Travelling the Main Street of America
My Route 66 odyssey began as yours will with the drive into Chicago, to the junction of Lakeshore Drive and Jackson Boulevard. The prospect of plunging into central Chicago's notorious traffic appeared daunting. I prepared for a nightmarish Mad Max scenario of mechanised anarchy and was slightly disappointed with the benign, hassle-free reality. The rush-hour traffic can be slow-moving, but at least it does keep moving unlike its counterparts in British cities. The freeway system is easy to follow and once you've exited onto the inner city roads of "The Loop", you'll find them wide, logically planned and free-flowing. There are some differences in the rules of the road that will be fully explained in the Road Book, but Chicago holds no horrors to compare with those that confront the first-time motorist in any large British or European city.
Before I got there, I regarded Chicago as a necessary evil - the awkward place where fate had decreed that Route 66 should start - but the first few hours in the Windy City changed all that. I was captivated, enthralled, charmed. Immerse yourself in the glory of Chicago's architecture and allow it to draw you deeper into the soul of this unique metropolis. Wonderful "skyscrapers" of the 'thirties and 'forties speak of a heritage of confidence and civic pride which continues to produce new landmarks in every generation.
Get the best views from the top of the Sears Tower. The queuing system puts you on a human conveyor belt from the moment you enter, and there's no escape either from the $8 charge or from the twenty-minute video, but the outlook from the "Skydeck" makes it all worthwhile. Put the Navy Pier and the Michigan Avenue shops on your must-see list, and choose more from Chicago's dazzling array of world-class galleries and museums. You could even spend a whole day exploring the amazing heritage of public sculptures and fountains. There's the inspiring, the fascinating, the amusing and the plain bizarre. One irresistible live show comes courtesy of the fountain outside the Children's Museum by Navy Pier. This has jets that erupt randomly in all directions soaking the kids who dart about squealing in glee, trying to guess where the next spray will come from. I was also lucky to find the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in residence at the Symphony Center in October, and even luckier to pick up a late-return ticket on the door. The only thing that wasn't so lucky was the price of $85! Americans take their arts seriously. They expect the best and are prepared to pay for it.