Make America great again? The first in a series of observations from his US road trip, Joseph Viney lands in Chicago: met by talk of the election, endless traffic, and a healthy amount of Moscow Mules…
The first person I speak to in Chicago O’Hare Airport – the first person I speak to on United States soil that isn’t holding my passport with sunglasses and officious suspicion – looks like Jurgen Klopp from a distance. More keenly, the red cap perched on his head looks intriguingly like one that may sport the slogan “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN”.
Indeed, the US Presidential election cycle has certainly got to this Englishman in New Yo… Erm… Illinois. I’m blaming the four beers I imbibed on the short connecting flight from Minneapolis. In my defence, it had been a long day. Perhaps thankfully, his cap is plain, advertising or promising nothing. As he asks me for a light, talk immediately and inevitably turns to the election anyway. It’s the way things are out here.
My temporary friend is voting Clinton – not out of choice but necessity – but his sentiments might not be echoed in his home town of Fort Wayne, Indiana; a state governed by Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, and one already brandishing a +11 lead in the polls against the former First Lady at the time of writing.
Eventually, we shake hands and he departs as I wait for my pick up. “Good luck!” he yells over his shoulder. I don’t have the heart to say it back.
The outside of O’Hare Terminal One is a microcosm of what I will discover Chicago to be; masses of traffic noise, the squall of people across the social spectrum, rattling railcars running roughshod over tracks in dire need of maintenance, and more cabs than you can shake a stick at. “It’s just like the movies…” I’ll say dumbly to myself, on more than occasion. There’s no shame in that. I am, after all, a tourist.
My pick-up arrives in due course, and any warm kerbside welcomes are cut off by the would-be traffic cop urging all and sundry to hurry up and get a move on. I can only stare out of the passenger window as our Toyota winds steadily around the concrete spaghetti junctions that lead to the overnight hotel on the outskirts of the city.
For early October, the air is particularly humid, aided and abetted by the masses of traffic zooming in every which direction. 20 hours of travel time – you pay cheap, you fly like hell – is finally catching up and I let my eyelids feel as heavy as the orange sun setting over acres of farmland and rusting machinery that lies a way off the highway.
The Radisson is surrounded by a manner of fast food joints and carbon-copy diners that either never made it to our shores outside of London (sigh), or don’t particularly need to. Steak ‘n Shake, Sonic, Denny’s, Arby’s… The list is actually almost endless. All promise slow, arterial clogging under the warm glow of neon lights. You wouldn’t want it any other way.
Out through dizzyingly carpeted hallways, past ice machines, and through a seemingly infinite car park, we settle on a steak house where I eschew the concept of eating and plump for imbibing enough Moscow Mules to – fittingly – knock a donkey out. Land of the free, home of the brave, and all that.
I retire to my impossibly tucked-in hotel bed with a spinning, exhausted brain, CNN in the background, and the surprisingly soothing sound of what seems like every vehicle in the United States screaming past my window. A light breeze filters through an open window, a reminder that I’ll be taking on the Windy City itself in the morning.