Chicago, Day 1: Libertas Imperio

Tuesday morning started early for us. The plan had been for Sarah to pick me up at 3:00am; however, she texted me at 2:38 from the driveway to let me know that she was early. After those of you who know Sarah have picked yourselves up off the floor, you will be further interested to know that she had not only come early, but she had also brought me a coffee.

I KNOW. An auspicious beginning to the trip indeed!

After meeting up with the other choir nerd Robin and checking in seamlessly at the Palm Beach International Airport, we boarded on time and found our seats. Correction: Robin and Sarah found their seats. I found a seat that was supposed to be mine, but was already occupied by a thin, bookish-looking man. Upon comparing ticket stubs and finding that yes indeed, we had both been booked for 21D, we consulted a flight attendant, cheerfully chatting about our various travels while waiting for the situation to work itself out. At one point, I suggested that we share the seat by taking turns on alternating hours, but he said he would only agree to that arrangement were I to do my share of the work he had brought on the plane to do (internet marketing). Thankfully, the situation was resolved without such drastic measures.

When we arrived in Chicago, pale morning sunshine lit our way as I had the pleasure of inaugurating Robin and Sarah in the ways of big city public transit. (They later proved to be very apt pupils, with at least one of them taking the CTA later by herself.) Taking the Blue Line from O’Hare to a stop near our hotel, we chatted happily about music, our various studies, and teaching.

On the El

I had not known until the night before our flight that Sarah had booked us into a luxury hotel. Imagine our satisfaction at looking out over such a view:

The view from the 29th floor

Taking no more time than to dump our stuff in the room, we were back on the street and determined to snag some lunch before our first official scheduled activity in Chicago. Call them what you will: subs, hogies, grinders, --whatever you call them, they hit the spot.

Speaking of hitting the spot, we were a bit alarmed to notice caution signs around the city emblazoned with the warning: “Beware Falling Ice.” Apparently ice had fallen from a tall building the week before and killed a pedestrian. I saw fewer and fewer of these signs as the day went on, which initially I took to be an encouraging sign. Then I realized it was because they had all blown over.

Since the sun was still shining, we thought a walk through the parks would be in order. The expected photographic hi-jinks ensued.

O hai!

Chicago Jump!

Thanks to Sarah’s prodding, we had procured tickets for an exhibition of Eric Whitacre’s Paradise Lost Opera at the Auditorium Theatre.

Auditorium Theatre

I’d had no idea what to expect going into the performance. This turned out to be appropriate, as I am still not exactly sure what it was that we saw. It was, as one member of our group described, “A huge combination of all sorts of craziness.” The overlapping of wildly dissimilar musical styles was not unpleasant, and at times downright striking. No real description or evaluation will be made in this particular forum except to note (for purposes of later storytelling) that one particular actor—gifted tenor with an amazingly fabulous voice and decent acting chops—impressed me to no end.

Although we’d bought tickets for general admission, we had been able to snag a box seat. Immediately at the end of the play, I had the awesome privilege of watching a man in the box next to ours fall backwards out of his box. No no, don’t be alarmed—he did not fall over the railing of the box and plummet to the floor. Instead he stepped backwards too far toward the exit without realizing there was a step down immediately behind him. He fell silently and gently, almost in slow motion, actually grabbing onto and taking a chair with him through the curtain which separated his box from the hallway. All of this and not one member of his party noticed what was happening because he never made a sound! Outstanding.

Out on the street in front of the theatre, we debated the best use of the few hours of available remaining daylight. Sarah and Robin would need to check in for their conference later in the evening, but before that, we decided to walk to the Willis (formerly Sears) tower, as one member of this group desired to see the building with her own eyes.

While on our walk up Jackson toward Willis Tower, Sarah opened the map to check our time/space orientation, and even though the map was not up by her face, she still did not see that I had stopped on the sidewalk just ahead of her to look at the name of the building across the street. I’m sure you’ll have no trouble whatsoever picturing the end result: Sarah plowed straight into me. Just another magical moment on the streets of Chicago.

Shortly thereafter, at my insistence, we picked up the CTA Brown Line and rode it around the loop to get a low-flying-bird’s eye view of inner Chicago. It was during this time that we saw our first public transport altercation. I was too far away to know what was happening (also I was zoning out) but Sarah filled me in later: apparently there was some girl blocking the doors from closing; however she seemed to be equally adamantly opposed to getting out as she was to listening to the encouragement of fellow passengers who desired her to get out. As this sounds like a magical moment, I am almost sorry I missed it. However, I was having such an amazing daydream—about a hot serving of chicken noodle soup in a bread bowl—that I’m not actually that sorry.

While riding the Brown Line, I also fantasized about an event that had taken place shortly after the Paradise Lost Opera—one that I would hopefully do differently if I had the chance to go back and do it again. I mentioned previously how impressed we all were with the tenor who had sung one of the roles in the opera. Well it just so happened that as we were wandering near the theater district later in the day that I saw him walking towards us on the sidewalk. He was wearing a long grey coat, had a grey beanie pulled down over his forehead, and was pulling a suitcase behind him. As we were directly in one another’s paths, it is not surprising that we should lock eyes. (What could be more natural?) Everything went into slow motion. Music may have played in my head at that time, but it’s hard to remember now, it’s all a blur.

I found myself faced with a conundrum: I needed to let him know just how impressed I had been with his performance without either annoying him or slowing him down. I settled on smiling like the Cheshire cat and displaying what my sister sometimes refers to as my Crazy Eyes. Not surprisingly, he almost immediately broke eye contact by looking resolutely down at the sidewalk and picked up his pace noticeably. In nanoseconds, we were past one another.

And so he walked out of my life... forever.

So you will understand when I tell you that riding the Brown Line around the city turned out to be less of a sightseeing adventure and more of a chance for introspection on the part of this writer. After all, there was a massive brain fart to rehash and chicken soup in a bread bowl to pine after.
I shall draw a veil over the 45-minutes I spent in the lobby of the Hilton waiting for my two music nerd friends to get their conference schedules sorted. Sufficed to say, the people watching was excellent. This also proved to be an excellent time to text bomb some local friends with whom I was hoping to meet up later in the week.

As soon as Sarah, Robin, and I had met back up, we grabbed dinner, walked in circles trying to pinpoint the location of our desired bus stop, and at long last stumbled back to the hotel for a night of sweet, blissful sleep. And as between the three of us there had only been perhaps a total of four or five hours combined sleep the night before, we knew it was high time to snuggle down and get some rest. The next day would bring another day in Chicago, and none of us knew what the day would have in store.

Washington and State

Click through HERE for more pictures from the trip.


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