For four days I wandered this amazing city, my emotional state switching back and forth from heightened anxiety to awe and wonderment.
The suburbs are reputedly very scary places, the maps marked with every reported serious violent crime would put one off from visiting alone. However I didn’t look at those maps, I just booked an AirB&B and took my chances.
As it happened, I was perfectly safe in the area known as Grand Boulevard down in the south towards the end of the Green Line train, 47th street station.
The first person I met when I got off the train after my flight from London was a white policeman in his car with his partner. He said ‘ Lady, what are you doing here?’ You have to imagine the incredulous tone of his voice and the weight of the stone falling into my stomach.
I explained that I was staying a few days at an Air B&B, he said ‘we’ll follow you till you get inside the door, don’t go out at night, don’t use the train, get an Uber cab to come right to your door”. With fear and some confusion, I trundled down the road with my shiny new wheeled suitcase, to the house, knowing I was being watched (an odd feeling in itself). I accessed the apartment and drank a large gin and tonic – duty free from Gatwick Airport.
And so I began my four days with such a burden of fear, it plagued my sleep and became my constant companion, even downtown in the “Loop”, where the main tourist areas are located.
I contacted a good friend who travels alone to far more unsettling places, she gave me excellent advice and suggested that I needed to follow some simple rules and relax, enjoy the city.
I loved Chicago, I have no regrets whatsoever about having been there, stayed there, explored everywhere I wanted to go. I talked to a lot of local people, on the trains, in the streets, in the shops, made a great new friend. Since my return home, I now know that this summer the rate of violent crime has soared.
I have no answers to the problem of escalating violence but the way its being dealt with currently is obviously not working. It is a disgrace that in this large wealthy city not all its citizens enjoy the quality of life they deserve. Racial segregation and the housing “projects” of an earlier era have caused misery to many lives. Gun crime is rife, many lives could be saved by a ban on guns.
I was inspired to go to Chicago by a lecture at the Victoria and Albert Museum given by a young Chicagoan Timothy Long who told the incredible history of the pioneers, entrepreneurs and downright scallywags who created such a vibrant and extraordinarily forward-looking culture.
It was all about trade, exploration, determination and guts. The discovery of the water routes from the north east coast, through the Great Lakes to the southern end of Lake Michigan, thence the relatively short overland distance to one of the tributaries to the Mississippi and on downward to the South, opened up trades routes of great importance.
But the real key was the building of the Illinois and Michigan Canal allowing shipping from the Great Lakes through Chicago to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. The population grew exponentially from 350 to 4000 in just 7 years.
And instead of low rise wooden buildings, the majority of which burnt down in the great fire in 1871, the city is now the finest example of city planning and inspired building design and techniques. Indeed it is considered to be the birthplace of the skyscraper.
Photographs do not do justice to the exhilarating city but here are some attempts to capture an essence.
If you get the chance to go – go, do not be frightened of by a couple of white policemen in a squad car. One of them kindly gave me his personal email address, perhaps I should write and tell him that i’m fine and that I loved his city. He said “don’t leave without eating a Chicago deep pan pizza”, and that was yet another piece of advice of theirs that I did not follow!