Anyone who’s ever been gifted an upgrade to business knows that it is a whole different ball game. As if landing in Chicago for the first time couldn’t be more exciting, I’d just travelled business from Dublin so was off-the-charts happy. I took a cab to the Mag Mile, checked into the Conrad, then ran out to start exploring. Willis Tower got hit first then on down to see what Navy Pier had to offer before heading to a show in the Goodman Theatre.
I woke up the next morning to a snowy wonderland, everywhere covered in several feet of it. Boots on, I made for the Adler Planetarium which turned out to be one of the coolest museums I’ve ever visited. They put on some shows that were truly mind-blowing. I could easily have spent the day there, but off with me to the next door Field Museum. Lake Michigan was sealed with great blocks of ice, even the Bean had turned from chrome to white. Little kids in ski gear skated around a small square that had been turned into an ice rink. The snow fell heavier and I made for the warmth of the Ralph Lauren restaurant at Water Tower Place and from there observed how weather brought the city to a grinding halt. Businesses closed early, putting notices in their windows. Traffic became lighter and lighter. I drank more wine and ordered some cheese. Chicago is amazing.
The next day I awoke a year older. As a birthday treat, I headed down the street to the Peninsula for breakfast. In the opulence of her great lounge, I wrote a few lines, had birthday bubbles and was given a complimentary birthday cake by the lovely staff. It was a gorgeous long and lazy morning. And then it was time for what I’d been looking forward to most: heading out to Oak Park to visit the house in which Hemingway grew up. The hotel staff I consulted seemed surprised that I wanted to go to Oak Park and recommended I take a cab rather than try navigate that area by public transport. I was surprised that they seemed surprised. Why would anyone not want to visit Hemingway’s house and the nearby Hemingway museum?
I hopped into a cab with a pleasant Iranian driver who looked a little confused when I said Oak Park, but then nodded and said that he’d bring me. I sat back and watched the blocks roll by. We drove for over twenty minutes until I noticed the complexion of my tanned driver pale a little. A red light. A crossroads. He looked out the windscreen, then in the mirror at me, then at the traffic light. There was a sharp intake of breath. My gaze followed his out the window. On each street corner stood a gang of guys. They weren’t the type you’d want to ask for directions. Some wore gold chains round their necks others had guns tucked into their low rise jeans. We drove on, but stopped at the next junction, we were surrounded by the same thing. Gangs of men in chains and vests, with baggy jeans and weapons on view. Again, at the next junction, it was the same story. Some of them were just a few feet from the car. They looked in at the Iranian and the red Irish woman and I genuinely thought they would shoot me. I begged God to save us, the poor driver was no doubt imploring Allah and together we gave cursory glances in the mirror and shared an unspoken code of fear.
By the time we arrived at the address I hadn’t seen a cab in miles, so I did a deal with the lovely driver to wait ten minutes and bring me back to the safety of the City. I promised to run around the museum and the house. The metre was already hot, so he knew he’d get double and a tip. He waited and I actually did speed through the museum, taking photos of all exhibits so I could read them properly in the car on the way back (once we’d passed the ghettos). I sat at a desk for a photo in the house, checked out Hem’s bedroom and surprised the curator by getting it all seen in around four minutes. “You sure you don’t want another look around M’am?” he asked. My bum was already on the backseat of the cab by the time he finished the sentence.
Murphy’s Law knows no boundaries so on the last day the snowstorms were at their worst and my return flight was delayed by five hours which I took as great news. It meant I got to watch the Super Bowl in an airport lounge with an Irish man who lives in Chicago. Both of us happy with the arrangement, we put away several beers and in true Irish style, almost missed our delayed flight on account of having ‘one (or two) for the road’.