Wilco: Nels Cline, Pat Sansone, Al Jorgensen, Glenn Kotche, Jeff Tweedy, John Stiratt
Wilco's music captured both, the melancholy of leaving this exciting place and the longing to be home with my friends & family. And Wilco are from Chicago - just as Calexico have been my soundtrack to the Southwest, Wilco have been my "sonic shoulder to cry on" in the North- & Midwest. Both bands have been around for years, have consistently put out quality records, and therefore built a loyal fanbase, which i consider myself part of. They highly value traditional American music, but give it a new, contemporary twist, ending up with a soundscape the media tried to pigeonhole as "Americana" or "Alternative Country". Jeff Tweedy is considered one of the leading musicians of the genre and has also been a big supporter of local homeboy Barack Obama in the 2009 elections. They have all my support for 2012 but i'm not sure they're gonna be cheering again...
Arriving in Chicago with 20$ in my pocket i wasn't sure how much fun there was to be had in the city - at least for me. Having misplaced my credit card in Montana certainly didn't make things easier. But i found my way to my host Charles Golubski (another fellow yogi from training) on Wednesday night, and thanks to his & Paypal's help it all worked out just fine in the subsequent days. With Charles, born & raised in Chicago and temporarily living in a nice neighbourhood called Rogers Park, the day would usually start with a big mug of coffee, and after being fully awakened by his brew, i would make plans to explore the city and usually take the Elevated Train (called the "El", and a quintessential Chicago sight in itself) downtown.
Charles & his coffee-making devices
When you open up your travel guide to the US, and you look at the map, you tend to immediately gravitate towards the East & West Coasts - New York City! San Francisco! It's easy to neglect the middle. What is the middle ever good for, right? Middle-class, Middle-management, middle-of-nowhere... But i knew very early on that i wanted to end my trip in Chicago. I guess Wilco played a big part in that plan (just as Calexico made me decide i wanna visit Tucson) but i also thought that it would be nice to finish off with my longest train ride and one final, big metropolis. And Chicago is as big as American cities get! The city has enough things to keep you busy for weeks, and except for the salty air & seafood the City by the Lake has all the allure of a seaside town, because Lake Michigan is so huge you can't really tell it from the sea anyway. I took an afternoon stroll around its shoreline on Day 1, and lived on peanut butter sandwiches for the afternoon.
On Day 2 i took a self-guided walking architecture tour around downtown (also referred to as "The Loop") and admired the impressive skyline & daring architecture Chicago has to offer. The city built the world's first skyscraper and has been on the forefront of modern architecture ever since. The day was overcast, cool & grey, which made it a perfect day for walking around and gazing at the structures. On Day 3, i went to the funky "Ukrainian Village" west of Downtown, where i attended the 5-year anniversary of Permanent Records, an indie record store in Chicago. I enjoyed free pizza & an in-store performance by the Bed-Wettin' Bad Boys (only Aussies can come up with a band name like that...). It was basically punk music, and more noise than anything else, but the place was busy and i enjoyed browsing through the record collection, aquiring an older Wilco album ("A Ghost Is Born") for just 9 bucks.
On Day 4 (Sunday) i went to see a baseball game at Wrigley Field, America's most beloved baseball stadium, with my North Dakotan friend Danika Bakke, and on Monday (Day 5) i topped it all off with a visit to the highly recommended Chicago History Museum. Its permanent exhibition "Chicago - Crossroads of America" offered glimpses into American history way beyond Chicago (covering such diverse subjects as Slavery, Women's Suffrage, Train Travel in America, and the Japanese Internment Camps after World War II) and enabled me to see the "big picture" of the US once again. Afterwards i took the 40-second elevator ride up to the John Hancock Center, which provided me with a memorable view of Chicago & Lake Michigan from above.
Of course any visit to Chicago is incomplete without a Chicago "DeepDish" Style Pizza and i managed to get that in on Day 6, my last day which was basically a travel day only. I had to gather all my luggage (most of which i had left at Union Station in the first place, especially my backpacking gear), and bring it to Chicago's o'Hare Airport. I couldn't carry everything all at once and therefore had to ride the CTA Blue Line & Airport Transit trains several times that day. But in the end it was perfect timing: my flight left at 8 pm and i had just enough time to check in all my luggage, and with my last remaining dollars, i treated myself to a Chicago DeepDish at Beggar's Pizza ("we lay it on thick!") just across the road from Union Station. I didn't find it all what it's made up to be (seemed more like a quiche than a pizza dough, really) but it was certainly worth the money, because it was a LOT of food (i actually gave 2 slices to an AMTRAK agent at Union Station who had spared me a substantial amount of storage fees for my luggage earlier that day).
It's always nice to finish things on a high note, and that was definitely the case with leaving the US from Chicago - a city that has come a long way since burning down in 1878 and being plagued by Al Capone and his gangsters in the Roaring Twenties, and is now one of the finest cities in the US - at least in my book!