I had not been to Chicago since the late 80s. That was around the time when I had a very public and very unpleasant breakup with a friend.
It was the type of an ending that can make one view every relationship after in a much different light. It had been an exhausting relationship from the start so the ending would have been predictable if I had not been in the middle of it. She was from Chicago and even with the most remote chance there was of randomly running into her, with so many other destinations in the world to see and experience, Chicago moved to the very bottom of the list of places I needed to visit. (And I'd bet my house she feels the same about the Twin Cities.)
The last I heard about her she was working in Asia when the 2005 Tsunami struck and she was reported as missing. I thought about touching base with family and friends but figured in a difficult time I was probably the last person they needed to hear from. The unknown was always the undercurrent, the basis of that entire relationship. Symbolism indeed.
But enough about ancient history. One of the numerous idiosyncrasies my friends know me by is my love of Bob Dylan’s music. I saw my first Bob Dylan concert in 1986. I’ve seen at least one Dylan concert every year since (except 1987). All totaled I've now seen him perform live 36 times. I’ve seen him in most of the large cities in Minnesota. I’ve seen him in Los Angeles and Berkeley California. I’ve seen him in London, England. He’s the one artist that’s worth hearing every chance you get because each performance of each song is always different whether it be the arrangement, the vocals, the mood struck, whatever. In that way he’s more like a jazz musician than a rock/blues/folk/country musician.
Dylan usually plays at least one show somewhere in Minnesota but this year he didn’t schedule any Minnesota shows. So I figured the best place to see him was Chicago which is about an hour’s flight away. That he was playing three shows in three nights also seemed appealing because it seemed a tad superfluous to fly somewhere for one show. So I got the old pocketbook out and bought tickets to all three quite aware and unaware and thinking about and not thinking about my own Windy City history.
I booked a motel downtown (Club Quarters) a few blocks from the venue (the Chicago Theater). Armed with a Chicago Transit Authority map I flew down late Friday night hoping I could figure out the city’s train system that according to the map had a stop a few blocks from my motel. I didn’t know if the motel was in a “good” part of town. I didn’t know if I, being of extremely poor sense of direction, would be able to find the motel. I knew the train ride from O’Hare was going to take over an hour so given the late hour my nerves were a bit on edge.
It didn’t help matters that when the plane landed I noticed it was raining outside. Having not brought an umbrella with me I could just picture myself wandering the downtown streets lost and wet stumbling from one dangerous street to the next.
It was the unknown that was the worst because once I found the train, found the train stop, and got outside, I was fine. I found the motel in no time, checked in uneventfully and went to my room to unwind.
I didn’t do much during the days. I spent most my free time just wandering the streets looking for nothing in particular. I don’t know what was scarier being approached by homeless people begging for money on a secluded street or my stroll on Saturday afternoon that followed a big anti-war demonstration. The streets were lined with police in riot gear- making the whole downtown feel like a military zone.
My iPhone was a great traveling companion. Monday morning I decided I wanted sushi for lunch so I typed in sushi and my motel address and up popped a map of the nearby restaurants I could choose from. My one tourist-like moment came in visiting the Art Institute of Chicago, the home of several well known paintings. My favorite painter by far is Rene Magritte so I spent my entire time looking through the vast collections looking for his work. I found one of his paintings (Time Transfixed) that made the excursion well worthwhile. I checked at the information desk and was told that indeed that was the one Magritte painting that was in the museum. The information lady said she was glad I found it. I also learned I quite like Picasso’s work- his use of color impressed me.
Dylan was great. One of my current favorite songs of his is “Things Have Changed” with its ominous melody and lyrics and the chorus “I used to care but… things have changed.” He performed the song at two of the shows (one of the few repeat songs) and sang it in a clipped march like precision that was effective if not a tad chilling. Of course on night three he had to sing “You’re a Big Girl Now” the song I’ll forever associate with my former friend who was from Chicago. It was Dylan's lone performance of the song this entire year and it made me cry. “Our conversation was short and sweet/It nearly knocked me off of my feet/And I’m back in the rain/You are on dry land/You made it there somehow/You’re a big girl now…” It was a great performance of a great song- one of the best live versions I have heard.
The five day trip constitutes my 2007 vacation. Having switched jobs at the beginning of the year it’s been hard finding the time (and accumulating the vacation hours) to take an extended break. On my flight back I thought to myself that I should take more mini-Chicago trips to see shows. Most of my favorite bands make it to Minneapolis during tours but Chicago opens up the field even more. And the ghosts that do exist (One of the lasting memories that makes it feel all like it was yesterday was staying near the airport waiting for her to visit and having her call me all frantic that she was lost and maybe even on a runway) aren’t as crippling and unforgiving as they used to be.