>I made a trip to Chicago for work last week, and it was actually a blast. The work part of it was more annoying than usual, but the extracurricular activities were fantastic. It just so happened that I knew the night of my arrival Naomi Klein would be in town, doing a presentation at the University of Chicago, and I had every intention of doing whatever I needed to do to make it there.
I left on Wednesday morning. I had an early flight, necessitating a 3:45 AM alarm setting, which sucked. Once I was on the plane and we got up in the air, the sun started shining directly through my window, which soon had me face planting into my book. Finally I gave up; I always envy the dogs curled up in patches of sunlight when I am working, so I was happy to experience that pleasure for a spell.
I landed at O’Hare in the early afternoon, and headed straight for my hotel. It was a fancy one, just a couple blocks off the lake — just north of downtown — not far from Depaul University. A great part of town, really, and I hoped to get some time to wander around. I made it to the hotel (fancy indeed, and the prices to match it — $35/night just to have them park my friggin’ car!) and got all checked in. By now it was 4:00 PM or so, and with the doors opening at 6:00 for the Naomi Klein event, I figured I would head for the University of Chicago right away and just find something to eat once I got there. Here is a shot of my fancy hotel room; it was a suite, with a living room, bedroom, bathroom and kitchen:
I found my way to Lakeshore Drive, which cruises along the big lake the entire length of the city, right next to the lake. The water was rough, but I couldn’t really manage a moving shot of it because of traffic. I did manage to snap one of the Chicago River as I passed over it, though:
I found the University of Chicago easily enough. It is one of those schools that looks like one expects a university campus to look like; lots of ivy, lots of genteel folk in blazers with patches on the elbows wandering around. I found where the talk would be (miraculously finding a free parking space right in front of it), then strolled around campus.
One particularly cool building was the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. It was very impressive. You would think a diehard heretic like me would hate churches, but I actually find them most compelling. I hate crucifixes and stuff like that, but the magnificence of the architecture, and something about the deep, hushed spirit one often feels, is often moving to me.
I’m not going to say much about her presentation here, as I intend to write a thing on my New West page about it. I will say it was a great event; there had to be more than 500 people there, easily. Some guy who claimed he’s written a couple pieces for Adbusters recognized, and commented on, my bitchin’ Blackspot sneakers. That’s never happened before. Julia asked me, “Did it make you feel like you were among your people?” Hell yeah! Here is the back of that guy’s head:
While I think she is brilliant, Naomi isn’t necessarily the greatest speaker. When she is answering questions, or in the midst of a topic and really unloading, she is fantastic — very animated, and definitely knows her stuff. But when looking at her notecards and trying to deliver “planned” words, she isn’t the best — lots of “um’s” and “uh’s”. Nonetheless the event was everything I’d hoped for. When it wrapped up, she sat down at a table to sign, and I was lucky enough to be very near the front of the line. She was gracious to everyone, but when my turn came it was all I could do to convey that I had two things to sign — a copy of The Shock Doctrine for Garth @ Shakespeare, and a page in my little moleskin notebook. I stammered and stuttered like a freshman asking a senior to dance. I felt like an idiot. Made me wonder about the inscription she wrote for me:
Now this was an unexpected bonus. While I was sitting in my chair at the Naomi event, a couple guys behind me were talking, and I heard one of them mention that Neil Gaiman was doing a reading the next night. I confirmed that when I got back to my hotel, and was quite elated. The next day I made a couple phone calls to confirm, and when I got out of work for the day I headed for the suburb of Downer’s Grove to see one of my favorite fantasy writers of them all.
The event was held in a classic old theater called the Tivoli Theater. I love old theaters, and this one is top notch. Neil was there as part of his book tour for The Graveyard Book. He is doing a city for each chapter of the book; I got to hear him read Chapter 3, a story called “The Hounds of God.” After he read the chapter, they played the trailer for the movie made from his book Coraline, which was done by the same guy who made The Nightmare Before Christmas. After the trailer, they showed some exerpts from the movie that Neil said he had just seen for the first time earlier that day.
The movie looks great; the book is great. I read it to Sid and Julia around a campfire a couple summers ago. After the preview, he answered questions for about 30 minutes, then it all wrapped up. They were showing the movie Stardust, based on the story he wrote (which was illustrated by the magnificent Charles Vess), but I didn’t stick around for that.
Neil Gaiman delivers the goods in so many ways that it just frightens me. I encountered him years ago for the first time when I picked up the book Faces of Fantasy, and wondered who the guy on the cover was:
Since then, I’ve read everything of his I could. He does comics, novels, short stories, movies, children’s books, you name it. He just blows me away. And this reading blew me away. Not just the reading, but his interaction with the crowd, the performance he gave while reading, just everything about it. I can’t say enough how cool it was. One of the best evenings of entertainment I’ve had. Talk about being in the right place at the right time!
Lo and behold, in checking out his online diary I’ve learned they are actually filming all the readings. Now, if you have some time on your hands, you can see what I saw (at least the actual reading part)! Trust me, it will be worth your time.
It was weird to drive back to my hotel afterwards, through a very rough part of town, where a couple blocks were closed off because a huge fire was burning, and cop cars and ambulances and fire trucks clogged the street. Very surreal. All while listening to the Biden/Palin debate. Crazy stuff.