After escaping late from the office this evening I returned to the hotel, folded my work clothes back into my case instead of preparing them for the morning – I fly home tomorrow – and set off into the evening air to find something to eat. It struck me that staying in a less comfortable hotel is a great incentive to eat out every night.
Walking past the railway station in the city centre, I turned right, and headed out along the endless chain of cafes, bars, and restaurants that line the road – somewhat intimidated by the legions of city people sitting at tables – shouting laughter filled conversations at each other.
Eventually I came upon my destination for the evening – a wonderfully observed piece of faux Americana in the shape of a restaurant and bar called “The Chicago Meatpackers”. I wandered in and was quickly shown to a bar-side table by an Asian guy who appeared to speak perfect Japanese, German, and English. He was quickly supplanted by a pretty german girl with her hair pulled tight in a ponytail above her head, and makeup my eldest daughter would have passed quiet comment about.
After leaving me to gaze at the menu for a few minutes, she returned, took my order, and then left me to gaze at the madcap design of the bar interior. I’m still now sure what sort of person builds a railway track into the rafters of a bar, but somebody did in this place, and it was endlessly fascinating. I didn’t spot the train at first, but then thought it might be raining outside, before noticing the line of trucks passing overhead – rattling and drumming on the roof rafters as they passed.
Dinner was all sorts of wonderful. A “Chicago Burger”, accompanied by a side of “chilli cheese fries”, and a bottle of Samuel Adams beer. It’s worth noting that I have never seen a bottle of Samuel Adams outside of Instagram photos taken by friends in America – so I took my chance after spying it on the menu. I messaged a friend to tell her what I was drinking.
“What do you think of it!”
“I don’t know”
“Do you like it?”
“It’s kind of like fizzy bitter – not like a european lager at all – there are more hops in it”
While eating, the girl that served me passed the table several times – asking how I was doing every time she passed. The guy sitting at the table next to me must have begun wondering what I had done to garner such attention – because she never said a word to him. I must admit that I began questioning it too.
After eating and drinking myself to a standstill (it really doesn’t take much to do that for me), I settled my bill and wandered back out into the night. While in the bar somebody appeared to have turned a light switch off in the sky – cloaking the city in darkness and twinkling lights. I tried to take a photo, but quickly gave up – without the lens of a proper camera, night photography is a lottery at best.
The road back through the city centre had transformed itself over the preceding hour from a busy sea of smiling conversation, into a rippling torrent. So many faces – so many conversations – so many languages filled the air in all directions. At first I was overwhelmed by it all, but then began to notice how many people seemed to be at ease among the mayhem. Maybe I had got it all wrong two nights previously, when I saw so many people frequenting bars in the financial district. Maybe for some the centre of the city IS home.
Just as I might think of a quiet walk into the small town where we live to sit in a quiet restaurant with friends, perhaps those that live in busy cities see their own version of that night out in similar terms – only their quiet is very, very different than mine.
While walking through the jubilant crowds with nobody to talk to, nobody to meet, and nowhere to be, the lonelies crept up and tried to take a chunk out of me. I fought them off with ideas of a walk to the supermarket near the hotel – perhaps a bar of chocolate, and a bottle of wine. I made it to the supermarket, and briefly held chocolate in my hand – but something made me put it back and return to the hotel empty handed. I didn’t need it.
So here I am. It’s 10:30pm, and I’ll be switching everything off soon. I will leave the hotel a little after 7am tomorrow, and catch the first train headed in the general direction of the airport. By lunchtime I will have landed, and will face the wonderfully unreliable british transport network to get me home.
Wish me luck.