“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
I’m typing this on an Amtrak train, slowly creeping southward through the state of Illinois. My family and I traveled this same track three days earlier, making stops at Effingham, Champaign, and Homewood to name a few. Many of these places looked like my own hometown: small houses in need of a facelift, with clean yards, and a black Weber grill on the deck. While the train took us through familiar looking locales, it ultimately delivered us to Chicago, a new and foreign location.
I love to travel and find it thrilling to explore a new city. I enjoy meeting new people, and I absolutely love eating at new restaurants and sampling meals soaked in grease and vitality.
We met interesting, and overwhelmingly friendly people along the way. There was Mohammed, from Guinea in West Africa, our verbose Uber driver who delivered us to deep-dish pizza heaven-Giordano’s.
“What brought you to Chicago, Mohammed?” I asked to break the ice.
“Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman. I used to stay up late, and sometimes, not sleep at all to watch those teams. The games do not start until 2:00 a.m. in Guinea.” Mohammed is a true fan.
The antithesis of Mohammed was Aundrey, our austere chauffeur who picked us up at the train station. I asked him how to properly pronounce his name, to which he replied, “Oooon-dreeee.”
“Andre”, I proudly repeated (apparently, I do not have an ear for French).
“Ooon-dreee!!”, was his definitive, corrective reply. It was an awkward ride. C’est la vie.
We encountered several other drivers, each with a different story, and accent. Jack, was a transplant from Alabama, who pulled for Auburn and possessed a Southern accent as foreign as Monika’s, who was from Poland.
There was the cheerful woman who volunteered to take my family’s picture at “The Bean”. She wore an official badge and introduced herself as a volunteer for a woman’s safe house. Several scars on her face let us know she was not just a volunteer, but also a survivor. We were happy to help this cheerful, tough and buoyant photographer.
We befriended the couple next to us at Wrigley Field, who suggested we walk to their Southport neighborhood to try Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream. It lived up to its name.
Our first stop in the city was the Willis Tower Skydeck. The four of us warily padded onto the glass and looked down from the 103rd floor in amazement. It was a breathtaking view, but not as impactful as the disparate perspectives and personalities experienced along the way.
Mark Twain was right, travel is a powerful antidote. It’s needed now more than ever.