I’m staying in a hotel in downtown Chicago. I’m here because there are still holes in the walls and ceiling of my kitchen. At first, I was irritated that the contractors hadn’t finished by the agreed-upon time, but then decide to turn it into something I’ve never done; I’ll be a tourist in my own town.
I’ve lived in Chicago since 1990 but never stayed in a hotel here. Why would I? People do that sometimes for anniversaries or holidays. It’s a chance to change perspective on the familiar. To see a place you know well as if it’s brand new.
I didn’t grow up staying in hotels. Campgrounds were more my family’s speed. As soon as I had a say in it, I stopped sleeping anywhere without walls and a roof. I’ve mentioned my feelings about nature here before. So, because they weren’t part of my reality, hotels retained a fascination.
Looking out the window of my room, I realize that the intersection is one I drew before. A few years back a writing professor commissioned a large drawing for his office of this very spot. In my drawing, I’m looking north rather than west (as I am now), and I used Google Streetview freezeframes rather than my own eyes. But it’s the same place.
I chose this hotel because when I drove cab there were always picketers outside its doors. They were there the entire nine years I drove. Then, a year or two later, they disappeared. I don’t know whether the labor dispute was resolved or the union just gave up. I always wanted to know what it looked like inside.
The building is from the late 1800s. Judging by the wall fixtures and furniture, there was a remodel sometime in the early 60s which has been left to wither. Aside from cheap flatscreens and taped-to-the-wall signs, there’s not much to peg this place to 2022.
The little restaurant that serves guests breakfast just off the lobby is deserted. Occasionally, the waitress calls orders to a coworker across the empty room. One woman handles the tables, the other, room service. In an alcove decorated with faux brickwork, I see the cook darting in and out of view. Out the dusty window, through harsh winter glare, I look at Grant Park. There’s a disconnect between inside and outside. It’s as if I’m looking at today out there from a room that’s long ago.
I’m on the seventh floor. One time, I decide to take the stairs. Most hallways on the floors below are barely lit. On the third floor, the stairway ends. I walk through a pitch black hallway to reach a different way out. It’s not quite the Overlook, but there is certainly an abandoned vibe. Not many people are staying in this enormous place. The emptiness is palpable.
There’s a long history to artists living in hotels. Some of Matisse’s best pictures were done in them. Henry Miller lives exclusively in flophouses throughout Tropic of Cancer. I can see the appeal. I’ve been pretty productive here. It feels a bit like skipping school. Not that anyone checks up on me when I’m home, but this feels even more incognito.
I’d change some of the furniture, but other than that, it’s refreshing not to be surrounded by all the crap I chose and love. I’m looking forward to being in it again, but I won’t forget this room, where I felt like a stranger, in the best way possible.