On a whim I decided to spend the past two days in the land of blues, jazz, Bears, nearly-Broadway-esque theater, and a very tall tower: Chicago. Even though Beloit is only two hours away from the city, the $50 bus ride just about doubles that divide for your average college student. Nevertheless, my need to see people outside of the 1,200 I normally see on campus was greater than the economic pangs of guilt when I gave the digits on my credit card up to the internet payment system.
I arrived in the city to the greyest skies I’ve seen in the Midwest since I left last May. It was also the coldest sky. Thus said, I did not head inside the nearest building. I chose to wander, forgetting that wandering in Wisconsin or New Hampshire is different from wandering most everywhere else. When you wander in Wisconsin, you can walk at your own leisurely pace, eventually coming across a corn field or a river in which case you probably turn around and head back to where you started. Since it’s so flat, you can usually see where you started anyways. New Hampshire is similar except you probably stop wandering at the top of a mountain where you can also see back to where you started. When you wander in Chicago, the massive storefronts, business skyscrapers, government halls, and tenements effectively prevent both these navigation techniques. When you’re a country person in the city, you’re like a rat in a maze that’s lost its sense of smell. You know the comforting, delicious niblet of cheese is out there, but you are completely unsure of how to get to it. Your confusion is compounded by the fact that there are hundreds or thousands of other rats whose olfactory organs work perfectly well and are rapidly tracking down their respective cheesy rewards.
This is why my wandering turned into getting lost and sadly eating a soggy peanut butter and jelly by Lake Michigan. Between me and the lake was Lake Shore Drive which prevented the deep and rejuvenating connection lakes and I usually have. After looking at my map (best idea ever!), I discovered how close I was to the Museum of Contemporary Art. Joy of joys, I backtracked and found my safe haven for the afternoon. The museum is small, but I went through it slowly, even taking a tour of the newest gallery featuring Paul Sietsima‘s work exploring the ideas of representation and re-sanctifying the process of image production. Other favorites included José Lerma‘s painted carpet which you could walk on in little white booties, and a performance art piece where partners Stan Shellabarger and Dutes Miller sat in chairs facing each other and proceeded to knit a long pink tube which filled and connected the floor between them.
Following my jaunt at the museum, I turned back out in the cold to take a brisk walk down Michigan Avenue, one of the main shopping thoroughfare of downtown. Accidentally making eye contact with too many men selling things, I found the experience a little unsettling as I had to keep turning down offers for Christian brochures and a lot of things I just didn’t understand in my hurry further down the street. Anxious and exciting, the rush always pushed me onward. I eventually got on the train after a navigation pitstop at the Chicago Public Library (eight floors of wisdom) to head toward Pilsen, the Mexican neighborhood where I was to spend the night at the Pilsen Art House hostel.
Following the neatly printed directions from their website, the Art House was only two blocks from the train. I was certain I had arrived at the place when I found a teal door with “This must be the place” painted on it. Thank you Pilsen Art House for understanding the plight of city-virgins everywhere. Three times taller than it was wide, the hostel was quaint, cozy, and lived up to its name. The walls were painted an array of colors with bold murals and paintings hanging in the crannies of open wall space. My host, introduced me to my room, officially titled the “Backpacker Room,” but affectionately called “The Cupboard Under the Stairs.” If you can imagine the a dark, windowless, amazing place for a short girl to hole up or the night, this was it. In the kitchen I ate a dinner of leftover Chinese food offered to me by a New York beauty aesthetician and then curled up in the Cupboard for a dreamless night’s sleep.
*More to come about Thursday’s adventure in the city!