If you think a C$30 daily budget is tight, bear in mind two things. Half of my nights will be spent on trains, so that's accomodation already paid for. The other half, I will be spending with friends and with members of the Hospitality Club. This free network of like minded travellers (now numbering well over 100,000 worldwide) offers travellers the chance to stay on people's floors, sofas or spare beds for free. It requires a certain degree of trust on both people, but because of that usually works out really well. Not only do you save money on accomodation, but you also get to see a 'real' side to the city you are visiting.
My hosts tonight live in the north end of Chicago. I take the CTA red line subway up to Thorndale, although unfortunately my late arrival has meant we've missed each other. Fearing a break down in my itinerary already, I hunt for a payphone and then realise I didn't note down my host's number. Somewhat sweaty and stressed, I return to the CTA station where I got off, and find a small internet cafe. Re-connected with the world, I am able to look up the phone number and leave a message advising my hosts that I will be around later. I also take the time to research a few back up options, just in case, and to make a quick long distance Sykpe call.
In the end, all goes well, and I get through to my hosts. By five o'clock, I've been welcomed into their clean, bright apartment just five minutes from the CTA line. I'm even offered a spare slice of pizza, which is just too good to resist. Now I know what a real Chicago deep pan pizza is like - those frozen examples in the supermarkets back home just don't come close, even to a reheated one :)
I take an hour or two to go out and ride the CTA line a few stops south. I'll leave downtown for tomorrow morning, so explore the busy streets around Wrigley Field baseball stadium, where neighbouring bars and pubs have built miniature banks of roof top seating for fans who want to watch the game from the balconies. I pick up a bottle of wine from a liquor store (and get ID'd... still a surprise when you're 23) before heading back.
One of my hosts has a friend visiting from England, so with the two Chicago visitors in tow, we are taken out for a night of live 'progressive jazz' at the Green Mill Bar in the near north of Chicago. The words 'progressive' and 'jazz' are probably two I would not usually go looking for when going out for a drink, but when in Rome...
Surprisingly, it had it's good moments, although unsurprisingly, I felt that they were outnumbered by the bad moments. With no disrespect to the band who were playing (formed by the members of two bands from the USA and Sweden, playing together for just two nights), I couldn't help feeling alienated by the music. The sounds that appeal to me the most come from bands who take a group of musicians and musical instruments, and who create something that becomes greater than the sum of its parts. I found this particular evening to be dominated by individual performers living it up in the spotlight, with no clear sense of where the music was coming together.
Am I a philistine? Or just culturally immature? There's stil time for me to be converted... ;)
We walk home, along North Broadway past restaurants and cafes that are closed by 23:00 on a Saturday night.