Summer in Chi-Town!! (The Windy City)

WELCOME BACK!!! This next journey was to a familiar place Chicago, Illinois (July 17 – July 23, 2019).

Let me give you some back story on why it was so familiar. During my time in college (Hampton University), I had reached a point in my academic journey where I had to figure out what was next. As a psychology major you quickly come to realize there isn’t much you can do with a BA in Psychology. I always knew I wanted to work with children and be a Psychologist, but not sure in what capacity. I was walking the halls of my department and saw a sign that said The Chicago School of Professional Psychology with all the programs they offered listed. I immediately thought “Oh, Chicago sounds good, I’m moving to there”. I ripped off one of the cards that requested additional information and began planning. That reaction is pretty much who I am.

Chicago was such a random choice. My mother constantly asked me why I wanted to go there and my response was always, WHY NOT. I didn’t know anyone there, no family, no friends, NOTHING. Sometimes in life you have to be willing to make that leap. Sometimes you have to just go, see, experience, and try something different. I wasn’t worried about not knowing anyone, I figured I’d meet people along the way. My time at Hampton had ended earlier than anticipated, in which I finished in three and half years, so what would have been my spring semester senior year, was just me preparing for my new journey.

I had decided to apply for early admissions in December into the Doctorate of Clinical Psychology Program (Psy.D). I remember being a nervous wreck mailing off all of my documentation. I remember calling the admissions office, just to discuss their requirements because I was horrible at standardized testing, and I didn’t want my GRE scores to be the only reflection of my academic abilities. I wish I could remember the name of the woman who helped me because she really put my worries at ease. So if you think those test scores are all that matter, and it’s the reason you haven’t sought out higher education, don’t worry about it, go do it. I waited anxiously for a response and finally I had received a letter indicating I was being offered an interview, and by March 2008 I was on a flight to Chicago.

I’ll never forget planning that trip. Although I had traveled plenty of times prior, this trip was one I was completely responsible for, from take off to landing and back. I was 21 years old, but most of my big travel was always coordinated by my mother, so figuring out flight, hotel, and transportation was interesting. I had no worries because I knew how to take care of myself and I was always detail oriented and organized. Looking back at this now, my poor mother was probably in constant prayer about my random decisions, but I think she knew I was responsible and able to handle myself. My trip there was perfect. I landed at O’Hare, had a hotel (I don’t remember the name) that was just outside the city but near the trains. Thank God Chicago is a mini NYC so the public transportation is great and easier to follow than New York. As I do now, I arrived the day before (Sunday) my scheduled interview and left two days after (Wednesday).

The official day for the interview was scheduled for 8:30am – 1:30pm. The day began with registration and introduction and then we were divided into three schedules to accommodate all interviewees. Depending on the schedule you had you were in a rotation of (Interview, Informational, and Tour). After all interviews were complete, everyone came back together and we were able to have lunch with current students, were informed about financial aid, and wrap up with any questions.

Here is where I have to praise the Hampton University Psychology Department Chairperson at the time Dr. Adolph Brown. One day he did a presentation to the psychology majors. During the presentation, he talked about preparation and personal marketing. He reminded us that we needed to find out what our speciality would be in psychology. He also told us to create a dossier of our accomplishments, recommendations, resume, curriculum vitae, and work samples. This was the best advice I could have received. It was my road map to achieving my goal. I put my dossier together, which I still have to this day (it needs a lot of updating though lol) and took it with me to my interview. A lot of opportunities are missed because they aren’t prepared for in advance, so go prepare to reach your goals. During my one to one interview, I pulled out my binder and presented it to the professor interviewing me. Having it, opened more dialogue for her to get to know me and for me to learn about her, but also the goals and focus of the program. When making a decision for higher education or even a job it’s always good to make sure it’s a good fit for everyone.

Once the interview day was over I was free to roam the city and that’s what I did. Being that the trip wasn’t to long before you knew it I was heading back home. Once I returned home, I started the hunt for my apartment without even having my acceptance letter. Faith is key when taking a leap. I’m glad I had faith because when I did receive my letter I was already ahead and the letter came with a bonus, because they gave me a scholarship. I moved from VA back to NJ after graduation, went to finalize my apartment in July and was officially moved in by August 2008. The Lord knew what He was doing when I was in Chicago. The lessons I learned on my own there are still with me and have shaped my life in numerous ways.

