Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Requisite Travelogue

During the course of the 29hr train ride, I knocked Tom Clancy’s “Clear and Present Danger” off my list. Good book.
I also took in Sholem Aleichem’s “Today’s Children,” the first of the Tevye stories to marry a daughter off. It will, of course, not be the last.

Yesterday was my first day in Chicago, or at least the first I saw more of it than could be seen from the irritating rail system that yanked me as a transient to connecting international flights a couple of times. Let’s face it, under those circumstances taking the city in doesn’t make it onto one’s agenda.

After arriving at Union Station there was a walk to the Sear’s Building (which believes in clinical security) to buy a Chicago Transportation Authority pass. (Note to the traveler: You get those things around the side at the “Sky Lounge” gift shop, not by walking in the front door. As I learned.)
Then it was another walk and a subway ride to Roosevelt, and yet another walk. I didn’t mind my attaché case loaded with a solid block of fifty pounds’ reading materials, but those darn roll-arounds I had with me… I decided Chicago would be more fun once I had shed my luggage.

The hotel is right across the street from a wing of ‘Chicago Columbia College,’ and I am finding it fun to watch the drama exercises going on beyond the windows. Certainly it is an arts building, since rooms not filled with script-readers have music stands. Not to mention the, erm, eclectic dance class going on late at night.

My first action upon arriving in my room (aside from releasing my bags and dropping my brown leather overcoat) was to shave. Have I ever expounded on my razor? It’s a really sweet little instrument; I’ll have to post about it some time.
Next I used the supplied coffee-maker and Styrofoam cups to boil some water and make some Nestlé hot chocolate. The water’s own flavor burst past the cocoa powder, but the hot beverage was soothing despite it. I have since learned how to make a more pleasing cup even with the supplied conditions.

The hotel I am staying in is cheap (an always comparative term, of course), but does its best to look fancy. Fancy, meaning the ice machine has a card-swipe. O.K, so the swipe is for the room key, but I’m afraid to ask if my ice comes out of the fifty-dollar deposit left downstairs.

Just after dark, I struck out on the street to find a nice supper. There’s a college next door for pity sake, so wholesome and affordable feeding must be nearby.
Sure enough, right where Columbia College (no relation to the U in NY) and DePaul University buildings cross paths, eateries have sprung up. First to catch my eye was a combined Dunkin Donuts/Baskin-Robbins (I’ve never had one of their 31 flavors). I passed them up for a place called “Thai Spoon” at 601 South Wabash.

I ordered shrimp-fried rice (a personal favorite) to go. Comforting atmosphere. The restaurant is set up in not a huge amount of space (downtown Chicago is surely murder in rent), but it is arranged so well as to be roomy. At least half the tables had college students at them. Many of these kids happily and freely conversed, but somehow it was still so sedate that the others couldn’t have imagined there being difficulties studying with their meal. A really nice little restaurant.
One of the employees arrived in the waiting area with my take-out food, but with plastic forks rather than the advertised spoon.

Outside, I carried the pickings back to my room, past the noisy el-trains (so nice), and the parked cars that almost invariably have their emergency blinkers working away all night long here.

The rice was much darker than that from most oriental food-stops, and the shrimp were of the small variety. (My hometown joint makes a point of loading up with the largest shrimp available.) But there were just the right number of them, and I’m guessing the by-volume ratio of shrimp to rice is higher here in Chicago.
Man, that food was good. Really, if you’re ever on S. Wabash with an empty stomach and a five dollar bill, try out Thai-Spoon-That-Gives-You-Fork.
That’s called cooking.

I paid a buck and a half at the Pepsi machine down the hall in the hotel for a 20oz Sierra Mist, just because I needed a cold drink. Strangely, before this February I had never tasted Sierra Mist, but in this one month I have found myself quite a few times thirsty in unfamiliar places with virtually nothing else available.
It’s a good-tasting drink, but it’s still definitely soda, which puts it down on my list below whole milk, Perrier, orange juice, hot chocolate, et cetera. But, like all soda, on the go it is much more readily available than any of those.

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