When I lived in Massachusetts and had a different position in my company, I used to travel three times a year. Once to Atlanta and twice to NYC. These trips were just a few days, and sometimes the New York trips were only (very long) day trips. When I moved to California a little over eight years ago, I took a few short business trips, but then I switched jobs. The pandemic followed and it seemed like I’d never go anywhere again.
A couple of months ago, I learned I’d be accompanying several coworkers (most of whom I’d never met in person) for a two to three week stay in Chicago. I’ve been really excited about this opportunity and the chance to visit a place I’ve never been before (outside of a writers’ conference sixteen years ago when there was a blizzard and I never left the hotel). Ryan has not been as excited about this trip as he’s a worrier and is used to having me home, but he’s with Ivy, Trevor, little Trevie and the pets, so I know he’ll be just fine. I missed spending Halloween with them so am adding some pictures so your heart can be warmed along with mine.
It’s been years since I’ve spent this much time alone. Granted on weekdays from about 7:30 in the morning until dinnertime I’m around work friends, and longer some days if we have dinner together. Once I’m back here though, in my hotel room, I feel the full impact of how high energy my brain is. Usually at home I’m with family, cooking, cleaning, playing with the baby, chatting with Ryan, Ivy, and Trevor, oil painting until I’m exhausted, then watching Netflix until I can’t keep my eyes open. But here, there’s just…so much time after work.
Knowing oil painting was out of the question, I brought a set of watercolor paints with me; and when I first arrived to the gorgeous Palmer House hotel I watched several YouTube videos to learn about the process. Since I don’t have formal art training outside of two months of classes, and meander among a lot of different painting styles when I’m working with oils, I quickly grew tired of all the “rules” around watercolors and decided to just do what felt right.
Here are the paintings done since I got here, except two. One I threw away and one I forgot to photograph before I gave it to a coworker. I find watercolors are easier, and quicker because of the drying time. They don’t allow the level of detail of oils and lack the physical thickness and texture but it’s keeping my mind busy. It’s still hard sleeping though because without my family here, my mind is more restless than ever,
I could go home on weekends as most people are, but it’s so far and with the time difference, it’s more work than it’s worth to have one day at home and the rest travel. I chose to stay and do some tourist things on the weekends. This weekend I planned a trip to the Art Institute and an architectural tour. Next weekend I’m seeing a magic show at my hotel and taking a deep dish pizza making class. There’s plenty to do here.
The first few days, I was nervous about venturing out because all I ever hear about Chicago is how dangerous it is. I arrived here on the 30th and the next day there was a drive by shooting about five miles from here. Fourteen people shot, including some children out celebrating Halloween. Still though, where I’m staying and where the office is located is a nice area compared to where that shooting was, so I’ve been told. During the week, whenever I go out I’m with coworkers unless it’s to run across the street to Target or for pizza. So I was feeling maybe it’s just fine here, and okay to explore a bit.
After work on Friday I power walked all over the place, partially because I got turned around and the GPS made it worse. I kept walking and ending up in the same place not far from my office or hotel but not quite sure where I was. On the upside, I’m averaging about five miles a day of walking both from getting lost and going places, with and without coworkers.
Yesterday I went to the Art Institute (which was very pleasant) and then to see Lake Michigan which is only a block from there and just a short walk from my hotel.
On the way home, after a video call with my mother to show her Lake Michigan and the rainy, stormy weather day, I had a jarring experience. I had to cross several lanes of the road, with an island in between. I had the walk signal and crossed the first area. I headed to the next short stretch and a black SUV came from the road on my left and headed straight into the oncoming (but stopped) cars on my right. The car drove up on the curb, blocking one lane of the cars, and two officers wearing black jumped from the car, drew their guns and headed for a white SUV two cars back, still stopped at the light. It was so fast it was hard to register what was going on. The female officer yelled to her partner, “That’s him!” At that point I hurried across the rest of my crosswalk journey, in front of the police vehicle on the curb and got as far away as I could. Then I turned to watch as the cops ran to both sides of the white car, guns pointed at the driver. “Get out of the vehicle!” they shouted.
The cop on the passenger side banged the car window with the gun, trying to break it I guess. You’d think the driver of the white car would have no choice but to get out, or shoot, or get shot, but somehow he got his car out of the lane, over the curb, probably less than fifty feet from where I’d run to, and sped away down the street I was standing on. This was the “nice, safe” street mere blocks from my upscale hotel. The cops then jumped in their car and went after him. Sirens blared from all directions and within a minute or two all the cars that were waiting at the light went about their business.
I was rattled to say the least. If the driver hadn’t been able to get his car free surely there would have been shots fired or at least a violent struggle until the police pinned him down, or he wriggled away, maybe in my direction. After that I went back to the room and stayed inside until later, when I went across the street to Subway, for takeout. I later got dinner (salad) in the hotel lobby and spent a couple of hours having nice conversation with three older siblings from upstate New York who were in town for a funeral. It was a nice diversion.
This violent scene that happened in what felt like less than two minutes start to finish reminded me how much I like my safe little suburb. Violence and crime can happen anywhere, but here, even in this seemingly safe section of town, the sirens are constant. The hotel staff assured me it was safe but “Don’t go out at night alone, hold your phone tight, keep your purse close…”
The cashiers in the stores I visited, for the most part, don’t make eye contact, don’t smile, certainly don’t make small talk. Maybe because it’s chilly out or because it’s a city and not a suburb. I’ve had some nice conversations with strangers since I’ve been here but they were hotel guests from somewhere else not the residents. Is everyone scared, afraid to engage? Am I just too chill now? Too California? Just not used to true urban culture where people want to keep to themselves? After my experience yesterday I kind of get it.
Today it was an hour earlier because of the time change. The buildings from the view in my room were showered in pink light. I quietly snuck down the hall in my comfy PJs to the window that faces the lake. It was a magical start to the day.
I took a 90 minute architectural tour of the city on a riverboat which was nice, and I tried not to dwell too much on yesterday’s almost shooting event, but I was a lot more cognizant of others as I walked.
I didn’t try to engage with people as I passed. They didn’t try to engage with me. I walked back from the tour and made my way to a lunch place, and then back to my room. Tomorrow my coworkers will be back and I’ll have people to walk with but I do feel a little guarded. I find myself walking closer to buildings than the street and not stopping to marvel at the pretty buildings or the Macy’s Christmas window decor. Ryan is always guarded with strangers, doesn’t really trust them, and rarely makes small talk with people on the street. He always locks the car and house doors, and worries about safety. I’ve always been the opposite, a hundred percent trusting everyone to do the right thing, and not seeing the world as a dangerous place or people as a threat. I’m certainly not saying that now I’ve changed over one incident but I can now see the benefit of being cautious and cognizant of one’s surroundings. A little caution isn’t a bad thing.
To visiting new places and navigating the waters,