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Close up of a Chicago-style hot dog

Visiting Chicago on My Midlife Gap Year

I’ve arrived in Chicago from Berlin, settled into my parents’ house, and am ready to properly begin my stay in the USA. I have catch ups with friends and am becoming reacquainted with the old neighbourhood.

Wednesday 14 October (Day 143: Chicago)

I was last in Chicago three years ago. My then-husband and I found a couple of bicycles in the crawlspace under my parents’ house. We dusted them off, filled the tyres with air, and used them to get around town. I pull one of them out now and walk it a couple of kilometres to Al’s Cycle Shop.

 

I think it just needs air for the tyres, but it turns out to be suffering from some additional ailments. Al’s promises a ride-ready bike tomorrow and then I make my way back to the rehabilitation centre for another quiet visit with my mom.

 

Afterwards, while walking towards the bus which will take me to the train and on into Chicago, I learn there has been a big shakeup of Major League Baseball’s international operations in Sydney. It seems I left their employ at the right time. The powers that be, in New York, cut the senior Sydney people loose in a bigger restructuring of the international operations. I’m a bit stunned by the news and feel for those affected. I’m also glad for it not to have a direct impact on my life.

 

Well … it may have one small impact. I’ve emailed one of the people, now made redundant, asking them about getting a ticket to one of the Cubs playoff games. Now I know why I haven’t received an answer.

 

Anyway. The sun is shining, and it’s another beautiful day.

A friend from home has brought me Vegemite!

I’m excited to be meeting up with a good friend from home, from Sydney that is. Laura been to a wedding in South Carolina and is attending a conference in Chicago; we’re meeting up for drinks and deep-dish pizza.

 

It’s so nice to be with her – it feels like a real little bit of home. Not least because she’s brought me Vegemite! I’d failed to pack some when I left, thinking it was probably more of a hassle than it was worth. But when Laura asked if there was anything I wanted from home, I knew immediately: I needed Vegemite.

 

Selfie with two women, one holding a tube of Vegemite
Who’s a happy little vegemite? But what is happening with my hair?

 

At the bar they ask for my ID – which makes me laugh and laugh. So ridiculous. The waitress goes on about how the police are cracking down on it, making sure bars are checking everyone’s ID – and her speculation is that they want to push for everyone carrying ID all the time – like that isn’t a problem in itself.

 

We have some mad good hot chips at the bar then move next door for dinner. The pizza at Pequod’s is super – heaps of cheese but not enough to make you choke, and the tomato sauce has a really nice tang to it.

 

We speak of my trip, and Tinder dates, the size of people in South Carolina, and the difference between European “walking distance” and American “walking distance”. At the wedding she’d just attended, someone insisted upon driving three blocks to a bar. We speak, too, of Robert Pinsky and of the hard days of my trip. And of the recent Coalition spill which has made Malcolm Turnbull Prime Minister of Australia – which is causing the conservative wing of the Liberals to lose their shit. It’s a really good evening – a normal sort of enjoyable evening out with a good friend speaking, as you do, of many things. Afterwards, we walk to Fullerton El station together and go our separate ways.

With a nightcap of crazy on the train

On the train home there’s a guy who may be speaking to himself or to someone on a phone – I can’t see if he is wearing an earbud. He’s loudly threatening “I’m not going to play with your ass” and talking about fucking people up and of bringing his guns and of all manner of crap. Now he’s threatening to shoot the person he’s talking to (I’m pretty sure, now, that he is on the phone.)

 

See, in most places I’ve been, Australia, Europe, the rest of the passengers would be like, “Who does this fool think he is? What ridiculous rubbish.” Here, well, he could be armed. He could well get off this train and go shoot whoever it is he’s talking to. Or some innocent bystander who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

 

As it happens, I did not get caught up in any shootings and make it home by 10 pm.

 

But America is making it hard for me to have kind and gentle thoughts about it.

