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Poe's North American Tour '99

Episode 9: Guido the Killer Pimp

Chicago, Chicago... I've seen it in film so many times, now I've seen it for real. It's a big city, a unique city and a noisy city. I was in North America for three months and I heard more car horns being pipped in my few hours in Chicago than everywhere else put together.

It was a last minute decision. Tracy had a few days off and we decided to get out of Detroit and go somewhere for a couple of days. We thought maybe Ontario, but we'd be going back there anyhow (which we did)... we thought maybe Cincinatti, but were planning on getting there later too (which we didn't)... and we thought maybe Chicago. And Chicago won. Lucky Chicago - hee.

We weren't there for long. We got there half an hour late (luckily Chicago is an hour behind Detroit, which we'd forgotten about, so we were really on time) to meet up with WillM outside the Art Institute of Chicago. That half an hour gave us time to wander through Grant Park to the shores of Lake Michigan. Right there is the 135 foot tall Buckingham Fountain which I am told is the one used in the credits for Married with Children. Not that I watch trashy American tv...

We were proud to be the first two Cosmonauts that Will had ever met. Of course now he's caught the bug, and found his way to the meetups in Philadelphia and Boston. Will has a pony tail (not any more) and a beard (not any more). I presume he's still tall tho... and he has the clearest, most precise voice I can imagine. His wit is sharp too.

The three of us wandered around the galleries for a while and enjoyed the variety that the institute offered. One room would be filled with old masters, the next with unfathomable modern art. I was disappointed by the Oriental gallery, being interested in that genre of art, but found a new artist to impress me.

His name is Ivan Albright and you can download images of some of his paintings here. He was an American artist who painted the most strange and bizarre paintings I've ever seen. He had a twisted eye and a flair for colour and would often do totally weird things: one painting was set up with a beautiful young model posing for him, yet he painted a bloated lesion-ridden hag. A unique and twisted mind.

I spent three months wandering the continent: I saw the ocean from all four corners of the States and saw both coasts of Canada. I hate to think how many miles I travelled, but I'm an amateur traveller compared to the other player we met in Chicago. Recently moved from San Francisco to New York, we met him in Chicago where he'd just flown in from Paris, Asad Khan is a bright young businessman and a total gossip. He also proved to be a wonderful tour guide to Chicago and drove us all over in his hired car, pointing out notable sights with a local knowledge beaten only by GHT_III's knowledge of Detroit (see episode 8).

He took us up the John Hancock Building, not as tall as the Sears Tower but pretty damn big anyway. There is a special observation gallery on the 94th floor, which we didn't pay $10 to get into; rather we went a couple of floors higher, past the restaurant and into the bar, where we paid an exorbitant price for drinks (though less than $10) and got an extra two floors of height from which to view the roofs of the city.

We ate at an Iranian restaurant, of all things, which was certainly interesting. Not sure about the mint flavoured seaweed or whatever it was, but the meat was good. And then we hit the film stuff... renactments in the real places.

We headed down LSD (Lake Shore Drive) at high speed, just like the scene in Risky Business: "It's 3.30 in the morning, I have a trig mid-term tomorrow and we're being chased by Guido the killer pimp!" We followed Jake and Elwood Blues by diving under The L, the overhead rail system ("How often does that go past? So often you won't even notice it..."), descended onto Lower Wacker Drive and emerged close to the Hon. Richard J. Daley Plaza ("that's where they have the Picasso...").

I think we ran out of time before we ran out of lines; so we headed back to the purple pickup and off to Indiana for the night, very glad to have met Asad and Will. Out of the twenty states and provinces that I managed to visit during my tour, most were for quite a while. But Quebec and New Brunswick were just part of the train route from Ontario to Nova Scotia, and New Hampshire and Indiana were only for short distances en route to other states. At least we stopped in Indiana though...

Next morning found us up bright and early to drop in on a surprise visit to Paulee and his bookshop in Dowagiac, MI. Unfortunately we hit a few flaws. One was trying to navigate without an appropriate map (we'd already wandered all over Chicago on arriving there after realising that we had no map to get us anywhere). Somehow I misread a road on the map (actually understandable, for a change) and the total lack of comprehensible local signs meant that we took a scenic tour round south Michigan farmland for quite some time before finding the right road. We then headed up the right road in the wrong direction before realising our mistake and finally got on the right track to Dowagiac. Whew.

The second flaw was that Olympia Books was shut. So much for a surprise visit... We hung around for a while anyway tho, and enjoyed a fabulous dinner at a totally empty restaurant not far from the bookshop. It looked like nothing from the outside, but inside it was stunning. Wood everywhere and wonderful art on the walls, the food was good too. And we explored slowly for a while. Dowagiac was voted the most beautiful town in Michigan at one point. I wouldn't say it's quite that beautiful but it's certainly a lovely little town with not a lot to spoil it.

Maybe fate decreed I wouldn't meet Paulee and buy half his bookshop. I certainly avoided bookshops for most of the trip for monetary reasons, and was very proud of myself for not giving into temptation more often. It is somewhere I'd like to return to at some point tho. Maybe next time.

Previous Episode: Within Four Miles of a Lake.
Next Episode: Etude.

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