Out on the Razzle in America

United Kingdom
Freelance writer, literary graduate and minor lad. In America for pleasure, not business. I've never been before, so I thought I should. Should I have done it all at once? Can it all be done at once? Only one way to find out...

Monday, 24 August 2009

Chicago, good enough to deserve a post on its own

Chicago is awesome. It has to be, the other cities worth considering visiting don't need to keep up appearances; you could hate the idea of New York and you would still go. So goes the logic of the native I met while salsa dancing in the park. The idea of salsa dancing, for free, en masse, in the park, is bloody nice. Whether Chicago is sincere in its bloody-niceness, which it seems to be, or whether it is all some tourist-baiting scam intent on scuppering Vegas, New York and the rest, the effect is superb. People in Chicago are bloody nice. Pause for more than twenty seconds in the street and they will pounce, as if they are all trained in map reading, tourism and public relations, guiding your lost little soul to your desired destination in an earnest, inimitable accent, and most likely with a few recommended deviations on the way.

Chicago is a very nice place to be nice of course, which may be why the locals find it so easy. The lakeside setting (effectively seaside, the body of water being so vast), gives a relaxed coastal feel, the skyscrapers are all tall enough to be elegant, shiny enough to be impressive, and all match their colours, which isn't difficult, considering that they are all made from the same materials. The river makes a lazy wind through downtown and its strange forest of towers and interesting bridges, all of which are condensed into a very walkable area that occasionally is shadowed by a pleasingly urban overhead railway. There isn't really a central business district, it is an everything district, as hotels, shops, bars and offices muddle together in a zone that is strangely quiet in the evening, as the streets clear and destinations are picked. It transpires that downtown is not the place to be, though a night-time cocktail up the John Hancock centre should not be missed, especially considering that the trip up is free, and the cocktails, though not, are served by rather fetching waitresses.

Daytime fun can be had on Navy Pier, where every summer Wednesday and Saturday there is a firework display to go alongside the multiple bars, restaurants, galleries, boat trips and sundry diversions. There are an awful lot of firework stores along the road in from Indiana. Perhaps Americans just like explosions. They certainly like guns. Something to ponder.

We were lucky enough to be on the pier for the warm-up of the Air and Water Show, an annual extravaganza of jets and noise, full of flyovers, smoke trails, loops and all kinds of stimulating macho nonsense. We were also fortunate enough to get a signed photo and a cuddle from two Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, who were sneakily using one of Chicago's busiest tourist draws to advertise Texas. Of an evening, fun can be had around Wrigley Field, especially after the Cubs have finished, and especially if they have won. Whilst baseball is a ridiculous game, which many fans admit is just an excuse to sit in the sun and drink, the flood of buff, bronzed, blonded birds that flow outward into the sportsbars would sell any man to the idea, especially given the bloody-niceness of the people of Chicago (our waiter at lunch gave out six free drinks, while the hostess was lovely, despite never having left Illinois and mistaking an Australian for an Englishman).

Despite finding the pizza inferior to the thin crust of New York and Europe, I will most certainly be back, though I may bring a map for that lovely hostess.

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