Three Homeless Nights in Chicago

You know how sometimes you look at someone and you think, “That could be me in ten years?” Well, let’s hope those things never become true because in a decade’s time I’ll be a homeless black man.

I should back up here because you might now be confused, thinking, “That Chirpy, he ain’t a black man is he, niggah?” But before this devolves into casual, unfunny racism, no, I’m not black, and I’m not homeless. In fact, I’m about as middle-class and white as you can be without having The Daily Telegraph delivered every day to your three-bedroom-and-a-garage home in Kent. There are systems in place to make sure I don’t become homeless — Mum, if you’re reading this, I’ll have casserole for dinner.

But while staying in a commune in Chicago – or “community” if you prefer – I saw a little something of what my life could have been like in a man called Ron Brown. He’d been living in the place for twenty-something years and now had his pre-teen kid with him after an unhappy split with his wife. I got talking to him at the breakfast table one day, mainly, I suppose, because it was clear to everyone I wasn’t “supposed” to be in a place like that. But when you couchsurf you end up in some strange places, some more comfortable than others, some more interesting than others. My Chicago commune was definitely in the latter category.

Ron told me that, although he was homeless, he wasn’t actually unemployed. He told me he was a writer and had written for prestigious film magazines and had had lunch with Roger Ebert. I’ll keep saying “he told me…” because I’m not sure how true any of it was, but he told me writers don’t get paid much and I’m inclined to believe him; the only payment I’m getting for these blog posts is in Internet kindness points which, in case you weren’t aware, don’t hold much value and supermarkets don’t accept them; I’ve tried. But I have a real job too, one that does pay for rice pudding and haircuts and those kinds of things.

Ron reminded me that, contrary to advice given on every third travel blog you read, following your dreams doesn’t always work out. Remember that next time you go to a lecture on 18th-century literature or British social realist cinema of the 1960s.

My room-mate in the commune, a guy about my age with lots of medication on his bookshelves hiding titles like “Why Jesus Will Walk Again” and “The Rapture: A How-To Guide”, was the opposite. He was all about doing “what you feel is right” and other one-line slogans from a GCSE citizenship class. He was all noble and was a counsellor and had spent a summer in Devon (that’s England for you foreign types) offering counsel to alcoholics on a farm-based recovery program. He was about as interesting as a person with a monotone voice can be, which I mean in a kind way, I think.

He didn’t have any useful advice for getting to sleep in a room with no air-conditioning that remained at least 25C all night though.

I spent three nights in that place. Okay, well, two really, because I spent the third night asleep on the floor of O’Hare airport waiting for my early-morning flight to Charlotte, NC.

Now here’s a bunch of Chicago photos because the wall of text is hurting your eyes:

Chicago Skyscrapers with River

View from Hancock Tower in Chicago

Chicago Boats in Water

Chicago Painter

Chicago Wall Fountain Face

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18 Comments Add yours

  1. Do they still have a boat tour around the city? Great post and pictures. I have not been to Chicago for thirty years. Thanks!

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    1. ambigram0 says:

      If they did, I missed it! If they still have one, I missed a trick. Would’ve loved to have done one!

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  2. Krekushka says:

    That thing about a homeless writer was a bit scary for me. Even when I got paid for my writing, I was always aware it wasn’t enough to pay all the bills.

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    1. ambigram0 says:

      I did a creative writing class called “writing for a living”. All the guest writers’ best advice was “get a day job”. They weren’t even subtle about it. Freelancing is tough.

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  3. I think couchsurfing may be in my 2013 goals. Those were some very interesting conversations. Somewhat discouraging. But interesting nonetheless.

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  4. I like your bravery in just going around and traveling and writing. Someday (soon) I hope to do the same. This was a talented and amusing post, if a bit disheartening.

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    1. ambigram0 says:

      If you have a rich relative, blackmail them into giving you everything in their will, then kill them. Then you’re free to travel and write as much as you want and have the perfect life!

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      1. Wow, thanks for the helpful advice! I’ll get on it. If you see me in the news, send me blog entries via contraband carrying cat.

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  5. Sometimes, between chuckles, I would say your posts are to blogging what the Stanford University band is to marching bands. (ex. – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qgDWcFPist4) I hope that’s a compliment, because the Stanford band plays the best music and they do so better than everybody, even though they don’t exactly march.
    Keep the stories coming. I look forward to each one.

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  6. Kiwi says:

    Chicago looks AMAZING!! Can’t wait to go there!

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  7. Sanjana says:

    heh! That *could* be me too, in a few years! But I guess I just keep going till I run outta money. I’ll be “richer by the experience” I suppose. 😛

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    1. ambigram0 says:

      So long as you’re able to afford food and water and, err, more adventures, it’ll be a great life!

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  8. Love that last photo! And how did you find the commune on couchsurfing? Was the roommate the guy you wrote to? I’ve never found anywhere quite that interesting on CS!

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    1. ambigram0 says:

      Actually it was the owner/manager who had the profile on couchsurfing. Jane I think her name was. She just showed up in a list of hosts for Chicago and she had a video link and a lot of information in her profile about the place and I couldn’t resist!

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      1. Wow, that is super detailed – video link? No wonder you couldn’t resist – I wouldn’t have been able to either! (Especially after Ghassab’s cave, I try to look for the more ‘interesting’ couchsurfing experiences ^.^)

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  9. Shelley says:

    I like your style! Great photos…

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  10. Bron says:

    Great post and photos, especially the last two.

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  11. Great blog, love your humour. Pictures of Chicago look fantastic, but when I do eventually go there, I plan to stay in a hotel, no couch surfing for me. Would love to go for St Patricks Day to see the river green 🙂

    Thanks for stopping by my blog 🙂

    Like

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