Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Solo Tourist

An acquaintance of mine told me she's going to Portland (OR) on vacation. She's traveling by herself, not meeting anyone there nor attending any specific event.

I've heard great things about Portland, and someday I'd like to visit it if I have an occasion to be there. But I couldn't imagine flying across the country just to see the city itself. I know it's a cool green hippie city and all, but what would a tourist actually do there?

Portland Tourists?

In our discussion about my friend's vacation, I thought about how I've never vacationed alone.

I've traveled alone. A lot. It started when I was 17 and drove six hours by myself to visit my brother on spring break. Ever since then, I've had no trouble driving, flying, walking places by myself. I take solo road trips all the time. I've flown solo to Germany and back multiple times.

But in all those cases there was always someone else at my destination that I planned to meet. I never planned an entire trip alone where no one I knew was a part of it in some way.

Then I remembered my cruise. D'oh! That was something I did entirely by myself. That was just six months ago. How could I have forgotten about it already?


The day trip that I took to Chicago this week couldn't really be characterized as solo, since the main reason for the trip was to meet someone. Someone I'd never met before, but that I already knew pretty well.

It was my first IRL (in-real-life) meeting with one of my blogfriends. Over the past few years I have made dozens of new friends and pen-pals from across the country and the world. We write, we chat, we friend on FB. But I've never met any of them IRL.

So my friend, who lives in Germany but is from Chicago, was home to visit family. I took the train up to Chicago to meet her and her husband.

The meeting went great. I liked them both a lot and there was no awkwardness or weirdness. It was like we were old friends, which, in a way, we were.


But aside from a long lunch in the suburbs with my German blogfriends, it was mostly a solo trip. I traveled on the train alone. I walked around Chicago alone. I took the Metra alone. My train home didn't leave til 8:00 pm, so when I found myself back downtown at 4:00, I had about four hours to kill in the Big City.

I decided to walk to Navy Pier, since I'd never been there before.

I love walking around big cities. I love the energy, the people-watching, the funky arty sculptures, the architecture and the skyline, which is as beautiful to me as a mountain range. I love the geometry of walking between the canyons of tall buildings lining a street.

For some reason, I can walk for miles and miles in the city and not notice the distance the way I would at home. I'd never think to walk the two miles from my home to downtown Champaign, (not to mention the 3.3 miles all the way to downtown Urbana), but in Chicago that distance doesn't faze me.

So I set about to walk to Navy Pier, with no idea how far it was or even where it was located exactly. I knew it was near downtown, and obviously on the water (it's a pier), so I just started walking east toward the lake. Several times I walked into pedestrian dead-ends and had to retrace my steps to go back to a suitable place to cross. So I ended up walking a lot further than just a straight line between the two points.

Then it started raining. At first the rain wasn't so bad, just a light drizzle. It wasn't until I got to Navy Pier that it really started to come down hard.

Luckily (or not), Navy Pier is mostly like an indoor mall and covered shops, stalls, and other stuff to spend money on. So it was nice to be in out of the rain, but I was stuck there, in a commercial shopping mecca that's not really my thing. I walked the entire length of it, which itself is about half a mile long.


After waiting an hour for the rain to stop, I decided I was just going to have to get wet. I couldn't miss my train. So I started the long trek back to the train station. It was raining really hard now. I had brought my cap along for the day to protect me from the sun. What I didn't realize was that it would serve an entirely different purpose: to keep my head dry and the rain out of my eyes.

I walked and walked and walked in a hard rain. Since it was raining, it was hard to look up at all the buildings, so I mostly had to keep my head down. The bill of my hat dripped, and my shorts and t-shirt got soaked.

Since the train station is right next to the Sears Tower*, and I was about 2 hours early for my train, I bought a ticket to the Skydeck so that I could go up to the top of one of the world's tallest buildings.

* I know it's called Willis Tower now. But to me it will always be the Sears Tower.

"One adult" I said to the ticket person, surrounded by families and couples. I was by myself doing one of the most touristy things you can do in Chicago. I was also wet: wet shirt, wet shorts, wet shoes and wet socks. And I was freezing because they had the air conditioning on.

Luckily, I had brought a change of clothes in my backpack: a pair of jeans and a long-sleeve flannel shirt, because I knew I might get cold inside air-conditioned buildings. So once I got up to the Skydeck, I went into the bathroom and changed into dry clothes. I'd never changed clothes in a bathroom on the 103rd floor before! Unfortunately, I didn't have any dry socks, so I had to put my wet socks and shoes back on.

[No picture available. Incidentally, if you want to see a lot of porn, do a Google image search for "changing clothes." Or the word "wet."]


At the train station I got a crappy sandwich for dinner. I also looked in all the souvenir shops for new dry socks. Maybe there were some novelty Chicago socks? Nope. It would be wet socks for the rest of my trip.
Not at the train station

While I was waiting in line to board the train, I looked at a map of the city that was on the wall. I counted the blocks I'd walked that day, and estimated that it was about 31 blocks from Union Station to Navy Pier. So there and back would have been 62 blocks. I'd once heard that a city block is approximately 1/10 of a mile, so that would have made it a 6-mile hike through the urban jungle.

When I came home and had access to the interwebs again, I checked Google Maps. From the train station to the end of Navy Pier is 2.9 miles, it said. Which would have made my hike 5.8 miles total. I'm sure it was more than that, with all the times I ran into dead-ends and had to backtrack. But still, I'm impressed that my estimate was so close.

I walked that whole way. Half of it in the rain.

1 comment:

chocolatechip said...

This post reminded me of this scene from The Producers Go to 1:20.