Some thoughts on my visit to Chicago, then. I’ll write it up properly at some point, I’m sure (maybe not, actually).
– It really is windy, all the time. The wind is fierce near Lake Michigan, in a kind of unrelenting blast that is unlike any wind I’ve ever felt. It’s mesmerising, until your eyes run and you can feel your fingers anymore. All the time though, it’s there: open a map and it will blow back into your face, just on the street.
– They’ve built massive four lane freeway right down most of the prime lake shore front. The shore path itself, much touted, is crumbling re-inforced concrete that in parts is difficult to walk on. It hasn’t been kept very well at all. It’s hard to get to – three public subways for about 20 blocks worth north/south. As you walk down this AMAZING lakefront, all you can hear is CARS CARS CARS unless you have headphones in.
– Chicago has loads of prime river front, but the bank-level ‘River Walk’ actually makes you do the little bits one bit a time, climbing stairs to get back up to street level, cross the road, and then get back to river level. So that too is a bit rubbish.
– Navy Pier is rammed full of tourist sh1t and very little else. It is the most visited tourist attraction in the State of Illinois. Visit it for some sad pre-made churros rotating under a light and a $6 Haagen Dazs milkshake.
– The John Hancock building is iconic in a way the Willis Tower isn’t. It dominates for miles around. When you run down Lake Shore Drive towards the city, it’s all you can see.
– Deep Dish Pizza is basically quiche without the egg. It’s like eating a brick of pastry and cheese.
– The bottled water is weird – you can get Evian, Perrier and San Pelligrano fairly cheap ($1.50/500ml) but they have all this weird Dasani-esque purified ionic water with added vitamins ‘for flavour’ (I sh1t ye not). All of it is nearly $2 a bottle.
– Even the Tropicana Orange juice (from concentrate) has ‘natural flavours not from original juice’ (that is, more orangey than orange juice). I couldn’t believe it either. I found a $5 300ml bottle of pomegranate juice but even that was from concentrate. You can buy cheese (US and foreign) in ‘cubes’.
– Duty Free Smirnoff Red and Black in US airports is sometimes brewed in the US Smirnoff plants. Which kind of … defeats the object of ‘Russian’ vodka. But explains why THREE LITRES was $19.
– Anyone in the service industry (waiters aside) will mostly likely be coloured. It’s finely gradated: they have, for instance, in some restaurants, Mexican/Black guys who fill your water and white guys who come and take your order. Don’t ask the water guy for a fork – he will just refuse to pass on the request. Hotel Doormen will be black or Hispanic. If you see a beggar, they will be, 90% of the time, be black. Head down into the EL and the demographic shifts immediately too, in a way that it doesn’t on say, the Tube (even downtown, say Grand Station on the Red Line, which would be, say, Embankment for us).
– People in Chicago are WAY, WAY more polite than in New York. If some one gets in your way, they will almost always apologise, even if it wasn’t their fault. You can instantly tell the tourists from out of state because they are the ones who expect you to press the lift buttons for them because you are Indian.
– Beers are around $5-$6 on draft, which makes them around $4 for 0.5l after sales tax. Maybe this was just Downtown. I felt sad at that fact.
– It’s very hard to find a curry house in Central Chicago. The best (most satisfying) meal I had was probably a take out chicken shisk kebab in a pitta.
– People in American art museums don’t mind talking VERY loudly about the art to a) themselves b) their partners c) their children. One whole family was loudly popping gum in unison at the Modern Art Museum whilst watching a video on the history of Chicago which doesn’t dwell too long on how the land was stolen/repurposed from the Native Indians.
– I saw once Chinese guy (tourist, local, out of towner, who knows) lean on and then tap a pricless Rodin sculpture. I rebuked him. He didn’t give a sh1t and went back to pushing the pram they’d loaded with bags instead of using the cloakroom like everybody else had to.
– One universal – people would rather take a shitty picture of a priceless work of art on their mobile phone than stand and actually LOOK at it, and then buy a high quality repro, should they like it. This happens in all art galleries, around the world, especially the Louvre.
– No one was that fussed by ‘Nighthawks’. At the Tate Modern, you couldn’t get close to it. Everyone wanted to look at the ‘Ferris Bueller’ picture (including me).
– Grant Park and Millennium Park are a bit rubbish really. The Buckingham Fountain is turned off when it’s off-season, which is a bit naff.