Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Windy City

On 7 November 2000 I blew in to the Windy City. The Windy City is mighty pretty, reputedly, but I didn’t see much of it except for hotel conference rooms and office suites. This was a glimpse of the life of the globetrotting businessman who has visited every great city on the planet to feast his eyes upon Hiltons and airport lounges …We joined the navy to see the world. And what did we see? We saw the sea…

I had been sent to Chicago by Mark, the second of my objectionable employers, to steal ideas from the Yanks which we could then translate to the British market. Mark had largely built his fortune through this method. I was semi-accompanied by three accountants, one of whom was marginally less humourless than the other two - a fact I attempted but mostly failed to exploit to help pass the time when our flight was delayed by four hours at Heathrow. The most humourless was a woman in her late thirties. She’ll be almost a decade older now and I’ll bet it shows.

With typical unpredictability, Mark had booked us onto the cheapest possible flight (Air India: choice of curries, William Morris-style décor, interminable Bollywood movies) but into one of the most expensive possible hotels: the towering Swissotel Chicago, located downtown by the confluence of Lake Michigan and the Chicago River on the magnificently-named East Wacker Drive.

It was dusk when we arrived. 7 November 2000 was the day George W Bush won his first Presidential election and some faction or other of Illinois-based Republicans was having a party at the Swissotel. The lobby was full of their joshings and jabberings. We fought our way through to the check-in desk where I discovered that Mark had failed to pay for my room. There must be some mistake, I said. The girl smiled blandly and confirmed that there was no mistake. I gave her my lowly HSBC credit card, more in hope than expectation. I was twenty-three years old: I didn’t have enough credit for one night at the Swissotel Chicago, never mind three. The girl apprised me of this fact, blandly. I said nothing. Behind, the least humourless of the semi-accompanying accountants semi-smiled and produced his AmEx to rescue me.

Up on the 38th floor, it’s still the most unnecessarily luxurious hotel room I’ve ever stayed in: two obese American-sized beds, a bathroom bigger than the Bristol flat I shared with my girlfriend, and the whole of one wall a picture window. Even while reeling from the Bollywood flight and the check-in humiliation, I could appreciate it. That mix of rage, confusion, gratitude and resentment was a familiar state of mind throughout the eight or so years I worked for Mark.

Outside were the lights of Chicago’s blocky beauty. Mighty pretty, the Windy City - what I could make of it. Chi-town, the Second City, Sears Tower, the Wrigley Building, the Loop, the Board of Trade Building. Al Capone’s city. Obama’s city, though I didn’t know it at the time. Muggsy Spanier’s city. I didn’t know that either, though the human world is smaller and much more interconnected than is generally realised.


worm said...

I think you should approach the BBC with the pitch to make a documentary where you hire a rather stupid and brightly coloured classic car and then drive around america interviewing people who may or may not know Muggsy Spanier. It could have lots of montage shots of seedy neon lights seen in slow motion through a rain-streaked car window, a few cold looking homeless people standing around braziers, and a soundtrack of a lone trumpet noodling away. It should be shown at 3am on BBC4.

Brit said...

I'd certainly watch it.

martpol said...

Just dropping in for the first time in ages to say that (a) I'm sure we'd all appreciate more travelogues from Brit, even if only from the coffee shop down the road, and (b) I got the musical reference and am therefore very clever. Did you see the private lawns?

Gaw said...

Just lovely Brit. And Worm, that sounds spot on. Except they'd fire Brit and get James May or Stephen Fry to do it instead. I didn't, however, get the musical reference. Or at least the other one.

Brit said...

Nor did I, Gaw, apart from the obvious one.

Wotcha Martpol - missed you in the recent pop music ding-dong. This might amuse you.

malty said...

More importantly, who would they get to play Brit, not replace him.
Dr Who is on the lookout, I hear.

I just flew in from the windy city
the windy city is mighty purdy
but they aint got what we got
no sir e

They got shacks up to seven stories
Never see any more the glories
But a step from our doorway
We got em for free

Theyve got those minstrel shows
purdy ladys in the big chapos
private lawns
public parks
for the sake of civic virtue
they've got fountains there that squirt you

I just flew in from the windy city
The windy city is mighty purdy
But they aint got what we got
Im tellin you boys
We got more life in Bristol city than the whole of Ilanoy

Beats our Poet Laureate's rhyming stuff.

What used to do my head in was waking up in yet another Marriott, Treff, Holiday Inn, whatever and not knowing which country I was in, let alone what town.

Brit said...

I think I would like to be played by the actor Benedict Cumberbatch. We don't look alike but he has such a good name.

malty said...

Giving the matter some serious thought I would suggest that the megaluvvie Simon Callow would be the only one doing you justice, this based upon his Dickens monologue, which was a Tour de Force.

worm said...

benedict cumberbatch is indeed a name to wrestle with

Gaw said...

Cumberbatch: That which is secured by a cumberbund having been ingested rapidly at a black tie dinner. Often loosely secured.

"Geoff drank too much on an empty stomach before the Leisure Centre Charity Dinner and Dance and, after gorging himself, threw up his cumberbatch".

Gadjo Dilo said...

And city of films like The Break-Up, a (partial) cinematic antidote to all that rather up-ones-own-arse New York lifestyle schtick.

Brit said...

Callow would be too great an honour, Malty. I am not worthy of so fabdabulous a ham.