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We could have taken a taxi. In fact, that’s how I thought we were going to get to Oak Park from downtown Chicago where I was staying on business. But we were taking a city bus and then the green line train.

Thanks to the concierge at the hotel we were at (Hyatt McCormick Center), we were able to get a day pass for all our public transportation needs for the day at the bargain basement price of five dollars and some change.

When you travel for work, taking a taxi is a no brainer. I generally have little time and besides, I have a travel budget. But when I’m traveling for pleasure and on my own dime I often have to remember that it’s on my own dime. I’m not kidding. There’s been a multitude of times I’ve had to stop and remind myself that I’m not filling out an expense report at the end of a vacation.

The other thing I forget is that the saving time means I’m missing out on a whole bevy of experiences whether it’s people I might meet, things about a town I might learn or things I might miss seeing. And this time I coerced two colleagues to join me for our adventure to Oak Park before our meetings began, and taking the bus and train meant we had time to catch up, share insights and have an adventure that didn’t involve work.

If we had taken a taxi, sure we would have seen the Agora at Grant Park at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Roosevelt Street, but we would have only whirred by it. Since we were catching the train from the bus station at this corner we were able to walk among the statues as they were intended and felt as though we were walking among the giants.

106 headless cast iron figures called Agora at Grant Park in Chicago

We also would have missed seeing the storied (oh dear, a pun) Chicago Library:

Oak Park is about a 25 minute journey on the green line (a.k.a Harlem train), making it the second-to-last stop. When we arrived at the stop Cicero, I thought “Cicero, Cicero, where do I know that from?” And then I figured it out: Why it’s in one of the songs in the Broadway musical, Chicago. Ahh, now I’m getting it. The city of Chicago is a puzzle and when I get some time I’m going to figure out what Cicero has to do with that musical story.

When we arrived at Oak Park, I found myself in a neighborhood of which I only had cursory information. I knew of Frank Lloyd Wright, but I could have studied more. I certainly knew of Ernest Hemingway, but it was only that morning that I learned that he was born in Oak Park. Yes, I felt a little dumb. Smart people have lived here. VERY smart people. I should have showed up more prepared.

We arrived too late to take the tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio because we had to get back for a meeting that began at 5:30. Apparently tours fill up fast so if you visit be sure to get your tickets in advance or show up early. Same story for the Hemmingway tour. But the weather was beautiful–mid 60s, blue skies and the leaves were just beginning to dress in their red and gold couture. Maybe not a formal tour this time, but just walking in the colorful neighborhood was all we needed that day.

People walked around the neighborhoods with headphones, listening to a narrative tour. It would be a little strange living in this neighborhood, watching people wander around with headphones as they stared at homes with a far off stare. A little alien-like, I must admit. We chose to wander sans headphones and while our little tour was a bit of a walkabout drive by, it was a bit like eating from a sampler platter knowing that you’d be planning to go back at another time. I’d suggest spending two days in the area to take advantage of a deep immersion in both Wright and Hemingway.

In the end, I walked away with this book I bought from a very chatty woman at the little shop in the Hemingway Museum. (The sales woman was so obsessed with Hemingway and had very strong opinions on what she would and wouldn’t allow in “her” shop.)

Chatty sales woman aside, perhaps this book would help me become a better writer about my travels. Yes, it’s about the journey, but for me, it’s also about the writing.

Click on any of the photos in the gallery below and it will take you to a slideshow for better viewing.