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Annual O’Hare Stay

November 13, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

I got back last night from my tenth annual November overnight trip to Chicago. It’s become a Ron’s View tradition for me to say a few words about it (here, for instance, or here). I don’t want to disappoint, so here goes.

I took the United 11:00 AM flight Sunday. I rarely fly United. These trips are pretty much the only time I do. As a result, I rarely get to enjoy their one great service: audio channel 9. If the pilot permits, you get to listen in on the audio feed of the air traffic controller conversations with pilots. Once seated, I got my earphones set and turned it on. But — nothing. Darn pilot. I especially wanted to know what was going on as we made our descent. We were in clouds most of the way down, finally getting below them when we were down to maybe 2000-3000 feet. Flying blind. The controller commentary would have been helpful.

I have spent countless hours at O’Hare Terminal 1, Concourses B and C. I doubt there’s a terminal where I feel more at home, even in Seattle or New York. Once I got off the plane, I got my bearings. We were at the farthest end of C, the longest possible walk to get out. Not that I go out exactly. Just from C to B, past security, into O’Hare’s labyrinthine tunnel system, and back up at the O’Hare Hilton‘s lobby. I checked in, they had my preference for a room far from the elevator, and put me on the top floor — 10 — down near the end. I had a view out over Terminal 2, with Terminals 1 and 3 to the sides. One could argue that the O’Hare Hilton is a discouraging destination, but really, is there a better hotel view?

The Grand Canal in Venice? Oh, you mean like this?

I don’t think so. I took that photo three years ago almost to the day. Where are the planes taxiing around? And the inter-terminal train? And the buses and shuttle vans? You really ought to consider O’Hare for your next trip.

In past years, my nephew didn’t live in Chicago. But he does this year. He moved in August. Thanks to the CTA, it’s easy to get from the Loop to O’Hare. Shortly after I got settled in my room, he arrived. We had a couple of hours together, admiring the view and catching up, before it was time for me to go to dinner. When you’re at the O’Hare Hilton, dinner means Andiamo, which I have come to love. It must have the coolest sports bar in the world. Or maybe the point is that I’m always there on a fall Sunday, with NFL football on multiple TVs. Plus the football signed by Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus. Everyone’s having a fabulous time.

Once past the bar and into the restaurant proper, I found my colleagues. The menu changes from year to year. Sometimes it’s huge. The current incarnation is more limited. Some appetizers, some pastas, some fish/seafood/steak selections. I had the New York steak with potatoes (long potato wedges), broccolini, and some peppers and onions. I chose the Caesar to start. Plus the table ordered some sort of Caprese salad, on the table before I showed up (late after saying goodbye to my nephew). We had a superb wine, also ordered before I arrived, Clos Du Val Napa Valley 2009 cabernet.

The conversation was good too. One of my colleagues, who lives in the Sacramento Mountains of southern New Mexico, talked about the elk invasion of his yard and state laws that don’t allow him to do anything about them as he watches them strip his trees of bark. And then there was the story of a friend who legally killed an elk, two miles from the nearest road, and had to call in several people to help him drag it out. How to get it onto the bed of his pickup truck was a whole different matter.

Why live in the Sacramentos? Well, it’s beautiful. And, there’s this:

Yesterday, I was up early (4:45 AM Seattle time). Checked out, headed up to the Hilton’s mezzanine for the standard site of our annual meeting, the Athens-Berlin room, where we would spend the next 7+ hours blocked off from natural light. I always make it a point to head down to the lobby whenever there’s a break and go outside, to look across the street to the O’Hare parking garage and breathe in the fresh, jet-fueled air, whatever the weather. 30s and windy yesterday. Real windy. Still, my three outdoor excursions were worth it.

The meeting ended around 3:45 PM. United had already phoned and emailed me to say that the flight would be delayed due to late arrival of the airplane into O’Hare. We took our time walking to the terminal. By the time we got through security, the new estimate was of a 40-minute delay. We had well over two hours to kill. We sat at a quiet gate, our own gate filled with people boarding a flight to Houston. Soon the gate we were at filled too, with people for a delayed flight to LaGuardia. And then United alerted me — phone and email — that our flight was delayed again, now an hour late. Something was going on with New York air traffic, as our plane was coming in from LaGuardia and was an hour and a half late.

We headed to our own gate as people poured out of the plane, found a couple of seats, and suddenly a woman sitting across from me said hi. The wonders of Facebook! I knew her. I haven’t seen her in over a decade, but we’re Facebook friends and I knew all about her. She was heading back to Seattle from visiting her great-grandmother outside Pittsburgh on the occasion of the great-grandmother’s 98th birthday. We were catching up on our lives when I realized I had missed the boarding call. Off I went to claim my seat.

Thank you, United pilot. Thank you, United. Audio channel 9 was on. I could listen in on the taxiing instructions, then on our clearance for takeoff. Why wasn’t everyone else listening? Up we went. Four hours later, down we came. Off to the car I walked. Home I drove. And now I must wait another year to hang out again at the O’Hare Hilton and Andiamo. I miss them.

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