A Greyhound to Chicago

There is something mystical about traveling on a Greyhound. Maybe it’s the changing landscapes behind the window, the stops in random places or the people you meet on the bus. The magical element disappears roughly around the 10th hour of your trip.

Mine disappeared on the Canada/US border.  Passports and visas seem an old and outdated system to me but, surprisingly, the system doesn’t care. The US border control officers take their job seriously. To a point when you actually reconsider whether you really want to enter the US.  A series of questions awaits everyone traveling on a Greyhound. As if anyone really wanted to illegally get to Detroit, which is a scary place, really. Maybe because of its renowned homicide rate (among the highest in the US) or other stories you read and watch about it (8 mile with Eminem?).  Compared to the Canadian Greyhounds, their American counterparts are rather tattered. The faces on the bus change too. While in Canada, you mostly see students and the middle class, on an American Greyhound you encounter poverty and the smell of potato chips. But after waiting a few hours at the charming Detroit bus terminal and with the sound of Jay-Z’s newest album blazing from your neighbor’s earphones, you continue your journey. Mostly regretting you didn’t take a plane but not regretting you did not get off in Kalamazoo.

Whatever was left of the “Greyhound magic” finally disappears around the 19th hour of your journey, now in rain and grayness.

To me Simon & Garfunkel seemed like the perfect companions on this ride. While leaving Detroit I listened to Paul Simon singing “Detroit, Detroit” and marveled at how someone could write “Michigan seems like a dream to me now”. It did not seem like a dream to me.  Chicago, however – when it appeared from the Skyline highway – did.

It is truly a beautiful city. Downtown, you can feel the charm of the 1920s skyscrapers and you can shop until you drop. Barney’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom – they’re all there. Everything you’ve seen in movies is there too – the overground subway (remember Jennifer Lopez teaching Richard Gere how to dance?), the poverty of the South Side, the pride about “their president” and the famous Grant Park.

I was stunned at the collection at Chicago’s Arts Institute. Just the Impressionist rooms with Monet, Manet and of course Renoir would have sufficed to fill a museum. Particularly Renoir’s soft brush strokes and superbly vivid colors, which at the Arts institute are not hidden behind glass, are so beautiful they leave you at the verge of tears.

In the limited time I had I was forced to make a choice between seeing Caravaggio or modern American art. The kind of choices you would like to make everyday. Also, the late Irving Penn’s photographs which he donated along with his entire archive were inspiring.

And as if this weren’t enough, outside of the Arts institute you see the famous silver “Bean” and a crowd of figures sculpted by Magdalena Abakanowicz. Could you wish for more? You could, you could want to eat something delicious. I settled with the Chicago chain: WOW BAO (wowbao.com) which serves delicious Asian buns and soups.  The salad was crispy, the chicken Teriyaki, beef and coconut buns had the puffiness and doughiness, as well as the unique taste I was craving for that day. I had them while sipping pomegranate ice tea. Simply delicious. Chicago is delicious.

I spent my next day taking Walker Evans – inspired photographs at the corner of State and Randolph (will post them soon) and shopping, although the beautiful experience had a vision of the long journey ahead of me in the background. Twenty more hours on various coaches. Fortunately I had films to watch and it was night so I, however uncomfortably, could sleep. The journey home was on rather full buses but it didn’t seem like 20 hours, rather like 12. Coming back to Canada made me realize how peaceful a place it is. There is not extravagant richesse but there is also much less poverty and people seem more relaxed. Or was it just my impression? One that you get from people in a hurry waiting to hold the door for you when you enter a bus terminal. But Toronto is less pretty and take out food in Ottawa is much worse. Altogether a wonderful 100 hours. Go to Chicago!