On the trip from Detroit to Chicago I was able to see Gary Indiana from the highway. If your like me and can appreciate beauty in industrial wastelands and social decay you can understand my excitement at seeing miles of smoke stacks and abandoned buildings. Alas I was not able to make my way to Gary on this trip but it's been earmarked in memory for a later visit.
I arrived in Chicago early afternoon, on the way I had managed to make contact with someone who could let me crash at his place that night, however he wouldn't be available until later that day. It's really hard to walk around a city with about 60lbs of bags so I decided to kill some time doing laundry. With a bag full of clean clothes and still hours to kill I made my way to his neighborhood. Luckily he was right near Lake Michigan so I was able to sit by the water for a few hours and enjoy the awesome weather.
As I was sitting at the end of a pier with a small lighthouse on it, a fisherman sat right down in front of me making my view all the more enjoyable
Sorry, I'm a gay man who enjoys a little butt cleavage ;)
With the sun setting and still no word from my host I decide to head towards the local watering hole to grab a bite to eat and a few beers. My luck would be that I find a place right across the street from a construction crane. I make a mental note and head inside. As I'm sitting at the bar a woman starts conversation with me after seeing all my gear next to me. I explain that I am traveling to explore weird shit, we start talking about climbing things. Turns out she's a huge fan of heights. I mention there's a crane across the street that I have my eye on. Before I can ask her if she'd like to join me she's out the door and heading across the street. I ask the bartender to watch my bags and follow her out. We quickly make our way into the construction site, locate the crane, circumvent their hilarious attempt at securing it and proceed to ascend. It had a great view but was pretty far outside of the loop to offer a good view of the city.
She had to take off so we made our way down, sadly I never did get her name or contact info so she's never seen this picture of herself. She was a very fun easy going girl and reminded me a lot of one of my best friends Becky.
Finally my host is available, I walk to his apartment, take a shower and crash.
The next morning I have to go basically as soon I wake up. Luckily I was able to get in touch with someone else that could host me for as long as I was in the city. I make my way into the Loop to meet Mark at his office. Mark saw my ad on couchsurfing and instantly jumped at the idea of urban exploration. Mark worked on the 11th or 12th floor of the Bank Of America building. From his office you got a clear view of construction going on down the street. As I make my introduction with Mark he asks me what I have planned for the day, I point out his office window at the two very large construction cranes and say "that!". Mark lets me keep my stuff at his office for the day and I head out to scope out the construction site.
Knowing full well that I don't have a chance to do a crane mid-week and mid-day I make mental notes on my plan of attack for later that night. After getting enough info about this site I start walking around town and scoping out a few things. One thing I noticed right away was that Chicago has GIANT fire escapes and every single one of them goes to the roof.
This is amazing as every city I have ever seen only has external fire escapes up to about the 15th story. Apparently in Chicago they don't have such limitations. I was not able to get around to climbing one of these but trust me when I tell you that I will on a return visit.
While eating lunch I made a call to a contact a friend of mine gave me, Katherine. Katherine was not able to come out to see me while I was in Chicago but she did give me some info on an abandoned construction site right in the Loop. With her hints I was able to find the location easily on my cell phone.
I arrived at the site only to find it surrounded by larger buildings and office workers on their lunch hours. It was a very busy site but I was determined to make it inside and see something today. I walked around the block 3 or 4 times before finally seeing the chance to make my move. There was no chance of getting over the fence without getting seen, my only hope was that whoever did see me wasn't going to make a fuss about it, luckily no one did. I quickly made my way to the top of the building and to my surprise, there's another crane, I couldn't see this one from the ground. This was my first daytime construction explore and I get lucky enough to have a crane on-site! What a day!
I chilled up here for a few hours before deciding I should make my way back to Mark's office so I can grab my stuff and follow him back home. On my way down the stairs I came around a corner only to see a pair of legs sticking out from it. Apparently I had missed the fact that there was on-site security! I quickly and quietly turn around, head back up a flight of stairs and find another stair well to make my decent on. Finally on the ground floor I make my way to a corner of the fence not overlooked by security and quickly hop over it into a circle of office workers out having a smoke. I mutter something about the construction around here being a complete disaster and that they are never going to finish my damn condo and quickly make my way out of sight.
Back at Mark's office I grab my stuff and follow him back to his place where I meet his roommate Brandon. Brandon and Mark had been thinking about breaking into the UE scene for a bit but never got around to starting it. I tell them that tonight is their chance and if they follow me I can promise to show them a view of their city they probably would never see.
Later that night Brandon Mark and I make our way back into the city and find ourselves staring up at the crane I had pointed to outside of Mark's office window. We look over the site, make sure there's no one on-site, check to make sure there are no motion sensors or video cameras and quickly make our way in. When we get into the building we are alarmed to find a radio turned all the way up giving the feeling that someone was there. After sneaking about a little bit inside I determine that it's safe to proceed and beckon the others to follow me up the stairs. As we get to the top floor we can see the 2 cranes looming over us. The path to the crane was basically a 2x4 layed from the roof the building to one of the bars on the crane shaft. Mark was too scared to make his way across the board but Brandon pushed on. We finally arrive at the top of the crane and marvel at the view of it. With a beer in hand I go about taking pictures.
Back on the ground I can't contain my excitement! I just climbed 3 cranes in 2 days, Chicago is FUCKING epic! I instantly fell in love with the city and forsee myself settling there later in life. We head back to Mark and Brandon's so they can meet with another couchsurfer they are letting crash at their place.
The next morning I awake and instantly realize that every muscle in my body was on fire, you can't climb 60 stories 2 times a day and not expect some pain, I take the day to rest and decide what I want to see next in the city the next day. As it turns out there wasn't much abandoned that I wanted to see. I decided I was going to scope out the Uptown Theater, but on my way I came across an abandoned church I just had to see.
I left here and made my way to Uptown, when I arrived I was shocked to see workers going in and out of the building out back. Not being put off by the sight of activity I went to the front of the theatre only to find that someone had installed a door bell, so I rang it. A rather portly gentleman answers the door and I explain to him that I'm a photographer interested in shooting the theatre. He advises that the owner is sick and tired of seeing his theatre on flickr in it's ruined condition and wants no pictures of it taken until the restoration is complete. The gentleman apologizes but asks me if I would like to see the theatre anyway provided I leave my camera in it's bag. Of course I jump at the chance and boy was it ever worth it. If you've never been fortunate enough to see this place look it up on flickr and you'll understand how absolutely stunning it really is in person.
Being this is my last day in the city I ask Mark and Brandon if they want come out with me later that night to try to get rooftop access somewhere in the city. They agree and also talk their other couchsurfer into tagging along. With some hints from UliveandUburn we head into the loop looking for a Marriott with access, you never really realize how many Marriott's there are in a city till you've been through them all. Finally we find out rooftop and proceed to give the city a fond farewell.
The next day I board my train to Boston, unfortunately for me I am seated next to the fattest family in America. Not only are they fat in that way that the french typically draw fat americans, but they are loud, obnoxious, ignorant and smell of frito's. 24hrs trapped on a train with these people and I've decided that I will never take a train over a plane ever again.