When I left Chicago over a year ago, I honestly didn’t know when –or if ever — I’d be back. But on Monday I found myself spending time on my old friend Megabus, instinctively pulling out my phone when we got on I-90 to call Stephen to tell him to pick me up at the stop soon. Except Stephen was in London, not Chicago, and I was going to a hotel when I arrived, not my apartment.
Were my life a movie, there probably would have been some sentimental music playing as I got off the bus and was reunited with my favorite American city. There may even have been one of those panoramic shots that show me taking everything in and smiling with great joy.
In reality I hopped off the bus, lugged my carry on bag to CVS, bought a one-day transit card, then sat at a bus stop for a half hour waiting for a bus that never came. It was not a glamorous reunion with my old home, but I was still glad to be back. I was almost surprised how not weird it was, just like coming back to the US wasn’t weird. I remembered the block system (which I miss terribly in London) and was even giving out directions to tourists like a local. I hit up State Street to go shopping like I used to do, but was surprised to see some of the stores I frequented were closed down or in the process of liquidating. It broke my heart, but I had to remind myself that I don’t live there anymore and may not be back anytime soon.
Besides seeing old friends and stores, my main reason for visiting Chicago was to drop my visa application off at the Chinese consulate. You have to apply in person to get a visitor visa and the London consulate would only issue me a six-month one (“But I’ve gotten a year-long visa before!” “Yeah, in Chicago, not London.”) so I decided to go to Chicago to apply for the year-long one (which curiously costs the same as a six-month visa). I arrived at the consulate Tuesday morning ready to collect material for “Fun Times at the Chinese Consulate Part III,” but everything went smoothly. I barely had to wait and the crabby waits-for-no-one straight-out-of-a-Seinfield-episode clerk took my passport, paperwork, cashier’s check and overpriced UPS return envelope without a question asked. So much for good blogging material.
Chicago will always hold a special place in my heart and it was nice to pop in for 25 hours. Sometimes I wonder why I like Chicago so much, considering it’s high murder and crime rates and ridiculous sales tax and high prices (which still seem low compared to London). As a college student Chicago served as an oasis and escape from the world of academia in Evanston. I went downtown to go shopping with my roommates or went to nice restaurants with Stephen. Once in a while I’d even go down by myself just to walk around or do some studying with a pomegranate ginger ale at Water Tower Place. I admit the city lost a little of its charm when I decided to live there after university and had to deal with things like finding and (affording) a parking spot, but I still enjoy Chicago. London has a very different big city vibe, for better or for worse, but sometimes I just need to see a skyscraper, whether that be in Shanghai or Chicago.