So this journey back to Chicago marked 10 years of me leaving. Yup, I stayed in Chicago for one school year August 2008- May 2009. I had to go. There were several reasons I left. The main one being is the program I was in wasn’t what I wanted to do long term. I was in a clinical psychology program but along the way I realized I wanted to work with students in a school setting. My mentor at the time told me schools don’t usually hire a Clinical Psychologist, it’s a School Psychologist. That was all I needed to know. I researched school psychology programs and found that Montclair State University had a program and a rolling application at the time. A rolling application is basically the ability to apply all year round for fall or spring semester. I found out about a month before the application for the fall was due (look at God lol). I got everything I needed together and sent it off. I went through a similar process in which I had an interview, I was accepted, and in class by September 2009. Thankfully, my year in Chicago wasn’t a waste and I was able to transfer over the majority of my credits. This allowed my graduation schedule to remain intact.

Although this wasn’t my first time back in Chicago since leaving, it was just crazy to realize and reflect on the space I was in 10 years ago when I left. This trip, I had the opportunity to do many of the things I didn’t do when I lived there. One of my best friends lives there now so it was even more fun being able to see the city and hang out. For this trip I flew into Midway Airport on Southwest Airline, because it was much cheaper than the other airlines ($217.96) and cheaper than flying into O’Hare. Sometimes it is hit or miss on price and can depend on where you are going in Chicago. Midway is south of  O’Hare but they are only about 30-35min apart, so price really becomes the deciding factor.

Wednesday – July 17th

Upon arrival (about 10:30pm) I was picked up my best friend and we went back to her place. Be mindful that the end of spring and early summer is the best time to be in Chicago because the weather is a bit steady. Some days can be a bit cooler than others but for the most part it feels like summer. The weather for the time I was there was between low 40s at night and mid to high 70s during the day. I know that’s a wide range so be sure to bring a few sweaters and jackets so you are prepared for anything.

What this trip reminded me most, is that there is nothing like genuine friendship. My best friend and I was able to stay up, eat some great homemade caribbean cuisine (curry chicken and rice), a nice beverage lol, and just talk. Sometimes you may not always get to speak everyday but still feels like home when you do, that’s love and friendship. You hold on to those moments and those friends.

Thursday – July 18th

The next day was a bit of a relaxing day. I love summer break because there is no schedule for me. I can wake up at my leisure and its a great feeling. I was able to just explore around the Hyde Park area and take in the views. There’s a nice theater in walking distance in the area called HARPER THEATER  where we went for a viewing of The Lion King. Unfortunately, I was not at all impressed by the new version. So many moments that made the movie a classic and memorable were missed. I really want a redo lol. After the movie we headed back home and relaxed for the rest of the evening.

Friday – July 19th

I like to call this day, a trip down memory lane. There were so many moments about this day that provided clarity and gave me an enormous amount of gratitude for where I am now in life. I was able to walk through the different areas I frequented and where I used to live. First stop was Sheridan Park which is on the North Side of Chicago. This was where I lived and I loved the area. Now the commute was definitely interesting. I love Chicago because to me it is a nice mix of New York City and New Jersey, especially when it comes to public transportation. You have multiple means of commuting and its easier to follow and map out where you want to go.

To me the best way to tour and visit different places is to get lost or use public transportation so you can take in the sights. Given that my friend lives on the South Side, it was a nice little commute North. However, you will find that there isn’t a bus stop to far that will take you to the closest train line. In my case the red line and green line were the closest. I chose the red line because it was a straight shot to where I was going. To get the there, I hopped on the local bus and got off at the train stop. The CTA system is very easy to follow because it is color coded (red, blue, brown, green, orange, purple, yellow, and pink line) and each train is easily accessible through different connection points.

I suggest you get a transit pass with enough to last for the duration of your stay and go where you want. Parking anywhere in the downtown area will cost you, sometimes starting at $5 for 30min and street parking is very limited to non-existent. After getting on the red line I enjoyed the ride to north to Sheridan Park which was about 205-30min. I actually ended up getting off at the wrong stop and ended up walking around a bit but again it was apart the experience. I took in the sights and walked to my old building.

