Alive and Coarse and Strong and Cunning (Or, How I Learned to Be Independent by Getting Lost in Downtown Chicago) - My Family Travels
The Cloud Gate at Millenium Park

(Title taken from Chicago by Carl Sandberg)

The thing about going to Chicago is that you have to realize the city will inevitably steal your heart. With skyscrapers stretching to the crowds, the hustle and bustle, and the occasional rumbling of the El-train, Chicago is somehow simultaneously modern and brimming with old charm.


It’s mid December, and in typical fashion, I’ve forgotten to bring a hat. So I wrap a knitted scarf around my head, looking more like a Russian babushka than the 15 year old girl I was, and we set off for the Christkindl Market, which is a good twenty minute from our hotel, the Hotel Allegro. Did I mention it’s December, and bitterly cold? Yes? Good. We browse the market, looking at old world hand carved cuckoo clocks and other such paraphernalia, before deciding to make for Millenium Park.

According to Google Maps, this walk should have taken us 7 minutes, tops. However, since my family is completely devoid of a sense of direction, we of course manage to lose our way. Coming from a small suburban town, we’re easily staggered by the tall buildings, rushing cars, and complete lack of respect other people have for each other’s personal space, and before long we have no idea where we are or what direction we’re heading.

It’s perfectly clear to me that my mom and stepmom aren’t going to be much help here, as my mom’s hip is acting up and my stepmom is busy with her. So it’s up to me to get us to Millenium Park. I pull my phone out of my pocket, hoping to look up directions. However, the signal’s blocked from the tall buildings and I can barely send a text, much less access the internet. It appears I’m going to have to do the unthinkable. I’m going to have to interact with other people.

If you know me, you know that I’m not the most outgoing person. If we’re friends, sure, I’ll talk to you, but the only thing I can think of that’s worse than talking to a perfect stranger would be having your wisdom teeth removed followed by a quadruple amputation. Really. I’m not kidding.

I scan the crowd, looking for a friendly face. The man in the maroon hat looks much too intimidating, the old woman too irritated, the couple too busy. Then, I spot her. A young woman sits on a cement block at the edge of the sidewalk, reading a battered copy of a book. I glance back. My mom and step mom are still bickering. I make up my mind and walk up to the young woman.

She looks up as I approach. “Can I help you?” she asks, surprisingly friendly.

I hesitate. “I was wondering if you knew how to get to Millenium Park?”

She grins. “Sure do!” The woman gives me directions, then sends me off with a licorice candy. I return to my family, and yes, we do get to Millenium Park eventually, although it takes ten more minutes and two arguments.

The rest of the vacation passes uneventfully, and it’s not until we’re driving home that I think about the woman again. I stare out the window, watching the trees whip by and think that I’ve learned something from this experience. Sometimes the greatest act of independence is asking for help. It’s nice to be able to do things for yourself, but it’s even better to know when to ask for help. And without going outside my comfort zone, I would never have learned this valuable lesson.

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