Monday 1 November 2010


I would have thought I'd be more intimidated by Chicago. First time in America (which is both a geographical term for a continent and a childhood concept of "that's where all the cool stuff happens" - based on US culture on TV and the movies) - and it's very different to Russia (yeah, really).

First of all, I can talk to strangers - big help. But it's also the feel of the place. I was worried about immigration. During the Bush junior interregnum, several of my friends were treated less than stellar by immigration. Arriving at O'Hare, passport and customs and immigration form clutched in my hand, I was processed by guy who looked very much like a cop in the movies - that dirty blond, small beard, glasses kinda guy that I've seen a hundred times on screen.

I had my fingers scanned and my picture taken ("look into the camera"), but, to be honest, all the CCTV stuff in London is worse.

"Why are you here?"
"I'm on business."
"What kind of business are you in?" emphasis on "you", with a "what are *you* working as" tone - bizarrre.
"I'm a journalist."

By then my passport was sorted and I was too flight-dazed to follow the orders exactly which parts of my hands they were scanning in what order (pretty sure the others only had one hand scanned, but maybe we Germans are extra-scary - or I might have seen that wrong), he gave me the orders in German "vier finger," "linker Daumen" (four fingers/left thumb). Glimpsed at his name tag. German name.

I thanked him in German as I walked away, amused by the episode more than intimidated. Whenever I looked lost or hesitated to find my way around, some American would pounce on me and explain. I managed to find the trains to the city at O'Hare (more complicated than it seems) and got into downtown Chicago. I even managed to stop a taxi that took me to my hotel (which is no mean feat in London).

While it's strange and different, I would have thought it would be harder. (but then I'm a control-freakish worrier when it comes to my job. I just like being in control, flight-dazed and all). But of course, this is only the second day and things might start to look very different once I'm out and about for a few.

Lots of skyscrapers from where I am - I'm close to the Gold Coast part of Downtown. I do hope I'll be able to see more than the conference hotel. And dollars look like play money. Hard to take the greenback seriously if you're used to pounds and euros. Even Turkish lira look more like money.

And despite the long flight (eight hours), getting here is still bearable. I do want to come back as a tourist. That would be New York, Seattle, San Francisco (and Chicago unless I manage to see some stuff on this trip). Childhood names again. But I can even use this trip for To Catch a Spy.

Before I forget - on the plane, they put me next to a guy who was built in a way that made me feel like a small child. American footballer/superhardcore bodybuilder kind of guy. Enormous. Black. Biceps like thighs. Can't walk for strength kinda man.

I had the aisle seat, but he was invading my space - he couldn't help it, he simply didn't fit. And then on the other side of the aisle, a screaming toddler (where's my duct tape). I was resigned between being screaming at or cuddling up to the enormous man-tit in a tight t-shirt in my sleep (his wife was on the other side) for eight hours when the stewardess noticed the situation and offered me a seat in the back ("you're looking a bit squashed near the big bear there").

I ended up sharing the empty seat in the middle with a nice American dude who was working all the time - reading financial mags and working on the laptop). Even the toddler calmed down, so that trip was mostly a win. I read Manna Francis' "Control" - book four of the Administration series - which tided me over for much of the travel. Quick nap affterwards. The "bear" (I could see his screen from my position) was watching "Twilight" and "The Last Airbender". How such a big guy ends up watching kiddie programs was downright bizarre. He even watched "Twilight" to the very end, but stopped halfway through the Airbender. I guess there's a limit to pain in the frontal lobes a big guy like that can withstand.

Right, the sun is up. Second coffee brewed. Now shower, then pinstripe, then my first meeting with a tech company.

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