Low Airfares Prompts Vendor to Tour Chicago

by Dave Valentine

    I arrived in Chicago at Midway Airport in the early afternoon of Saturday May 19 , aboard a Southwest airliner . The tickets purchased at least seven days

    in advanced were only $39 plus tax or $49 each way. The first thing I did was ride a transit downtown to the loop station .

    The loop is Chicago’s famous downtown area comprised of a couple of city blocks. It includes landmark department stores such as Marshal Fields which dates back several decades. Also here is world’s famous Sears Tower with over 30 shops and restaurants and the biggest post office in the world under one roof. They give 1 ½ tours every Monday though Friday, except for holidays and Christmas seasons .

    Also here in the loop are the Chicago Board of Trade, The Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the civic opera building ,the historic Orchestra Hall with their world famous orchestra, and the Richard J. Daley Center and Plaza.

    I went to the Harold Washington library center, the main downtown library. This branch take’s up an entire block and is several stories high. Here I looked up some phone numbers, checked some maps, took some notes, and read some newspapers. The headlines of all of the daily papers were devoted to the recent death of Frank Sinatra. Chicago was always considered a "Sinatra kind of town" and the newspapers adequately covered the story of his death and some of his many old days in Chicago.

    Chicago is a big city with many criss-crossing main streets. Its transit system includes at least seven rapid lines and many buses. Some of the rapid lines through the loop are elevated structures, some run under the streets. There seemed to be a half a dozen cab companies operating. Bus or rapid fare was only $1.50, with second ride transfers available for an additional $.30, so this is the method of transportation I relied on while I was there.

    Besides the loop, other well-known neighborhoods in Chicago include the Lakeview neighborhood, Old Town, Lincoln Park, River North, Greektown, Chinatown, and Hyde Park. From the loop I headed north about five miles on a rapid train. I spent the evening in the Lakeview neighborhood, a very fast-paced area with many people , shops and stores. I talked to people here and hung around some of the coffee shops eating and drinking coffee. It was late so I checked into a cheap motel for the night.

    Then early Sunday morning I headed north in a rapid up the coast of Lake Michigan to Evanston, where there is a church that I was referred to. It serves as a shelter and serves a free community meal every night. I spent the afternoon walking around this college town of Northwestern University. I went to a library, bookstore, hiking store, ate, and drank coffee. When evening came I went over to the church for supper. It’s called Hilda’s Place and the meal was excellent, better than I expected. The shelter, however, was more for their program residents, so I was referred to an emergency shelter back in Chicago, which I promptly went to.

    Here I found I could shower, and they served a hot meal every night. This shelter houses about sixty males and is based on a first come first served basis. You get in line about 8:30 p.m. on the sidewalk out front. Then after check-in, we were each issued a blanket and a mat to sleep on which we had to put back in a store room in the morning. We were issued a cup for drinking coffee or water and a hot meal was served. Showers were optional. We could stay up and talk until 11 p.m., then it was lights out.

    At six in the morning we were awakened and shuffled back out into the streets again. Then if there was no place better to go by evening time, it was back to the shelter for the night. Breakfast was served every morning at a Salvation Army kitchen about two blocks away, but I found myself more often going to McDonalds or Burger King in the neighborhood, where I could more easily plan my activities for the day.

    Monday, I went back downtown to the Loop and observed the hustle and bustle of the city. I bought a current issue of Street Wise, Chicago’s homeless newspaper. Then I went to the Sears Tower, the tallest or one of the Northern Hemisphere’s tallest skyscrapers. It’s 110 stories high with a skydeck observation area, but it costs $8 and I only had so much money.

    In the John Hancock Center, on the 94th floor is the Hancock Observatory along with a skywalk that is Chicago’s highest open air experience. You can feel the wind and hear and see the city from 1,000 feet in the air. As with the Sears Tower, on a clear day you can see four states and for over 80 miles.

    On other days I rode around on buses to the various neighborhoods there or walked along the bike paths through parks. I visited Lincoln Park, where the Chicago riots were centered in the 1960’s. I got there too late to go to the zoo though.

    Also, along the lake front are beaches, other parks, an aquarium (the John G. Shedd Aquarium,) and a planetarium (the Adler Planetarium). Every June they have a Blues Festival in Grant Park less than a mile from Downtown. It lasts for days and is free. I wish that I could attend it. Maybe I will next year.

    There were still other places that I would have liked to visit. Well, I had a good time there, the weather was nice and I learned a lot.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published July 1998 Cleveland Ohio