Lycra paired with the threat of civil unrest; biscuits and gravy paired with Black Sabbath… What more can Joseph Viney ask for as he continues his field trip in Chicago? Perhaps a doom-laden Presidential debate…
The temptation to leap out of bed, à la American Dad’s Stan Smith, and proclaim “Good morning, USA… I’ve got a feeling that it’s gonna be a wonderful day!” isn’t as strong as you’d expect. It is a good morning, and I do feel that it’s going to be a wonderful day, but the hangover from the previous night’s Moscow Mules just won’t quit.
I can’t say I’m jetlagged either; my body clock left GMT many years ago on a one-way ticket and has never displayed any inclination to return. No, the problem is self-inflicted and the cackling demon drink. You’ll find this to be a common theme in the ensuing reports.
A sunny Sunday morning in Chicago is the perfect setting for exploration and yes, yes — before you ask like so many others have — it was windy too.
Chicago to this newbie is deep-dish pizzas; that chase scene from the French Connection; the birthplace of the Smashing Pumpkins… Erm… And the name of that musical, I guess. It’s Sean Connery as Jimmy Malone in The Untouchables (1987), talking about sending one of their guys to the morgue because “IT’S THE CHICAGOOOO WAY!” It’s the Cubs and their – now lifted – curse that stopped them winning the World Series for 108 years.
The Chicago I actually see is dappled in sunlight; my car drifting through endlessly straight roads and avenues; past imposing, impressive yet oddly non-descript and vague skyscrapers; looking like they could house anything at all, serve any number of purposes. I gawp from the passenger side, eyes scanning the arterial Chicago River, azure as the sky, as talk radio blathers ceaselessly into my inattentive ears.
Breakfast in America is a necessary port of call, as well as a classic Supertramp album. Handlebar vegetarian restaurant and bar is just the place; the name (on first impressions, at least) alluding to the moustaches of the hipster-looking clientele that pack the place out.
Replete with bric-a-brac on the walls and tables in close proximity, it’s as jumping a place as you’d be surprised to find on an autumnal Sunday. I decide to go native, ordering the extremely American dish of Biscuits and Gravy. Rather than being Rich Tea and Bisto, as you may have feared, it’s more like scones in mulligatawny soup, but actually a lot nicer than that sounds. I quaffed limitless black coffee, revelled in the fact Handlebar was playing the entirety of Black Sabbath’s Master Of Reality, and made a note of just how many terrible facial piercings were in my line of sight. A good morning’s work.
Full of stomach and nerves jiving hard on caffeine, I made a break for the coastline and a long walk in the still rising sun. Many of the roads downtown were closed off for the Chicago Marathon, my day being transformed into a lycra-clad, tinfoil-blanket nightmare as we coasted slowly and uncertainly through the city streets.
The walk along the lakeside is serene and good use of my one-and-only full day in Chicago, before a long drive to Indiana later that evening. Skirting around the lake’s edge, it’s a ponderous stroll around the Shedd Aquarium and scaling over flood defences at the very tip of the shore. We pass roadblocks set up to divert the day’s marathon runners; constructed from hilariously large fire trucks and ominously militarised police vehicles. Civic pride mixed with the threat of civil unrest. It’s a heady cocktail.
Hitting the road again to edge further into the city, we visit the (as-fun-as-it-sounds) Occult Bookstore on North Milwaukee Avenue, with tomes that whisper of dark rumblings and the usual range of incense and trinkets; before retiring to a Russian bathhouse for another round of Moscow Mules. Who knew visiting the USA would be so Putin-centric?
Eventually, we decide to call it a day and I bid my farewell to Chicago and begin the five hour drive to Indiana: home of the Hoosiers (and Axl Rose). We zoom through the suburban outskirts: one storey houses, some with CLINTON/KAINE signs staked into the ground, others with TRUMP/PENCE. An unusual election with marked with the distinct feeling that no matter which side you picked, you still risked having your sign kicked down by an irate protestor.
That night was to be the second debate between the two candidates. Even as the dust settles on perhaps the biggest political upset in United States history, we weren’t to know that Trump’s words could have the potential to come true. It was scheduled to be a long, strange drive…