The beauty about this area is the peace and quiet it provides. I always loved it in the fall because of all the trees and how the leaves changed colors and fell. There are many high-rise apartments and condos in this area, its family friendly, and close to Wrigley Field. As I walked around I was reminded of the memorable moments I had there. The first time I voted was for President Barack Obama, and to be in his home state and city during that time was a great feeling. I remember the road blocks they tried to give me to prevent me from voting, but none worked, and I cast my vote at the local community college.

I had to stand outside of the building for a little while. I enjoyed the coziness of my studio apartment (because that’s what I could afford lol). It was actually larger than I expected because the walk-in closest could almost pass for a bedroom. However, I also remembered many tearful days and evenings (BUT GOD!!!). I remember when I was preparing to move, my mother had come with me in July prior to the move, to visit different apartments. I had already reached out to several places to schedule appointments but when we finished looking at them all I had already knew that was the one I wanted. Given the size, there was no need to worry about furniture. I went through several air mattresses from Walmart and was so excited when I had found one that was an extra large queen size. It may sound crazy but I enjoyed the little I had while I lived there and did not feel like I lacked in anyway. But it was definitely a long way from the fully furnished one bedroom apartment I had left in Virginia.

After enjoying a few moments outside my old building, I decided to commute to downtown the exact way I used to when I was in school. I got on the 22 Leland stop bus and went all the way back downtown. It’s about a 45min – 1hour commute depending on traffic. In my case it was game day for the Cubs so the areas around Wrigley Field were packed. I always wondered if the baseball fans in Chicago had jobs during the season because regardless of what day of the week the game was on, its always packed inside and outside the stadium.

Once we got through the crowd the ride is easy. You can just sit back and enjoy the views of the city. After getting back into the downtown area my next stop was my old school. God, I remember the -16 degree morning commutes to class lol and I don’t miss them at all. Chicago definitely has the most brutal winters I have ever experienced. The school is conveniently located across from The Merchandise Mart now called theMART which is in the heart of the loop. TheMART is the world’s largest commercial building and design center, and one of Chicago’s premier international business locations.

Now it was time for the photo fun to began. This was my official first time using my camera for the blog and I loved being able to capture the Chicago Skyline and the loop area. I have always said Chicago has one of the best skylines because of how it is designed along Lake Michigan and within the city’s downtown area along the Chicago River. Next time I just have to make time to enjoy some of the restaurants which have a rooftop view of the skyline like at London House (which is also a hotel) as well as other eateries, ice cream stands/parlors, and outside pubs.

After taking in some of the sights my friend and I went to an art crawl. I loved the concept of this event called The Bronzeville Art District Trolley Tour. The way it is designed is, you meet in a central location which happened to be the Gallery Guichard. From there two trolleys (Trolley A and Trolley B) are provided to take you on a different route to different art galleries in the area. Sometimes we don’t know what we maybe interested in due to the lack of exposure. Events like these provides everyone with the opportunity to see things and experience things they may not have done otherwise. Here are some of the beautiful art work that I was able to see in the different locations.

One stop was an actual school in Chicago called Little Black Pearl Art and Design Academy. This school was created to help the youth in Chicago have an artistic outlet as well as be educated in different areas of art such as digital photography, web design, and graphic design. Throughout the school is different art features that were created by the students. The technology they provide the students prepares them for college as well as careers once they finish. Additionally, the curriculum also meets the standards of the regular public schools so it’s open to all Chicago students.

After the tour we headed home and got ready to enjoy the Chicago night scene. We decided to go to the well known Tiki Bar better known as Three Dots and a Dash. The bar is tucked away just off a side street, so if your are not careful you can easily walk past it. There is no convenient parking, so the best option is to find street parking close by and walk. On a summer night it can be a challenge because people are everywhere going to the different restaurants in the area so another option would be to use a car service or public transportation.

The tiki bar atmosphere was very lively with people from wall to wall, drink orders flying everywhere, and good music. They are known for their lavish cocktails that are served in exclusive Polynesian designed mugs. In addition, the people and staff were friendly and everyone was there to have a good time enjoying the summer night. The bar also offers the ability to have private events and if you like, you can purchase their exclusive drink mugs which range from $25 – $75.

