Pam’s Pictorama Post: I was very much in denial that it would happen, but when this week rolled around I found myself packing to head off on my first (albeit very brief) business trip to Chicago. My denial that it would happen (a west coast trip was canceled earlier this year as were similar events) of course did not enhance the experience as I deferred my decisions about packing and appointments until the last minute. (I have written about my pre-Covid business travel several times including here and here.)
I have always found packing for out of town events difficult. Each region has its own sensibility and trying to strike the right note and feel appropriate is stressful. In California, I sport too much black and am not beautifully causal enough, in the Midwest I tend to be under dressed or too professional and not festive enough. Add two years of not doing any of this, weight gained and weight lost, and a closet which in some ways is a frozen time capsule of winter of ’20 and you have packing stress.
It also came to my attention that my hair (which has been somewhat defiantly gray since my 30’s which I wrote about in a post here) had meandered down well past my shoulders and perhaps this was not the most professional look. These days I generally loop it up into a clip or with a hair tie and don’t think about it most days except when it annoys me by falling down during my run.
So with just a few days to go I dropped a haircut appointment on top of an ambitious schedule, although the person I have long been devoted to wasn’t able to take me. At his suggestion I saw someone else in his salon. Brianna did a splendid job and was the first person other than David Smith to cut my hair in more than two decades. (David owns the salon now, Smith and Morgan, and he did stop by to see progress on the big snip.) I am grateful to both for helping to transform me back to a more business-like version of myself on short notice.
That done an evening outfit was then considered and devised out of the decaying edifice which is my closet. At long last a peacock patterned silk blouse, a long-standing favorite of many years, emerged from the depths of my closet along with a favorite leather blazer and the new pair of dress trousers I am sporting this post-diet season.
Among jewelry I chose two rings from my favorite stash of ones I used to wear daily, a giant bee and a turquoise one that looks like a robin’s egg perched on my hand. They both always cheer me up to see. I have rarely worn rings during our long at-home period and breaking two fingers on my left hand has shuffled my ring wearing (actually dieting does too) when I do and left me somewhat bereft without my wedding band on that hand. (I was told the swelling could take up to a year to go down so I have not attempted to alter it yet.)
Where it started to go a bit wrong was deciding that I wouldn’t take my roller suitcase and instead use the weekend bag I take to my mom’s in New Jersey these days. My fear of wrestling it into the overheads on the plane and having to fight about it all was more than I could withstand considering.
My laptop of several years, which has been valiantly pressed into daily service in a way it was not purchased for, suddenly began to threaten that it may not be properly charging anymore. I purchased a keyboard for my iPad instead and decided I would bring it instead, cementing my decision that I didn’t need the larger bag. This was a mistake which I was to have much time to rue as I attempted to carry it on a mini-marathon gauntlet which is La Guardia airport and the equivalent of several city blocks between where my cab left me and the terminal. Part of this was through a construction site which was wet and muddy and well, long. The suitcase grew heavy, never again I swore.
Like many before me I will confess that my packing skills were sadly wanting for lack of use – my forays to NJ to stay with my mother in no way prepared me for packing to fly for a business trip. I found myself in Chicago with an entirely dried out old mascara and no shampoo. I almost forgot to put my liquids in a bag, but no one actually seems to care about that anymore? Worst of all, I didn’t pack anything to read! While I planned to work most of the time I didn’t pack or download a book for the trip whereas I usually include several – just in case. I purchased a trashy novel at La Guardia which sufficed for the most part, but gosh, what was I thinking?
Of course there is the mask part of this. A colleague in DC who has small children and a husband who travels frequently for work had made a study of the best and most comfortable masks. I was endlessly grateful to Lesley for both reminding me to think about it (comfort and safety for long periods of wearing) and for giving me a link where I was able to purchase them. Every restaurant in Chicago told me, as they checked my vaccination status, that this and the mask mandate are to be lifted next week.
Ironically Chicago was the last business trip I took in February of 2020 (I wrote about an earlier leg of that trip here) and I stayed at the same hotel, the historic Palmer House a few blocks from the Art Institute. I found the hotel still beautiful, but in a somewhat reduced circumstance with no room service and restaurants closed, occupancy felt low. At my arrival time of 8:30 at night I was barely in time to grab a quick sandwich at the bar. (There was a Grab & Go take out with some sad food and no one to pay – truly grab and go I remarked to a fellow traveler who spontaneously revealed that he hadn’t been out of his house in two years. I assume he meant travel?) My room was clean, but no cleaning staff in evidence which was fine for me, but unusual.
The long rabbit warren hallways are decorated with photo portraits of generations of musicians and actors. I made a point of remembering a soft right at Frank Sinatra, past George Burns and then a hard left at Louie Armstrong.
After some debate and planning I left the hotel just after sunrise for a run along the lake. I am used to cold runs along the water (and through the woods at mom’s), but even sporting my fleece tights and down liner the Chicago wind was a shock.
The stunning beauty of the waterfront made up for it and it is clearly a favorite with runners there. It is broader and larger than my East River Esplanade at home by far and there were fewer runners than at home and notably no dog walkers, too windy and cold for them I guess, and perhaps they prefer the nearby park. Although frankly I have never seen another city with as much dog walking activity and romping as Manhattan.
The Beaux Arts buildings dot this horizon in one direction, the more contemporary skyline in the other. A Ferris Wheel in the distance, by what appeared to be a cruise ship made me think of a young adult novel I read years ago about the history of the Ferris Wheel and its origins at the Chicago Exposition of 1893. Kim had suggested it called, The Great Wheel, was written and beautifully illustrated by Robert Lawson in 1957. I highly recommend it for all ages. Cakes of ice floated around, ducks took them in stride.
However, the Chicago wind did its job during my four miles and I returned to the hotel to find my face flaming red with windburn! I had, as I always do, put a layer of moisturizer and sunscreen on before my run, but that only appeared to have made it worse. I have never seen it so red!
Meanwhile, breakfast with a former Met colleague, now at the Art Institute, helped cheer and ground me later that morning. Then I dug into work, held a staff meeting from my hotel room after purchasing something to calm the skin on my face, thank you Neutragena and Target. I made it through the remainder of the day and evening largely without mishap, although running an event out of town for the fist time in years could be the subject of its own post about muscle memory. Snow! Cancellations! Guest of honor still on the road in the snow! Seating changes! Young musicians who forgot the stand for their keyboard! Cocktails and several courses of food later the evening wrapped.
A not insubstantial amount of snow overnight sadly meant no run on morning two – which I regret because I wanted a better look at the Ferris Wheel, alas. However, I rose early, packed, crammed three meetings, breakfast, coffee and lunch into the first part of the day (Board member download from night before, former staffer and long ago colleague – no cabs around so all via Uber which was also an atrophied muscle) and visited with a colleague who had just arrived. I see Georgina so rarely in person these days that an in-person visit with her was almost as rare as seeing my Chicago folks.
Before long it was time to pick up my very weighty bag, throw it over my shoulders and head back to the airport, home again to Kim and the kitties!