Chicago: City on the Make


I had quite the jaunt to Chicago! I won’t bore you with all of the details — just the Life During Wartimesque details 🙂 If you want to hear about what deep dish pizza place to go to, my favorite paintings in the Art Institute of Chicago, what a Gilded Age era toilet looks like, or the Wonderland That is Eataly, just ask! So — onward:

*The day before I left, I noticed that my suitcase had holes in all four of the corners. It’s a tapestry bag which is lined in some sort of black plastic-y material and is about 20 years old, and was a hand me down. I didn’t have the time or funds to purchase a new one, and had terrrrrrrible visions of the holes getting bigger and bigger on my trip only to have all my things flying out in the middle of … somewhere they shouldn’t. Thankfully, I bemoaned of my situation at work, and my coworker suggested gaffer taping the living daylights out of the insides. Ding, ding, ding! We even had the tape at home. It worked PERFECTLY! I also think the bag can withstand another journey with a little more tape applied! It was a rough trip for Stuff, though — when we were leaving Chicago, the handle of David’s suitcase broke, and I discovered the lining of my coat ripped! I am tempted to tape it with gaffer tape since it’s one of those linings that is attached to the body of the coat, and I can’t get inside to sew it properly (!)

*The Train Experience was everything I hoped it would be. I loved walking to my local train station with my lightly packed bags (in short — wear things more than once, wear only the footwear on your feet), transferring to the El in Philadelphia to get to the train station, basking in the gorgeousness that is 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, then getting on my on-time train to DC, arriving in DC with plenty of time to get a latte, then boarding my on-time train to Chicago for 17 hours of staring out the window, thinking, and best of all listening to an audiobook version of Middlemarch.

I wound up packing my food because I wasn’t feeling up to chatting with strangers whilst eating in the dining car — and I’m glad I did. I wasn’t very hungry during the appointed dinner hours and preferred to nibble on my sandwiches, or chocolate, or shortbread as I was hungry, all whilst listening to my book. After a few chapters I drifted off to varying states between waking and sleeping, sometimes hearing the comforting English accent talking to me and relaxed for the first time in weeks. I arrived in Chicago feeling refreshed and excited and warmed by the tea that the one person I made friends with on the train shared with me.

The train station to the hotel was only a 10 minute taxi ride. I learned the basics of the Chicago public transportation system when I was there, and now know how to take public transport, too! (Conversely, the airport was almost an hour away, much of it sitting in traffic in the taxi and the airport is horrid and the plane is horrid and my ears hurt so much I cried and I hated, hated, hated it! I won’t even go into how my air ticket got screwed up and we had to cancel it and rebook it at twice the price and uuuugggghhhhhh)!

*If ever you need a place to stay in Chicago I can recommend the Days Inn on Diversey. It’s not one of those new plastic modern Days Inns, but an old brick building, only 4 stories, in the middle of a neighborhood filled with little shops and houses and life. I loved being able to see real people walking their dogs and doing their food shopping each day instead of a bunch of tourists and businesspeople! The rooms are small, but clean and comfortable. There is a Trader Joe’s right on the street and a little refrigerator in the room, so you can get a few things to eat for your stay. The people that work there are really nice, and their free breakfast was really yummy — not every gratis hotel breakfast has bagels and make your own waffles!

*There was a TeaGschwendner on the same block as my hotel. As in the tea company who won best Earl Grey at the World Tea Expo with their Earl Grey No 69. As in, you know I’m a huge Earl Grey aficionado. As in, dear reader, I have now gone over my tea coupons. It was not a decision I made lightly, but a decision I’m glad I made. I had a wonderful conversation with the person working in the store, she gave me a cup of their Winter Magic tea as I was walking around, she let me smell everything, she gave me a few scoops of a fancy oolong for free, and it was such a great in the moment experience that I went for it. Sure, they sell online, and sure, I could have waited and placed an order when I had more coupons in 16 more days — but that wouldn’t have produced the memories I’m having of Chicago as I sip my tea here at work today. Sometimes ya gotta break the rules.

Now, how should I “pay” for my black market purchases? I played around with a few scenarios (use next year’s coupons? show an overage for this year? take remaining coupons from a different category?), and settled on taking coupons from my remaining soap coupons for the tea. I purchased 100g of Earl Grey No. 69 and 100g of Earl Grey’s Lady Violet, which makes 200g or 7.05479 oz — let’s just say 8 oz as a little hand slap 😉 2 oz of tea equal a coupon, so that’s 4 coupons. I have 14 soap coupons left, so now I’m down to 10. I think this is fair (but pipe up if you think it isn’t!).

*I didn’t purchase anything else in Chicago except for museum entrance fees, public transportation, food, and a postcard from the Driehaus Museum for $1.04 USD including tax 🙂 …which was interesting because no matter who I talked to, when they asked me what my plans were for the weekend, they said, “Shopping, of course, right?” and I would tell them, “No, actually!” Apparently Chicago is a big shopping destination — not only in the giant Magnificent Mile stores, but even in the indie, artsy neighborhoods. We even visited what we thought would be a quaint German Christmas market but wound up being a mob scene where people were stepping on babies (seriously! so many crying toddlers from being stepped on!!!) to get to the ornaments and Christmas mugs (we left as soon as we could get out of the pressed bodies!).

This contrasts uncomfortably with the large population of poor and homeless citizens that live in Chicago. I ate in a “donation only” Panera Cares location (not understanding what it was until asked for “what I could pay” rather than “the price.” I then noticed the bagel I was eating was a bit stale (all of the baked goods served are “day old”) and the people I was eating with were, ah, not your regular cafe customers with money to burn. Sobering. It was one of my first experiences after arriving and it stayed with me as I accessed places of privilege such as museums and holiday office parties, snapped photos on my iPhone, got to make the choice to go over my tea coupons, and slept in a warm king-sized bed in a hotel. I enjoy traveling as a broadening, eye-opening, and yes, joyful experience, but I am always aware that I am having a “holiday in other people’s misery” (Sex Pistols!). Aren’t we always.


  1. This is such an excellent post! It shines a light on so many aspects of stuff and our relationship with things and the world. Stuff as a medium for making memories and taking delight, a spectre through which to see daily comings and goings of our neighbourhood, a reminder of our good fortune and blessings… It also sounds as if you got more out of your mini break, with a holiday in a holiday, than many get out of a fortnight in some distant land!

    Soap coupons for tea… very wartime! In the early years of the war, you could use margarine coupons for clothes in some shops 😉 The rationing system was tough, based on meeting needs, but the authorities did understand psychology and the need to provide people with some flexibility, some choice. As awful as that time must have been and as scary as state control over everything was, I’m fascinated in how psychology and sociology concepts factored into policy decisions. A far cry from now with every governmental decision seemingly based on economics and ideology…

    1. I didn’t know that about the margarine coupons! I feel a little better about my rule bending 🙂 I also realized today that I paid coupons for the yarn that I made my coworker gift with — it’s all a bit of give and take in reality. As long as everything is recorded and thought about, it’s doing the job I hoped it would.

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