Postcards from Abroad: Chicago

In his latest travel column, James Fagan compares the horrors of airport-traumas to his newfound love of the NFL in all its gloryIf being on exchange is a student’s idea of heaven, then airports must be purgatory. One must go through to reach those golden, or in my case frozen, lands afar. Like many travellers this winter, I had the complete non-joy of having flights cancelled by inclement weather. As a result, I was able to sample the finer offerings of some of the transatlantic route’s finest (I use the term so loosely it may fall off the page) airports.Most of my disdain is directed at Chicago’s main hub, O’Hare. Upon my first day of attempting to get home, I arrived at terminal two to drop off a departing Argentinean friend. Thinking it was also my terminal, I let out of a sigh of relief when I saw that it was relatively big and shiny (that usually means comfort).Unfortunately, after a self check-in kerfuffle involving an angry fist-pound on the contrarian kiosk, I found out that I would be flying out of terminal five instead. In my defence it was the airport’s fault for omitting what terminal I was to fly out from on my check-in. Furthermore, everyone and everything in airports are perpetually stupid, especially devices labelled “self-service”.Following that stress, I discover that I will in fact not be getting my flight because Amsterdam, where I’m connecting, no longer exists on this Earth owing to apocalyptic snow. That $36 taxi ride I took to the airport was such a good investment!Flash-forward to the day I actually get a flight back to Ireland and low and behold, terminal 5 is as delightful as an Italian regional airport. The walls are several shades of gray, as are the windows, the floors, the seats and the full-body x-ray scanners. So much for smuggling a Burger King through to the foodless waiting area.I spy a vending machine – $3 for a Pepsi and $2 for a Twix. The economist inside me praises the airport management company’s monopolising tendencies; the weary traveller that I am, however, drops a couple of F-bombs. Out loud. In a public place. At an inanimate object. Facepalm.Following my sojourn in Ireland, where everyone is now perpetually depressed, I have returned to Chicago for the long haul. Moreover I can finally say that I am an NFL fan. The past couple of weeks have seen the playoffs decide who will play in the Superbowl in Texas come February 5th.For a glorious while, it seemed that the Chicago Bears would in fact make it to Arlington. The thought of living in this city as Cutler, Urlacher and the rest of the boys did us proud was so good it became all I could talk about for a period of about two weeks. I was having fantasies about the inevitable street parties/riots/lootings. However, as faith and the Bears’ shocking inconsistency would have it, that dream will never come to pass. That is, of course, until I can use science or magic to make it 1985 again.As soon as the game got underway, there were cheers and sighs as the teams battled it out. That very manly of expressions, the humble high five, became the only real way of communicating when die-hard fans roared as Bears regained possession. In the end however the bar fell silent, there was to be no victory for the Bears. No chance of reaching Superbowl XLV. Yet despite the defeat, it was clear from the sea of navy and orange that the fans had enjoyed themselves.At our end of the bar a crowd of us gathered around a mother and her infant son (who was wearing a set of Packers-themed pyjamas) and while a few of us shot the breeze with her, the girls went goo-goo gaga over the baby. Speaking with her, it was clear that she considered game days as being fun for all the family.  One of my friends from the law school quipped that the baby might be a liability. I retorted: “It’s Sunday, NERD!”It’s strange how much the day reminded me of how the pubs back home were when I was younger – everyone chatted and had a good easy-going time. Being home at Christmas, it struck me how that culture has seemingly slipped away except for on rare, long-planned occasions. It’s a pity, because pubs and bars are social places and not just somewhere to get tanked before you hit a usually craptacular club. While they may not get airports right, laid back enjoyment is one thing the Americans certainly do well.James Fagan is a UCD student currently on Erasmus in Chicago.