As I write this evening, from the aptly-named ‘windy city' Chicago, I'm surrounded by a bunch of angry Spaniards desperately trying to connect their laptops simultaneously to the hostels wireless network. This time last night I would have been sitting on a train struggling to stay awake amid the strangely fatigue-inducing sway of the train, steaming along from New York to make it to Chicago for about 10-ish this morning – a fairly serious journey of 19 hours. The night before that Ryan and I were sitting in a bar in New York drinking pints and discussing how exactly we'd managed to book a hostel in Harlem, the shall we say, not entirely desirable area of town. What a difference a few days make. Things have seriously started picking up in terms of the pace of the trip – I've suddenly noticed I'm packing my bag every second day seemingly (not that it's at all bothering). Last night, some extremely religious woman was trying to impose her beliefs on me by force – this evening, I'm typing this while simultaneously trying to hold a conversation with a French man about the same age as myself here on an internship with a company for 2 months just trying to settle in and figure out where to live.
Toronto as always, was good. For a change of pace, I managed to avoid the ‘hilarious' Canadians you might remember me commenting on back on January (they thought it was hilarious that I turned up looking for a boat to the Toronto islands when the lake was frozen over) and actually got out to the islands, complete with bike. Really, it was probably just as well that I didn't make it until now – they really are spectacular and whether it is the case or not, the whole area has this strange sort of Dalkey vibe to it except minus the Starbucks and the overpriced restaurants. The rest of the time in Toronto was spent mostly catching up with people and of course, delving into our usual XL sized pizza that has become a staple part of every trip to Toronto. All in all, it was good, if a little too quick to properly manage to catch up with everyone.
Onto the plane then to speed down to New York – I hate this particular expression but ‘touch wood' I've had very successful flights in terms of timeliness so far and I hope it continues, although I'm sure it's due to come to an end very shortly. The plane was more or less empty and for some reason, they still put on the in-flight entertainment even though in fact it only lasted about 40 minutes before having to be turned off due to the imminent touchdown. Don't really know what that was about. New York is a really strange place – in my case I took the Airtrain to Jamaica and the Long Island Rail Road from there. It actually stays above ground for a long time, disappears underground and when it finally comes to a stop and you end up scaling the 3 or 4 escalators required to get to ground level, it all can become very quickly disorienting. Everywhere I looked there were huge buildings, people begging (and by begging, I really mean borderline trying to mug) and millions of people walking in front, behind, beside and nearly on top of you.
It's not that it's not a nice place, I just found it a bit much. New York's a pretty cool city, but the problem is they seem to be 100% aware of this and have so many visitors that they don't really care for helping them. I get it – it's a bit like those Americans all swarming off the coaches on Nassau St. back at home and clogging the whole area up in nanoseconds and then trying to take pictures of anything, even me. But their subway system is strangely complex – it's very old, not air conditioned in the stations, there seemed to be at least one beggar per train and the subway station attendants were bordering on the obnoxious. The problem is, while we complain about tourists on Nassau St. (although it could be just me), we also know that they're there most likely in part due to the various concerted efforts made by Bord Failte. New York on the other hand doesn't put any effort into attracting visitors and then proceeds (it seems to me anyway) to treat them like dirt when they get there. But it's ok because they know and most of us know that it's not going to stem the steady flow of tourists to the place whereas I know (much to my delight) that a couple of choice statements on Nassau St. would certainly stem the tide into Ireland.
Before I knew it though, Sunday had rolled around and it was time to get on Amtrak 49 ‘Lake Shore Limited'. The brochure assured me of incredible sights and beautiful views. Just two things happened very early on that threatened me ever getting to see these beautiful views – first off, the woman beside me was very friendly. Very friendly. Her diary had a different quote from the bible everyday. Then her pen she used to sign her ticket said something about sinners on it. Now, while I've no major issue with people into religion, experience has taught me that Americans feel it important to not only share their thoughts on religion, but to also try and ram it down your throat. Secondly, the train was probably only about 10 minutes out of the station when I began to feel really very tired – I don't know how, but it seemed to be being exaggerated about 30 times by the motion of the train. Needless to say, the woman beside me eventually got cracking with the old bible-speak as I'd expected and the combination of the cradle-like swaying of the train and various quotes from the bible and how she had been living a sinful life meant that very quickly 4pm somehow seemed to turn to 7pm. When I finally came to my senses again, the other one had drifted off. But she quickly awoke and began her line of questioning with ‘So you haven't really got in touch with your spiritual side?'. The longer this went on, the only side I was slowly getting in touch with was the side of the train and before long I had a look at my watch and it was now about 10pm. I don't know what was happening, I just couldn't stay awake!
Sometime around 10am then, we finally pulled in, by which stage my legs felt like they were about to drop off. So far, Chicago's looking very good – a lot more manageable than New York and the friendliness so far is actually making me curious it's such a dramatic change from NYC! So that's it for now then, hopefully next time I'll have something on Chicago, in the meantime I'm going to try and partake in the conversation with the Spaniards since they're getting stereotypically loud…