Chicago Vignette no.5

After taking an architectural boat tour of Chicago: 

"I cannot believe how beautiful the architecture is here. Wow! Just like you said, Deb, everything feels larger-than-life. The entire city is a work of art."

After sharing some photos I'd taken of Chicago:

"Wow, Deb! I love your photography. You have an eye for capturing things in a way that others don't see. You're so artistic … I wish I had that talent."

After visiting The Art Institute of Chicago: 

"This was one of THE greatest days of my life, Deb. Wow! I can't believe I was in the presence of so many great, historic paintings. I think I'm going to come back tomorrow. This is way more interesting than looking at buildings all day. These are actual masterpieces. There's so much to explore. I went through every gallery … except for photography. That's not real art."



Chicago Vignette no.4

Early in the a.m., I headed north of my hotel to Oak Street Beach, an actual proper beach on the shores of Lake Michigan in downtown Chicago. All finely milled sand and ambient skyline views, it was a quiet, scenic spot at this hour to escape from one's thoughts or, as I had chosen, meditate further on their meaning while taking in the symphony of the streets. 

Chicago Vignette no.3

Chicago has a number of restaurants that, bizarrely, cater to those who seek rude service and like to be insulted by complete strangers. I discovered this inadvertently the last time I was in the city and found a nice (or so I assumed) 50s-style diner to have supper at. Dining solo, I was completely unaware that Ed Debevics' "theme" was to be complete jerks to their patrons and watched in horror as those around me were singled out to be mocked in front of the entire restaurant. Thankfully, my waiter took pity on me sitting by my lonesome and made a point to let me eat my cheeseburger in peace. Big tip. BIIIIIIIIG tip. 

So why did I return during this trip to the Windy City? Well, I did recall that my cheeseburger and malt were really, really tasty. And also, my friend hates crude behaviour, fast food served with poodle skirts, and places where young children run rampant. This would be payback for all of the strange men she's tried setting me up with over the years that I've known her. 

Thankfully, she was so excited to be in Chicago (and so attracted to our waiter, "Thumper") that she had a great time. The singing, the dancing, the throwing of napkins in our faces and insults about our home and native land, it was a night not to be forgotten. Especially since it was, as we discovered, Ed Debevics last. Their doors closed the following night. No joke. 

Chicago Vignette no.2

"Are you two sisters?"

The man approached us as we were taking selfies reflected in the mirrored surface of Cloud Gate. He was older, probably late 50s, of short stature, and had a jovial manner to him. We weren't concerned that he would rob us or accuse us of being crackheads, so we decided to amuse ourselves and entertain him. "No," I replied. "but we get that often."

Quite often, in fact. My best friend, travel partner and accomplice in crime could be my sibling: we are both tall, share the same body type (and, conveniently, clothing), have wavy bronde hair and wear glasses (she sports the cat-eye, while I go for the standard-issue designer black frames). Only in personality were we antipodean: my friend is a truly free-spirit with literally no fucks to give about anything, whereas I am much more reserved, shy and cautious. 

The man seemed to appreciate that we were receptive. I suspected that he visited the site every Sunday to converse with strangers, probably women. He seemed to have lines rehearsed like a theatre actor, anticipating our responses in advance and always coming up with appropriate witty retorts. I learned he was originally from India and now lived in Chicago, teaching Pharmacy at a local university. He was well-travelled and talked of his favourite – and least favourite – cities in the world. 

"Paris is overrated." he ranted. "The people of France are so rude and condescending. Everything there is expensive because they think they are the best in the world. Who are they to think that? I will never go back there."

He went on and on (and on) about his hatred for the country and its snooty citizens until finally taking a moment to catch his breath with the query "So tell me, what is your favourite place?" 

"France." I replied.

Chicago Vignette no.1

In retrospect, it may have been a bit later than we should have been out. At least in that part of town. However, I was consumed with other priorities during the day and the only time I could show my friend the windy city's architectural wonders was after dark. We made our way through the seemingly deserted streets where occupants seemed to exist solely in the shadows of night. Naïveté was our virtue. 

"Look over there!" I exclaimed, pointing at a rat scurrying across the sidewalk just in front of us. "There's your big city experience right there."

We walked another block to South State Street when a man on a bicycle bumped into us. Deliberately and with force. He then shouted obscenities and proceeded to accuse us of being on hard drugs. Crack, in particular. An audience of souls blithely waiting at a bus stop nearby continued to be transfixed by their smartphones, clearly avoiding any acknowledgement of the conflict brewing in their midst. Perhaps they had seen it all before...

"Well, this will be interesting" I thought to myself.

Sure enough.

The man, clearly looking to provoke anyone or anything, dismounted his bike and threw it violently to the ground in front of us. The wheels continued to spin as he then paced back-and-forth pounding on his chest with all the bravado he could muster. I knew my friend had taken wen-do but I had no self-defence training. I scanned the area for a storefront that might be open. Perhaps a bodybuilder or two would conveniently be shopping there at this hour.  

