Monday, May 11, 2015

Chicago, Chicago... it's a Wonderful Band

No matter how I tried, no matter how I used Official Phraseology, no matter how I financially justified, I could not stop my boss from sending me to Chicago.

But I don't like to travel....
But I've already been poorly trained on this...
But the company shoudn't waste their money...
But if I get near the TSA, I'm going to need bail money....

But since the boss asked nicely, I couldn't say no.  Well, I could say no, but I like my job.


I have traveled all over the country in very strange ways but never have I gone through the blood, sweat and tears required to simply make arrangements for a flight and hotel. My colleague had everything done for her via our employer. Because I'm a different class of employee, I had to make my own reservations. And when I say make my own reservations, I mean get all sorts of estimates and submit them, allowing my employer to decide which fit within the financial guidelines.  My coworker got to stay in a really nice hotel, to which I was refused admittance, due to rate (although I suspect they didn't like my mustache). I booked a four star hotel via Travelocity, which, strangely enough, managed to look nothing like the rooms on their website. In fact, when I opened the door to my spacious suite, I immediately noticed that my room seemed to be missing half of its promised volume: it was a spacious closet with a king-size bed. And when I say spacious closet, it did not have a spacious closet, instead gracing me with a six-inch deep closet that required me to turn my jacket around so the door would close. But at least they had an iron. I knew I had arrived at my hotel when I noticed that the entrance was completely blocked by construction. This was to be a theme.

The room was on the 20th floor and featured a spectacular view of an alley. I dared not ask whose alley it was. I did get a spacious desk on which to work, featuring a chair that I suspect was older than me.

At the airports, I discovered there was a Qatar Airlines.  It turns out they have no set destination: they go wherever they're hijacked to that day.

When friends and relatives ask me how Chicago was, I say "Windy". They're not kidding when they call it the Windy City. Because O'Hare Airport was designed by drunk monkeys, there was no way to get from my terminal to my coworker's terminal, so I had to walk a few city blocks outside. If the direction was away from the wind, I could have let it carry me there, but no, I had to walk Triple Uphill to locate the terminal. The nice policeman I asked looked really confused until his partner told me to go outside and walk a few blocks. This would not have mattered except Work Rules stated only my colleague could rent a car - I couldn't.

Chicago has all the charm of Center City Philadelphia, without the on-street parking. I don't know about the rest of Chicago but our section required a car or public transport to go anywhere, which then required parking. Parking cost a week's salary, but only if you stayed under thirty minutes. Anything over an hour required a title loan, which, oddly enough, one could obtain approximately every two blocks.  In fact, you could not swing a dead cat without hitting a title place, a 7-11 or a Starbucks, most of which closed at six or seven, along with the restaurants. Because who wants to eat at a restaurant at six or seven anyway?

Chicago is also inordinately fascinated with the use of car horns. I truly believe that if a Chicago-an's car horn is broken, he can't drive. My colleague is from Texas and never hears car horns. Why? Guns.  

If you can't afford parking, there's always the elevated train system, which is organized by colors. My local transport was the Brown Line, so called because riding on it causes you to poop yourself. But I kid... I only had to stand for thirty minutes to get to my destination, accompanied by a very talkative blonde, droning on about marketing to her frustrated coworker, who strained desperately to get a word or grunt in here or there. It was like being forced to listen to your great aunt talking to your grandmother about World War Two housing.

The reason I found myself on the Brown Line (if you didn't watch out, you'd wind up on the Red Line, or, heaven forbid, the Pink Line - with stops at all shoe stores, as well as the theater district), was to visit a guitar institution in Chicago - the Chicago Musical Exchange. After much complaining by the internal voices about not staying in, I found myself at the door. CME was blessed relief after years of shopping in Philly, the black hole of music and musical instruments. There were new guitars, used guitars, vintage guitars, amps and a ton of used and new pedals. There were guitars I had only heard of. It was a blast except for the fact that their lefty section was a bit anemic. It illustrated precisely why the Philly area is such a wasteland. As if that weren't enough, their sales staff knew what they were talking about!


