“Gonna bring it on home” *

I pack my bags for the last time on this trip and check out of the Hotel Felix, leaving my bags in storage as my flight is not until the evening. A few words about the hotel: it’s a boutique hotel that I got on a deal through Hotwire, so it was not my choice – and it wouldn’t be again. If you read any reviews about the place they all go on about the fact that the bedrooms are tiny. They’re not tiny, they’re f****** miniscule. There is hardly enough space to walk around the bed. The wardrobe (closet) is so small it did not have enough room to store my suitcase which meant I had to take up valuable (non-existent) floor space in the already very cramped room. And my suitcase was one of those travel suitcases with wheels that fits in a plane’s overhead locker, so it’s really quite small. If you’re not staying alone, don’t stay there, I just can’t see how two people could share a room. No refrigerator or mini-bar either (there’s no space for them!). The bathroom is also tiny, with hardly any space to place anything in or around the bathroom, e.g. toothbrush, razor etc. The basin is one of the most ridiculous pieces of sanitaryware I have ever seen or tried to use: it’s a rectangular minimalist design in line with the hotel’s boutique pretensions, but it is so shallow that it only holds about an inch of water; the tap (faucet) outlet is so low into the basin that I could only just get my hands under it. There is no food service in the hotel at all, just an expensive French restaurant ‘attached’ next door. There is a bar but it appeared poorly stocked and I never saw it open, or anyone drinking there. The attitude of the place is “after you’ve woken up, we don’t want you hanging around here!”

Just a comment about a refrigerator or mini-bar in a hotel room: when I first travelled to the US nearly 30 years ago almost every room I stayed in had these. But on this trip it’s been notable how few rooms now have these items. A mini-bar I can perhaps understand because I’m sure these are open to abuse or theft by some guests, but I think a refrigerator should be a standard item in a hotel room. This must be a deliberate policy to try and stop guests doing what I did most days – going to the local 7-11 or store and stocking up on food and drink for breakfast or other meals. But it doesn’t work – as evidenced that I still went and bought the stuff anyway – and the most irritating aspect is that it makes for a bad customer experience, something the hotels don’t seem to appreciate.

The Untouchables Tour

Photo of the book, Untouchable Chicago

A book, Untouchable Chicago, you can purchase on the tour

To explore some more about Chicago’s history this morning I go on the Untouchables Tour. I’d read about the tour before I left home and it had good reviews. It’s all about the gangster hot – and hit – spots around the city on a bus tour with commentary about the “old hoodlum haunts, brothels, gambling dens and sites of gangland shootouts.” If you want to do it make sure you book in advance – it’s regularly sold out and a few folks who just turned up for the tour I took, hoping to get on, were turned away. The pick-up is outside the giant McDonald’s just down the road, so it’s not far to walk. The two guides – dressed as gangland characters – were very funny and informative throughout the tour. My only criticism is that unlike most other bus tours we never actually get off the bus at any point, so I’m in my seat for the two hours of the tour.

I talk to one of the guides afterwards and it seems that none of the locations where gangsters did ‘business’ – and by that I mean physical places such as bars and clubs plus locations where murders and shootings took place – are ‘promoted’ or ‘commemorated’ by the city. For example there are no plaques or trail markers and none of the places have been renovated inside. The reason apparently is that the city thinks it would be seen as condoning or approving of the illegal activities of the gangster period if it did so. As such, there is practically nothing to see at the various locations other than the outside of a building. Many of them don’t have signs or names either, hence the tour operator sees no need to let customers get off the bus. Whilst clearly the Prohibition Era created some pretty unsavoury characters and incidents in Chicago, I think that nearly 95 years after the start of Prohibition that enough time has passed for the city to recognise the historical nature of the time rather than just pretend it didn’t happen. I’m sure some way could be found to acknowledge what went on in a sympathetic and understanding manner – or maybe there’s some deep-seated cultural aspect to this that as a non-Chicagoan I don’t understand. Anyhow, as the tour comes to a close there’s a raffle on board for a couple of prizes and I win the book pictured! The tour is definitely worthwhile though because despite not getting off the bus the stories the guides tell are excellent and paint a good picture of the era.

To The Airport

It’s early afternoon by now but I still have loads of time to kill before needing to head out to O’Hare Airport. I’ve seen everything I think I can or want to in Chicago but still the biggest surprise was the complete lack of any tours about the city’s musical heritage. It’s quite shocking really given the role blues, jazz and gospel music have played in Chicago’s history. The guide book mentioned a blues tour but when I contacted the tourism office they said it didn’t run anymore, and all of my attempts to find anything drew a blank. Even Maxwell Street, Chicago’s historical blues thoroughfare, is now mainly a market. Maybe there’s an opportunity for someone here? So despite finding some great – if not the best – music of my trip here in Chicago, I still feel there’s so much more about the city’s musical background and heritage I want to learn about.

I haven’t really explored the area around the hotel so I wander around a bit but there’s not much here and for lunch I try out the ‘biggest’ McDonald’s, which of course is just like any other McDonald’s. Via their free Wi-Fi I discover the outbound plane from London is delayed which means my inbound return-leg flight later will be delayed as well. Oh well. I go for another wander around, go back into McD’s for a coffee and read some more of my novel. After a while I decide I may as well head out to the airport so I collect my bags from the hotel and have a nice slow walk through the city for the last time, down N Clark St, in the shadows of the skyscrapers, with clear blue skies high above, to the L train station. Into the station and onto a train. It’s time to go home.  🙁

* Bring It On Home, written by Willie Dixon and recorded by Sonny Boy Williamson II

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