Day 9 – Chicago, Chicago

Sean’s Journal: Good morning, Dad and Vince. I have been excited to see Chicago. It’s the third largest U.S. city. I know something of its history, which is why I’m surprised that we don’t hear as much about it compared to San Francisco, Houston, and Atlanta for instance. What we hear are stories of urban poverty and crime. I found a good place to park my truck for the day outside the city limits. I grabbed my day pack and took the train into the city so I could skip the traffic and enjoy just walking around the downtown area and lake front. From my studies, I know that Chicago is a world within a city. I’m glad it’s summer and good weather. It is warm and a little humid here, given the proximity of the lake I’m sure. However, the nice breeze coming off the lake does compensate.

Chicago: The Chicago River, the DuSable Bridge, Wacker Drive, and Lake Michigan

The Chicago suburbs are “the suburbs.” It would take weeks to explore these. My impression of downtown is two words: stunning and grand. The old skyscrapers are some of the most beautiful I’ve seen and there’s the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) that everybody recognizes. Then, there’s the Chicago River that runs right through the middle of the city and connects with Lake Michigan. It’s spectacular. The lake front is a great place to stroll and people watch. I think the most serious interviewing of my journey will have started here. I’d need an addendum to Day 9 to report on everything. I’ll just keep handwritten notes and not burden the blog with all the details.  Here are some general highlights of today’s interviews with Chicagoans:

Presidents: They are proud of two presidents, in particular, who were “from Illinois” when elected president: Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama. Interesting coincidence, I think. President and First Lady Obama’s former residence in Chicago is significant for them. They are also proud to acknowledge that Ronald Reagan was born in Illinois. Other presidents lived here at some time in their lives.  

The Food and Much More: Most Chicagoans are very proud of their city and love the access to Lake Michigan and the downtown area. They love their legendary food. I couldn’t afford most of it, but I did get pizza and a Chicago dog. Both are “to die for.” The dog is a salad on a bun. Chicago pizza makes that of fast food chains seem like a gastronomic rip-off.

The City’s Image: The local people echoed my puzzlement about how Chicago is often portrayed these days. They’re tired of hearing news stories that focus on the city’s politics and the crime. The city’s parks, museums, theatrical venues, and waterfront attractions are remarkable. They point to the importance of Chicago during the westward settlement of North America. From the cowboy movies I’ve watched, I figured that all the beef cattle raised in America ended up here. Chicago is the continental midpoint for many things. It is historically America’s most important railway hub and a strategic port for Great Lakes shipping. It is a mighty city.    

Vince’s Response: I had the same reaction the first time I visited downtown Chicago. My work with three very important clients took me there: one of America’s prominent pharmaceutical companies and two major departments of the Illinois state government. I would need an addendum of my own to tell these stories. What sticks most in my mind is our family’s brief stop at the awesome Union Station.

I mentioned earlier that we had been living in Massachusetts from 1973 to 1981 when we ultimately decided it was time to take our family back to Utah to be near family and the wide-open spaces that I love. We bid a fond farewell to New England. If the famous singer, Tony Bennett, left his heart in San Francisco, I have discovered that I left my heart in New England. We had a most family-friendly home on top of a hill in Marlboro, Massachusetts. The yard was filled with large oak trees and backed up to the state forest. It was a magical place for our kids and a great home for our favorite pet dog, Smokey. Leaving him behind to head for the Amtrak station in Framingham, Massachusetts, in 1981 was a tearful experience.

Each of our children put a week’s worth of clothing and a few precious personal items in a backpack. We hopped into our dear friend, Pat’s, car and headed for the railway station. I remember our six (the first of eight) young children standing in line on the platform getting ready to board the train and spend the next three days whizzing and rumbling across our beautiful country. I remember three things about the train ride itself. It was a challenge to get six young children to sleep each night in their reclining seats. During the day, they loved to run up and down the aisle to the snack bar, with our permission mostly. And, what a cultural experience it was at each train stop along the way to see the doors open and a sea of humanity pour through. It was a delightful education for our suburban, Anglo kids to have people of such diverse backgrounds join and mingle with us as fellow travelers. It is important for me to note how friendly nearly everyone was back in those early 1980’s.

Then came the moment when we arrived in downtown Chicago. We got off the train and wandered through the impressive central hall of the Union Station. Our children were awestruck. We went outside and took a family stroll to the Willis Tower so the children could look up, up, up at the tallest building they had ever seen. I remember we had a good lunch somewhere and the children enjoyed stretching their legs. What a wonderful moment. 

Sean, I love your positive reactions to Chicago and the summary of your interviews. Most of us know very little about our fellow Americans who come from such varied backgrounds and who live in such diverse circumstances. From the rich in their downtown Chicago penthouses to the poor in the older neighborhoods, there is such a contrast of human conditions. Life’s an adventure. God bless us all. Sean, I know your next major destination is the Detroit area where our young family lived right after college. That’ll be exciting for us both. I might have to convince you to spend a couple of days in Michigan. Our interim texts help us coordinate. Thanks. And, hello to your dad. “Hi Aaron.”     

Bookends: (1) Take the train when you can—local or Amtrak. (2) I think Lincoln and Obama would agree that the availability of great pizza is an egalitarian thing. (3)  Everybody, put a trip to Chicago on your bucket list.