November 4, 2012
This fifth day of our cross-country road trip was a Sunday. I started it off with a swim in the hotel pool, the first of many swims I would take during the journey home. I remember a father and son throwing a football around in the pool. After I did my laps, I spent some time in the whirlpool before heading back downstairs to clean up and get ready to check out.
Since we were in Chicago, the last major metropolitan city with a sizable Chinese community that we would be in for a while, we decided to take advantage and enjoy an HK-style breakfast. A quick Google search revealed a place with decent reviews called Sweet Station in Chicago Chinatown. We finished packing, checked out, and made the quick drive down there, passing through downtown Chicago on the way.
We saw what looked like marathoners shuffling into a subway station, and later learned that they were runners in the Hot Chocolate 15/5k. Speaking of subway stations, there was a portion of the drive where we were parallel to the elevated tracks of Chicago’s famous “L” where I caught a glimpse of one of the trains. I thought about the movie the Fugitive at that moment, the part where the marshals were trying to figure out where Harrison Ford was calling from. Overall, downtown Chicago looked very much like how I had imagined it after seeing it in movies and TV shows.
We parked just outside Chinatown Square and noticed that the parking machines were the same as the ones used in Oakland, and then went inside. It was not unlike many other Chinatown malls that we’ve been to, though I would say it reminded me of Vancouver the most. There were two levels, and the restaurant was deep inside and to the left, on the first level. We ordered a couple of main breakfast courses (Chinese tamale for me, congee for JC), and added a couple of dimsum items for good measure (beef tripe and rice rolls). It was good to have milk tea after not having it for a while. Afterwards, we walked around the square for a bit before stopping by Walgreens (no more Duane Reade!) to get some supplies before getting back on the road.
When I pass through a new city or town, I always try to imagine what it’s like living there. I use references from the Bay Area that are familiar to me and compare them with the things I see. In this case, I thought of the relationship between all the cities in the Bay Area. To the uninitiated, the entire Bay Area could be “San Francisco” when in reality the city is only a tiny portion of it. Driving out, I wondered whether I was still in Chicago-proper or some other town near Chicago, like Daly City or Oakland is to SF. If I were a resident of Chicago, I’m sure I would know the difference immediately.
Once again there were a lot of tolls. In the end we paid 4 tolls to the Illinois Tollway, even though we left the state pretty quickly before entering Wisconsin. I had not expected to pass through Wisconsin but of course when I did I just thought of some of the things that non-Wisconsin people think are attributed to that state: cheese, milk, and other dairy products, and the Green Bay Packers. In Wisconsin, we stopped at three different rest areas: the Belvidere Oasis, Rest Area 11 near Portage, and Rest Area 16 near Sparta.
Just before 17:00, we crossed the state line into Minnesota, driving on a bridge passing over the Mississippi River. Finally, after learning about it in school and hearing of its role in American history, there it was, the mighty Mississippi. We tried to imagine what it must have been like for the early settlers moving westward, discovering new lands and this new river for the first time. Even if we weren’t the first ones to be here, it was our first times here and the sense of discovery we felt was no less real.
Of course, unlike the early pioneers, we had access to plenty of information about where we were and where we were going. Right after entering the state, there’s a rest area (Dresbach Traveler Information Center and Rest Area) that you can go to to learn more about the state, the river, and the histories of both. We got a chance to just stand next to the river and observe for a few moments while the sun finished its descent into the horizon. It was quiet and peaceful, and difficult to fathom that we were seeing only a small part of a river that goes almost from Canada all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico.
We got back in the car and continued on our way. By that time it was night so there wasn’t much to see except for one thing: the sky. Between cities, the sky is completely dark from the lack of light pollution, and one can actually see that the night sky is actually completely filled with cosmic objects, from horizon to horizon. Being used to viewing it from the city, it is difficult to believe that the sky is actually completely filled with stars, just like how it is in those telescope photos you can buy at planetariums. It’s just that normally, civilization obscures the view. It kind of makes you wonder what other spectacular works of nature civilization has obscured or will obscure in the future.
We arrived at the hotel and settled in before heating up the leftover Chicago pizza for a nice reprise of the previous night’s dinner. Driving at night can be and was pretty tiring so I retired early in preparation for the next day’s drive to Mitchell, South Dakota.
A couple more interesting sights from this day:
We saw a few of these double-deckers with round-bus-captain liveries and thought it must be cool to travel in them.