Who would visit Chicago in the middle of winter?
There are plenty of reasons to visit Chicago, but the spark that inspired this particular trip was wanting to see our beloved former rector and to visit his new church in the Rogers Park area. But why in January? Let's just say that an expiring Southwest Airlines ticket had something to do with it.
Because of the pandemic, we were able to get a great deal at the beautiful Palmer House hotel in downtown Chicago, the place where Porter had lived back when he was working in the city and IBM was paying the bills. Being able to get tickets for a baroque concert by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with Riccardo Muti sealed the deal.
Lo and behold, there were two intrepid women from our church choir who chose to brave the weather and take advantage of Porter's travel-planning skills. Our thirteen-year-old niece from New Hampshire—who fears neither cold weather nor solo travelling—also chose to join us. We made a happy and compatible quintet for the adventure.
After meeting up at Midway Airport, we took the L downtown, being thankful for Porter's previous experience with the system. That trip began with a humbling experience for me. I had not yet learned that Chicago L drivers are prone to leaving their stations with substantial lurches and no regard for whether or not their passengers have actually found a seat. I was in the process of moving into one when suddenly I found myself flat on my back in the aisle. I consider my balance to be very good, and actually practice recovering from such jerking about when I can. In this case, however, I had neglected to take into consideration that the substantial backpack-suitcase I was carrying had altered my center of gravity. Boom—there I was, as helpless as a turtle and in noticeable pain. My fellow passengers came to my rescue, and very soon the physical pain was much less obvious than the embarrassment. I blessed our thrice-weekly water aerobics classes with their emphasis on strengthening exactly those muscles that had sprung immediately into play to protect my spine. It turned out to be two weeks before those muscles fully recovered, but outside of a little stiffness, the injury gave me no problems the rest of our trip.
Checking into the Palmer House went smoothly—almost. That's when I ran into a problem of a different sort: a crisis of conscience. We had been warned to bring masks and vaccination certificates with us, but were still shocked at the reality that met us in Chicago.
We could have gone straight to our rooms without showing our cards, but that was all. Attempting to sit in the lobby and talk while waiting for our restaurant reservation time provoked an immediate response from a lurking vulture hotel official, who demanded our papers and, after closely scrutinizing them, branded us with a wristband like those you get at some amusement parks. I was not amused. To begin with, I hate those things. I don't wear necklaces, bracelets, or any ring except for my wedding ring; frankly, that kind of constriction Freaks. Me. Out. I hope I never have to break the law, because I will not do well with handcuffs.
But that's just me; it has nothing to do with my conscience. That comes in because I strongly believe that the division of society into Vaccinated and Unvaccinated, along with discrimination against the latter, is immoral. I like to think that in Nazi Germany I would have been among the brave gentile German citizens who chose to wear the yellow star to demonstrate solidarity with their Jewish brothers. But in this case, I caved.
After about five minutes of torment trying to find a way out of the wrist band, I decided to pretend I had entered a foreign country, instead of another American city. After all, when we visited the Gambia I wore a long skirt every time I went out in public, out of respect for the local customs. And I never wear skirts. Foreign cultures often make one do things that seem unreasonable. Armed with that insight, I was able to manage the rest of the trip, even though everywhere else we went, with the notable exception of church, public transit, and outdoor spaces, required us to show our papers (proof of vaccination and photo ID). Porter found the experience unnervingly similar to his visit to East Berlin in the 1960's.
That's enough about the bad part. In all other ways, our Chicago experience was fantastic! (More to come.)