Saturday – July 20th 

Who doesn’t love a Saturday Brunch! Welp that’s what the mission was for the day. Using public transportation, we hopped on the bus and train and headed west. We met up with a few other people and enjoyed the midday with good food and beverages at The Madison Bar and Kitchen.  There is a beauty in good company, good conversation, and good food. I chose to enjoy the fried chicken and waffles under the brunch specialties and it was amazing. The chicken was crispy and moist and the waffles were a nice cheesy hashbrown. I highly recommend you trying it.

After brunch we headed back home to relax before the Saturday evening main event. In Chicago they have an event in July called The Silver Room Block Party . The event is held in the Hyde Park section on the South Side of Chicago. This event started in 2002 and is designed to celebrate cultural diversity. This community based event is hosted by The Silver Room Store and owner, Eric Williams and organized along with a team. To be honest, this event is black excellence personified. The melanin magic that exists at this event is one of a kind.

Upon arrival to the event area you are greeted with the scent of different ethnic foods, located at food trucks. In addition, you are greeted with several DJs that are located on stages in areas of the street. You can choose which sound you want to hear as you walk the street, visiting different vendors, taking in laughs with friends, or just enjoying the views alone. As it gets later in the evening there is a main stage that has several artist performing music that may or may not be nation wide but definitely should be. For me its where I first became introduced to an artist named Tobe Nwigwe. (If you are not familiar with his music, a link to his IG has been provided, thank me later!). Once his performance was complete we walked around a bit more and then headed home.

Please be aware that the earlier you get there, the better. After a while the area is packed with people and it becomes a challenge navigating to different stages. It will be a gorgeous sea of melanin magic but still a lot of people. HAVE FUN! I wish I would have gotten more pics.

Sunday – July 21st

Sunday is for CHURCH!!!! My best friend attends Apostolic Faith Church lead by Bishop Horace E. Smith, M.D. I find it to be a blessing to be able to fellowship with friends. Service was great and inspirational and the congregation was welcoming. After service we headed over to a restaurant called Benchmark for brunch. The restaurant is in a great location but parking maybe a challenge if it is crowed so be prepared to park and then walk. Once there you have the option of inside and outside dining depending on the weather. There are two levels and plenty of seating. It’s great to have parties, go to watch sporting events, or to just enjoy the Sunday Brunch. The food was great, the staff was pleasant, and the atmosphere was perfect for a summer afternoon. After brunch we decide to walk around, enjoy the area, and then head back home to relax.

Monday – July 22nd

Today was the last day of fun in the sun. This was a very long excursion day. Regardless of the fact that I lived in Chicago and even visited a few times since leaving, I never got the chance to tour the city and just enjoy it. First on the list was seeing the city by water. I purchased a ticket through Wendella Boat Rides. The ticket for the 90min Lake & River Architecture Tour and was $39. I chose the 4pm time slot because I had other areas I wanted to get to but I would definitely return to do the sunset tour. Chicago has one of the best skylines I’ve ever seen whether by land or water.

Whatever you do, try to arrive an hour before your scheduled time. Thank God I left with plenty of time because it was a process trying to find the boat dock. On the ticket the docking location is listed as 400 Michigan Ave. The only thing about that is trying to find how to get there and down to the loading area. Now it could have just been me and my lack of direction, however I can definitely follow navigation and mines took me all around the loop. Either way I eventually arrived regardless of the staircases I had to climb, under bridge areas, and alleys I walked through. The tour was worth it. An easier way to get there is, once in the loop area, walk to Michigan Ave. to the DuSable Bridge, and there will be a staircase nearby with the Wendella sign at the top, go down the stairs and you’ll be right there. You’re welcome and enjoy lol!

Now, time to see the beauty of the Chicago Skyline. The tour boat was a decent size and had 2 levels to give you the option to sit inside. Trust me, unless you end up getting motion sickness the best views are outside. Once boarded they went through the safety procedures and then we were off. Of course my camera was ready. The first areas they covered were outside of the city loop and into Lake Michigan. It was a bright sunny day with blue skies so the skyline was in full view. However, at that time of day some of the additional beauty of the skyline was overpowered by the sun.

