|The eponymously named River flowing by Chicago|
Approximately 500 miles away was the next place on our itinerary. This happened to be Chicago about which we had read in our Geography lessons in higher secondary level. I still can remember the numerous sets of railway tracks that were shown in a photograph only to display its importance in movement of commodities from east to west and vice versa.
Chicago was also known for its Hoods, the members of the Mafia, also
known as The Mob
or the Chicago Outfit. Al Capone was its head for around seven years working
his way up from a lowly brothel bouncer. An American mobster, he was also known
as Scarface, He became the crime boss during the era of Prohibition in the
United States. The Mob was well portrayed in a fictionalized manner in the film
Godfather with name changed of the main character as Don Corleone.
|High rises, the hallmark of Chicago|
|high rises through the bare trees|
It takes around 5 hours to get to Chicago from Edwardsville. I do not remember whether it was a state highway or a national highway but one could do 100 miles an hour on it with ease. My sister who was driving her car did just that. Around couple of hours later we reached a place which was a pit stop for travellers to relax and refresh themselves. The sandwiches and flasked tea came out. It was a nice place with a large number of trees providing shade to the rough wooden benches and tables. Rest rooms were also available – in short an ideal stop on a highway which Nitin Gadkari would do well to emulate. We sorely lack such facilities on our highways or even at bus stops.
The highway was not like ours which plough through the urban streets.
elevated, branches of it descend down to various areas that are considered
important for access to and from a highway. We were to go to Michigan Avenue
and as the signage for it appeared down we went towards it off the high way. I
found it very interesting and wondered whether these works were taken up during
the Great Depression of the early 1930s. I recall having read that the US built
and highways during the Depression to boost the sagging economy.
|Chicago from the Skydeck on Sears Tower|
We had been booked into Best Western Hotel on the Michigan Avenue. I do not know whether the street was named after the Michigan State where it could be heading or the Michigan Lake along which it ran. The Hotel was right in front of the Lake Michigan. One would imagine that situated as it was on the Lake-front it would offer great views. There was nothing of this kind as the Lake was
shrouded in mist. We hardly could see its waters unless we went close to its
The city is full of high rises, in fact, most of them are skyscrapers. After all it was in Chicago and New York that the first skyscrapers came in. The term “skyscraper” came into common parlance around 1880s. I remember to have read a humourous book “How to Scrape Skies” long ago by the European humourist George Mikes making fun of Americans and their
|On the Skydeck|
Now that we were in Chicago we had to visit the tallest sky-scraper in the US. It was the Sears Tower that was built around 1970's by Sears Roebuck, world’s largest retailer. I remember to have seen its very fat catalogue in Mumbai once. There was hardly anything in the world that
was not displayed in the
catalogue. Sears built the Tower expecting a high growth rate to accommodate at
one place all its rising numbers of employees dispersed all over the town. The
growth didn’t materialize and competition from various sources in fact cut into
the growth. Around the time we visited the Tower, Sears was occupying only
about half of it and many of its modules were vacant. Progressively
vacated various floors it occupied, eventually vacating it altogether and yet
it continued to have the legal rights to its name being attached to the Tower.
Only when a British Insurance Company leased a portion of the building and
obtained the building’s naming rights it came to be known as the Willis Tower
|Another picture from the Skydeck|
|Shimmering waters of Chicago River|
The Skydeck is located on the 103rd floor where visitors are swooshed up in 60 seconds or so in high speed elevators. At 1300-odd ft. it is the
observation deck in the US and one can see below some pigmy high rises as also
view the plains sprawling in front for miles. I could spot Chicago’s busy
O’Hare Airport. However, nothing much could be seen through the haze of Lake
Michigan. Yes. One does feel the wind up there and Chicago is known for its
high winds and is also called “the windy city”. On days of very high winds
people visiting the Tower have felt it swaying.
|Another view of Chicago|
|Yet another view of Chicago|
As it happens whenever we are abroad we are fascinated to see the “desis” in foreign environment. So off we went to the Devon Avenue (curiously pronounced “Devaan”) where a critical mass of South Asians live, work, do business and thrive. A major east-west street, Devon avenue takes off from near Lake Michigan and ends up a few kilometers away near the O’Hare Airport literally cutting across the town. It is so long that portions of it have been re-named after, inter alia, the leaders of South Asia like Mahatma Gandhi, Muhammed Ali Jinnah and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. One can find on this avenue Assyrian Americans, Russian Americans, Indian Americans, Pakistani Americans, Bangladeshi Americans and numerous other varieties of Americans. The Native Americans, the Injuns, however, remain elusive.
As we got off the vehicle we trotted towards a shop that had even Bengali characters on its signboard. It was a Bangladeshi outfit indeed
and the kind of fish they had imported from Bangladesh was
remarkable. They had every kind looking bright and fresh for which a Bengali
would walk miles to get. Apart from the fish they had the spices that go with
the different kinds of fishes. Besides, a young marriageable Bong wouldn’t need
to go to India or Bangladesh as he could very well shop here for his elaborate
and interminable wedding.
|A thoroughbred skyscraper taken from a car window|
Another outstanding feature of the City is the multilevel Wacker Drive. Most of it is double decked with the upper level is meant for the
local traffic and the lower one
for the through traffic and heavy vehicles. A part of it has a third level
which is known as the Lower Lower Wacker Drive. For some distance Wacker Drive
runs along the Chicago River which too has a rather illustrious history. Its
flow was reversed to prevent it from carrying our civilisational bye product to
the Lake Michigan in the shape of sewage. It was a complicated civil
structureengineering project of the 19th Century which involved in creating
several canals and deepening some others. We went along this remarkable River
and saw its clear shimmering waters in the lights of the surrounding
|Abraham Lincoln's house in Springfield|
|A neighbouring period structure|
On our way back around 200 miles down the Highway is Springfield, the capital of Illinois State and also the repository of the heritage of
Abraham Lincoln, the
16th President of the US, a favourite American of mine despite his
many flaws. We visited his house in the National Heritage Centre that has been
created for its protection. He lived few years of his life in this house where
he fathered a few children and lost one. The house has been kept as it was in
Lincoln’s time with the same furniture and other fixtures. A double-storied
affair was imposing enough for a President-to-be considering the several other
restored structures in the neighbourhood that seem puny in comparison.
Nonetheless, these roo have been restored and thrown open to visitors to enable
them to get a feel of the life and times of Lincoln.
|On the road in front of Lincoln's house|