Surprisingly, Chicago turned out to be my kind of town. State Street is indeed, a great street. However, my arrival started off on shaky ground. From the airport, and following my host's detailed, but slightly confusing, instructions, I took the train. The train from O'Hare airport went straight into the CBD, but I was getting off at the Ashland stop and then cabbing a few blocks to West Chicago Ave. The cab driver was slightly put out that I was only going five blocks, but it was so hot there was no way I was going to walk. Not with my suitcase.
I arrived at the address my host had emailed me, and proceeded to knock on the door that opened straight into the street. No answer, so I rang the bell. No answer. Hmm. After several more loud knocks and receiving stares from passing people, I decided to enquire at the shop next door. As luck would have it, the owner of the shop turned out to be the landlord of the entire building including my host's apartment.
Imagine my surprise, swiftly replaced by a sense of despair, when he told me that Jenny, my host, had gone to Europe. I tried to convince him that he was entirely wrong because I had come all the way from New Zealand to stay with her. At this stage, I thought I should hint that I was one of Jenny's friends as opposed to a paying guest, because although I was becoming increasingly furious with her, I didn't want her kicked out of her apartment.
No, he was absolutely sure she had gone to Europe. What to do? The heat outside at midday was extremely hot, aided and abetted by an 80% humidity rate. The thought that I might have to start traipsing all over Chicago looking for new accommodation, depressed me. The landlord had the bright idea of ringing another tenant, Neli, who was a friend of Jenny's. He had to leave a message on her phone. I couldn't hang around his shop with my luggage, so I said I would go and have lunch and then come back to see if Neli had made contact. This was a solution for both of us as I could see he didn't want a strange woman lurking in his shop.
So I pulled up the handle on my suitcase, swung my handbag across my chest and walked into the dreadful heat. The café that had been suggested to me was about four hundred metres away. It was the longest four hundred metres I'd ever walked. The humidity was suffocating. I reside in Auckland so I know humidity, but this was way off the Auckland scale.
The people at Flo's café were extremely friendly and Flo took pity on me and put me in the back room where I had space to spread out. God, the air conditioning was beautiful. I spent a good hour there eating, drinking glasses of water and reading until I felt I should move on. So out into the heat again. There was hardly anyone on the streets, except one mad New Zealander; all sensible Chicagoans were being air conditioned. Trudge, trudge back to the landlord's shop, hoping beyond hope that Neli had returned his call.
Hallelujah! She had. Although Neli was still at work, she would be home in two hours time, and yes, Jenny had gone to Europe! Mr Landlord opened the door I had spent time knocking on earlier, and to my amazement and concern, steep stairs (twenty-five of them) led straight up to the first floor. How was I going to get my suitcase up them? My temporary landlord generously carried my (heavy) bag up the stairs, no mere feat for an elderly man in 32 degree heat. I found a chair in the long hallway that ran parallel to, and had a view of, the street where I sat, watched the ever increasing number of pedestrians, and read for two hours waiting for Neli.
Neli arrived and knew all about my coming. She told me Jenny had made an unplanned trip to Switzerland, something to do with an art show, and as Jenny was an artist that made some sort of sense. She was as surprised as I was that Jenny hadn't told me. Neli had the keys to Jenny's apartment and I could stay there as planned. So for the next five days I had an apartment to myself. It was an old building and the apartment had character at first glance. However at second and third glance, I could see electrical wires looping along the walls high up by the ceiling. Nevertheless, it was clean and kind of quaint and I was thankful for Jenny's trust.
Now that I had my sleeping arrangements sorted, Chicago waited to be explored. The apartment was twelve minutes by bus from the centre of the city. And what a city! I was impressed by the beautiful and varied designs and ages of the buildings, as well as by the streetscape - green parks, trees and sculptures. My intention on visiting Chicago was to listen to Chicago blues and see the famed city architecture. I took a guided tour of art deco buildings, and also took the train to the suburb of Oak Park to see some of the houses that Frank Lloyd Wright had designed in the studio that was also in Oak Park. The suburb was such a contrast with downtown Chicago - leafy oaks, gardens and beautiful, spacious, sumptuous, gorgeous houses. Overall, Chicago was quite a delightful place to visit and I was pleased I had done so. It is a city that has a lot of festivals; none of which were on when I was there. I had just missed the bluesfest but there are also many food festivals as well as music ones throughout the year. It is a place I would return to as five days wasn't long enough to see everything.
Buddy Guy is a well known bluesman and he owns a blues club in the south side of the city. After getting off the Loop (the train that goes around downtown), I walked several blocks and eventually caught up with four Americans who were also going to the club. One of the couples had been to New Zealand and absolutely loved it, so I didn't have to explain us at all. The food in the club was southern, the music wasn't as great as I had hoped, possibly it was an off night, but my four American dining companions were informative and very pleasant to be with.
After shopping at Macy's sale and walking as much of Chicago as I possibly could in the heat and humidity, I climbed aboard an overnight train to Memphis. We left Chicago at 8.30pm. My sleeping companions (across the tiny passageway) were a black* couple who were on their way to New Orleans to a Librarians' conference. We had lots of laughs together, especially when Greg told me the only New Zealanders he had ever met were an Air New Zealand crew in Los Angeles, and the party he attended in one of their hotel rooms, according to Greg, was sensational - lots of alcohol and a guitar. It was some sort of party! I told him that although I had a Kiwi reputation to live up to, my sleep was much more important. His wife was with me on that! We shared a table together in the dining car and talked about Obama's presidency, politics in general and racism. Lovely, lovely people.
Because the door on my compartment wouldn't close securely, I was shifted to another compartment, bigger and with a tiny, but very serviceable bathroom. So I arrived in Memphis at 6.20am, well rested and showered. Memphis - city of Elvis, Al Green, Otis Redding, Anne Peebles, Booker T and the MGs, BB King, BBQ ribs and the Mississippi river. Heaven; but it was as hot as Hell.
* You will note that I use the word`black' to describe African Americans. I do so after being told by many black people that that's what they would like to be known as.