How I Spent My Summer Vacation
(Labor Day Weekend, Actually)

by Patricia Draznin

For small-town Midwestern people like me, sometimes called “American Gothics,” visiting Chicago is a lesson in the Laws of Urban Physics governing time and money, which Einstein could easily explain if he were alive today and living on the Magnificent Mile.

Laws of Small-Town Time. In a small town like Fairfield, Iowa, events are so instantaneous you can almost go back in time:

5:55 – leave home

6:00 – meet friends for dinner

6:15 – eat third slice of pizza

6:30 – wave goodbye to the owner, promising to pay at the end of the month

6:35 – arrive back home in time for dinner

Laws of Urban Time.  In Chicago, time stretches to the point where it seems like the event may never actually happen:

7:00pm – arrive at restaurant, wait in line

7:03 – hostess informs us of 20-minute wait for table

7:45 – actual seating time

7:55 – server takes our order

8:15 – my hypoglycemia kicks in, which I don’t even have

8:30 – food arrives, I pray it’s not a hallucination

9:00 – ask for check

9:01 – check arrives, server takes our credit card, demands two forms of ID

For dessert, we head for the Hancock Tower restaurant to see the spectacular city lights:

9:10 – wait on line in Hancock lobby

9:40 – ride elevator to 96th floor

9:41 – exit elevator while holding ears and swallowing with mouth open

9:42 – follow crowd around corner into another line

9:45 – notice another line up ahead, which the man behind us explains is the real line for the restaurant, which we’re eligible to wait in when we reach the front of our line

9:46 – stand in line for elevator back to lobby.

Laws of Urban Money. Our hotel is located in a neighborhood called The Gold Coast, which I assumed referred to its location near Lake Michigan, but discovered it was based on the amount they charge for making a local phone call from our room. And their valet parking rates. In downtown Fairfield, one hour of parking sets us back ten—a sharp increase over the previous five cents. In downtown Chicago, parking garage rates are like overnight camp for your Toyota:

Saturday –  park car in hotel valet parking lot $36

Sunday –  move car to CHEAPER parking lot up the street $21

Monday 10:00am – ask parking lot attendant if we can borrow our car to load luggage and bring  car back until after lunch;

Monday 10:01 – attendant laughs

Monday 10:20 – load luggage, park car in hotel valet parking lot $36   

Laws of Rural Traveling Time.  As we drive home on Interstate 88, I’m eager to find a gas station since I just finished drinking a liter of water. After thirty-seven civilization-free miles, we see an exit sign for “Gas and Food.” On Chicago roads this sign means that these services are visible from the exit ramp. On rural highways this sign means “Gas and food might be around here somewhere.”

6:35pm – take Rockville exit off Interstate 88

6:40 – long and lonely road; tempted to irrigate prairie

6:44 – Exxon station on horizon, I pray it’s not a hallucination

6:50 – Exxon ladies room out of order; men’s room never looked so good

7:10 – Find entrance ramp onto Interstate 88.

It feels good to be back home where the laws of small-town physics rule, where parking is cheap, where we don’t wait on line, and where we’re planning our next big-city vacation.

Copyright 2004 Patricia Draznin


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