Anyone who’s ever been gifted an upgrade to business knows that it is a whole different ball game. I will be forever grateful to the angelic soul who made it possible for me. (He knows who he is.) And 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. There was so much to see and I didn’t want to waste a minute. Willis Tower got hit first, then Cloud Gate, on down to see what Navy Pier had to offer and then cocktails at the top of Water Tower Place. The people were great and there was a really positive vibe around the city. Of course, Macy’s was given some attention, and my favourite shop, Ann Taylor. Investments were duly made and then it was time to head to a show in the Goodman Theatre.
The hotel was conveniently located near The Purple Pig restaurant, a must-visit spot that pals had recommended. It was a unique experience with their quirky dishes and serving platters that have a distinctly ‘farmers market’ feel. I woke up the next morning to a snowy wonderland. Everywhere was covered in several feet of snow and through it I trudged up to the Adler Planetarium which turned out to be one of the coolest places I 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 covered in great blocks of ice, and even the Bean was layered thick with snow. 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, another recommendation from a friend back in Ireland. It didn’t disappoint, and from there I was able to watch how the snow slowed the city to a grinding halt. Businesses closed early, putting notices in their windows that due to the adverse conditions, they would remain shut until further notice. Traffic became lighter and lighter. I drank more wine and ordered some cheese. Chicago is amazing.
The next morning 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 had 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 seemed 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. He 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, the kind you’d only ever seen on BA Baracas. Some had guns tucked into their low hanging jeans. We drove on, but stopped at the next junction, we were surrounded by the same thing. Gangs of black men in chains and vests, with baggy jeans or track bottoms and weapons on view. Again, at the next junction, it was the same story. Some of the dudes 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 terror.
Soon, we arrived at the address. I hadn’t seen a cab miles, so I did a deal with the lovely driver to wait ten minutes for me to being be back into 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 his 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 said. My bum was already on the backseat of the cab by the time he finished the sentence. Was it good to see where he was born? Yes. Would I do it all over again? Never. I have never been as terrified as I was that day.
The next day, the snowstorms had got worse and my return flight was delayed by five hours which was great news. It meant I got to watch the Super Bowl in an airport lounge with a really sound man who was equally as happy with the arrangement. He was an Irish man living in Chicago with a business in Ireland which meant he goes back and forth quite a bit. We had many beers and enjoyed the game, and yes, in true Irish style, almost missed our delayed flight on account of having another ‘one for the road’.