Chicago at the Time of Corona

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As the year inching towards the end, many of us are dreading the rest of 2020. It’s the time of so many instability, sorrow and fear. I try to understand what have happened in this year so far have meanings, maybe to strengthen us individually though it might be hard to acknowledge sometimes. The feeling of anxiety comes over many times. When the spread of the Corona has just started, we were in a very confusing phase about my daughters’ housing situation at their colleges. They were away for the spring break when suddenly their schools announced that they couldn’t come back to their dorms until further notice. It was February. My eldest goes to school in Massachusetts that relatively closer to where we live, however my younger daughter goes to school in Illinois. Then in March, our state declared the quarantine. We were concerned about the my daughters’ stuff and how we could access them before the summer break to clear up the space. But we were patient. The schools sent us communications every now and then, but it’s still unclear when we could get back to the girls’ dorms to arrange their stuff for storage and take some of them home. By mid March, my younger daughter and I were beginning to get restless of the uncertainty. When an email came from her school telling the students and their parents that we could come to the dorms to clear up, I booked the train right away also the hotel. It was a necessary trip that we needed to do though our state was still in quarantine while Illinois hasn’t started it yet. My daughter and I geared up to take the almost 20 hour trip from Connecticut to Illinois.

Excited and concerned before leaving .

We stopped by in New York first to get our train from Penn Station. When we arrived in Grand Central Terminal, we were stunned. So empty! So quiet! There were still people on and about but there were merely dozens not hundreds that usually filled up this magnificent station. The food court at the lower level was closed. There’s no people chatting while having some meals, no tinkling of their silverware, glasses nor plates. There’s no wonderful aromas that usually wafting, enticing many who just got off the trains or about to depart. After we took some time to go to the restroom, my daughter and I continued to walk towards Penn Station about 25 minutes away from Grand Central. We tried to get something to eat on board the train and thankfully, we found a halal food cart near Bryant Park. So we got some that we thought plenty enough for us for our long journey. There are food being sold on the train, but we’re not sure about the rule due the pandemic. When we saw our favorite bakery was open, we got some baked goods to go for the next day. There were’t many shops opened in New York and we were lucky to find the bakery and the food cart to get our food. The mask wearing wasn’t mandated when we took our trip, but we wore the scarves to protect ourselves and gloves too. Our departure went on without any hitch, but by the time the train reached Upstate New York, I received an email from my daughter’s school announcing that the moving out time has been cut short. At first we thought we could take care of her stuff from her dorm since the moving out time would be until 8 PM the next day. But then, the email said the time would only be until 2 PM and the dorms would be locked right away until further notice. Therefore, whoever unable to collect their stuff and clear out, would have to leave them at their dorm rooms. According to our plan, we would arrive in Champaign where my daughter’s school is located around 4 PM the next day and that would make impossible for us to move her stuff out of her dorm. Adding to our confusion was the announcement from the Governor of Illinois about the lock down that would start the day after started at 5 PM Central Standard Time. I was frantic!

All of the plan that I already set up was not going to happen. Our train reached Albany, still in Upstate New York, still about 16 hours away to reach our last train stop in Chicago. It was Friday late afternoon and our train would be arriving in Chicago at 9 AM on Saturday. After we reached Chicago, we were supposed to continue our trip by bus to Champaign and it would be another 3 hours trip. Right away, I cancelled our hotel in Champaign because we wouldn’t go there anyway since we wouldn’t be able to get to my daughter’s dorm on time before the school closed for the lock down. I was frantically cancelling the train booking too because I had to change the date and time of our departure from Chicago to go back to Connecticut. While I was busy trying to change our itinerary, my daughter was also frantically calling her friends who live in Illinois to ask for their helps to get some of her stuff especially the ones that were important, like her cello. She managed to ask her roommate to get her cello and some books that she would need for her class and her other friend to get her winter stuff. They would be able to come to the dorms and move out and helped getting some of my daughter’s stuff too. At least, my daughter wouldn’t have to worry about her important stuff being left for not sure how long. But our problem hasn’t ended yet. I had to make sure we wouldn’t get stranded in Chicago during the lock down. So, I booked a hotel, the one we used last summer, for a special program to only use the room for several hours and not to stay overnight. The train that we were boarded on would be arriving around 9 – 10 AM on Saturday and after I changed the booking, we would take different train to go back home at 6:30 PM on the same day. You can imagine how tiring it would be for us to get on and off and on the train again.

We took a walk from the train station to the hotel through this bridge.

Our train arrived in Chicago late. My daughter and I were tired both physically and emotionally not to mention starving, but there’s no food kiosks opened inside the train station. It’s somewhat confusing. We thought since we were going to walk towards the hotel, we might see the shops or cafes that were open. Apparently, even though the lock down hasn’t started officially, almost all the restaurants, cafes, shops and offices were already closed. We could only find a Subway shop that was open, so we got subs and soups to go. Good thing, I bought some breads from the bakery in New York City that we could use later on board the train. After I checked us at the hotel, a historic one said to be haunted, my daughter and I took turn to take shower, then we had lunch and had some rest. We couldn’t go anywhere because my daughter’s roommate were coming to drop off her cello and books at the hotel, but her roommate not sure when exactly. We were so relieved when my daughter’s roommate and her mother came dropping her cello at the hotel. The cello is a present for my daughter and is quite valuable, therefore we didn’t want to leave it at the dorm for indefinitely. After the matter settled, we packed up our things and by 4 PM and checked out of the hotel. My daughter and I walked from the hotel to the train station passing by the empty sidewalks and streets. Chicago felt dead. Only a handful of cars seen on the streets, people were almost none to be seen anywhere. We tried to get some food for our dinner on the train and we found 2 fast food restaurants that were still open. However the foods at one of the place looked dry and simply didn’t look tempting. We got some fried food at the halal fast food joint instead, although the quality wasn’t as the same as the ones we got the last time when we visited Chicago in summer 2019. It was an hour before the official lock down in Illinois started at 5:00 PM on Saturday, March 21st when my daughter and I walked along the street towards the train station. Anywhere was quiet and empty. It’s eerie and surreal. Our journey that time was the craziest that we’ve had. we literally got off from a 19-hour train trip to continue the same trip merely a couple of hours later. It felt so ridiculous,! The pandemic had made every thing confusing and unsure particularly with the schools systems. But it certainly has become a memorable event somehow for me and my daughter.

Chicago empty street and sidewalk across the Art Institute of Chicago.
An empty Chicago before the lock down officially began.
Stay safe Chicago. We will see you soon.
Standing in the middle of empty Chicago street.
The sign of the historic Route 66 that begins in Chicago.
There was no L train.
Chicago during the start of a lock down due to the pandemic.
Chicago on the day the lock down would officially start.

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