I arrived in Chicago from Minneapolis with battle fatigue. I was tired and exhausted and really didn’t feel like seeing another North American city. After half an hour at Union Station trying to find my way out, I thought that I had arrived at the most unfriendly and busy place in the world. I was close to tears and could hardly formulate my question when I finally found someone who was willing to tell me where to go to reach the orange line.
But whatever I felt then has changed. As soon as I got off the station area, and crossed the bridge to the Loop and Quincy station, I knew that I had to discover this place; that it was not just another North American city and that I was going to love it. At Quincy, the attitude of people had changed too. I decided that it was probably the stress of the Amtrak station with constantly late trains and weary passengers that had created the mood at Union Station, and that it was not at all a general trait of the Chicagoans.
I was heading for Ashland where my host was living, and I quickly realised that going from Quincy and out I would get the pleasure of driving almost the entire Loop. Now I didn’t even know about the way the railway is elevated and the trains drive on a level above the cars in a circle around the inner city. Neither could I ever have imagined that in a modern day big city a train station could have been build and kept all in wood. Quincy station was the perfect starting point for a first meeting with Chicago and the following trip around the Loop had my eyes pop further and further out of my head. Forgotten was the exhaustion and the homesickness and weariness. I was in Chicago
Now the Loop which I refer to is the actual elevated rail which encircles the commercial part of Downtown Chicago. This area, however, is also named the Loop, which again might be because of the railway.
There were elevated railways into Downtown Chicago before the construction of the Loop, but it was this circle construction which connected Downtown to several outer areas. In my eyes and after more than a month in the Western parts of Canada and the US, the amazing thing is that the construction of the Loop dates back to 1895-97. It is quite a brilliant idea and due to its age and, hence, design, it also brings a lot of mystery and futurism to Chicago. The shiny steel trains, though of much younger date, adds to this feeling of being in a sci-fi movie, or perhaps just Batman Begins.
Quincy station, I realised later, is remarkable as it is the eldest and only original platform left on the Loop. It dates back to the time of the construction of the Loop in 1897, and standing on the platform you feel as if you are somewhere in the wild west. At least, I couldn’t get ‘Once upon a time in the West’ out of my head.
So with all these movie references popping around in my head, I began my journey around. It was 7 PM and the light had been turned on in Chicago. Most of the theatres which are visible from the Loop, such as Chicago Theatre and Oriental Theatre show enormous sparkling neon signs – sings that are world famous as landmarks for the city of Chicago. They light up the city and brings it to life in the evening. Driving the Loop, you see the streets of Chicago with their neon lights from a higher vantage point than when you walk the street, and to me it seemed as if for each street the train passed, I saw another evening scene from a distance. It was magnificent, and I was almost sad when the train moved off the Loop and headed towards Ashland. Yet, I have two full days in Chicago and I plan to make the best of it.