Our train trip included a return visit to Chicago where we had lived for ten years. We stayed in Oak Park. I knew that town and loved it, though Ernest Hemmingway described it as a town of “wide lawns and narrow minds.” (Well, Mr. Hemmingway, I do think that you are wrong).
And now we were visitors. But I was heartened when someone came up to me and asked for directions. Aha, years living in the sweet climate of North Carolina had not softened me. Here someone took me for a native! And directions I gave; how to get to the Lake Street el, not too difficult a task since both my questioner and I could hear the rumble of the local. I sent him on his way, and smiled as I found yet another outdoor café where I could sit, drink coffee, and delight that Oak Park, and, indeed, Chicago are now even better than when we lived here. Downtown Chicago, where people still make eye contact, still smile. Nice to remember that about the Midwest.
When I learned that our hotel had no laundry facilities, I blithely inquired the location of the nearest laundromat. “Oh, just a few blocks away, a five minute walk,” the clerk said, and gave me the address. I planned my early morning jaunt, even skipped my requisite coffee thinking that I’d take it while I waited for my laundry to dry. With my green print Vera Bradley tote slung over my shoulder, I happily headed out, taking Harlem Avenue so that I could experience the early morning traffic and the aroma of diesel from the few buses that hadn’t been converted.
I remained upbeat after ten minutes because, I thought, well, his five minutes and my five minutes may not be the same. When I crossed Chicago Avenue I began to feel a bit hesitant. When I finally looked at my watch. I saw that I had been walking for 55 minutes. I was feeling much-less-than-a-native when I stopped someone to ask how far it was to Madison.
“Oh, honey, you’re a long way off.”
“I’m walking the wrong way, aren’t I.”
She nodded and put her hand on my shoulder. I laughed. “You know, I really should have brought my map.” She just shook her head.
I turned around, faced south, headed, finally, in the right direction. It started to rain, my shoes gave me blisters, but when I finally reached the laundromat, it felt like home. But for all my other visits, I did take a map.