1 November 2007
Makin' my way back to Chicago…Makin' my way come rain or shine…Gonna find true love waiting for me…Gonna make it work out for good this time...
And so we bid farewell to the Windy City. I'm sitting in O'Hare airport pondering the last 2 weeks and it is with mixed feelings that I depart. The NSA has just advised that the Threat Level has been raised to Orange (nothing to do with Halloween, sadly), passenger Beegan is being paged for the FINAL time and I daresay will be shot on sight, and I've had bugger all to eat all day apart from a burrito the size of my forearm at lunch time (it was called 'El Chupacabra').
America is truly a strange and wonderful place: everything I imagined it to be but so much more…like life magnified. It's all about excess over here, there's no such thing as subtlety. Everything is done with the personal benefits in mind rather than the consequences. In everything they do, Americans ask themselves the question "Can I do this?" rather than "Should I do this?" It's quantity over quality, substance over style, value over finesse. The clearest example is the food: there's just so much of everything all thrown in together with little regard for flavour or taste or aesthetic appeal. Whether it's a pizza the size of a car tyre or a burrito the length of your forearm, or a sandwich with half a pound of ham on it. Sure it's big but why is that the only redeeming feature? None of it tastes particularly good, most of it is downright awful (sugary and greasy and smothered in processed cheese) and you always end up feeling bloated and nauseous when you're done.
And the choices! I went for a stroll down East Walton, the street my hotel is on, which isn't a particularly major thoroughfare, but still I was amazed at the range of franchises plying for my lunchtime dollar: Jimmy James Gourmet Sammiches, Chilli's, Arby's, JJ Peppers, Popeye's Chicken and Biscuits, Einstein Bros Bagels, Grillers in the Mist, Lowry's Prime Rib ("THE prime rib"), Mr Beef…and those were just the one's I hadn't heard of before. It's incredible, particularly when you consider that the same stores are on the very next street…and the next. In the end I settled for Jimmy James and ended up with a sub that had a quarter pound each of ham, salami and roast beef along with about 7 tomatoes, 12 raw onions, 2 heads of lettuce and a mountain of cheese. Sure it only cost me $5 but really…I couldn't eat even half of it and I felt sick for the rest of the day. Honest to god, I'm not surprised in the least that there's an obesity epidemic in this country. And McDonalds is just the tip of the greasy lard iceberg.
American tv is awesome! You never have to worry about there being anything on because EVERYTHING is on...all the time. And if you miss it it's on again the next night. My favourite thing is all the ads they have for medical problems. The best ones are ED (Erectile Dysfunction), RLS (Restless Legs Syndrome), FI (Frequent Irregularity) which are pretty much just 30-second diatribes of all the harmful and embarrassing side effects you'll suffer from if you take their medicines.
So my first day here I started off with brunch in a deli of an omelette with a half inch of cheese on the top, then wandered up and down Michigan Ave looking at all the shops. This is THE premier shopping street in Chicago and there's a lot of money floating around. Bloomingdales, Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neimann Marcus. Conversely, there's a hell of a lot of homeless people floating around as well and when they're not expertly panhandling the rich folks or God-blessing you, they're in the many parks playing chess and taking up all the benches. Speaking of parks, there's a lot of them, which is nice.
I went out to Navy Pier where they have a permanent amusement park ("Kids, ride the ferris wheel, brought to you by McDonalds!") which has been done up all spooky like for Halloween. I can't underestimate how much they love Halloween over here. It's been estimated that Americans will spend $5 billion on Halloween this year…that's right, BILLION. Food, costumes, decorations, cards, pumpkin-flavoured ammo. It's insane! Practically the whole city has been done up like a giant Halloween exhibit and at first I was kinda disappointed that I was leaving before the big day hit but now I'm kinda glad. It's creepy.
I managed to find the fountain that was featured in the opening credits of tv's "Married…With Children", which was kinda cool. There's been a lot of big name movies filmed here: the next Batman, Tranformers, Ferris Bueller, and Paul tells me that Punky Brewster was filmed here…get out of town! It's pretty easy to get around on foot if you don't mind the walk, but there's plenty of cool stuff to see. Like most big cities, the drivers love to parp and I'm immensely pleased that I was given a chance to feel like a true Chicagoan when I got parped by a cab driver in the middle of a pedestrian crossing and waved my hands provocatively while shouting, "Come aaahhhn!"
Coffee over here is shithouse. Americans couldn't make a decent cup of coffee if you held a gun to their head. Expecting an american to make good coffee is like expecting an Italian to practice restraint. It's a sad indictment to admit that the best coffee in this city is from Starbucks, but it was pumpkin flavoured.
I wore a tracksuit top which I bought in Ireland that has 'Ireland' emblazoned across the chest. I kind of felt sorry for the people who continually asked me which part of Ireland I was from. Of course I replied that I wasn't Irish, so they asked which part of England I was from. I'm not from England either, I replied. Most of them gave up in confusion at this point but the brave ones who persisted still had to make their way through Australia and New Zealand, which was more geography than they could cope with. Gosh darn, the rest of the world sure is a big place!
