Chicago It was great to be back in Chicago following a sixteen year gap since my last visit. As a 20-year-old college student I spent the summer with my Aunt and Uncle in their suburban (Barrington) home and worked as a painter and decorated to fund the following years tuition fees. It was a great summer and I looked forward to catching up with family and friends.

During this visit I was also keen to tour downtown quite a bit as during the 1994 holiday I didn’t go into the city too much as it’s an 80 minute train ride and I was working a lot also. In addition, I’m eyeing up each place visited as a potential future home once this trip finishes. Back to the present and the first reunion was on the doorstep of my Aunt and Uncle’s home as they’d been tracking my progress on the website. It was fantastic to see them both were the first night was spent reminiscing.

Betty is one of the eldest of my late Grandparent’s eight children and it was good to hear some of the earlier family stories, as my mother being the youngest of the clan wouldn’t know as many. Remarkably the Chicago visit had a Swedish flavour, where my Uncle was born there so naturally drives a Volvo and was a Carpenter before retirement. Which is not to be confused with a Car-paint-er as my Grandmother did all those years ago on first meeting Lennart. Clearly accents muddying the understanding and a view she didn’t correct with the neighbours for many years afterwards. And then my good friend Liz was back in the US from Stockholm visiting both her parents who are not actually divorced. A misinterpretation on my side where time spent with Mommy in Sweden was only a summer fixture in the Houston family calendar and not a permanent arrangement.

The following day, my Uncle Lennart and I headed downtown. It was a glorious 28 degrees with blue skies and a cooling breeze coming in from the Lake. We took in Michigan Avenue, Chicago Board of Trade, Millennium Park and I got to see The Bean. An iconic sculpture made of stainless steel and it’s impressive how it has been buffed and polished to mirror like reflection that actually conceals all the wielding joints. Why this technique couldn’t have been applied to Dublin’s ridiculous city centre Spire is baffling. We then took in an Architectural Tour of the city. A first for me and definitely worth doing. It provided a great sense of the city and of its old and new world influences. Skipping the Sears Tower and its two-hour queue plus USD20 fee we headed to the 96th floor lounge of the Hancock Building for a Long Island Ice Tea and a plate of mini burgers. Great.

Later that week I headed back to the city with my cousin Anna-Lise to continue the tour. This time taking in: The Chicago Art Institute and Navy Pier. Both worth visiting and in that order and I particulary liked the Dutch room and the recently added American art wing. As art fatigue sets in it’s nice to switch off on the pier with the lighthearted sounds coming from the restaurants, bars and fairground rides. Other visits to the city, were of a nocturnal kind which included an excursion to see the Chicago Fire soccer team play against a strong Seattle side.

The invitation to this game came from Liz and by extension the Swedish Chamber of Commerce. The USD55 fee included a coach ride to and from the stadium with beers onboard, ticket into the game and places at a reserved area with complementary food and drink. Top. It was great to see Liz, finally met her daughter and hang out with the Swedish contingent. We had a good old night and I entertained the bus with an improvised comic session. However, some of the humour was lost as I hadn’t realised that most of the Swedes (and Nordic folk) were on the first bus. Good crew all the same and a few of us met again on Monday night to support the Chicago Bears. I enjoyed getting in on the vibe however to be honest I never really liked American Football due to the absence of continuous play. Good to catch up with Liz and to meet her friend Mia. The taste of Sweden continued into the kitchen as my Aunt served up kottbular, crispbread, rotmos, pepparkakor, limpa, kaviar (salmon variant from a tube) that was incredibly tasty. Somehow we didn’t get around to the aquavit! Next time.

During this visit it was great to also meet my cousin’s kids and Erica’s husband Mike. Erica has two kids: Owen who is 3.5 and Camille who was born only 10 days earlier and Anne-Lise’s adorable little girl Deirdre. Whose first birthday party was celebrated in their local park. Great to spend time with them, show Owen how to make paper aeroplanes and to see Deirdre calmly wave as her mother drove off on the back of my motorbike.

Other great evenings included BBQ’s at my Aunt and Uncles house, a trip to the biker bar “The Broken Oar” and a Friday Fish and Chips night at the local bakery that’s owned by a Meath man, who is a good guy despite being from Dublin’s neighbouring rival county. Cheers for the feed Mat. I also had two great evenings with my former colleagues Bob and Dan and their families. Bob is now retired and Dan fortunately continues to work during the hard-pressed construction slump. Both reminded me of how green behind the ear I was then however I finished that summer with useful experience that I later used at the homes of some family and friends.

Having spent over a week in Chicago it was time to hit the road again. It was great to see how the city and lives of family and friends had developed over a decade and a half. I could easily see how I might slot into a nice life in this city at some point.

Al Dempsey
13 October 2010