Thursday 15 October (Day 144: Chicago)

The lack of any real jet lag is an awesome thing – I do credit Jet Ease but also just playing the mental game of it right. I switched to Chicago time as soon as I boarded the flight in Berlin, stayed awake on the flight and didn’t go to sleep until a normal, if early, bed time on my day of arrival and got up at a normal, if early for me, time the next day.

 

I had an email overnight from my old boss at Major League Baseball. He wrote to tell me about his retrenchment – and that other staff in the New York offices have also been let go. He’s suggested people who might help with Cubs tickets – but I think, in light of the whole thing, it might be best to just let it slide.

America – you are so weird and challenging

This morning there are these two stories in The Chicago Tribune:

 

Story one: A man called Bunky has died. He worked as a salesman at Ralph Lauren but had become an escort to wealthy women. He hosted fabulous fundraising parties including a Valentine’s Day tea to which all had to wear red. ‘Only Bunky could make me wear red’ said one. He’d fallen ill at work – heart attack, gone to hospital, had surgery, complications and died. He got half a page.

 

Story two: There is a new outreach program which helps the families of murder victims deal with everything. They help with the cleaning up to going to ID the body as well as navigating the police and legal system, and whatever else comes up. The overarching theme is that the city of Chicago is filled with grief and pain. It got a few more column inches than Bunky.

My bicycle is ready – happiness

I catch the good old #250 bus west on Dempster and get off at Niles Center Road – on my way to get my bicycle from the shop.

 

The #250 was probably the very first public bus I ever rode. My family lived in the city until I was six months old, so I guess my Mom may have taken me someplace on a bus before our move to the suburbs. So many things have changed in this area since I left in 1990 but then there are other things which have remained exactly the same for 30 or 40 years or more. Including that the bus which runs from downtown Evanston, then up Dempster Road to points west is the #250.

 

Sign for Temple Judea Mizpah advertising their upcoming Jewish Humor Event
Sign spotted while walking to collect my bicycle.

 

I collect my bicycle, a 1979 Schwinn Breeze, from the shop. The Breeze is a single speed bike with a step-through frame, coaster brakes, and chrome mudguards. It’s a classic thing of beauty.

 

A young guy working at the shop notices that the bicycle was originally purchased from them. There is a little decal on the downtube for Al’s Cycles. Larry, the other man in the shop today, has worked there since 1974. He may well have prepared it for sale back in 1979. Funny.

 

I ride home through the quiet residential suburban streets. It’s good to be riding again, really good. Now it’s parked in the backyard and a bird just landed on the handlebars.

 

The area my parents live in – which is in Skokie but also sort of part of Evanston. (It’s a weird historical thing.) The area is home to many Jewish families. In the couple of days I’ve been here I have passed quite a few synagogues. There’s this to say for America, none of them were actively protected by police or the military.

 

The only Jewish place I visited in Europe which didn’t have men with guns stationed outside was the Jewish Museum in Dublin. Yet, even there, I had to ring a bell to get in and the person who opened the door gave me a good looking over before letting me inside.

A second catch up in two days – this time an old friend

I ride to Lakeview to meet a friend from high school for dinner. The ride takes about an hour and a bit, really about the same length of time if I had taken public transport. I ride along the canal to Lawrence, taking a left, then a right into Clark. It’s funny, all the places I didn’t ride when I lived here. Of course, the infrastructure is much improved – with separated lanes, sharrows, etc. There is parking inside the train stations and you can put your bike on busses too, now.

 

My friend arrives very late and is apologetic. The food is Mexican and good but not amazing. We have a nice catch up and we speak of many things. But, I think if we lived in the same city, we probably wouldn’t spend a lot of time together. She has a young son and I tell her of the working-holiday visa young Americans are eligible for in Australia – as a thing to keep in mind for him when he’s older. She’s keen for him not to limit his life to the United States. It’s going to hell in a handbasket – she is quite sure. It’s frankly nice, for me, living in Australia – I feel removed from the violence, the corruption, the disconnect, that she sees happening around her. (Not that Australia is perfect, of course.)

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