Why haven't I flown since we bombed Iraq? Because of the TSA. There were work polls about whether or not I'd get held for Special Screening. I have to admit that the agents of the TSA were quite nice and practical. When I arrived at the line, they asked whether I would prefer the groping or the full cavity search. I went all-in, so to speak. You don't get that kind of courtesy at the DMV. 

You have to take your shoes (sneakers) off, put your bag up and open your laptop. Then you go into the glass whirlwind room, where you stand there with your hands up (because you're being robbed) and some metal thingie moves around you, obviously to graph your tolerance to metal thingies moving around you. When you exit the phone booth, one of the nice, uniformed TSA people watches your image (while several others point and laugh), then it's off to the gate. Except in the case of my laptop, which they needed to sniff very closely, as the excess amount of dog hair obviously set something off. I asked what they were looking for and the fellow said powder. I assured him I couldn't afford that stuff and went about my business, cursing at a volume insufficient to trigger a Terrorist Alert. At no time did I yell 'SECURITY THEATER' or show them the Fourth Amendment I had tattooed upon my nether regions.


As I mentioned, I wasn't allowed to rent a car, so my coworker and I went off to the rental place. We were greeted by some guy with teeth so white and so large, we were afraid that he would eat his own head at any moment. This does not surprise me, as a certain rental car company that I shall not name (but rhymes with Wenterprise) has the slimiest employees I have ever met. After the obligatory shaking of hands, I had to shower six times, with my clothes on. To be fair, everyone was polite and efficient, although it was amusing to watch two female employees fight over who had all the damn keys (for those of you playing along at home, it was Ashlee).

As we were in a foreign country (Chicago), we thought a GPS would be handy. Wenterprise thought so too, as they charged ten bucks per day to rent one. The GPS on my phone is so locked down I don't think I can ever enable it, so we decided on the rental GPS. That little Garmin did a wonderful job of getting us to the hotel. Unfortunately, it sucked at everything else.  Hungry, we asked it what was nearby and selected BBQ. Off we went, to the closest BBQ place, until we discovered the highway was closed. The Garmin wouldn't take no for an answer, so we went to the next closest place. This place literally didn't exist. The third closest place was fifteen minutes down the road and had changed hands to become a greasy chicken joint.  It took but a moment to figure out what was up here: there is no BBQ in Chicago - only a series of empty GPS promises to get you to visit non-BBQ restaurants.

After this great realization, we figured there would be more and better near the hotels.  Boy were we wrong. We wound up at a burger place on the first floor of a high rise. As it turned out, everything is on the first floor of a high rise in Chicago, with the exception of a very scary round parking garage, in which you back up to the edge, presumably before plummeting twenty stories, ala Fast and Furious 26 and 1/2.  

We quickly discovered that the Garmin was a tremendous tool, provided you didn't use it within ten miles of our hotels.  We were making a right onto my street while the Garmin was telling us to go up a few blocks and turn on a different street. It would recalculate in the middle of a street. In the end I threatened to drop it from the Sears Tower and Wenterprise was nice enough to not charge us for it.

Speaking of modern appliances, I attempted to use several to locate a restaurant near our hotels, to which we could walk (coworker's hotel required 30 minutes' notice to fetch our car). I asked Yahoo Maps, which provided about 1500 restaurants, each of which were either too fancy, too expensive or too closed. They also had the audacity to refer to McDonalds and Popeyes as restaurants.

I don't travel well (or frequently), although you're probably wondering why. The wife and the dog came to pick me up at the airport, but neither would admit to driving. One of them also sat on my lap and licked my face all the way home but I'm going to let you guess which.

I leave you with this wonderful exchange I had with a stewardess:

HER: Warm nuts?
ME: Why yes, they are.


I thought it might be interesting to start including links to some music I like. This particular piece of musical proficiency is brought to us by Lyle Lovett. It features some really spicy guitar, as does most of my music. Lyle's really underrated.

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