I had planned to visit the Second City for weeks. I left a note for my boss on the schedule that read, “ May I have January 26 off so I can go to Chicago? That would be sweet.” My wish was granted and I was set to tag along with Rad and Andrew who were presenting papers at a Latin American history conference.
In preparation, I crafted a felt Chi-Town mustache that I glued to a stick. I was planning to hold it under my nose at some key Chicago landmarks. My father has sported the famous walrus ‘stache for decades, so the felt replica I had stuffed into the side of my camera bag was made to exact specifications. I was envisioning a photo of me with my mustache and a deep dish pizza in front of the Sears Tower.
The night before our departure, we hopped the number 14 bus to the Lansing/Capital City Airport to secure a rental car. Snow fell steadily outside and the floor of the bus was caked with salt. The rear of the bus tended to slide as we rounded corners heading toward the airport.
The weather was deteriorating by the minute and what little surroundings I could see out the window were unfamiliar, so I asked the driver, “Which stop do we need to get to the airport?”
“The airport,” he sharply replied. I had the greatest confidence that this friendly CATA bus driver would ensure we got off at the correct location.
The 14 bus slid into the airport and we wandered into the deserted building looking for the rental counter. A couple security guards were flirting with the girl at the Budget counter. Enterprise refused to rent a vehicle to us because our credit card lacked sufficient funds. Good old Avis saved the day and came through with a Ford Focus. I have always been advised to never take the additional insurance, but this seemed like a special case.
“Did I mention I’m from Tampa?” I asked. I had no idea how to drive in winter precipitation conditions. We took the extra insurance.
Our compact chariot was parked outside and after a little clearing work with gloves and an inferior snow brush, we took off down the road for home so that we might catch a few Z’s before our pre-dawn journey around the bottom of Lake Michigan.
The next morning, everything was covered in a substantial layer of snow and flakes were still falling at a steady pace. It became clear that getting the Focus to Chicago intact might present a challenge. We picked up Andrew around 5 a.m. and headed for the interstate. As we approached overpasses and saw signs that read “BRIDGE MAY BE ICY,” we quickly realized what they really meant was “YOUR FORD FOCUS MAY RICOCHET OFF THE GUARDRAIL.” The car seemed completely disconnected from the pavement as we crossed each bridge. I believe the technical term is “squirrelly.”
You might think this is the part of the story where the Focus flew off the road and flipped six times. But the girl who grew up in Florida uneventfully navigated the snow-covered interstate without losing control. Did I mention my entire family is from Chicago? Maybe I inherited superior snow driving capabilities. Maybe it was Rad in the passenger seat sternly repeating, “Here comes a bridge, Mandy. Bridge. Bridge. Bridge.”
Andrew continuously checked the weather on his phone and my anxiety started to wane when he announced the radar looked like “a piece of cheese” and that we should start seeing some relief from the snow.
We reached the city after the sun came up and easily found Loyola University situated on the shore of Lake Michigan. So far, I had been unable to take any photographs on the trip due to the fact I was busy putting the death grip on the steering wheel for the past four hours, so I was enthusiastic about getting some photos of the Second City.
Instead, I spent the bulk of the day watching graduate students deliver papers that I could not comprehend. At some point, someone said something about Foucauldian Discourse Theory. I have no idea what that means. Like a child yearning to go outside and play, I was preoccupied with looking out the window at filthy chunks of ice bobbing in the lake. I did get the opportunity to jaunt around in the adjacent neighborhood for about an hour and Rad took my picture with the felt moustache next to the lake. Directly after the conference, we had to get back on the road and return the Focus to the Lansing airport before midnight to avoid incurring rental charges for another day. There would be no deep dish pizza or Sears Tower on this trip. Most of what I saw of Chicago looked like this through the rental car window as it raced back to Lansing:
I will be back for you, Chicago. Soon. Here are nine mediocre photos I took during my short visit and one that Rad took of me and my mustache.