Every once in awhile, Chicago smells funny.
I doubt if that tagline will be used for any future marketing brochures, but it's true. You can just be walking down the street, having a perfectly pleasant day, when all of a sudden, your nostrils catch a whiff of something unexplainable. It's almost like the sewer system belched. This is just one of many things my finely-tuned senses picked-up on during a brief stay in the City of Big Shoulders.
My family and I recently took a mini-vacation to the city. I've always thought that Chicago is a nice place to visit, but please shoot me now if I ever have to live there. You see, I'm not exactly what you would call a "city person." I grew up on a farm and any situation consisting of more than 15 people tends to put me a little on edge. So basically the whole time I was in Chicago, I was coming up with reasons why I wouldn't want to live there.
My brain and I experience "information-overload" whenever we attend large cities together. You can imagine our anxiety when we stepped off the train at Union Station that Tuesday morning to begin the 30-hour whirlwind visit. It would be better if my brain and I took separate vacations.
There had to be easily 2 to 3 billion people inside that train station that day. That's the headcount my brain and I came up with. I immediately grabbed my daughter's hand fearing she might get caught up in the overcrowded frenzy and carried away by the throng of people. I might possibly have called out to the other family members to stick together because I figured our chances of survival were better as a group than individually. I'm not sure, I might have been hyperventilating.
As we emerged from the bowels of the train station to the bright daylight of Adams Street, I heard the siren of an emergency vehicle. Those sirens went on constantly for the next 30 hours. I told my family that they were all responding to robberies and murders. The city never shuts up. Ever.
And then there are the people. They are everywhere. They're walking, standing, sitting, driving cars, riding buses, taking taxis, reading newspapers, listening to music, talking on cell phones ... I personally counted over 10 billion sweaty bodies as we ambled up Michigan Avenue. These people came in all shapes, sizes, colors, languages, odors, etc. And they all seemed to be in a hurry. To where, I haven't a clue. The only thing my brain and I were sure of was that they were all up to no good. I held my daughter's hand a little tighter.
Don't get me wrong. Chicago's not all bad. Along with the stuff that gets me jittery, we also went to the beautiful Lincoln Park Zoo, took a boat ride on the Chicago River, road the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier, and we saw the big silver bean at Millennium Park. My daughter got to go to her own personal version of heaven, The American Girl Doll Store. I even got to go to one of my favorite places at the corner of Clark and Addison, also known as Wrigley Field, the home of the Chicago Cubs. They took on (and beat) the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim that particular evening. Looking back, all in all, it was a pretty good trip.
As we were taking a city bus back to our hotel after the game, my nerves were finally starting to settle down, and I was actually beginning to enjoy myself. That was when I furtively asked my son, "How many people on this bus do you think have killed a guy?" To which he replied, "Wow. You aren't going to believe this, but I was just thinking the exact same thing. How many do you think?" I told him more than six but probably less than 11. He thought my estimate was on the conservative side. He's always been such a worrier.
The next day, even though we had a fun time, I couldn't wait to get back on that train for the return trip home. I started feeling a little less stressed when I looked out and saw cornfields on both sides of the train car. As I sat there listening to the clickety-clack of the rails underneath us, I smiled as I realized that my family had survived another trip to the city.
I felt even better as the train pulled into the station and I could see our car in the parking lot waiting for us. As I lifted a couple of bags of American Girl paraphernalia off of the overhead luggage compartment, my nose caught a whiff of my armpits. This was following a hot, humid afternoon of walking around the city, it's lakefront and Navy Pier.
Maybe Chicago doesn't smell so bad after all.
You can contact Wallace at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on his blog at http://gregwallaceink.blogspot.com.