We continued to ignore him and the man lost interest as quickly as he started antagonizing us. "There's your big city experience right there" I thought to myself. 


We awoke early on very, very little sleep. Our flight would leave at 5:30am, Toronto-bound, before we transferred to our final destination – my favourite city in North America, Chicago. 

I previously visited Chi-Town in 2011 and was completely mesmerized by the architecture. My hometown, Winnipeg, is often referred to as "Chicago of the North" for its turn-of-the-century Exchange District (which is beautiful and led to my appreciation for preserving historically relevant structures). But the buildings in Chicago are beyond that. They are larger than life in scale, detail and opulence. It is impossible to not be awestruck by their majesty. This would be my best friend's first time in the city. At the airport, we both buzzed with excitement. 

Until the first delay was announced. 

Then the second. 

There was a fuel leak and we wouldn't be leaving for at least seven hours, missing our T.O. connection. The crowd was getting antsy. I predicted it would be a stampede when re-ticketing was announced and, sure enough, it was. At that moment I realized I seriously needed to apply for 'The Amazing Race Canada' as I would totally kick ass. Navigating through the cranky horde, my fine foot work and agility got me to the head of the line. We were going to be re-routed through Calgary and arrive in Chicago a few hours later than previously scheduled. Awesome. I managed to score a food voucher as apology for the delay and could maintain my chill. 

Until that flight was also delayed. 

Because of snow. 

On October 3. 


When we finally got on the hour-long flight to Calgary, I compared our landing time to the departure of the flight to Chicago. We had 10 minutes to land, disembark, go through customs, go through security and then make it to the gate. My friend assured me we could do it; I, however, have always been more of a realist. I wasn't sure my fine footwork or complete willingness to take out strangers like a linebacker would suffice. When we got off the plane though, I hit the ground running to at least TRY.  

Calgary International (YYC) is one of my most hated airports. The signage is pathetic. The layout is unnecessarily confusing. I had a vague idea as to where to go though and I flew. I kept looking back at my friend as she kept trailing further and further behind. Sidenote: one should never wear heels for air travel. The fiercely competitive part of me needed to keep going. To feel the rush of jubilation as we successfully boarded the plane. The loyal part of me though needed to stop. Chicago just wouldn't be as fun without the Louise to my Thelma. We took a breather by the luggage carousal and then carried on at a much more practical pace. 

Despite being fifteen minutes late, we made the flight. Amazingly, the airline held it. The look of annoyance on everyone's face as we boarded was harsh but I had effectively achieved the goal I set out for myself AND my friend made it too, slightly disheveled but still looking fabulous.

I am SO applying for 'The Amazing Race Canada'. 


They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys.

And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again.

And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger.

And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this, my city, and I give them back the sneer and say to them:

Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.

Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities;

Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness.

A poetry excerpt written by Carl Sandburg about the great city of Chicago. 

Chicago Theatre (2011) ©Deborah Clague. 

Chicago Theatre (2011) ©Deborah Clague. 


So I meant to have a liveblog going throughout the duration of the HOW Conference in Chicago...however, I got carried away in the windy city and could only get around to it now. My bad. This was such an enjoyable event; not only did the conference provide a much needed jolt of inspiration, but the city itself - and its colourful inhabitants - were a living, breathing piece of art. The architecture was unlike anything I have ever seen before. As a co-worker commented, it was like the backdrop for a movie set. In our case it would be an indie flick starring picas, printers and Pantone chips, and here is the synopsis:

• My favourite session was "What the Future Wants From a Designer" for its honesty. This profession is not what it once was, and will likely morph into something altogether different in the future. Designers need to bring more to the table, rather than layout skills and the ability to use Photoshop. Everyone from our grandparents to the kid selling lemonade down the block has access to tools that can lead them to believe they are "designers" (or alternately, access to websites that offer $5 logos). We need to be actively involved in understanding sociological & scientific trends, strategy and developing "big picture ideas" that can influence human behavior. The session also included seven key trends for the future: 1) Simplistic Slowdown (people will not be buying as much); 2) Rentalism (sharing of goods); 3) "Maker Culture" (people become their own designers/marketers); 4) Desktop Fabrication (this was the bizarre/awesome example); 5) Embrace of the Imperfect; 6) Technology Will Become the Designer; 7) Science will redefine what it means to be human and will influence marketing more than focus groups. 

• The HOW Conference introduced me to artist Theo Jansen. His kinetic sculptures blow my mind. 

• Interesting that the Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) at Best Buy has seen an increase of productivity by 41% and a reduction of turnover by 45%. This is definitely how I've been accustomed to operating over the past few years and hopefully more businesses take note. 

I will write more about Chi-town over the weekend.