En Route: Chicago


The cabin filled with a warm, luminescent orange as the sun set over the western horizon. The airplane, a normally cold, dry, and generally uncomfortable place felt strangely different. The light gave the impression that a fireplace had been placed somewhere unseen casting shadows and suggesting warmth. Outside the wings skimmed the clouds, which completely covered the sky beneath. The scene looked nearly identical to snow, as the slight turbulence sent us bobbing over the frosted hills, the setting sun distorted by the clouds suggesting mountains peeking in the distance, though there were none. I watched, transfixed by the illusion.

Planes have always been to me, a means to a destination, and often a slightly inconvenient one at that. Since I traveled by air as a child, and have since logged more hours than I’d like to think about, planes have never been exciting to me. I love seeing young kids (and the occasional young adult) on their first ever plane ride, excited about something I consider just about as interesting as the daily commute. But to them, there is a sense of wonder. I felt that briefly, as I looked out my window, to another world outside, and let the properties of light trick my eyes, with pleasure.

This came at an interesting time. Traveling to Chicago, a place I’ve been countless times to visit family and friends. Though I certainly don’t know the city that well, there is a sense of familiar. And while I was feeling excited to see my family, Chicago itself had lost that sense of wonder, of a foreign place ripe with possibilities for discovery. A downside to travel in general, is while the world continues to shrink, and you realize these far flung locals are actually not all that far or difficult to see, you also loose a bit of the magic that drives the exploration in the first place. As a child, thinking about one day visiting places like Africa or Thailand felt so incredibly out of reach, I imagined these places as if they may as well be on a different planet. I longed to see them. And now, though my wanderlust has never faltered, these exotic places have lost a bit of their sparkle. Thailand, for example seems one of the easier places to visit. With cheap airfare and cost of living staying there a few months would be no problem. And while that certainly excites me, I can tell the illustrious appeal of this exotic land has somewhat dissipated from it’s former glory. To consider trekking in the Himalayas, or diving Indonesia is no longer absurd, or out of reach and I treat them as such in my mind. This is something that bothers me a bit, one aspect I love about travel is the constant joy of discovery, and given this vast world of unique cultures, I will never run out of places to explore, but I also never want to be less than amazed. I don’t want to wake up in the south pacific and feel anything but unadulterated excitement for what lies ahead. I’m a young traveler just starting to see the world, and already it feels much smaller and less foreign, I’ve occasionally wondered if in time the wonder will disappear. Though, I know, it probably never will.

Watching my illusionary tundra over somewhere in the mid-west, I am reminded that there can still be wonder in the everyday, discovery in familiar cities, and that most of all it is a choice; to allow complacency, or not. To find intrigue in new forms, in new places and old, or not. So, with my family I wandered the streets I’ve known since childhood with new eyes, and allowed myself the luxury of being swept up in the energy of the city and the beauty of its buildings.
Excitement, wonder, intrigue boundless and anew.


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