That evening I took a cab up north to Deluxe Tattoo to meet my man Zach Stuka (rhymes with 'palooka' not 'suckah') and got my wicked Belco Metal tatt. Check the photos to see just how metal it is, but I warn you, I accept no responsibility for melting your face off.
Day 2 was cultural enrichment day so I hit the Chicago Art Institute which was amazing. They have the most incredible collection of originals by some real heavyweights: van Gogh, Cezanne, Gaugaun, Monet, Lattrec, Rodin, Pollack, Lichtenstein. They even have the painting that Cameron stared at in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. I tried to get into it the way he did but unfortunately there was a loud American woman standing behind me who felt the need to express her every thought loudly and constantly to all within ear shot. "Oh I know that picshure. Do you know that picsure? I've seen it somewhere before, where have I seen it before? Was it in a movie? It was, it was in a movie! Oh what was that movie called? You know it. The Godfather! That's it, it was in the Godfather. No wait, it wasn't in the Godfather, what was I thinking of?" And on and on and on it went until I ran away. There's no such thing as quiet reflection or inner contemplation here…you just say whatever pops into your head. I think it comes from having your brain in your mouth. You thought there were a lot of abnoxious Americans in London? Try coming here! It's like America is the birth place of loud obnoxious Americans or something…they're everywhere!
That afternoon I went up to the observation deck on the 96th floor of the John Handcock building, which rises above the city skyline like a giant black alien monolith. The elevators travel upward at approx. 20mph (or 50kph), which is real damn fast in anyone's language. The view from up there was breath-taking, as you will see from the photos. I had NO breath. They have an outdoor skywalk which is enclosed but you can hear the wind howling and shrieking and whistling around the edges of the building as if to remind you that you don't belong up this high…this is a domain purely for the insubstantial.
On Day 3 I did some more walking, up north this time along the lake's edge and I discovered the Lincoln Park Zoo which is a free zoo in the middle of Lincoln Park…derr! It's pretty cool cos they're all into conservation of endangered species and that but there's nothing sadder than seeing large animals in tiny enclosures. The tiger was roaring when I was taking pictures of him and it sounded eerily human and sad…like a giant child complaining of a stubbed toe, "OOOOWWWWwwww!"
The most common form of wildlife, however, is squirrels. They're friggin everywhere! Almost in plague proportions. You can tell they're streetwise and comfortable with people cos they come up to you and ask you for money. But it's not the ones who talk that you've got to worry about. It's the quiet ones who just sit there looking at you…appraising you. And you can tell by the cold steely glint in their tiny black eyes that all they see is a huge pair of nuts.
I went to the movies that night to see 30 Days of Night which was semi-cool. It started predictably with lots of hammy acting and clumsy exposition, but once things got moving and the vampires arrived on the scene it improved a bit. Sadly, it was a small bit cos it was a rapid downhill slide in to cinematic horseshit from that point. The vampires were cool, though, just as they were intended to be in the graphic novel which I read, likes, ages ago before it became cool and all the tourists arrived.
There's a lot of history in this town. I was hoping to see some old school art deco architecture but, like most progressive cities, they tore down all the good buildings in the 70's to make way for the bigger and more banal monstrosities we see today. There's a bit of a resurgence in some of the newer developments but it's more of a trend than a return to the architectural glory of old. After the Chicago fire, pretty much the whole city was destroyed. They dumped all the rubble into Lake Michigan and actually created 3 square miles worth of land, upon which they built a lot of the 1893 World's Fair. The fire created a veritable tabula rasa for architects and Chicago became a crucible for some of the most innovative and adventurous developments the world had seen. The world's first skyscraper was built in Chicago and the techniques developed by engineers to cope with the wet sandy soil completely changed the way buildings were designed and constructed. There's still a lot of examples of adventurous design but regrettably a lot of it seems gaudy and out of place: the BP bridge which snakes its way across Columbus Drive from Michigan Ave to Lake Shore Drive resembles a giant armoured serpent; Millenium Park is a huge expanse of grass land and gardens with an enormous outdoor concert hall that looks like the skeleton of a giant robot turtle.
Speaking of the World's Fair, there were a whole bunch of today's famous icons created just for the fair: AC electricity, the Ferris Wheel, the Pledge of Allegiance, that bit of music they play whenever you see Indian snake charmers ("Dah-dah daaah daaah dah, dah-dah dah-dah dah-dah-dah").
The journey out was a lot less stressful than the journey in. They guy at passport control even asked me if I was an actor because I looked like an actor. I told him I was a professional bullshit artist but that it didn't pay very well. He laughed his big hearty disingenuous American laugh. I arrived home to learn that we're getting a new flat mate on Sunday and that the previous night all the fire alarms had gone off for no reason and continued to go off all night. Lucky I didn't come back a day early…
Anyhoo, check out the latest photos from the last few weeks http://picasaweb.google.com/blind.phineas. So much has happened and yet it's gone so quickly. For now it's back to the usual humdrum and stay tuned for my next adventure…
I lurve youse all.