After an emotional day yesterday followed by another late night packing session, I was still surprised that I slept through my alarm on a travel day! A sure sign of the safety and comfort of Dawn and Sue’s home. Luckily Sue knocked on my door with 20 minutes to spare – just enough time for me to get dressed, gather up my last few things and wrestle with the zipper on my backpack. I emerged somewhat flustered from my room to find a breakfast goodie bag and a thermos of coffee waiting for me for the ride to the airport – overwhelmed with gratitude for this gesture of generosity and so much more, I just burst into tears like a big old sookie baby!
They bundled me into the car probably as concerned as I was about my suitability for international travel today and delivered me safely to the airport. I sprang another leak as I bid farewell to my newest and already one of my dearest friends, Sue. I can’t believe we only met a week ago. Dawn helped me into the terminal building where the leak quickly became a torrent as we hugged our goodbyes. After all these years, it astounds me that a friendship can fasten across time and space to become even stronger than when it had a daily context.
Time to dry my eyes, suck it up and face the evils of American Airlines once again. This time I was allocated seat 18A so at least it was a bigger plane than last time… by 2 rows, I was the last row.
As we made our descent into Chicago, the pilot came on to the PA system to amongst other things, announce that it was 6 degrees celcius on the ground and raining! Just a reminder that I had packed on the assumption that it summer everywhere I was going.
Once we landed, I was well and truly back in the world of the solo budget traveler, backpack on, I boarded the subway towards my next accommodation. My host, Nick, whom I met through http://www.airbnb.com and whose apartment I would be sharing, had provided me with very clear directions to his place – 4 blocks he said. 10 blocks later with 20kgs on my back and another 5 or so being dragged along in the rain, I was already starting to dislike him. When I eventually arrived I found him to be very laid back and welcoming. He showed me to my room where I dumped my soggy stuff and dried off a little before looking at the map to realise I had read it completely wrong and taken the long way round! Luckily it hadn’t yet come to blows with Nick, we had coffee instead as he gave me the lay of the land and some useful vegetarian dining suggestions.
I left him to his hangover and went out to explore Wicker Park, the cool little ‘hood I was staying in but I still just hadn’t got the hang of the day. I contemplated some theme music to help me along but the only Chicago song I could think of was one by that very name by Sufjan Stevens from his album Come on! Feel the Illinoise! The last time I heard that song was live at the Opera House in Sydney late last year in the throws of a panic attack bought on by the song before it – I decided to let Josh Pyke accompany me on this walk instead, not that he can’t be a moody one but it’s good comfort music.
Josh and I wandered around but he was no help at all with directions – kept going on about ‘lines on palms’ when it was the lines on the map I just couldn’t figure out no matter how I turned it or myself. I was cold, wet and had a dose of the travel day blues but I couldn’t go back to the apartment so early and sit in my room. I certainly wasn’t up for socialising either. I resolved to find one of the restaurants Nick had told me about. I set off for 6 blocks in the wrong direction before realising, then after backtracking, another 4 in a completely different direction – backtracking for one last attempt before just giving up. Of course, that wasn’t an option so by process of elimination, I finally found the street I was after and The Handle Bar Diner.
I admit I am horrific with directions, it’s one of my greatest concerns about traveling alone shared by anyone who has relied on me for navigation. However, in my defence, the street signs here are confusing and don’t seem to point down any particular street, least of all the one they’re supposed to be indicating.
I walked into the diner which was playing The Cure, followed by Morrissey – I couldn’t have caught a good mood today if I put out rainbow trap! I ate what I could and finally admitted defeat. I no longer cared if Nick thought I was the lamest tourist he’d come across because this day needed a line under it. This has been the earliest night of my trip but that’s OK because I’m in Chicago, I haven’t been here before so tomorrow is going to be a whole new adventure.