Sunday, May 4, 2008

Country mouse

I feel like a wide-eyed country bumpkin in Chicago. I regret now not visiting my cousin here before she graduated (the occasion for this visit), but on the positive side, she's planning to settle here, so I'm thinking another visit--one longer than 48 hours--is in order. There's so much to see, so many places I'd love to explore, so many people milling around. Everything's so awesome, and I can't remotely begin to take it all in. I interrupt myself and trail off mid-sentence at the sight of some novelty. Even the mundane makes me excited.

Public transport excites me. Yeah, I know it's strange, but one thing this tree hugger doesn't like is that she lives in a metropolis without enough population density to support a viable public transportation. In a day and a half here, I've ridden several taxis and a couple buses.

Even better, though, was traveling on foot. My grandmother and aunt, with whom I'm sharing a room (I've had quieter roommates... and they woke me with their yacking at 8:30 this morning...), were tired and wanted to head back early after dinner. I took them back to the room and grabbed my computer and a tote bag, to set off in search of souvenirs and better Internet access. Score on the first, and fie, Starbucks, fie on thee. But I'm getting ahead of myself. We've been around the area a few times, so my inner map was pretty decent, and I remembered where the Osco was, about 4 or 5 blocks away.

The plan was this: hoof it to the store, then head back to the Starbucks just catty-corner to the hotel. First part went off without a hitch. Found the souvenirs I wanted, bought some granola bars for the rest of my travel, and even decided spontaneously that I would purchase one of their $1 re-usable store tote bags as both souvenir and practical item. Local store's bag = boring. Bag from another city = exciting. I headed back, only to find out the Starbucks was closed. I could have just gone back to the room. I didn't; there was a Starbucks across from the store, which meant doubling back. Why not? The relatives were still at the restaurant, knocking back margaritas, and my roomies were probably asleep.

I went back by way of a parallel street. I knew if I got lost I could ask for directions, but mostly, I trusted my sense of direction. It's almost intuitive and rarely fails me. Bonus find on this route: a Trader Joe's store, which we don't have where I live. Souvenirs there: herbal tea and another tote bag. I'm an old woman at heart, OK? But, yeah, Starbucks. I avoid them like the plague at home, favoring my own local/smaller chain haunts on general anti-big business priniciple, but they're on nearly every freaking corner here, and I wanted coffee and Internet access that doesn't spazz out every few minutes. The coffee was decent for Starbucks issue, but the Internet would cost me. Forget that. I just walked around more. There were street musicians to see, aggressive taxis to avoid at intersections, beds of tulips to admire, tourists to laugh at (yes, I do see the hypocrisy of that. They were just all clutching their fancy cameras and huddled like sheep around their guide, who was telling them not to wander off... *shrug*)... I suppose the novelty would wear off, but this country mouse would like to live in a big city for a spell.

It was a wonderful outing. I am always amazed at how easy it is to be alone in the midst of so many people; indeed, the larger the crowd, the more solitary you are. Anonymity can be liberating, and tonight, between my adventuring and the brisk yet comfortable evening air and the sense of freedom of being able to get to the places I wanted powered by my own two feet, I was exuberant. Sharing it with a friend would have been nice, but it can be and was an exquisite bit of solitude.

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