Al Batt: Visit as a tourist; stay because of traffic

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Tales from Exit 22, By Al Batt

The Cubs should have been named the Onions.

The name Chicago comes from an Algonquin word meaning “onion field.”

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WalletHub compared the 100 largest U.S. cities across a data set ranging from average gas prices to hours spent in traffic congestion to auto-repair shops per capita.

The best city for driving was Raleigh, North Carolina. Chicago was number 91. Guess which town I was driving to. I was on an ABC tour — Ames, Beloit, Chicago. The rest of the bottom 10 in descending order to the worst were Los Angeles, Newark, New York, Boston, Seattle, Philadelphia, Oakland, San Francisco and, drum roll on a dashboard, Detroit was the worst city to drive in.

I drove into Chicago. The traffic creeped along, moving so slowly that I remembered all my passwords. It sharpened the jagged edges of my life, but at least I didn’t pull a hamstring. A driver of a car in the next lane was weeping. I labeled him a chronic speeder and nodded kindly in his general direction. I watched the shadows get longer. I needed a teaspoon of a light at the end of the tunnel. I looked in my rearview mirror and saw a long line of vehicles behind me. Seeing that stretch of cars cheered me. At least I wasn’t behind me. I wondered why the traffic was so balled up. Road work? There was road work everywhere. I continued along like a limping snail. Then it occurred to me what was causing the congestion. There were too many Illinois license plates.

WalletHub found Oklahoma City to have the lowest gas prices and San Francisco the highest. Riverside, California, had the lowest average parking rates and Buffalo, New York, the highest.

I stayed on the 36th floor of a snazzy Chicago hotel. You know the kind — no microwave or free continental breakfast. The kind that charges you for parking. It offered parking for a measly $72 a day. The lodging was much too nice for the likes of me. I’m used to disgusting, mystery foodstuffs and portapotties in my hotels.

Chicago is called the Windy City. It isn’t wind from cars speeding by. I can’t believe it’d be because of the gusts coming off Lake Michigan. Boston, New York and San Francisco have higher average wind speeds. The origin of the nickname is uncertain, but a popular theory is that the city is windy because of the hot air bellowing from bloviating politicians.

It’s such a humongous city. Yet, I stopped to get iced tea at a Starbucks the size of a postage stamp. There was world-class dining available in Chicago. It was almost as good as the food served in our local cafe. I tried to remain calm and eat deep-dish pizza.

There were many tall buildings. I leaped none of them in a single bound. I saw the Merchandise Mart, once the largest building in the world (it had its own ZIP code until 2008) and the Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower and still known as the Sears Tower, with its 110 stories and at 1,450 feet high, the world’s tallest building until 1998. In 1969, Sears Roebuck and Co. was the largest retailer in the world, with about 350,000 employees. Then Sears sold Roebuck, but that’s another story. The Tower was completed in 1973. Four states can be seen from its top floor — Illinois, Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin.

The Great Chicago Fire happened on Oct. 8, 1871. It was believed that Mrs. O’Leary had startled her milk cow into knocking over a lantern, starting hay on fire that led to the barn and Chicago burning as buildings, streets and sidewalks were wooden. In 1961, the Chicago Fire Academy was built on the site of the barn. The tale about the cow was speculative and Mrs. O’Leary and her cow were exonerated is 1997. There was a fire on the same day in Peshtigo, Wisconsin, that killed many more people than the Chicago fire.   

There was so much horn honking that honking lost meaning. In the downtown area, every other car seemed to be a Prius. It was certainly the choice of taxi companies.

A driver told me that he wasn’t fond of the looks of his Prius, but loved driving it because then he didn’t have to look at it.

I knew it was time to go home when my wife chewed me out for hanging around the Wrigley Building.

She said, “Breathe if you want to get out of town.”

Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Saturday.