There were four days in a row on the calendar that did not have the words "work night shift" or "work day shift" on it. So, Real Gil and I hit up the grandmothers for babysitting and hopped on a plane to Chicago. If you have read other posts around here, you know we are not from the city, and it's pretty obvious. There was this nagging little weather report, but we dismissed it as overkill. Heck, we're from the mountains where it really snows, thought the proud tourists. Here's what we've learned, in numerical bullets for no apparent reason:
1. They may not have mountains or hills here, but they do have ice. And wind.
2. We are part of history in the making - perhaps the largest snowstorm to hit Chicago in forty years. We'll mark that in our scrapbook, keep that little useless fact in our back pocket to whine about whenever we feel like pitying ourselves. When someone says they got stranded in a city somewhere, we'll one-up them by pulling out this memory - the time we were stranded in a big city in a record-breaking snowstorm when we spent more time on the phone with airlines than we did our children. (Secretly, we'll remember how guilty we felt when we enjoyed these extra days. At least until the electricity went out, and we slept in our jackets.)
3. City folks do interesting things - they talk about transit and Metra and going downstairs to the laundry room. When they do laundry, they lock their front door and they take their laundry credit card with them. Also, they don't necessarily talk to you in the stairwell, or even acknowledge you. But sometimes they do. Sorta like how our neighbors in the country sometimes wave, or don't, as they drive by; it must depend on their mood. On the inside, they have homes just like us country bumpkins, except they park their cars in the basement and they even have a parking spot with a hose where you can wash your car when it gets really dirty. But you can't park your car there permanently or you'll get towed. I still have no idea how they barbecue. Or load a carseat into a taxi.
4. But who cares about the barbecue or carseats? Not me. I was on vacation. One museum, two days of shopping, and many wonderful restaurants. [burp. gasp. Excuse me!]
5. There are elements of this city life that leave me perplexed. Like why do they even get dressed, if all they ever wear around here are big, poofy jackets? Everyone looks like the Michelin Man and they don't take the jackets off when they go inside! Restaurants, stores, bathrooms, everything is done in your coat. I was left vacillating between sweating-but-cool and tourist-who-carries-her-coat, while everyone else browses the clearance racks with jackets in place. Other perplexing elements of city life? There are no mountains, which means that for the life of me, I cannot find North.
6. I'm a tourist. Evidences of this abound. Within minutes of arriving in this foreign place, a woman stopped us and asked if we needed help, explaining that she "really wants to help the tourists." I guess we were pretty obvious. I'm not sure if it was my practical walking shoes, or the ridiculous finger-less gloves I bought in preparation for our trip to Chicago. Real Gil has been teasing me for days about actually paying money for gloves that have the fingertips cut off. (To which I retort, my fingers are still feeling the residual warmth of those gloves, so much so that I can hardly type this.) Other evidences of my tourist status: my jacket isn't poofy enough, I still wear bootcut jeans with boots, I don't have animal fur (fake or real) on my hood, and my belt is hidden under my shirt, not over the top.
7. By Day Four, Real Gil and I found ourselves calling home more often than we needed to (we know because the kids did not want to talk to us!). We wandered museum exhibits and found ourselves saying, "Oh, the kids would love this!" So, we checked in online and tried to print boarding passes. Unfortunately, Southwest Airlines had been watching the Weather Channel, and canceled our flight. Since I couldn't find the mountains, this snow took me by surprise - there were no dark clouds crawling over the peaks, giving me hours to shop for milk and bread. It came with internet updates and windy gusts. Did you know that there can be lightning and thunder during a blizzard? Unbelievable. It can also come with a power outage, backgammon lessons by flashlight, and riveting window observations of traffic and snow falling upwards.
8. These poor deprived city children. My neck is actually sore from so much sympathetic head-shaking and "tsk, tsk-ing" at the horror I've observed from our window. While their parents are shoveling snow like overachieving freshman, as if the sun won't melt the snow without their help - oh wait, it won't. Anyways, while their parents shovel, these children just walk aimlessly around the street pulling little plastic sleds, some with the sticker labels still on them. "Gruel," requested Oliver Twist. Similarly, these little, city children look at me with their pitiful little sleds, as if to request, "A hill, please?" So, they climb snowplow berms and call it a hill. But I suppose there are less broken bones this way.
9. Even on vacation, eventually you have to cook. Today, we realized that every restaurant was closed, and one grocery store let us in at lunchtime, fifteen minutes before they closed. I grabbed essentials and tonight, I will cook. After I write this. Because when you're on vacation, you still get to choose the order of activities.
Perhaps we're not as essential to the world as we'd like to believe we are. Not that I'm depressed or anything, but it seems that our children, our home, and our jobs are still intact, no matter if our flights continue to be canceled. Sooner or later, we will be home, gladly home. Until then, I am thankful for flexible grandmothers, electricity, and the genius who invented the wheeled suitcases that will roll over these salted, icy sidewalks, onto the "Orange Line" (to use the local jargon!), and into the airport. Eventually.
Where ever you are, I hope your surprises are sweet tonight, your views are entertaining, and your weather is brimming with evidences of Him. No matter what, I hope you feel the welcome of His home.
Resting in this Flat Place,