Chicago, Chicago…

I’ve written about the trip I took to New York City with my friend Vicki, while I was a student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  Big cities have always been a joy for me to navigate, even now, in my elder years, when I travel.

Some of the fondest memories I have of my earlier life involve the trips I took to Chicago while I was an employee of the Social Security Administration in the 1970’s.  All of the trips – there were many – hang together in my mind and memory, as if one.  

I worked as a Claims Representative and then a Field Representative at Social Security offices in Green Bay, Milwaukee, and Waukesha, Wisconsin, starting in 1973 and until I was offered the position of Consumer Affairs Officer for the Food and Drug Administration in downtown Milwaukee in the fall of 1980.  Unknown to most folks, at that time the professional education offered by the government for staff was excellent.  And so I had the privilege to take executive level courses in various fields, including public relations and communications.  Doing so involved my spending a week at a time in the Loop in Chicago.

I’d board the train in Milwaukee and arrive in the Loop after 90 minutes.  From the train station, I’d walk to my hotel – my reservation waiting for me – at the Palmer House in downtown Chicago.  After checking in for the evening, I’d take myself out to dinner at a nice downtown restaurant.  Being on my own, traveling alone, and eating at a restaurant alone might have been a stretch for me at the beginning, but I found that I liked the freedom of having my own time.

In the morning, I’d arrive at the government offices, a short distance from the Palmer House, and begin the class, which lasted for five days.  In the class, I had new friends and acquaintances, and after the first morning, I had companions to explore the city during lunch break and in the evenings.  

On one trip, I had my hair cut at the Vidal Sassoon studio in the Loop, the year that his famous bob cut was all the rage.  On another trip, I shared the elevator in the hotel with a comedian who was famous at the time.  As I walked to the restaurant in the hotel one evening, I saw Ella Fitzgerald and her entourage as they navigated getting her safely checked in to the Palmer House.  

As the week ended, I’d walk back to Union Station to meet my good friend Sue – who passed many years ago – for a cocktail at the station before I boarded the train that took me back to Milwaukee, to my regular life.

A theme in my life seems to be that my life has expanded as I’ve grown older.  As a young person, my life expanded as I met new people and new experiences, going places that I’d heard others talk about, but never imagined for myself.  Maybe my mother’s imagination – her dreams for me – held those places.  I know she was proud of my expanding world.  As for me, I’m grateful.  

“Chicago (My Kind of Town)”, Fred Fisher, lyrics