American TESOL Institute Series

159 miles to Chicago.

A term that I recently learned in my research into different kinds of border restrictions and visas is “Visa Run”, a term meaning to make a quick cross of the border into to another country, and then returning to the previous, thereby resetting the clock on the original visa.  While not exactly what I was doing here, I still needed to make a run to Chicago to get my Thailand visa, and preferred to do it in person for both speed and to make sure it was done right.

So after being reminded of the successive tolls ($.80, $1.50, $3.50) on I-90, the route of the Chicago Skyway, I was able to exit onto a road completely stripped bare (less manholes higher than speed bumps) for construction.

Closed consulate. That was disappointing.

Still, once off that road, my directions led me right to the Royal Thai Consulate and a really good free parking space only a block away.  So, after a 3-hour drive, I strolled over to the Consulate, all my information in hand, only to find a sign on the door telling me they were closed for Chulalongkorn Day, a national holiday in Thailand.

I looked it up later, and it turns out the holiday wasn’t even that day, but Sunday.  It just carried on into a national non-work day on Monday.

I hadn’t known if I was going to stay overnight initially or not, but this turn of events kind of made that decision for me, though it was only around 2:30 in the afternoon.  I briefly considered driving down to Kempton, a middle of nowhere town about an hour south of Chicago.  It’s home to the World Explorer’s Club and a bookstore opened my one of my favorite travel writers growing up, David Childress.

However, as close as it is to Grand Rapids, I had never spent a night actually in Chicago. Since only recently becoming iPhone-less, I had to actually find a telephone book to look up the number for the HI Chicago and then use a sign outside of the John Hancock Tower to find out where it actually was.

After a short walk over to Navy Pier, I returned to my car just before my meter would be running out and headed south toward the hostel.  Driving in Chicago was no more fun than driving in Boston and it almost made me happy that I would be getting rid of my car within a couple weeks.  The nearest major intersection to the hostel was under heavy construction, forcing me to loop around a series of one ways several times before I could find a 24-hour parking garage nearby.

The HI Chicago was enormous.  It is apparently the second largest in the United States, second only to New York, the desk clerk told me as we discussed her upcoming stay at HI New York and some of the details I had liked about it.

One thing that I wanted to check out while in Chicago overnight was the Occupy Chicago protests.  They had made national headlines a couple days before because of a few arrests that had been made. So I began zigzagging all over the sprawling lakeside park where they were supposedly arrested while camping out, but could find no side of the protests anywhere near the financial district.

Giving up out of hunger for the time being, I walked through the financial district and through a neighborhood of immensely nice luxury high-rises until I came to the Riverwalk.  I followed that upstream a bit until I came back to the road to turn back down for the Hostel.  There stood a House of Blues where I enjoyed a nice bacon cheeseburger dip for dinner.

The Occupy Chicago movement in its underwhelming entirety.

On the way back to the hostel I walked along the edge of the park and eventually came upon the Occupy Chicago movement.  It was a little underwhelming.  Maybe a hundred people or so sitting around a monument in a half-roundabout.  They took turns speaking into a megaphone, mostly about the arrests the previous day and seemed to think that gave their cause some added nobility.  Not sure I would agree with that.

Brando’s Speakeasy.

The area where I was staying, south side downtown Chicago, is a charismatic university district, but did not have a hopping night scene.  Granted it was a Monday night.  I found a low-key karaoke lounge called Brando’s Speakeasy that had good drink prices and a very friendly crowd.  I’ve found that if you can’t sing well (i.e. me) it’s more fun to just pick the most ridiculous song you can for karaoke.

After walking the empty neighborhood streets a bit more and coming across a couple interesting sights, I headed back toward where the Occupy protests had been around midnight to see if any hardcore protesters were left.  There weren’t.  Only a few of their left over signs littered the ground.

? No idea.

Not the most tactful business sign.

About all that was left of the protesters.

Finally calling it a night, I headed back to the hostel.

The next morning, I got my car out of the parking ramp ($28) and drove back to the Thailand Consulate.  This time, not looking quite as nice as I had yesterday, as I hadn’t brought a razor to shave, expecting to see the consulate the first day there.  That didn’t seem to bother the man working the counter, as he was as pragmatic as could be.

He took my visa application and flight information, only amending my request for a multiple-entry tourist visa to a single entry, as I had only bought a one-way ticket to Thailand.

I then had to go on a series of errands that had me feeling like a character from a Playstation RPG.

First, he wouldn’t accept cash payment; it had to be in the form of a money order.  No problem, I just had to find a Chase bank.  But, as I said, no iPhone anymore.  So rather than just look it up, I had to find someone to ask.  I figure it’s central downtown Chicago, there has to be a Chase nearby.  I asked a doorman outside a hotel and he gladly pointed me a few blocks over.

*You have received money order*

Then, he accepted my passport and application and told me to come back in 2 days. While I could have stayed in the area another couple days, I had a lot to do before leaving in Grand Rapids and just didn’t want to spend the extra money.  I asked him if it was possible to mail it back to me.  He told me to get a paid envelop from FedEx or UPS and he could.  So, I was off again.

I quickly found a FedEx delivery driver right down the street from the consulate and he informed me of a FedEx store in the John Hancock building.  I arrived there to an open, but empty store.  Another few moments and the attendant came back with a Subway sandwich and was very apologetic and walked me through each step in what I needed for the paid shipping.

*You have received overnight paid envelope*

I quickly went back to the Royal Thai Consulate, eager to finish this process.  The same man took the envelope, stuck it with my passport and told me that it would be mailed out on Thursday.  Surely enough, Friday it arrived only containing my passport with an official sticker taking up an entire page allowing my tourist visa for Thailand.

An hour later I was back on the stop-go traffic of the Chicago freeway, and an hour after that, back in Michigan.