There's something special about getting on a 6:30AM flight after a night of insomnia.
I take photos out of the plane window to kill time. To my surpise, my iPhone's speedometer app and the compass app both work in flight. I watch the sun rise over the clouds, and am welcomed to Chicago by a limo driver who can't find me, nd eventually a traffic jam of such proportion that it took an hour to travel the 14.9 miles from O'Hare airport to The Loop, the downtown part of Chicago defined by its skyscrapers. My driver cheerfully informs me that this traffic jam to and from O'Hare is permanent.
I get to The University Club, a membership hotel to which my attorney's firm has access, and in which my attorney had thoughtfully reserved me a room, and even more thoughtfully arranged for an early check in, since I got to Chicago at 10am local time. The desk clerk, Cory, clearly disapproves of the way I am dressed, and snappishly informs me that my room was still "being prepared", despite the early check in, and that he will call me when the room is ready. I leave my bag with him and head out for coffee, savoring the legendary winter winds Chicago is famous for. A block or so and several minutes away from hypothermia and frostbite, I find a decent coffee shop and manage to kill an hour or so. Still no call from Cory, so I head back. Cory doesn't remember me, looks over my Maine wardrobe with obvious disdain, and snaps out a question, asking if I am a member there. I remind him that we've previously met. The room is still "not prepared". I go to sit in the lobby.
Cory snaps at me to remove my hat. I start to call my attorney to let him know what's going on, since I'm now running late for our meeting. Cory snaps at me that cell phone use is prohibited in the lobby. This whole episode is beginning to have a racist feel to it. I'm suddenly feeling like I'm wearing my finest Aryan Brotherhood T-shirt to a BLM rally. I ask Cory if there's someplace I can change so I can meet with my attorney. He glares at me, advising me that this is not a locker room, it is a hotel, implying that I should know the difference between the two. (My attorney later told me that the club actually does have a locker room for just such occasions.) I've had it. I'm anxiety ridden, exhausted, freezing cold, my wild oats have turned to shredded wheat, I'm done. I ask Cory for my bag, and after bringing out the wrong bags twice, finally delivers mine. Cory clearly suffers from acute onset amnesia -- repeatedly. This is deliberate. I leave.
I'm amazed to find that the Chicago windy goddamn artic blast is having the same effect on Siri as it does on my face and ears. Neither are working as they should. Just before dying with 18% battery life, she manages to blurt out "The Palmer House" after I ask her for the nearest hotel. The timing of her demise is classic. It's so cold that I can see my breath crystallize and fall to the ground like a mini blizzard. After asking two native Chicagoites directions to the Palmer House, then walking twelve blocks only to find that I have deliberately been steered in the wrong direction twice do I realize that my suspicions of racist undertones are slowly being confirmed. Thankfully, Siri sputters back to life and gets me to The Palmer House in the nick of time.
I'm now, thanks to Cory, running two hours late for my meeting. I get to my room and FINALLY have a chance to call my attorney while changing into something that Cory might have approved of. I get a text at 2pm from Cory informing me that my room is ready. Thanks, Bro. You Be Da Man.
The lobby of my attorney's office is a four story high overhead space, a masterpiece of engineering and architecture. Naturally, my reaction is to take a few photos of this magnificent construction before a security guard snaps at me that photography is prohibited. I look around and don't see any signs indicating this, nor notices on the doors, and point out their absence to her. "Cos I done jus' tol' you so'" apparently IS the sign. This constant feeling of passive-aggressive deliberately aimed racial anger is starting to feel like living in the Caribbean during vet school, and it's starting to piss me off. My attorney and I have our 4 hour meeting, I head back to the hotel, grab some sushi on the way, and pass out. The following day the deposition turns out to be as unpleasant as I expected. I turn out to be more unpleasant than they expected. It did not go well. For them. My attorney and I go out for a celebratory drink, part company, I head back to the hotel and decide to stop by the hotel bar. (slideshow below, click on the edges of the photos)
With the tunnel vision of anxiety and stress momentarily suspended, it's at about this moment that I realize the hotel I am staying in is a lovingly preserved anachronism, a reminder of a time when people took pride in their work, and a time when style, workmanship, and elegance were genuinely appreciated; a reminder of a time when our society was civilized. I kept taking photos from the bar of the ceiling and its details, in absolute awe of what I was looking at. I was sitting in what was once the main ballroom of the hotel.
I make my way back to the room and notice, for the first time, framed photographs lining the halls. They line every hall, and I'm on the 19th floor. You may or may not recognize some of these starts from a bygone age: Sid Caesar, Phyllis Diller, Red Skelton, Jack Benny, and the photos are all unique; none are duplicated. These are all the stars that stayed and performed at The Palmer House back in the 1950's and `1960's when Chicago, too, was in its heyday. The hotel is, in fact, a working museum. It is history carefully and lovingly preserved. Even the carpet is in the design of Peacock feathers.
I head into my room; the view leaves something to be desired, but that was the only complaint I had.
The next morning I go outside for a cigarette, since smoking is now illegal in any building within city limits. This kind of sucks, not only because it's freezing outside, but I worry about catching a stray bullet: Apparently people here are fond of shooting each other on a daily basis. That's when I notice this, which used to adorn the main entrance:
Despite the grandeur and beauty of my surroundings I've had enough city, stress, and racism to last me for a while, so I leave early for the airport. Good thing I signed up for United's alerts using their app, because (thank the gods) the flight is leaving on time. I get to the airport after another hour of Chicago's regularly scheduled and permanent traffic jam, and find that my Christmas surprises are arriving early:
Flight 4986 has been rescheduled to depart at 5:50 instead of 2:45. I check my phone. No notices from United. I head into security; TSA is always fun, and despite the frisking I got from a Brutha leaving a few bruises (not kidding), I'm looking forward to getting home and seeing the pack and Patrice and leaving this cesspool of racist, trigger happy idiots behind.
I kill some time by wandering around the airport, thinking about how generic all airports look, comparing that with what I'd just seen at The Palmer House, and how much our values have changed as a society in such a brief time. Apparently I love to torture myself and those around em with my endless observation and noting of the clinical signs that portend the imminent demise of our society. Seriously, there's a reason Patrice and I live surrounded by dogs in a forest, and this is it. There's a trio of musicians playing Christmas music on concourse B. They play magnificently. All jokes aside about watching three blondes fiddling around, this was one of the few good moments of the trip.
The plane finally boards a mere 5-1/2 hours late, and to my delight I enter an aircraft that United has apparently acquired second hand from Hobbit Air. Despite the fact that I've ridden in Toyotas that were larger, I seriously want to get home so badly I'd climb into an overhead compartment. I don't care that my knees keep hitting my nose when we encounter turbulence. I don't care that United's concession to our 5-1/2 delay is two Hobbit-sized bags of Hobbit-sized pretzels. I just want to get home.
We land at 11pm. It's 7 degrees out. That's not a typo. It's s-e-v-e-n degrees out. I decide to go back to the hotel I stayed in on the way out, and to my delight not only is the restaurant closed but there's a couple next door having an anniversary fight, but thankfully I manage to sleep for a full two hours before driving home.
Then I got home, and did this, and that's when the trip became a good one: