The trip was to take three hours, thirty-seven minutes according to our MapQuest directions. Five hours, fifteen minutes later, after Interstate and Expressway traffic at a crawl, waiting in line at “Skyway” tollbooths, we pulled in front of our hotel, the Indigo Gold Coast. “Gold Coast” should have been the tip-off. The rate we got on Hotwire was a deal for downtown Chicago to be sure, only $95. I checked in and asked about parking. “Thirty-seven dollars a night.” he said nonchalantly. “What!” said I, not quite so nonchalantly. “$37” he repeated, “You can charge it to your room.”
So here we are, two children, two strangers in a strange land. I spent summers and holidays here, until I was ten years old and my grandparents moved to Florida. A flood of memories – the parachute ride and Aladdin’s Funhouse at the old Riverview Amusement Park, Chute-the Chutes; Bushman, the famous gorilla at the Lincoln Park Zoo; the toy trains at Marshall Fields during Christmas; the Museum of Science and Industry with its coal mine and German submarine; dinosaur bones at the Field Museum; the Prudential Building was the tallest skyscraper (pre-John Hancock, pre-Sears Tower); riding the L (my mind can still reel off the stations); walking across the boulevard each night with my grandmother to buy a quart bottle of Meister Brau beer and bottles of RC Cola and Mountain Dew.
Here we are again, strangers. Although Tish comes up here every spring with the eighth graders. Familiar and unfamiliar. So different from my town that, at one million, is not such a small town. So much more … urban. The scale is different. More dense, more vertical, more diverse, more varied. This is, afterall, “hog-butcher to the world”.
The “Gold Coast” neighborhood is so genteel – quiet, shaded streets, town-houses predating the Great Fire. Thirty-seven dollars a night for our little car. Land is a premium. Life in the big city. We eat down the block, Chicago-style stuffed pizza. We have trouble, understanding the waiter’s accent, not foreign – Chicagoan. The streets are busy with pedestrians, just a few blocks from the Rush Street party scene. The next morning the party streets have been closed off and lined with the white tents of a farmers market. You can find everything in a big city.
The next morning we drive to Des Plains and find the community center where the BMT InfoNet meeting is being held. Fifteen minutes late even though we left a half-hour early, again misjudging Chicago traffic and detours. The lady running the meeting is the founder of the organization. No groups for transplant patients in the early days. The mailing list has jumped from 700 to twenty-thousand over the years. This is basically a support group, but they are planning a conference in Boston next Spring. (BMT InfoNet Homepage). One of the survivors has lost sight in one eye as I have. Another has struggled with skin graft versus host disease, worse than mine. Another lady gets nervous when it is time to return to the oncologist for follow-up (don’t we all!) Everyone has a story. Everyone shares. I share the therapeutic wonders of blogging and pass out a hand-out, a version of “How To Start Your Own Cancer Blog.”
It’s time to return downtown. Valet parking at the $37 garage, mandatory. Am I supposed to tip each time? I should be getting a free lunch I think. They leave the cars unlocked, the keys on the front seat with a little steel lock that slides on the ignition key. We walk down to the Water Tower (survivor of the Great Fire) and then on down to the Navy Pier. I try not to stare up at buildings (“look, that guy must be from Indiana”). We notice the Northwestern School of Medicine. A lot of oncologists trained there. The streets are crowded. The Navy Pier is worse. We consider briefly a close-out sale on high-rise condos, only two million.
We buy a package deal – Cirque Shanghai, a chinese acrobatics show in the open air amphitheatre; a ride on the 150 foot Ferris Wheel (the Ferris Wheel, Monsieur Ferris’ wheel, made its first appearance at the Chicago World’s Fair, intending to rival Monsieur Effel’s Tower); and finally, most memorably a sunset harbor tour – all for only $27 (less than parking! … I am obsessing?) It is a dramatic sunset over Chicago, the changing sky studded with great clouds. The temperature is just right for snuggling but not too cold out there on the lake.
A great city, full of wonders. I think about Cancer Bitch (author of this month’s Book Club selection), walking purposefully on these same streets. A city of wonders. But Cancer found its way here long ago. People get cancer everywhere. Even remote islands, even Antarctica. There’s no escape. But there are survivors, We are all survivors. There is no escape, but there can be celebration. We celebrate our trip to Chicago.
I reread Carl Sandberg’s Chicago. The less remembered lines, do they remind me of my battle with cancer?
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning
as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has
never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse.
and under his ribs the heart of the people,
~ Carl Sandberg, from Chicago
Book Club Reading Assignment: “The Adventures of Cancer Bitch” by S. L. Wisenberg, pages 80-120
Discussion Questions: Have any of you used your bald head for henna designs? More thoughts on the nickname, Cancer Bitch – do you suppose the persona is a reaction to or a defense against her cancer experience? The author’s Jewish background pervades her life and writing as well as giving some context to her experience as a cancer victim. In what ways might your own cultural background have affected your experience? and in what ways has your background and upbringing been helpful and ? (we saw this theme in our last book also) Sandi writes “I fell I should be suffering more, that I’m faking it….That I feel guilty because I fell good even though I am supposed to be dying.” (p.93) Does this feel familiar for any of you? She describes bone pain (p.95 & 98) Share your own reaction to chemo side effects. On page 100 she very eloquently compares suffering to depression. Did this ring true for you?