Day Seven: Chicago!

Waking up in a Wal-Mart parking lot is not at all what I would have expected. Especially early in the morning when the parking lot is still mostly deserted and the light is faint and wet. In some ways it was kind of nice. I slept well - minus a few much needed stretches and a rainstorm that passed through at about 4 in the morning.

Our lack of electricity overnight meant we had to go to the local bakery and borrow all of their electrical outlets to do our daily downloading of footage and charging of batteries. The whole process took almost 3 hours. After a couple home made donuts we left at around 10:30am and started the drive to Chicago.

I think the hardest part of our day was picking an exit from the freeway. We guessed perfectly though and ended up just outside Millenium Park (we payed $29 dollars for parking! gah!). Greg has never been to Chicago and I wish we could have shown him more because it really is an amazing city, but we mostly experienced the Loop area - a good first glimpse I suppose. We stopped at the bean and the fountain - meeting people along the way.

Our first stranger was David - a fiddle player from Louisville who had moved to the city about a year ago. He played us a short tune as he was warming up and had some fascinating opinions about Chicago and the fear of strangers that seems to pervade cities and most towns. "I have noticed a change in myself moving here," he said. "In Louisville, you make eye contact with everyone you pass, or most people, but here, you don't." and "I did at first, but now I wear my sunglasses and my ipod so I can pretend that I am oblivious if people try to bother me." He didnt seem to like this idea, but was in a way resigned to it, "What I have done essentially is let people become part of the scenery." Interestingly enough, he spoke very highly of the community in Chicago, especially the home he found in the music scene here. He mentioned the openness and kindness of the musicians he had idolized enough to feel distanced from them before he tried to befriend them. "They really are just right here."

Eventually we met up with Rick and Jennifer on their way home from work. They were both clad in Johnny Rocket uniforms and comfortable strolling towards the L (read: train station). Rick said some amazing things about why we help people, or mostly why we don't. He said that he doesnt really trust people until he gets to know them, that no one really does and that's just the way it has to be. Then he called in a favor and found us a hotel for the night. We were shocked. Jennifer said she would have taken us home right away but she didn't want to put us through the three hour journey back home for the night. In shock and awe, we headed off to our first planned interview for the day.

But here is our dilemma: This is kindness in strangers. This is a HUGE favor. This is hospitality. But is this really what we are getting at? Because there is something about staying in a hotel that doesn't quite feel like really accomplishing our project. We relied on an incredibly kind stranger for a home. We are certainly experiencing a sort of kindness that is completely unexpected and completely amazing. So what's missing? I think it's the transformation. The change we watch and experience every night with the people we stay with - they slowly become our friends. This morning we woke up - well rested, clean, wet swimsuits hanging in the shower, we went downstairs for breakfast - but we hadn't made a new friend. We hadn't learned anything new about a person, a place, a culture, a country. We had nobody to leave a bear for. No one to hug good bye; no one to wish us good luck on our journey.

I think that's what makes a day feel like an important day - the days we wake up alone - those are the days that worry me. I want to hear stories, I want to tell stories. I want to see someone excited for us and with us and about us. We talked a lot about the stories that turn strangers into friends - and that's important, but maybe it's not the stories. Or maybe the stories are just a part of it. Maybe its sharing a home with someone, letting them take care of you, taking care of them. Peter, Stella and Becca in Oberlin had a point when they said that in some ways what we are doing is almost as "difficult" or important as being the person actively helping the other person. There is an exchange that happens. When someone helps you. When you help someone. When you sleep in the same house as somone. Joe would say energy. And Patti and Randy would probably say that the relationship is just the Christian thing to do. Susan might make a joke or just smile a little knowing smile. But they are all right - something happens. Friendship. Connection.

So we leave Chicago today - having met some amazing people, experienced some pretty Chicago-y things. But I dont think we know Chicago quite as well as we know Roscoe or Avoca - or even Oberlin.

Maybe tonight we will make a new friend or two.