So I woke up in New Orleans, took my $44 flight and spent the day walking miles around Chicago with my backpack. It’s about 4pm, and I figure it’ll take me about an hour to get to the place I will be sleeping. Perfect timing since check in is at 5pm and all I really want to do is put this backpack down and get something to eat. I’ve seen several places but I want to be frugal. I can cook at the house, I’m sure there will be a grocery store somewhere near.
I plug in the address and use some city transport app I found in the App Store. It doesn’t really help me out too much, so I check my reservation for directions. Sure enough, catch the pink line and a few blocks from the Kedzie station I’ll find the place. Should be easy. After walking completely the wrong way, and finding navy pier, a lady walking her dog eyes me at the bus shelter looking completely lost trying to figure out if any of the buses that stop here are going anywhere closer to somewhere that will help me. By this time I am tired, and walking isn’t feeling so much fun. She asks me if I need help, and I tell her what my goal is. She kindly directs me to the red line, and then tells me she’s walking that way so she’ll walk with me.
As we walked we talked. She asked me where I was from, and what I was doing in Chicago. I told her my story about fighting cancer, and mental illness, and how now I just want to live, which for me means seeing the world. She tells me about her son who is fighting prostate cancer. She tells me that they aren’t supposed to outlive their children. She’s already lost one child to suicide, and now her son is fighting for his life. She’s happy to hear there is hope, and thanks me for my story. She seems positive that he will win his fight tho. She asked me if I’d thought about becoming a motivational speaker, and I have, but when I think of them, I think about people traveling to rooms full of people, place to place, now trying to sell a CD, or a book, or something. How whatever brought them to be the inspiration has probably taken a back seat, and spreading the message, and profiting from it has probably become a full time job, once again propelling money to the front of the goals list. It’s so easy to fall back into that trap. I don’t think that’s for me. I’m content with writing these blogs, and hopefully touching some other people’s lives that are struggling in their own fights, or living inside their 9 to 5 boxes, dreaming of the day, but never allowing it to be today. I remember that feeling. It was “normal” everyone did it, because after all that’s what we are supposed to do. Get a job, take care of our family, create a safe home, and fill it with things that show we are successful. I am so deathly afraid of falling back into that lifestyle. Motivational speaker is certainly not for me. I thank her for confidence in my message, and we part ways at the corner, next to the red line. I felt emotional. I felt that my soul had connected with this stranger, sent to me in a time of frustration and fatigue, to guide me “home” for the night, and in return I gave her the gift of being heard. I thought about how personal the things she told me were, and I felt the release of some of that weight leave her. I smiled, entering into the subway.
Once I got into the train, I checked the map to figure out what stop I needed to get off and transfer to the pink line. I was almost there. Pretty proud of myself for handling the first day out of the pen so well. 20 steps up to the street from the red line, a block or two to walk and I’m at the pink line. It’s amazing how much further you can go when you think you are done. I got to the foot of what looked like Mount Everest, up to the train line overhead. 36 steps later my legs felt they couldn’t go any further if I needed them to. I board the train and offered a seat. I take the seat and count the stops until mine. Counting down I get to “3 to go” and there’s a young man a little ways down the cart? (Is that what they’re called?) He starts talking to a kid standing next to my chair in the doorway. His dad is sitting with his little sister on the other side of me. “Hey shorty, you still doing good in that school?”
“Yea” he says, looking tough, as his body language seems to prepare for what might come next.
“Don’t mess it up, that’s a good school. My boy went to college from that school.”
“Nah, I’m doing good. “
“Aight, don’t make me run up on you to check your homework” he said, stepping off as the train came to a halt. I smile to myself. I notice that the neighborhoods are starting to deteriorate. I’d been informed that “oak park” was a “good” neighborhood, a safe neighborhood. I get to my stop, and step off. The houses are boarded up, graffiti everywhere, and just an all around run down looking place. I check the map again to make sure I’m in the right place. I’m not in oak park. I’m in Little Village, which looks mighty close to my original reservation, that I thought I had changed to Oak Park. I think about what my friend said about my safety, check in with myself, and feel very present and capable of taking care of myself. It’s right around 5pm
, and still light outside. This is the adventure right? I’m not going to know people in Europe wherever I go to guide me to the good neighborhoods and keep me safe from the bad. It’s pretty typical that the cheaper places to stay are in the poorest of neighborhoods. The reviews looked good. “The Europeans seemed to make it work, I can too” I think to myself, and start walking the few blocks to the house.
After two, I find a convenience store. I decide to go in and see if they have a can of soup or something easy to heat up. I’m sure I’ll go to sleep early. As I approach the door, two men are leaving. They’re Latino and dressed in wife beaters and jean shorts. They feel familiar. One holds the door and instructs me to enter first since I’m a woman. I thank him but insist that they leave first, as I am carrying a huge pack and probably can’t fit past them without taking a shelf out. I smile to myself, recalling the love on the train, and the love at this door, and the realization that I’m allowing stereotypes to create fear inside me, and all of these people are humans. “They’re just humans trying to make it like the next person. Has the south really segregated me that much? ” I get a little pissed at myself that this is even an issue. I’ve never been raised with racism in my heart, and I don’t consider myself racist, but the fact there is fear within me that I may be robbed or taken advantage of, certainly pisses me off. I check my automatic thoughts and reprogram myself. I am safe. I’m not hurting anyone and no one is targeting me. Just be your loving self and the same will be returned, just like anywhere else. I hate that I don’t know this instinctively anymore.
The store doesn’t have anything to really heat up besides ramen noodles, and a can of beans. I keep walking and see a couple of Mexican restaurants. I’m sure the food in them is probably really good. Little mom and pop shops usually are, no matter what the nationality is. I get up into my room, set the backpack down, finally, and sit. Harrison gives me a quick tour and I sit once again. I don’t want to move. Two hours go by, and it’s gotten dark outside. My stomach is rumbling, and I know I should probably go find something to eat. The Mexican restaurant is closed, so I hit another little shop, pick up cereal, milk, peanut butter and bread. “This should tie me over.”
I spend the night talking to Harrison about his wild ideas to expand his airbnb, and share some of mine. He has the same excitement as I do about it. A group of us hang out on the rooftop patio, listening to the trains and the sirens. We share stories about who we are and what we are doing in Chicago. I meet a new German friend, a new airbnb host friend, and a woman staying long term trying to make it in the big city as an accountant. This is what it’s all about. Human connection. Expanding the limitations of what I know, and have learned so far in life.