the train heading north to Evanston and there’s an 11-year-old on board who seems to be on his own and is clicking through his cap gun – there were caps in it earlier, which he popped. And he has a knife – like a kitchen knife – a paring knife – in a sleeve. Very strange.


The woman sitting next to me – with an empty seat between us – is falling asleep and leaning way over. I gently right her. She wakes, I smile, nothing.


I’m finally back in my parents’ neighbourhood and stop in to Hub’s for barbeque ribs. Here a youngish doctor is talking on the phone; he is guiding someone through not panicking while intubating a patient in an emergency room.  He calmly does this while waiting for his take-away. Impressive.


I’m so hungry and I’m feeling a bit wrecked. I think being able to both hear and understand so many people exhausts me, a little.


Sunday 18 October (Chicago, Day 147)

In England, at Twickenham, Australia is about to play Scotland in the last quarter-final of the Rugby World Cup. The stadium is full to the brim with 77,000 fans. I had thought about coordinating my schedule so I could attend some of those games in person – but didn’t; I had thought about finding a bar in Chicago showing the game and heading there this morning – but they are all charging a $20 cover charge.


So instead, I am seated at the kitchen table of my childhood home tuning into the radio call being streamed on-line. In the stadium the team and supporters are singing Advance Australia Fair while I sing along and get a little teary about it.


I’m not sure I’ve ever listened to a Rugby match on the radio before – and this one is a cracker. The Wallabies steal a 35-34 win with a last ditch converted penalty. Victory! Elation! It would have been an historic win for the Scots, and I feel for them, a bit. But Victory! Elation! Next up: Argentina in the semi-finals.


That was fun. But I’m tired.


I feel … what? Meh – a little meh. America leaves me meh. I feel like I’m filling time here. And maybe I need to – maybe I need time in a meh space. Do I need to find a … methodology for engaging with America while I’m here? Certain things to do in the places I go? What would that be? City bikes? Art museums? Jewish stuff? Meet ups? Tinder? I guess I feel like, so far, I’ve just been skimming over the surface. Europe was sometimes the same, but there, I was riding and that was the point. What’s the point of being here? Meeting people? Meeting Americans? I don’t know.


I should get out of the house for a while. I go to Poochie’s for lunch and I ride to the rehabilitation centre to visit my mom. There, we sit, more or less in silence, while my dad watches the end of the Bears game. Then I ride through some of the fancier bits of Evanston and as far as the lake. I’m really just tooling around on the bicycle.


Fancy-schmancy Evanston


Lake Michigan … this is familiar, in a good way – this view.


I wish there was good coffee to be had but instead end up at the ‘French’ themed café in Evanston – Patisserie Coralie.


Let me count the ways it reminds me of France:




I get a hot chocolate – as a safe bet – it’s super-hot and served in a short beer glass.


The people sitting behind me are talking about moving to a new house and wanting to find a ‘safe’ area. Does anyone talk like this in Sydney? Surely some do – but not anyone in a café like this, in a neighbourhood like this. One of them has an unusual voice and is a gender-mystery to me (not that it matters, of course) – just noticeable. They are talking of good and bad coffee places – as if there’s any good coffee here. They are maybe 22, so their ignorance is fair.


Now, the one whose gender is a mystery is complaining about HRC – the Human Rights Campaign – and their bad treatment of trans people. Ah, so ‘he’ I think it is, he’s saying that their street canvassers targeted him when he looked like a lesbian. But now that he looks like a 16-year-old boy – by his own description – they completely ignore him. And evidently, he’s dating a gay guy. So, he was a lesbian and now is a gay man. The world is an interesting place, no?


Monday 19 October (Chicago, Day 148)

I slept for 11 hours.


In this morning’s paper:


Front page: Chicago Cubs lose important baseball game


Page 5: $75,000 bail for man whose son, 6, killed sibling


A man, who used to be in a gang, but now manages a pizza place, snitched on a former gang-mate. He then bought a gun on the street for protection and kept it loaded and wrapped in PJ pants on the fridge. He showed it to his six-year-old and told him, ‘only for adults’. Saturday night, Dad’s at work, Mum’s gone with the youngest to get milk, Grandad is at home with the 6- and 3-year olds who, at 9 pm, are playing cops and robbers. Six-year-old gets the gun and shoots the 3-year-old in the head.


In the bail hearing for the dad (at least they didn’t arrest and charge the 6-year-old) the judge said, ‘(This) is what happens when people have guns who shouldn’t have guns. That’s why we’ve had 3,200 people shot in Chicago so far this year.’




I wonder how many years back you’d have to go to notch up 3,200 people shot in Australia. Or any peer, civilised, advanced country – or really just any country that isn’t actively at war or being overrun by drug lords.


And that’s part of the thing, some Americans and the American myth says they don’t have peer countries because, as the Army advertising says: ‘We’re the greatest.’


So fucked.


And, what’s up with six-litre per flush toilets? Especially ones that don’t actually do the job that well. They have flat pans of bowls with a lateral exit. Why?


I’m feeling total uncertainty really.


Why am I spending time here? In America. To see people – fine. To confront my unease with the place? Should I go elsewhere? Latin America? The Caribbean? Am I locking myself into a path without a good reason?


Nature. I think I need more nature. Can I get to any National Parks? That would involve hiring a car. Ugh.


Fark … I’m really really uncertain right now. Angsty and agitated is how I feel.


Maybe I’ll feel better about these things when I get back on the road.


But right now, I feel like I could go anywhere – so why am I here?


I need to get out of the house. I’ll start with that.


I put the laptop in my bag and ride to Evanston. My first stop is the post office for stamps, then the Northwestern University shop on Sherman to find a postcard. I go looking for tolerable coffee.


I spot Other Brother Coffeehouse – and see a woman seated in the window has a ceramic demitasse cup in front of her, a good sign.  I go in.


The macchiato is – again – a piccolo, but fine. After writing my postcards, I get the computer out and begin working on my next e-newsletter and my spirits begin lifting. I like the vibe of the place – though the endlessly enthusiastic welcomes offered by the guy behind the counter amuse me.


I fall into a conversation about bicycles, coffee, and travel with a bloke named Ariel. His brother lives in Melbourne. He tells me Deus ex Machina – a café/motorcycle/clothing place from Sydney – is now in Venice Beach. How about that?


After the café closes at 4pm I go to the library to continue working. Well, by way of Andy’s Frozen Custard. Like soft serve, then frozen and scooped like regular ice cream. Can’t lie – it was good.


I meet up with another old friend from high school for dinner and a catch up. My meal is basically America on a bun: a blue cheeseburger with bacon, buffalo wing sauce and spinach plus onions, tomatoes and pickles served with tatter tots. It is very tasty but that plus two beers and a tip comes to $32 – far out. What happened to the cheap food in America? And that’s US dollars, of course, so like A$45 – WTF??


Menu prices here are totally deceptive – once you add like 12% for the taxes, and 15-20% for a tip – it gets pretty ridiculous, pretty fast. I need to keep a closer watch on that going forward.


It was nice catching up – but again, would we hang out much if I lived here? Probably not.

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