I didn’t include Chicago in my original itinerary, but it turned out to be one of the most memorable cites I saw in the states.
The Kindness Of Strangers
In a world which is and always has been full of murder, lies, empires and general horror it can be easy to dismiss the entire human race as inherently evil. The good thing about travelling is that it opens your eyes to the good as well as the bad in people.
Take my Megabus trip from Nashville to Chicago for example. Firstly, I got to the bus station and asked a woman behind the counter where the Megabus stop was, and she told me to go to a different area. I went in completely the wrong direction and ended up going down an escalator into a slightly dodgy car park, and the woman literally chased after me and took me to the right place.
Then when I was on the bus the professor-type woman sitting next to me randomly gave me half of her breakfast bar for literally no reason. These are small, ultimately inconsequential examples, but I was surprised how much good I saw in America.
Earphoria Musicians Commune, Logan Avenue
Everyone told me that the hostel scene in the USA is basically non-existent, but that’s really not true. There are some amazing hostels in the states which are as good (if not better) than the ones you’d find in Europe, but they tend to be significantly more expensive.
After my recent success with the Airbnb style hostel in Nashville, I decided to try and find somewhere similar in Chicago. Unfortunately, I left my planning till very late (as in literally the day before) and most of the places were already full up. I ended up booking Earphoria, which is a communal house just off Logan Avenue around seven minutes walk from the L line.
The house is designed specifically for travelling musicians. Some people only stay a few nights, some stay for several months, and some are permanent residents. Earphoria is a very welcoming, very accepting micro-community of musicians and like-minded people. This picture basically sums up the community ethos.
I slept in the basement/music room on one of the many sofas. Even though it wasn’t a real bed, it was still more comfortable than some of the hostels I’ve stayed in.
This was my first experience of staying in a commune and I have to say it exceeded my expectations. I met an array of interesting, insightful and creative people who opened my eyes to everything from the amazing dance with animation videos on America’s Got Talent to the gang problems in Chicago’s neighbourhoods.
Soulfire & Chi-Raq
I met a singer called Soulfire who showed me a film called Chi-Raq, an intelligent modern day satire based on the Aristophanes comedy Lysistrata. In the film, all the girlfriends withdraw sex until their husbands, boyfriends and ‘male acquaintances’ stop shooting each other.
It’s funny, witty and real and does not shy away from gun violence, gang warfare and the extremely high death rate in some of Chicago’s neighbourhoods. Soulfire is a really interesting woman with a beautiful voice and crazy rapping abilities. Take a look at her cover below.
One Day In Chicago
I only had one full day in Chicago, but I managed to fit a lot into those few short hours. Chicago has so much free stuff! I went to Millennium Park where there happened to be a free jazz concert, so I got to see a load of jazz performers and music-inspired stalls.
Cloud Gate (i.e. the bean) is really trippy on the inside.
There is a free tourist shuttle bus called the ‘Navy Pier Free Trolley’ which you can catch to various touristy parts of the city. It’s weird that no matter where you go in life you somehow end up coming across a replica of the London Eye.
I went to the free Chicago zoo to check out the bears, tigers, lions, gorillas, snakes etc. The conditions were better than I was expecting, but I do worry about the big cats not having enough room.
Why is it that whenever I see bears at the zoo they are always on their own? I don’t know how social bears are, but they must get lonely. I worked in a zoo for a year and I do believe that they are necessary in the world we have created, but it’s sad to see how much most of them still need to improve.
Lincoln Park is a really good place to take pictures of the Chicago skyline.
After that, I went back to Millennium Park for a night jazz concert under the sparkling skyscrapers.
I bought a beer for the concert, but unfortunately what I thought was a normal delicious beer turned out to be hoppy tomato juice.
It was seriously vile.
I also bought a real Chicago style deep dish pizza, and let me tell you that England has no idea what ‘deep dish’ actually is. Deep dish is not just a thick crust. It’s literally a pizza pie with a huge layer of cheese, hugged by four sides of wheat.
The Chicago subway system is so much better than what they have in New York. It’s easy to understand, it’s straightforward, and it’s pretty accessible. I wish I’d had more time in Chicago, but it was time to bid the commune, the pizza pies and the jazz music goodbye and fly over to Denver.