Tales of a
21st Century Gypsy

May 18, 2006.
Chicago at last!

Iíd been trying to visit Sharon for years. The first time, I was headed there for a work meeting, and we were looking forward to hanging out together. But that meeting was the third week in September, 2001, and there werenít even any flights out of Washington then, the airport was still closed after 9-11. Half of the folks at the meeting were coming from DC, and no one was ready to get on an airplane anyway. So the meeting was cancelled.

A year later, that meeting was rescheduled, again in Chicago. I wanted to go, but decided I couldnít take the time off from work. By then I had a real job, and those meetings had to come after my obligations to my own organization.

So I put Chicago on the map for my travels with Matilda, when I headed to Michigan in the summer of 2003. But Matilda broken down in the Upper Peninsula in early September, and I lost a week waiting for repairs. I had a destination and a schedule that month, Iowa for a Vanagon event in mid-September, so Chicago had to get crossed off the itinerary.

The next time was the following spring, as I headed back to Michigan for Buses by the Beach, with plans to drive slowly across the plains and meet my friend David in Boulder to visit Yellowstone in early June. Thatís when Matildaís engine blew in Indiana, and my four-day stop in Michigan became a two-week stop. David was on a schedule, and once Matilda was up and running I headed straight out I-80, going as fast as I could while breaking in a new engine. No stop in Chicago.

So it was with some trepidation that I had emailed Sharon once again to say I was putting Chicago in my plans. Terrorist attacks, too much work, engine blow-ups Ė I was sure I was tempting fate, asking for some new disaster to happen.

It didnít, though, and I actually spent a delightful five days in Chicago. Itís a great place. Sharon lives right in the middle of the city, in a highrise building overlooking Lake Michigan just north of downtown. So it was an easy matter to head out every day and explore, mostly on foot, though occasionally by bike or subway. Sharon is a born tour guide, and wanted to show me everything she loves in Chicago Ė architecture, art, galleries, museums, restaurants, parks. I was in the market for luggage,

which gave us an excuse to wander in and out of a lot of shops to scope out the options. We criss-crossed the Chicago River, taking photos of one hundred years of American architecture. We had lunch in the slightly faded elegance of the dining room on the top floor of Marshall Fields Ė a place I was reminded of a month later when I had breakfast in the dining room of the equally faded Soviet-era hotel where I stayed in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia. We found ourselves at a wonderful farmerís market shadowed by an immense sculpture, where we bought bread and cheese and fruit. We came by a hot dog festival, supposedly a competition for the best dogs in Chicago, but as it was run by one of the hot dog companies, we thought it might be a tad biased. But it was a fund-raiser for some worthy cause, so that was okay. We went to the Art Institute, where I managed to find a few of my favorite paintings Ė me and a lot of other people!

In the summer Sharon swims in the lake, but in mid-May the water was still a bit cold, so we passed on that pleasure. In a park alongside the lake, though, we had a great time examining the city reflected in The Bean, a work of sculpture whose creator gave it some more poetic name, only to finally concede when everyone in town persisted in calling it ďthe beanĒ instead. We didnít care what itís called, itís great fun!

On Wednesday we took off on our bikes and rode down to Hyde Park, where we gazed at the Robie House from the outside (we didnít have time to go in, Sharon had a conference call to get back for), and drank coffee at a great bakery. Thursday I set off by myself to Oak Park, where I saw a lot more Frank Lloyd Wright homes, and did go on the tour of his studio.

I could definitely live in Chicago, though of course Iíd face all the challenges I would face in New York Ė how to pay the rent, where to put my kayaks, my bicycle, Matilda, and my car. Itís a city after my own heart, though, a lively, densely populated, totally walkable place, with street life and character. A real pity more American cities arenít like that.

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