Postcards from Abroad: Chicago

As the intense Chicago winter starts to set in, Postcards from Abroad columnist James Fagan talks weather, nightlife and his take on American politicsIt’s only November and the cold is already starting to bite here in Chicago. Right now, it’s three degrees Celsius (adjusted for wind chill, of course) outside my apartment and the funny part is, it actually gets colder. Fun fact: the coldest ever recorded temperature in Chicago was in 1985, when the wind chill brought temperatures to minus 64 degrees Celsius. Think about that for a moment; this was colder than the average temperature in Antarctica!But the cold weather does have its upsides. For example, not only do the Chicago streets become a veritable catwalk of winter chic with parkas, fur hats and shorts (in the case of my roommate Joey), but it also leads to some crazy stories.One of the girls last year had the unfortunate problem of having only just washed her hair, realising she was late for class. So without drying her hair or putting on a hat, she ran out the door. Within 60 seconds of going outside, her hair was dry, or more correctly, it was frozen solid. On a more worrying note, last year a student from the residence was found stuck to the pavement after attempting to walk eight blocks, wearing just his jeans and shirt. What a place to live, right?My goal of watching every American sport live while living here got a boost a few weeks ago, when I got surprise tickets to the Chicago Bears game against the Washington Redskins. Only in America can a 60-minute game last three hours and have a fly-over by a squadron of fighter jets.The fact that they flew past at the exact time the last line of the national anthem was sung out confirmed one widely-held presumption: America is in love with itself. The atmosphere at the game was ridiculously over the top. There was a lot of beer, hot dogs and pretzels, and the Bears’ fans even booed their own team. A day at the Aviva stadium it certainly wasn’t.Having finally turned 21, I can now legitimately sample the nightlife that the city has to offer and it is possibly the most varied selection I’ve ever seen.The big thing here is the neighbourhood bar. Every neighbourhood has its own one and each has its own feel. To that end, if you want the undergraduate-style watering hole, you head out to Lincoln Park. For the classier people among us, there are places in Near North such as the trendy Hub51 and the ultra-exclusive The Underground. Prices vary from $1 beers to $10 Vodka & Cokes depending on where you are, but you’re sure to find something to suit your tastes.Whatever you do, however, never agree to go to Carrolls’ Western Bar. On second thought, go once for the experience and then never return. Unfortunately, I was dragged out there a few times for late-night beers.The place is the definition of a dive. There is no divider between the urinals and in the sole toilet in the men’s room, they play terrible country music and the bar man is about 70 years old, half blind and needs to turn his good ear to you in order to take your order. If you are in the mood for a late-night music bar, hit up Buddy Guys Legends on Wabash for some absolutely sublime live blues music.Lectures continue to rock on like they were going out of fashion. As the semester has progressed, my accent has led to some confused looks from the teachers, but at least I have only a couple more weeks until the end of classes. Unfortunately, that means lots and lots of essays. I never thought I would prefer to have examinations, but continual assessment is almost unbearable.No doubt many of you followed the mid-term elections and think that the publicity they get here is huge – but in reality, they don’t get that much coverage. If it weren’t for reading the Irish Times and BBC News websites, I wouldn’t have even known about it.Ordinary people just don’t get excited for the elections and if they do, it’s hidden away. There are no banners, placards, flyers or canvassers. It is remarkable considering how much the media machine pushes American politics down your throats. Turn of the telly and it will pass you by, the only reminder of politics being the street works outside with a sign saying: ‘Paid for by the American Investment and Recovery Act’.