Monday, 7 April 2008


The hostel offered a great breakfast: bagels, muffins, orange juice, coffee and tea. The bagel-toasting machine was Dr. Seussian, with revolving tracks and odd little noises.

The main sculptural drawcard in Chicago is the Bean in Millennium Park:

There is also a ton of shopping on the Miracle Mile, a little north of downtown, but I didn't find staff to be of much use. Competence is on the decline:

With four hours until my train, I took a bus north to the Lincoln Park Zoo. It is one of the few free zoos in America and, though small and a little dilapidated, was entertaining for a morning's touristing. The penguin house smelled of mackerel; the dromedaries' humps were half-deflated; the big cats paced with grim determination. I had that feeling, familiar to most who visit zoos, that these places are the halfway--houses for the raw and the cooked.

At the ape house, a machine mashes soft copper pennies into trinkets.

Look at the sun bear! He thinks he's people!

After a few hours I took a bus back downtown and walked over to Union Station (confusingly, all major train stations are called Union Station).
I brought five salads aboard the train and other healthy snacks. My jeans, which required a belt last August, now groan when I bend to put on my shoes. I don't know if I will maintain my resolve in the deep-fried South, but I do know that if I buy new pants, I'm travelling too light to keep the tighter pair.

There has been no snow south of Minneapolis. I wore a T-shirt this morning in Chicago, and southern Illinois is less a prarie than slightly grizzled farmland. The freshly-plowed fields are covered with the shredded, spiny remains of the corn harvest. We are far enough south that colour has survived the winter and green grass lines the roadside, with skeletal rows of elm and spruce everywhere.
Just as night falls we ride into St. Louis, a rusted-out city with a magnificent arch made of stainless steel.

Late at night I witness an All-American party in the dining car. In attendance are Shaggy from Scooby-Doo, the dopey obese football player from every Southern film ever, and black women in each size: hilly, mountainous and Vesuvius. As they drink more and more it is impossible to interpret anything they say, but their spirit is unmistakable. "I am great. There's nothing wrong. Fuck y'all."

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