Monday, March 18, 2013

Rides from Strangers in an Unexpected Stop in Chicago


Within an hour of arriving in Chicago, I broke the number one rule you're taught in any decent safety class: Never accept rides from strangers.

Especially giant men you meet on vacant corners.
Especially when you don't know where you are.

Chicago greeted me with a gusty blast that knocked the breath out of me as I stepped out of the train station. I certainly hadn't planned on spending the night there but due to my first train being delayed, I missed my second connection to Washington D.C.

Amtrak had said they would take care of me and put me up in a hotel – but, well, life doesn't always work out that way. They found a way to reroute me to D.C. It would take me through New York and dump me at my final destination at midnight. Midnight? That would give me two nights of lousy sleep in a row. I've seen myself sleep deprived and I don't function all to well. I also didn't know how I'd get to where I needed to go at midnight. I would be tired.

I would be tired and arrivng at midnight and then, probably need to sleep in all day and not even get out of the place I was sleeping until 1 PM. If I waited until 6:10 PM the next day for the Capitol Limited, I could get a full nights sleep on a flat quiet bed, explore Chicago all day, and then catch the train and arrive at 12:40 PM the next day, set to go. The thing is, since they could reroute me, they said they wouldn't pay for the hotel – just give me a free ticket. I decided to go ahead and stay in Chicago and figure things out.

I figured out my Chicago contacts – all of whom were a decent distance from me and, at that time of evening, wasn't worth figuring out. Daniel, the lad I had spent the last 10 or so hours with on the train (from 8:30 AM till we got off at 7:00 PM) had told me he was staying in a hostel four blocks away. That four blocks sounded mightily appealing so I texted him for the cost and directions.

$30. Not in the budget, but worth it. I would just have to live even more frugally in Washington D.C. He texted me these directions:

“The train station opens onto Jackson St. Walk toward the interstate and away from the water. You are looking for Halsted St. It's on there.”

I asked a couple folks to point me in the right direction (“Where's the water?” I wasn't even sure what water I was referring to – Lake Michigan). One man got out his phone, pulled up a map, and pointed down a road and told me to walk that way and I'd run into it.

Chicago pulled out all the stops in trying to freeze me stiff. I hadn't planned at all in staying in Chicago and hadn't put on clothes for it. I had thought that Amtrak would get me straight to a hotel that night and hadn't pulled out my gloves or my won't-fly-off-in-the-wind hat. It was about 24 F at that time and the winds were over 30 mph. I pushed ahead, knowing that 4 blocks was nothing.

But soon 4 blocks passed by, and five, and six and... I wasn't sure what to do. A towering black man was headed my way and I asked him if he could help me. I showed him the directions and he told me I was pretty far off. I prepared to walk back when he said, “Do you want a ride?” I hadn't been too stoked on the walk back and quickly took him up on it. Together we loaded my crap into his car and set off back to the station where Daniel was going to meet me.

James was altogether a caring and trustworthy individual. He gave me his number in case something went wrong later on or if I was back in Chicago. He also wanted to make sure I could trust Daniel. He didn't seem fully convinced when I told him that Daniel was also worthy of trust.

Just as he said he would, he dropped me off at the train station (thank you stranger!) and Daniel was there ready to meet me. Then we walked to the hostel...

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