We have just returned from a little side trip to Chicago.
It's about a five hour drive to the west, on a route which took us past the suburbs of Detroit, through rural Michigan, down into Indiana, and across to Illinois. Even an hour outside of Detroit seemed a world away: twisting roads which wound their way between lakes, forest, and small towns with well-kept houses. This dealt with my confusion as to why Michigan has a Republican governor, a state of affairs which seems perverse in Detroit.
Later we switched onto the Interstate, which although much faster was a lot less interesting. I had some romantic ideas about taking a road trip in America, but the reality – here at least – is not so different from the motorway/snelweg/autobahn/autopista in Europe. I guess driving across the desert or through the mountains would be quite spectacular, but neither of those is anywhere near here.
However, the entrance into Chicago is impressive; as the road crosses the Illinois state line and rises up onto the huge steel bridge of the Chicago Skyway (they like to give roads dramatic names here), the skyscrapers of the city centre suddenly appear in the distance, draped in mist. To the east stretches the enormous blue surface of Lake Michigan, an area of water one and a half times the size of the Netherlands. The road then plunges down between the streets, joining with another to become a busy fourteen-lane highway to the downtown area.
It was already obvious from the volume of everything – traffic, buildings, advertising, industry, trains, and people – that this is a very different city to Detroit. It is also much more racially mixed. For the first time since arriving in the US, I have seen significant concentrations of white people.
All these things serve to give it quite a different character. Although Chicago seems on the one hand to be a city on the move, where business (for some at least) is booming, it also lacks the slow, quiet, easy-going feeling of Detroit.
In many ways, Chicago agrees with the expectations I had of America, expectations which have been confounded here in Detroit. In that respect, it is far less interesting.
That being said, I enjoyed our time there. We had a great time staying at the Co-Prosperity Sphere space of Ed and Rachael Marszewski in the district of Bridgeport, met some interesting people, and saw some great art at the Art Institute of Chicago. And we swam in Lake Michigan.
More than anything however, our time there has given a valuable sense of perspective to the experience of being in Detroit. After almost a month it is easy to forget that life here is very far from normal, and also easy to become irritated with some of its idiosyncrasies. I have returned to Detroit with a whole new sense of enthusiasm and appreciation for this weird, weird city. It's good to be back.