Tuesday, April 3, 2012

33. Travel: Chicago

I’ll never forget the first time I went to Chicago.  I was 26, and had been flying for (the now defunct) MarkAir for about six months. 

It was such a small airline, that we literally had three trips we flew:  a round-trip red-eye to Alaska, a three-leg epic journey from Seattle-Denver-Chicago-Newark (with a 10-hour layover, just enough time to sleep and do the flights in reverse), and the coveted San Diego trip, which was Seattle-San Francisco-Los Angeles-San Francisco-San Diego with a 24-hour layover in San Diego (you can see why we flight attendants would want that trip:  it was the only one with any time to see the destination city).  Chicago was not a city where we ever laid over.    

Until one day in the middle of our Seattle/ Newark cross-country extravaganza, our plane broke down in Chicago.  Since it was not one of our bases (our bases were Anchorage and Seattle), we could not easily get it repaired (our airline was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and was notorious for not paying bills—therefore, the contract workers in Chicago refused to fix our plane).  After three hours of sitting around waiting to see what would happen, the pilots made the decision that the crew desk needed to book us a hotel.  Finally, we were leaving the airport.    
Next thing you know, we were in scenic downtown Chicago!  If you’ve never been to Chicago, it reminded me of a smaller, kinder New York City.  And the lake! 

The lake was more like an ocean!  The shuttle van drove along the water’s edge while I gawked at its expansive glory.  And the wind!  The second we got out of the van, the wind whipped up and tried to blow us over.  It was only early May.  Our hotel was in a vintage brick building, and reminded me of something out of a movie set.

“What should we do first?” I asked the crew.  Since the airline was so small, I knew both pilots and the other two flight attendants (all four happened to be men) because we had flown together several times, and one of the pilots suggested Maggiano’s restaurant.  (As an aside, I’m sure you are familiar with Maggiano’s by now.  But the year was 1995, and the only Maggiano’s back then was the one in Chicago, the one where my crew and I would ultimately go eat dinner.)
We ate an incredible family-style meal, with a huge salad, mushroom ravioli, linguini, chicken, and for dessert, tiramisu.  I was in heaven. 

Next, we went to a comedy show.  I don’t remember who was headlining, but I do remember laughing until I cried.    

When we got back to the hotel, there was a message waiting for us.  We would pick up the rest of our trip tomorrow afternoon at the same time our original flight had been scheduled.  This meant we had all morning in Chicago, too! 

The next morning, I got up early and went for a walk along the lake.  I had not brought my running shoes because the trip was originally supposed to lay-over in Newark for only 10 hours.  This trip was when I really learned to pack for anything and “expect the unexpected.”
I ate breakfast at a small café, and then went to the Art Institute as soon as they opened. 

I did not spend as much time there as I wanted because I also wanted to do a bit of shopping.  In the back of my mind, I was very worried this might be my only trip to Chicago ever.  I wanted to see and do as much as possible in case I didn’t get the chance to come back (the irony being that after MarkAir went out of business, I was hired by United, whose training facilities and Worldwide Hub are, you guessed it, in Chicago).  I was constantly checking my watch, nervous that I would be gone too long and miss the shuttle van if I lost track of time. 

I arrived back to the hotel, packed my suitcase (including some new books and a sweater I had bought), and changed into my uniform.  I met the pilots and other flight attendants in the lobby 10 minutes before the shuttle bus arrived. 
It was the best trip to Chicago I never planned. 



  1. Enjoyed your 3 A-Z posts. Been to Chicago and Boston as well. Had bronchitis in Chicago!!! Have a friend who was a flight attendant. She used to say you are the only guys who stand aside and usher people out when the plane is burning.

  2. Thanks for commenting-- and I'm definitely going to bookmark your site! I have a secret fling with all things aviation, so it's very exciting for me to read about this kind of stuff! Looking forward to reading more posts about your experiences!

  3. I've never been to Chicago, but I would love to go one day.

    New follower here. I’m enjoying reading my fellow “A to Z”ers. I look forward to visiting again.


