Brooke and I were in different parts of the Midwest last week (or even two weeks ago, almost). Here’s the first post relating to all that – Brooke’s will follow once she pulls pictures off the camera.
So, I went to Chicago this year for our annual Society for Neuroscience meeting (I only took a few pictures, but here they are if you care…). We decided to take the train this time around, as something of a change from the typical “hop on a plane” experience. To be honest, the trip up there via Amtrak was actually pretty nice compared to flying Coach on an airplane: you get much more leg room, slightly more comfortable seats, AC plugins for your laptop (if you want to watch a movie, for example…no WiFi available, sadly…), roomy bathrooms, and a full-service snack car. The trip was a bit over 5 hours, so it was basically as long as a car ride, but quite a bit more comfortable.
Anyway, we made it to Chicago and got off at Union Station. Once there, we found a taxi and started heading toward it. A “gentleman” grabbed our bags and put them in the trunk of the car. At this point, Dr. Macarthur got in the back seat, and we both noticed that the driver of said car was still in the car, making me wonder who this guy was. He then demanded a tip. I was, of course, rather confused by this whole situation, not being used to taxi service in major metropolitan areas, but Dr. Macarthur was kind enough to get rid of him for me. Once we started driving, Dr. Macarthur told him “Palmer House Hilton” as the destination. The driver was talking on his cell phone (which he wasn’t supposed to do…), and a few minutes later, we made it to the Hilton Chicago. Not where we wanted to go. Then Dr. Macarthur tried explaining this to him, and he actually argued with her about it. She was not pleased about this, of course. Long story short, he ended up turning off the meter so we weren’t double-charged, so that was a bit better… My first exposure to “Chicago,” proper.
The conference itself was pretty good. Over 30,000 attended, making it pretty crowded. I wasn’t a huge fan of McCormick Place (the convention center), as it seems pretty poorly laid out (multiple levels, funky entrances, etc.) and not in an area populated by any restaurants, making lunch a bit difficult. We saw some interesting posters and heard a talk from Dr. Francis Collins, the current head of the National Institutes of Health. My presentation wasn’t until Wednesday afternoon, the final day of the conference, making me wonder if anyone would still even be around to see my stuff. Thankfully, I garnered some interest and got to present it multiple times…not as many as last year, but still, much more than I’d expected.
So, we left Wednesday afternoon, again via taxi. This time, the driver didn’t come to a complete stop at a stop sign, so we got chased by a cop on a 4-wheeler (yes, they have those in Chicago…with sirens…). The cop was on a power trip, taking advantage of this poor Asian guy that spoke little English. When the cop went back to his 4-wheeler to input the license and registration information, the driver made the unfortunate choice of getting out of the car to go talk to the cop, who then proceded to yell at the driver: “GET BACK IN THE VEHICLE! DO NOT EXIT YOUR VEHICLE!” He knows better now, I guess… Considering how many people don’t come to complete stops at stop signs, I kinda felt sorry for this particular driver, as he was actually a much better driver than the vast majority of taxi drivers out there, weaving in and out of lanes. How about you cops on 4-wheelers try picking up some of them, eh?
Finally, we hop on the train for the ride home. About 5 minutes north of Joliet, IL (which is around 30 minutes outside of Chicago…), we stopped to allow freight traffic to pass by. Well, they couldn’t re-start our train. Apparently, one of the computers wasn’t rebooting properly (probably running Windows Vista…). We spent 2 hours sitting there waiting for the train to get going, and during that time, we were low on power as they’d shut the engines down. Without power, you a). don’t have lights (making reading difficult) and b). don’t have snack car service, as you can’t use the cash register and can’t use the microwave. They never actually re-started the train, but instead waited for the next train from Chicago to come down and attach itself to us, so we ended up having two trains heading down to St. Louis, making two stops at each town on the way because there were two trains-worth of people trying to get to their destinations. Thankfully, Brooke was kind enough to pick us up 2 hours later than planned (12:45 am…).
So, that was my trip. There were more good things than this (restaurants, some sights, etc.), but these are the more interesting aspects to report.