When you enter the O’Hare international airport as an international visitor, the government of the United States graciously informs you of what you may encounter within its borders and what will be expected of you during your stay:

Do not turn on your cell phone until you have exited the immigration and customs processing area.

You may be photographed and fingerprinted.

You may be asked about the reasons, location and duration of your stay.

You are asked to report any activity in which you have engaged that might lead to hoof and mouth disease, and are instructed how to cough, and sneeze correctly.

I didn’t notice what color of terrorist alert the homeland security announcements informed us were under, and therefore what level of wariness I should adopt. I tried to look appropriately cautious under the gaze of the security cameras.

Generally, the immigration process is without incident except for the inevitable improper use of a cell phone which can result in a STAND DOWN incident if the culprit is not fluent in English or is hard of hearing, which likely was the cause of the improper use in the first place.

Though I have traveled this route many times I still have to ask directions from the ombudsman of the elevator bay, who not only laid out directions worthy of the maze Daedalus, but also informed me that I was now in America’s most dangerous city through his Santaesque guffaw. I could have kissed him for his outrageous display of pride at the title, and his pat on the back when I told him I lived in Mexico and he said,

“Oh! No worries you’ll feel right at home.” But– I was absolutely not to go past 65th street, “It’s a war zone down there.” He heartwarmingly warned me in his thick Westside Chicaga accent. I then invited the horror stricken Belgian couple standing next to us to come with me to the Subway since they had also engaged our enthusiastic greeter for directions; together we entered the first leg of our journey.

I donned my most benign smile as we made our way to the leg of the trip that would put us in a remote, barely marked corridor of the parking ramp and would very likely make my companions wonder if I had lured them off to rob(or worse) them.

The moment we stepped into this circumstance I began pointing at the worn yellow arrows on the floor directing us to the elevator cubicle with the indistinct train logo, in the distance . They looked at each other and shook their heads rigorously back and forth and then slowly up and down, as their ‘warning’ look faded, morphing into ‘proceed’; they hesitatingly followed me along the almost indiscernable arrows.

Thankfully, we emerged from the elevator into a presentable portion of the airport, though the journey is still lengthy, it is well lit and marked.  As we walked we were serenaded by ‘official ‘street musicians and the promotions began! With huge backlit photos of happy Chicagoan faces in all the fabulous locals that Chicago will make available to you as soon as you have completed this quest for the grail that is the route to the city trains. Continue reading