  4. I have always wanted to go to Chicago. My boyfriend insists we'll go one weekend, seeings how its only like a 4 hour train ride from GV. I have been to Boston and it is absolutely gorgeous.
    Awesome that you've been to all these places working for the Airlines! I always imagined that job would be incredibly boring; guess I was wrong!

  5. A perfect trip. I know you wish they all could have been like that. You described it perfectly.

  6. Sounds like a fun trip! I think that would be fun to go to Chicago.
    I dont think i could be on all those flights though!

  7. Liking the travel theme! Chicago is definitely a fun city with lots to do.

  8. Wow. You certainly had a good time! We flew to Chicago a couple years ago to visit my daughter who lived south of there. She now lives in Peoria, so I imagine we will fly back there again. Great post!

    Gregg Metcalf

  9. I've only been to the airport switching planes. Would love to tour the city!

  10. Hi,

    Thanks for your comments on A to Z. I got a chance to spend a few hours in Chicago several years ago too. I was traveling with my mother and she wouldn't fly so we took the train. Great food, wonderful pastrami sandwiches. I will stay in touch with your blog. I don't get to travel much so hearing about your travels is great.


  11. The only problem with Chicago is the parking. Actually I guess you can't have a problem with it if it doesn't exist.
    Loved the pizza though!
    I like your writing style . . . I'll be back for more.
    Go a to z!

  12. Great story. I've been to Chicago a few times, mostly to hang out in Oak Park with a school chum, and walk around and enjoy the houses Frank Lloyd Wright designed.

    A-Z @ Elizabeth Twist

  13. I've always wanted to visit Chicago! Love your description.

  14. Good story. I used to live in Northwest Indiana which was like the bad side of Chicago, although we lived in the good part of the bad side so it wasn't really all that bad. Been around Chicago some.

    I writing about travel as well on my memoir blog. See link below.

    Places I Remember
    Wrote By Rote
    An A to Z Co-host blog

  15. Chicago sounds wonderful and I love the travel theme.

    Looking forward to the next trip already!

  16. What a fun blog! I like your writing!

  17. Hello, Fellow Challenger. This is gonna be a great trip through the Challenge. Love it. Hope you also have found a mag to publish your tales. I'm #424 from Rockin' Chair Reflections. Come visit when you can.

  18. I wanted to be a flight attendant when I was a little girl. Maybe it's not as glamorous as I thought. But I do like your travel posts.

  19. I LOVE Chicago. My highlights were Pizzarea Uno, The Museum of Science and Industry, Second City, and the beautiful May tulips. New follower and fellow A to Z-er.

  20. I love these little surprises - experiences you don't plan but are wonderful. I've never been to Chicago but I hope to go there one day. Great post.

  21. I don't think I've ever enjoyed Chicago as much as I just did reading your post. Being from the midwest, it's just another town - but I'm very glad you enjoyed it!

  22. HI! All three of your sites are so cool! I am looking forward to reading them! This one is cosmic in that I was hoping to go to Alaska this summer but am short on cash but I did go to Boston two years ago JUST TO SEE THAT PLACE. I will be in NYC later this month and Chicago is big on my to do list. Can't wait to read about your other travel stories!

  23. Great A,B and C! .....good reads! Looking forward to D!

  24. MOV, this is wonderful. I have dear old friends in Chicago and have visited twice since relocating to Wisconsin. We don't "do the town" much because we are too busy jabbering, but I was lucky enough to accompany my friend Carolyn to her Music Therapy visits (her calling and profession), and boy, did we see the sights. Also caught one of her two amazingly talented actress daughters in an improv show! Nice love letter to Chi-Town, and a wonderful bit of serendipity... Peace, Amy

  25. Sounds wonderful, MOV! I've never been to the States, but if I ever cross the pond, I'll surely take a trip to Chicago!

  26. This is awesome - I loved Chicago when I visited it :) totally visiting again next time I'm in the States!

  27. Thank you very much to everyone who wrote!!!

    I am excited to read all your blogs too.


  28. The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.


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