Rediscovering Chicago

We’re in Chicago for a wedding weekend, and it’s giving us a chance to rediscover the City With Big Shoulders, the Second City, the Windy City, and that Toddlin’ Town. I used to come to Chicago regularly for work, and we visited often when Richard was in college here, but more recent planned trips were cancelled when the pandemic intervened–so it’s been a while. But now people, myself included, are deciding that we’re just going to have to live with COVID and all of its variants and get on with our lives–in a prudent way, of course.

It feels good to get out and get back to a really big city. When you haven’t been to a really big city in more than a year, the experience seems fresh and new and exciting. And Chicago is such a great place, for so many reasons–like the cool view from our hotel room window, shown above–it’s a good destination for those of us who want to shed the outer protective coating of COVID Caution and start to get out more.

We drove in, and the first sign that the pandemic has created significant change in the world is that, when we reached the Dan Ryan Expressway, it actually functioned as an expressway rather than a snarled traffic disaster seemingly designed to cause the blood pressure of drivers to go through the roof. Astonishingly, there wasn’t much traffic on the road, and we were able to get to our destination without any stoppage. That’s literally never happened before in countless driving trips to Chicago. For the first time, perhaps, Dan Ryan (whoever he is, or was) is glad that the highway was named after him.

Downtown Chicago was not as bustling as the Chicago of yore, but there were still a lot of people out and about, on the River Walk, on boat rides, and just walking the sidewalks and enjoying some crisp fall weather. We appreciated being out among people, and revelling in the taste and feel and smell and sound of pre-pandemic activities. You still need to mask up when you go into buildings in Chicago, but the great outdoors, and the terrific views of cool buildings that Chicago architecture affords, can be enjoyed blessedly mask-free.

If you’re interested in breaking out of your personal COVID zone, and feel like it is high time to reintroduce yourself to our great American cities, Chicago is a good place to go.

The Chicago Skyway Blows

The only bad thing about our short trip to Chicago this weekend was our use of the Chicago Skyway.  Coming or going, it blows.  I thought the inaccurately named Dan Ryan “Expressway” was bad — so bad that if I were Dan Ryan, I’d ask that my name be removed from that sorry, always-under-repair stretch of Chicago roadway — but I would take the Dan Ryan 10 times out of 10 against the Chicago Skyway.

IMG_2373For the uninitiated, the Chicago Skyway and the Dan Ryan Expressway are the two ways to get to Chicago from northern Indiana.  The Dan Ryan is a freeway, the Chicago Skyway is a toll road.  You’d think that would mean that the Skyway would be a better driving experience — better road, faster, and so forth.  That makes sense . . . but it would be wrong.  In fact, the road conditions from Chicago to the I-65 turnoff just east of Gary are miserable.  And, because you have to go through three separate toll stops, it’s clearly slower even than the orange barrel-filled Dan Ryan Expressway — to say nothing of costing almost $8.  What does the money go for?  Beats me!  My shock absorbers would say it’s certainly not used for road repair.

It’s also obviously not used for toll booth employees or upkeep.  Today we were infuriated because only two of six toll booths at the final turnoff were taking cash or credit card.  Three lanes were reserved for E-ZPass — which is irritating in its own right — and one was closed for unknown reasons.  Of course, there were long lines in the two cash/credit lanes, which were made all the worse by the fact that rather than a toll booth employee, we had to pay a machine, and the machine didn’t tell you how much you owed.  It was scrambled, and the screen showed nothing but gibberish, like this:  ###%^**##.  So, what to pay?  Not surprisingly, it took us forever to get past the toll booth.  It was like some satanic trick:  just as we were celebrating escaping the Chicago Skyway once and for all, a final bit of ineptitude trapped us in toll booth hell.  What idiot allowed this to happen?

If Chicago wants to improve its image, the Skyway would be a good place to start.

So Long, Chicago

As Richard moves west to Missouri to begin a new chapter, we’ll also be saying so long to Chicago as a regular destination point.

For years now, while Richard attended Northwestern and worked as a tutor in local public schools, we’ve been visiting Chicago periodically.  It is a great world city, and the jewel of the American Midwest.  We’ve enjoyed its impressive skyline, fine restaurants, and grand parks and public spaces.  I’ve also been impressed by Chicago’s focus on preserving and celebrating the proud ethnicity of its people; like New York City, it is one of the places where the concept of the American “melting pot” — in which people of different ethnic backgrounds are tossed into the cauldron, and something new and different and interesting is produced — really seems to have occurred.  Chicago has its problems, like lots of murders and a political culture with a history of corruption, but for us it will always be a place with many fine memories.

The only thing I won’t miss about Chicago is the ridiculous traffic.  No matter when we’ve come here, and what odd hour has marked our arrival, we’ve always been snarled in bumper-to-bumper traffic jams on the Dan Ryan Expressway.  If I were Dan Ryan, I’d ask that my name be removed from that godforsaken stretch of highway.