Day 2 of Trip to Land of the Free

Last night I went to bed at 9pm and fell asleep at 9:00:15 seconds. When I woke up I wondered why the sun came up so late and leaned over to check my watch and saw it was 4am. I thought I must have in my stupor last night set my watch incorrectly and so got up and checked my cellphone clock as well but it unfortunately reflected the same time. I thought I better get back to sleep again and tried to do that until 5am when I gave up and got up and cleared my emails. Out of respect for my beloved I left the light off and worked by the light of the laptop screen but at 6am I gave up on that and turned the light on. She didn’t stir so I won’t make that mistake again.

At about 7am she woke up and at 7:45am I went to check on the kids and found Chloe awake and reading her book with the aid of light she had brought along and the boys were still sleeping. Both of them had woken at 4am and 4:30am but they both went back to sleep again. Michael was buried in his bed. Stephen woke up again and we agreed to leave for breakfast at 8:30am. As breakfast at our hotel was +- $20 per person, we set out to find somewhere else to eat and after walking 20 minutes and crossing the Chicago River we found a bakery where we could have breakfast at ¼ of the price we would have paid in the hotel. Helen had muesli and the rest of us had scrambled egg with Applesandle wood smoked bacon (very nice!). All served on a plastic plate with plastic knife and fork. We walked back to the hotel and realised on the way back that everything (including all the shops) only opened at 10am. I was very stunned by this as in SA most shops are open at 8:30am and none later than 9am and so in the consumer country of the USA I was very surprised to find everything only opening at 10am.

We came back to the hotel and collected our camera’s et al and then headed out to the John Hancock Building – 2nd highest building in Chicago after the Sears Tower (now called the Willis Tower). They say the John Hancock Tower might be lower but it has a better view of Chicago. The viewing deck is on the 94th floor. Unfortunately the lift up (which takes 40 seconds but is the fastest lift in America) caused an onset of dizziness for Michael and so he just sat down at the top and waited for the rest of us to enjoy the view over the city. You get an audio guide which is narrated by David Schwimmer (of Friends fame) and was quite interesting. Once down and outside we had a quick drink from a fresh juice bar and Michael improved sufficiently for us to take a Trolley tour around Chicago. We were the only 5 people on the Trolley (bus with wooden bench seats) and so the bus driver (tour guide) customised his commentary for us and even explained what baseball was when he heard we were from South Africa. He asked why we had left now over the World Cup and asked if we had a Vuvu even. I was quite surprised as most Americans don’t follow soccer (football is something different for them!). This was the 2nd time I had been surprised since arriving – yesterday the customs official asked me whether we had any biltong in the luggage!

The Trolley was one of those hop-on-hop-off types and about ½ way through we decided to jump off and take another one that headed to the suburbs and into South Chicago. The plan was to get off a the Science & Industry Museum. The tour of South Chicago took us past 2 famous people’s houses – Mohammed Ali’s and Barack Obama. They are very proud of the fact that Barack Obama comes from Chicago and they keep pointing out facts. Both bus trips claimed that Michele Obama met Barack at two different places – who knows who is actually correct! We jumped off at the museum and after a quick lunch in the foodcourt we went to sample the 800 interactive displays. It was like the MTN Science Centre on steroids. They have a German U-boat from WW2 and a United Airlines Boeing 727. They have a Storm centre which shows how Tsunami’s are caused, how lightening strikes, how tornado’s develop etc. It was interesting and entertaining. We planned to catch the 3:25pm bus back into the city centre and when it arrived it was pretty full. We (the strong lads of the family) ended up standing the whole way back (which turned about to an hour) while the ladies took seats vacated by two younger men. Stephen reckons he has developed a blister from holding on (it was my feet and ankles that were, and still are, killing me). The tickets for the Trolley tour give you a free T-Shirt so we collected those and then walked back to our hotel (about a 30 minute walk).

At about 6pm Janet (Greener) called to say she had arrived. She came in from London today and is attending the ICRS conference with me at St Louis from Sunday through Wednesday (more about that from Sunday onwards). We agreed to meet at 6:45pm at her hotel (which is directly behind our hotel – one block difference) and we went to dinner at an Italian family restaurant. Helen kindly told the waiter that it was my birthday 3 days ago because you got a free Brownie. I thanked her for that and reminded her how much she would have hated that if I had done it. (I have a memory like an elephant and I will get revenge!) We all started feeling quite tired over dinner and I am again battling to finish typing this without falling asleeppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppp (oops – sorry follow asleep again).

We have noticed a number of things about the US so far. Stephen reckons that he needs to speak to the women’s clothes manufacturers and tell them to lengthen the short pants. He is right – I don’t think you could get shorts any shorter as they would then be called underwear. While about 1 in 10 could wear them, the other 9 in 10 are simply scaring the children in the city (and they are actually scaring me as well!). When you have legs like tree stumps then you should cover them up and not flaunt them! The 2nd observation is that while I knew this before, their small (of anything but especially drinks) is like our large and sometimes our extra large even. If you drink the whole thing you just spend the rest of the day in the loo getting rid of it again. And then thirdly, after driving through one of the poorer areas in the South of Chicago, I was reminded again that even the poor in America are significantly better off than most people in Crossroads or Westlake. This country really is extremely prosperous and the pity is that I am not sure that most people are aware of how fortunate they are (and that is true even after the financial crisis).

And now it is 21:30 and I cannot keep my eyes open any longer.

From the Land of the Free and Wealthy

P, H, S, M, C

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