Connections: Chicago

by dixie

Chicago always knows what I need and cheerfully gives it to me. Over the years I’ve been in and out of Chicago for work, college, family visits, and randomness. If one is to spend a month flying United, it would be easier to cross Ireland without passing a pub than it would be to avoid O’Hare airport, and I did indeed pass through ORD a few times (though not as much as I’d originally expected). It’s funny that it’s taken 20 years of flying for me to merely connect through O’Hare, when that’s the only experience many people get of the city.

All my memories of Chicago focus on little things that the city has offered just when I need them. There seems to always be music in the air, something only matched by my beloved Dublin. I wasn’t expecting music this time as I wasn’t leaving the airport (if one doesn’t even leave the secure part of an airport, can one be said to have visited the city?), but Chicago delivered anyway.

Light tunnel at ORD

Lights and sound and travelators, what more do you want?

There’s a tunnel between the C gates where I arrived and the F gates where I left from on my way to North Carolina, and it’s lined with rainbow walls and spangles of neon colour along the ceiling. I can only assume this is to cheer travellers who are racing through in order to make a too-tight connection — on one of my connections 43 minutes passed between an on-time landing and being able to step out into the airport, which is a very long time if you’re someone trying to make a tight connection — but it’s fun to enjoy when you don’t have to do any sprinting. The light show was accompanied by a variation of Rhapsody in Blue, barely recognisable through the trippy arrangement and the background noise of one of the busiest airports of the world.

If you think you haven’t heard Rhapsody in Blue before, take a listen (Gershwin on piano here, but arguably Bernstein’s version is more definitive). It’s Gershwin’s mini symphony, and although I personally feel it’s an ode to New York it’s clear that Chicago has tried to take it for its own as well. It suits Chicago’s man-made canyons of steel and glass as well as it does New York’s, and I have a hunch Chicago appreciates it more. Years ago United bought the rights to the music to use as background music for its advertising and in-plane recordings, so I heard a lot of it during my month of flight.

I would have been sufficiently cheered by the lights and the music, but Chicago was not done with me. When I arrived at my departure gate, I was delighted to find it had everything I needed: a spacious table, power outlets, and a nearby coffee stand. A handy Traveller’s Aid desk even consented to post my Chicago postcards for me, which was an unexpected delight. (There is a post office in Terminal 3, but it was far away and the woman I’d asked about it offered, so…)

Many people’s worst travel stories are set in O’Hare. So far the place has been nothing but good to me.