Alone Time With 2 Million People
Sunny Day in the Windy City (Chicago)
How far from your routine do you need to escape to experience peace? I don't know about you, but when I think of zen and solitude, I picture a mountainside, a waterfall, the beach during sunset. To me, peace and quiet looks like a desolate cabin in the forest or a hike where your only companion is the sound of your own heartbeat in your ear. What if I told you that some of my most peaceful moments have been amidst a giant city, surrounded by people? Can you find bliss in the middle of a concrete jungle? There is truth in how alone you feel in a big city, like your solitude increases with every person you see. This is especially true when you are in a city that is rich with lush, green gardens.
It was the busiest time of the afternoon and the weather was perfect. It was the end of September and the Windy City had not yet begun to live up to its name. The temperature was hanging out at around 70 degrees with a light breeze, and its inhabitants and visitors were relishing in this last speck of autumn before the blistering cold made Chicago its home for the winter.
I would be lying if I wasn't skeptical about walking alone at dusk. Chicago had its fair share of time in the headlines being named a "dangerous" city where "thousands of shootings have happened just this year." Staying safe in a big city boils down to one simple task: practice common sense. One of my biggest pet peeves is how people respond when I tell them I travel alone quite often. I often hear: "Aren't you afraid something may happen to you?" Well, no, because I choose not to walk down poorly lit alleys at three AM. I also refrain from flashing my money and I always wear a cross-body purse—just a few easy tips, from one traveler to another.
For first-timers, Chicago is such a special city. It is the perfect marriage of green and steel. You can find a park or "patch of green" on almost every corner and it seems that the civic engineers who designed this city love reminding people that, no matter how earthy it feels, the city skyline is near. Personally, I find it beautiful. I decided I did not want to open my Google maps, as I was determined to "stumble" upon The Bean. During every other trip I've had to Chicago, I failed to notice the diversity in greenery there is, and I stopped to truly admire it. I finally found a yellow-leaved tree, kissed by autumn, and I was reminded of that cheesy quote that talks about how the trees are about to show us how beautiful it is to let dead things go. It seemed like a cool reminder to drop the dead weight I've been holding onto, but that is another topic for another day. Finally, I reached The Bean, stared for a moment, and found something more interesting. The Bean is a curious statue; a staple to this wonderful city and almost always one of the highlights of any tourists' adventure through the city. However, I found those tourists admiring the bean-shaped mirror to be significantly more enchanting.
I heard at least ten languages spoken, some of which I couldn't attempt to guess. Everyone at The Bean was trying to get the perfect picture, but no one was looking at the structure. I wondered how many people noticed the perfect reflection of the skyline they saw in this neat, iconic metal blob. By that time, the sun had begun to set, and with it was the reminder that we were still in the mid-west. I sat there for about 20 minutes and then decided my body had not yet grown used to 60 degree weather and that I was freezing. People-watching (my favorite past time) is both interesting and, at times, somewhat sad. I was sitting across the street from the art institute of technology and I found that there was a real eclectic mix of people here. I saw a homeless man with an empty Starbucks cup hoping for some spare change, a group of well-dressed men walking together, probably discussing how they will take over the world. There were a couple of what seemed to be art students with green hair, backpacks, canvases in hand. I even saw an albino who was dressed as if he were going to Cancun for Spring Break, even though we were in Chicago in the fall. The only commonality was the complete oblivion of one another. They either did not know that every spectrum of the economic ladder was on the same sidewalk beside them or they did not care. Either way, I wondered if anyone was people-watching me, and decided to head back to the hotel. An eventful afternoon, in bliss and solitude, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people.
Until we meet again Chicago.