Windy City Interlude
The last time I had a specific reason to go home to Chicago was five years ago for a cousin's wedding, and with no upcoming occasion in sight, it seemed time to go back for no reason at all. I guess I can't technically call Chicago "home" anymore, with my parents gone and not living there myself, but even so that's what it still feels like. We got into town fairly early on Sunday morning, though when you hop the train from the airport the CTA terminal feels like eternal midnight in some movie like "Blade Runner" or "Tron."
I did my high school speech class "informative speech" on the pretty sherbet-colored glass-wall construction at O'Hare, brand-new at the time, and chosen as my topic mainly because I liked the pretty sherbet colors. Daniel, my patient traveling companion, was treated to fun facts such as these throughout our visit. "That's where I went to camp, the one where all we did was play Red Rover all day! And this is the camp is where I was a camp counselor. This is the bad school my father threatened to send me to when I was being bratty. That's where Woolworth's used to be." And so on.
Is anything more tedious than the memory tour of someone else's town? Yet in spite of all the minutia I couldn't help but share, there was so much I kept to myself. The place where my babysitter took me after camp, where I had my first taste of frozen yogurt (chocolate, and with a strong yogurty taste that's so different from the bland soft serve of today). The stretch of Lake Shore Drive near where we lived at Melrose Street, which turns up as a recurring setting in my dreams, vast and deserted. Places where nothing of note ever happened at all, but seeing them again after so long triggered the memory of past feelings, the general mood of being twelve and coming home from school, the same way a smell memory transports you with such immediacy.
We had quite a few hours to kill before we could check in to our condo rental, and so, bags on shoulders, we trudged around the city, packing a week's worth of sightseeing into one day.
First a visit to Wicker Park, because the Blue Line of the L was stopping there due to construction. The first time I visited this neighborhood, about 15 years ago, it was still sketchy enough that my cab driver refused to drop me off at the intersection I requested, and instead turned off the meter, drove me around until we found the exact address where I was going, and waited until I went in the door. Not anymore - it's still super hip, but is crammed with glossy loft buildings and market-appropriate chain stores like American Apparel. I'm used to the upscalification of urban American neighborhoods, but it still felt strange and wrong to see women teetering by in expensive high heels clutching their status bags. At least for that morning it was to our benefit though - we had a fantastic breakfast of huevos rancheros at a loungy place called Rodan before hoisting up our bags and continuing on to kill some more time.
We took a bus towards the lake and spent a few minutes resting at North Avenue Beach (first fudgisicle, starting point of high school's annual fund-raiser walkathon along the lakefront) and then moved on to Lincoln Park Zoo, selected in part because we'd be able to sit down with our bags while we watched the seals. The seal habitat was a lot nicer since the last time I'd seen it, but I can't say the same for the Lion House, a sad hall of small enclosures in which paced large, frustrated felines, one to a cage.
Maybe there is more to these enclosures than I realize - time in an outdoor space for each big cat, or a feeling of security in the limited area - but to the uneducated eye it doesn't look good. The back wall of each exhibit area is decorated with a scenic vista designed to make the space look like the boundless reaches of the great outdoors, but they aren't fooling anyone. Just as we were leaving, the male African lion entered his den (at least he has a large outdoor area to share with some lady friends), stood facing the crowd that quickly gathered before him, and roared and roared. It didn't seem brave or majestic though, just really sad, especially with the faded '70s jungle backdrop behind him. I know that, given a chance, the beast could rip my head off, but at that moment all I saw was the helplessness of his plight. As the people all stood around pointing and exclaiming, swinging their children onto their shoulders to get a better look, Daniel commented, "I bet none of these animals ever thought they'd end up being captured by the monkeys."
(Unspoken Lincoln Park Zoo memory: at the end of my first day of school, being taken there by my dad, having my picture taken astride a glossy statue of a lion, and thinking school was great because it meant Dad would pick me up afterwards and take me to the zoo every single day.)
At last it was time to catch a bus up to the apartment where we'd be staying, the 151 Sheridan Devon, iconic in my youth because I took it back and forth to school every day for eight years (and if you read the Yelp reviews, yes, lots of crazy people rode it back then, too). A quick ride through the park and up the drive, and we were at the vacation rental building, an address I'd chosen in part because it was right in my old neighborhood, across from a nice part of the park, and with a gorgeous lake view as a bonus.
But what I didn't realize was that the view from our apartment would look right smack out at the last building my parents lived in before they moved away to New York. Even though I'd left for college by then, I still had my own bedroom (Mom and Dad were sweethearts), so it felt like I'd more or less lived there myself, too.
Sometimes you can go home again.