This is the third post in a series about a road trip to New Orleans that starts here.
Enough about the car for now! We had 48 hours in Chicago and I put Bluebell out of my mind for the time being. Here’s a photo of the Old Chicago Inn at Christmastime.
It’s an Art Deco-era inn and I was very grateful that Lynn had booked two rooms instead of one. The small rooms were…small, but they were en suite. For you Americans, that means they included a bathroom. The larger rooms shared a bathroom in the hallway.
Our innkeeper was David, and he informed us he was from Kentucky—or “Kaintucky” as he pronounced it. David turned out to be one of the best things about our brief time in Chicago.
He gave us a couple $10 off vouchers for the restaurant next door, which turned out to be a Key West-themed karaoke bar. We ordered a couple sandwiches and beers and sat back to watch the show. We must have raised the average age in there by 20 years; duos and trios of inebriated 20-somethings were sang while others danced. They sang and danced badly, but with a lot of heart. It was good for a few laughs. I’m sure Lynn could have stayed out later but I just wanted to lie down. I know I’m drained when I pass up a second beer on vacation.
The population of the Chicago metropolitan area is almost 10 million. It’s a bustling, busy place full of skyscrapers, art, industry, tourists, and music. They love their deep dish pizzas and baseball. It’s known as the Windy City, and for good reason. Chicago is perched on Lake Michigan, one of the Great Lakes, and the wind is ferocious. I think of Chicago as like a merger of New York and Minneapolis. A big city with a Midwestern vibe.
Lynn and I had breakfast in the basement of the inn, which had originally been a speakeasy. A speakeasy was a secret, illegal bar during prohibition, when alcohol was illegal in the U.S. from 1920 to 1933. It’s hard to believe, today, that we ever attempted to ban booze. Of course prohibition was a huge fail. My great grandfather went to federal prison for two years because he tried to steal liquor out of a government warehouse where they stored confiscated alcohol. He owned a restaurant and his business had tanked when he could no longer serve drinks. This was in Kentucky, and I mentioned it to David, our innkeeper.
“My grandmother was from Covington, Kentucky,” I said. “She always referred to it as ‘down home.’” I didn’t mention that she also called black people “coloreds.”
David was one of those people who knows a lot about a lot of things and appreciates a captive audience. He didn’t acknowledge my comment but launched into a story about his “mama” and Miss Rose, a neighbor of theirs in Kentucky. David was probably approaching 60. He was gaunt, missing a tooth, and wore Malcom X glasses.
I’m conscious as I write this that you’ll know David was white without me having to write it. I’ve probably done this a hundred times in this blog, but this road trip was packed with interactions around race, so maybe it’s good I’ve caught myself.
David stood between us and the door and talked about his mama and Miss Rose and the antebellum (pre-Civil War) house he’d grown up in. He described the closets which were designed to store hoop skirts and fancy ladies hats, and how they went to the Kentucky Derby every year. Normally I can’t stand this kind of person who talks on and on and never asks you a question about yourself. But David was just a lovable guy.
We finally broke away and walked over to the Belmont station to take the train downtown. Lynn asked me what “downtown” and “uptown” meant.
“Downtown is what you would call the High Street,” I explained. I wasn’t sure about the term uptown.
We arrived downtown and the first thing we saw was Trump Tower. We instinctively turned to each other and exclaimed, “Blech!!”