Friday, 5 October 2012
What a place - I've absolutely fallen in love with Chicago.
From the moment that I stepped off the (efficient, clean, fast) 'L' public transport system at Damen Avenue in Bucktown I knew that I would enjoy my time here. There was a buzz about the place that was tangible - shops, bars, restaurants, boutique shops, oh, and, people (unlike in Detroit!) going about their everyday lives. I was made very welcome by my Servas host, Jeff and we went out and had a few beers in the local pubs. Jeff is a 'Quant' at a hedge fund, but that didn't mean that he was loaded he was quick to point out! It was nice to talk to him about the places that he had travelled to around the world.
As I had a really early start and important meetings I obviously drank far too much so wasn't in tip-top form for my 6.30 start the following day. When will I learn eh? Stupidly enough I had to travel almost all the way back to O'Hare Airport as I was due to attend the Illinois AFL-CIO (like the TUC in the UK) annual convention which was at one of the airport hotels. Luckily it was an easy ride on the 'L'. I freaked out the team from the UFCW who had arranged my attendance by insisting on walking from the station to the hotel. It was a total of half a mile so I told them that I thought I'd be ok...
The convention was really interesting - lots of great speakers including Senator Dick Durbin. I was made out to be some kind of visiting celebrity which was amusing. I also went along to one of the workshops on GOTV ahead of the elections here in November. I was interested to see if there were similarities or differences this side of the Atlantic. There were a couple of interesting tips that I might be able to use in either our Parliamentary or Local elections in 2015 but the most striking thing was the similarities - including the perennial problem of what to do with the big band of volunteers who only turn up on election day itself ask what they can do to help - the reaction from activists from both the UK and the USA was, "be here 6 weeks ago when there was real work to be done"...
I was then lucky to be taken out to lunch to Gibson's which is something of a Chicago institution and also to meet Jon Karmel a local union right lawyer. It was great to talk to Jon about the history of the labour movement in the US and also the development of Chicago. Linked to my discoveries in Detroit re corruption, Jon's take was that although there have been question marks over the conduct and probity of the various members of the Daley family who have been Chicago leaders, the overwhelming focus has been on delivery of projects and initiatives - yes there might have been some greasing of some palms somewhere but fundamentally the public improvement works actually happened on the ground. Certainly the city is night and day vs Detroit so something has gone right along the way!
I did a bit of sightseeing in the afternoon but I was keen to get back to Jeff's place in time for the first Presidential debate. I'm sure that people who are interested have watched the highlights already, but I was hugely disappointed with Obama's performance. Hesitant, stumbling and willing to let Romney walk all over him. As I said here this could be the turning point of the election and I don't think I'm alone in that analysis. The second debate is on 16th October and the President is going to have seriously up his game.
Thursday was a day totally dedicated to sightseeing so I covered a lot of ground. First thing I went on an architectural boat tour as recommended by my good friends Dan and Josie - it was absolutely brilliant! So much history and development in this city and the guide was excellent at drawing it all together. Just a couple of photos below, including one of my all time favourite buildings, Marina City, not least because it features on the great album, 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot' by local band Wilco.
I also popped over to see Millennium Park and the outdoor art installation by Anish Kapoor (of Sky Mirror outside Nottingham Playhouse fame of course) - Cloud Gate. (It's know by everyone as 'the bean'). A great atmosphere of fun and jokes, just one shot here - you have to spot where I am reflected!
I've barely covered a fraction of what I did today - as I said, it's a brilliant city.
Tomorrow (Friday) I go to the Walgreen's offices in Deerfield to meet with the team there - looking forward to that!