This past weekend, I did something crazy and fun. My friend Angela and I flew to Chicago on a last-minute package deal. As it turns out, we spent the majority of our weekend using various forms of mass transit, but we still had a great time.
We flew out of Love Field in Dallas on Friday evening. It was my first time flying out of that little regional airport, and I loved the local flavor. We were delighted with the thick southern accents, so much more pronounced than what you hear at the larger D/FW airport just a few miles to the west.
What we did not love was the tiny plane, little more than a puddle jumper. We shared a bit of wine to take the edge off, and we actually held hands during the bumpy landing at O'Hare. I loved it that for once I had some company in my usual hand-wringing. Despite our fear, we jabbered the entire two hours; it was great!
We stayed at a modest Holiday Inn Express right by the Midway Airport. (I do realize that it is crazy to fly into O'Hare and stay by Midway, but it was the cheapest hotel/flight deal I could find.) The room was adequate and seemed pretty quiet, at least at the time. We lay on our queen beds and talked until we couldn't keep our eyes open.
A Rude Awakening
The plan was to wake up at 8:00, have breakfast, and head into downtown, which was only 8 miles away. As it turned out, we woke up MUCH earlier. I was startled awake at 4:00 A.M. when I heard a woman's muted scream. "What was that?" I wondered. Surely it couldn't be... oh, yes. It was! I was listening to some very passionate loving. It literally sounded like the famous scene in When Harry Met Sally. But who would have sex at 4:00 in the morning? A prostitute? (It wasn't THAT cheap of a hotel!) Maybe her husband was shipping off to Iraq on an early plane, and this was their goodbye? Whatever the reason, the amorous sounds became very annoying as time drug by. At 4:20, the heater came on and masked the noise so I could fall back asleep.
At the time, I was dying to know if Angela was awake because I wanted to laugh my head off. But just in case she was lucky enough to sleep through it, I didn't want to risk waking her. Well, when the alarm went off at 8:00, the first words out of her mouth were, "Did you hear that woman??" Then we had our good laugh. We went through all the possible scenarios, and we decided that the woman and her lover must have been out all night and were just then coming to bed. We joked about the experience throughout the weekend; we just had this junior-high fascination with the whole thing. We said we would play some Barry White for her through the wall if it happened again; maybe that would speed things along!
We had a surprisingly good free breakfast featuring hot cinnamon rolls. Well, Angela just had coffee, but I ate enough for both of us. It was a good thing, because we had quite a grueling day planned: trains, buses, taxis, and LOTS of walking. I was proud of my prior experience on the Chicago Transit Authority system, but it really didn't prove all that helpful.
Angry Subway Guy
We shuttled to the Orange Line at Midway and rode the elevated train into downtown. Within five minutes of getting on the L, we witnessed a scary interchange between Angry Subway Guy and a seemingly oblivious fellow traveler. Based on the angry young man's disjointed complaints, it seems he had offered cigarettes to the other young man and had been rebuffed and accused of "pushing." We studiously kept our eyes averted and inwardly prayed. The poor man was probably harmless, but it was pretty scary!
Over all, though, we were impressed by the kindness of strangers in Chicago. The CTA employees were most helpful, and many people along the way helped point us in the right direction. It really seemed that Chicago residents are more caring and solicitous than Dallas people. But then, we've never ridden mass transit in Dallas. (It's not nearly so convenient as Chicago's.)
We got off the L at the correct stop and then ran to catch the first bus we saw--which was headed the wrong way. We caught our mistake a few blocks down and got off, and then we walked back and caught the correct bus to Navy Pier. That bus was absolutely packed, and I found it very awkward to be standing right in front of strangers and lurching back and forth and practically falling on them. Each time the bus stopped, a large group of people would force their way on. I kept thinking there was no way anyone else could fit, but I was wrong. It ended up being as crowded as those clown cars at the circus.
The highlight of our visit to Navy Pier was seeing countless dogs in hilarious Halloween costumes. Our favorite was Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean, complete with dreadlocks and a triangular pirate's hat. There was a chihuahua in a hot dog bun, a Shih Tzu with a pointy princess hat and flowing gown, and a terrier in a black spandex body suit with a skeleton on it. Unfortunately, we had both forgotten our cameras, or we would have taken pictures of all of them. I bought an $11 throwaway camera and then only took a handful of pictures. I was hesitant to "waste" pictures since there were only 24 shots on the roll. And I hated not being able to see if each picture turned out well.
After a couple of hours, we hopped on the bus again to go shopping on the Magnificent Mile. I studied my crumpled CTA map and determined that we should get off at Michigan Avenue. This bus seemed even more crowded than the last, and we wondered how we would fight our way to the door. Angela was acutely uncomfortable because a rather smelly man was leaning way closer to her than seemed absolutely necessary.
Suddenly I noticed that we had passed Wabash, and that didn't seem right. How had we missed Michigan Avenue, I wondered aloud. A kind local explained that we had gone under Michigan, and we needed to get off immediately and walk back about three blocks. This was getting to be a pattern!
We did a bit of window shopping and bought some undies at Victoria's Secret. We went through a small art gallery in an old chapel, the same one we'd visited on our last Chicago trip five years ago. We just had time for a cup of hot chocolate before we hurried back to the hotel; we didn't want to violate the rule about traveling on mass transit without male protection after dark.
Pizza and Politics
I was so glad to get back to our modest, usually quiet room. I think Angela would have loved to go back downtown for dinner, but I was already starting to turn into a pumpkin. So we took a cab to nearby Giordano's and had some unbelievable deep dish pizza. We also had a glass of white wine, and that was fun. I'm not a drinker, so that one glass had me feeling a little tipsy. In fact, my legs felt sort of tingly. We ended up talking politics, a first for us, and the wine made us much more opinionated. We found ourselves pounding the table to emphasize our points! Between the two of us, we couldn't even finish half of the small pizza, though we gave it our best effort. Still, we couldn't resist ordering tiramisu to take back to the room. (We never did eat it, though.)
Two Hour, 28-Mile Commute
We started our trek back to O'Hare at 9:00 Sunday morning. We shuttled to Midway, rode the Orange Line into downtown, and wandered around until a kind woman pointed us to the Dearborn entrance to the Blue Line, which goes straight to O'Hare.
It all seemed pretty simple from that point, but what we didn't know was that the Blue Line was ending at Belmont, nine stops before O'Hare. We had to catch a shuttle to Montrose and then get back on the Blue Line to the airport. We had decided to find a cab at Belmont, but we allowed ourselves to be herded onto the waiting express bus instead. We ended up making it by 11:15, well over an hour before our flight. Then we teased each other about being so worried. I had been close to tears at one point, and I think Angela felt the same way.
I thought it was all worth it because our total cost for this commute was... (drum roll) $2.00. Yes, only $2.00. Isn't that marvelous? If we had it to do over, however, I think Angela might have splurged on a cab.
In any case, we had time for a sumptuous McDonald's lunch. After a short wait, we settled gratefully into our seats, thinking our adventure was finally coming to an end. But, as you may have guessed, there was just one more adventure in store.
One Last Adventure
Toward the end of our flight, a flight attendant handed Angela a folded sheet of note paper. It read, "To 16D... At the risk of making an a*s of myself, are you married? Do you live in Dallas? 6B." We were both astonished. We couldn't even catch a glimpse of the man because he was up in first class. I must admit that I felt just a teeny bit like chopped liver, but mostly I was proud of my gorgeous friend, who turns heads wherever we go. She was quite flattered and didn't know how to respond.
The flight attendant was so curious that he couldn't resist asking what was in the note. "I was a good mailman," he explained. "I didn't read it." Angela handed it over. "Will there be a response?" he asked. She said she needed a minute. "Should I ask if he has millions?" he asked. Angela said that would not be necessary.
She tore the sheet in half and wrote her answer in her beautiful, flowing script. "I must say I'm very flattered, and you've certainly made my day. I am not married, but am in a commited relationship. Thank you for your kind note. 16D."
Our hilarious flight attendant was waiting with bated breath. "What did you say?" he questioned. Again, Angela handed the sheet over. He smiled his approval and carried it up to 6B. We kept a watch for the rest of the flight, and he did get up once to let his adolescent daughter (we assumed she was his daughter) out of the row. It was like those tantalizing, annoying glimpses of the neighbor Wilson on Home Improvement. We saw a brief side view and a back view. I could see that his hair seemed puffy, sort of mushroomy. But he wasn't a bad-looking guy.
We had a nice, smooth landing, and Angela didn't even glance in the direction of the mysterious stranger because she was so intent on her impending reunion with Tim, who was meeting us at baggage claim, and whom she hadn't seen in nearly three weeks. I was hoping to witness a passionate airport kiss, maybe with a dip, but they just exchanged a hug and a perfunctory kiss. I think Tim is very proper, though Angela, to quote one of the Chicago cab drivers, is "the wild one." (We were mystified as to why he had characterized her as wild when both of us were wearing jeans, black jackets, and highlighted blonde bobs. She was a little offended by his remark, and so was I because it made me feel stodgy.)
Home At Last
Anyway, we enjoyed our girls' weekend (an entire weekend!) immensely, but we were so ready to be back home. I collapsed on the couch as soon as I got home and was snoozing momentarily, lulled by the soothing sounds of my family around me.
We'll have to have another girls' weekend, hopefully before another five years have passed. We're thinking a cruise might be nice--no mass transit involved! Anyone care to join us?