The ride on Lake Michigan went from Navy Pier and out towards the Grant Park area. After taking in the sights from the lake, the boat head back into the loop to see the skyscrapers. Again, this view is amazing whether by land or water, I can’t say this enough. This is where some of the best pictures of the tall buildings and bridges are seen. While enjoying the view I made sure I took moments to take it all in and just enjoy the scene. I thought about what it was like living there 10 years ago and all the feelings I went through and being back was like coming full circle. I was so happy to be there. Also, when traveling alone, don’t be afraid to ask someone to capture you in the moment. I got so used to being the one taking the pics that I almost didn’t have any of myself enjoining the trip.

After seeing the sights from the boat tour, it was time for me to walk the city. The amount of walking that took place was not my intent at all but I didn’t want to miss anything. My first stop after the boat tour was over to Grant Park. However, there were a lot of stops in between, the first being Millennium Park where the famous Cloud Gate is located. This is a well known tourist attraction in the city. Be mindful if you want a picture without the crowd you will need to go very early in the morning or later in the evening, or just be patient, especially during the summer and days with good weather.

The park is beautiful, providing a family friendly atmosphere where the kids can play in the water , there’s music events that take place on the Great Lawn. It’s a perfect place to make it a outdoors day with friends. After spending some time there I continued my journey up Michigan Ave. just capturing things I found interesting. After about an hour I made it to Grant Park. This park is most famously known for the location where President Barack Obama gave his acceptance speech after winning the 2008 election. I arrived at a good time because the sun was beginning to set so capturing the water fountain there and the atmosphere was great.

After I felt I had taken enough photos, I got the bright idea to head over to Navy Pier. I had never been and I loved seeing the Ferris wheel. I thought it would be a simple walk over because you could see the pier from Grant Park. I was definitely wrong and I wouldn’t find out until it was way to late lol. As I took the journey I was able to capture the views of the waterfront and the skyline by Grant Park which is also a beauty and most often seen when driving down Lake Shore Drive.

What I noticed about the Lake Shore Drive path is that there is nothing but space and the ability to just relax and enjoy the atmosphere. There were a few restaurants along the water front and the marina. There are also smaller park areas where you can sit and take in the scene. It was getting dark so I didn’t get a chance to do either. I continued towards Navy Pier only to realize it was not as close as I thought. This is where I go back to being sorry for my dear mother lol. These are the moments when I know she wishes I would sit down somewhere because instead of just finding my way back to the house, I was still adamant on making it to Navy Pier at 9pm in the dark.

Since I realized I had a nice little walk ahead of me I called her to keep me company lol. I continued to stop at different points to take photos but since I was alone and it was completely dark at this point I decided to put the camera away, SAFETY FIRST, regardless of how innocent you may think your surroundings are. Similar to earlier in the day my navigation took me around the world before getting me to my location. Along the way I even had the pleasure of stepping in a puddle of wet mud when I walked through grass as a shortcut to the bridge that would lead me to Navy Pier. When I think back on it now I really should have called it a night but oh well the journey was great.

As you can imagine, I finally arrived to Navy Pier, just before closing lol. It was beautiful. I thought it was designed to that of a beach boardwalk but I was wrong. It is actually a children’s museum, has a mall inside with a variety of stores, it has a garden inside (Crystal Gardens), which leads out to a mini amusement park with the Ferris Wheel and other rides. In addition there is an IMAX theatre and Shakespeare theatre. If you want, going there I can be an all day trip for the family with plenty to do.

I didn’t stay to long as they were preparing to close but I was able to enjoy the views. The pier offers another amazing view of the skyline which is well lit at night. Again, anything item on my list to go back and capture. Once I finished enjoying the view I was finally ready to head home. What I was able to discover was there is a FREE Trolley Service that Navy Pier offers. The pick up and drop off stops are all throughout the Chicago Loop. Of course it would have been great to know that sooner but now you are able to plan accordingly should you find yourself in Chicago. I had to run to catch the last bus at 10pm because I was exhausted at this point from all the walking. The driver was nice and willing to help in where I needed to get to. The stops are location friendly and most are near public transportation where you can easily access buses and trains.

Once I was back in the loop area I was in awe of the beauty of the skyscrapers surrounding the Chicago River . The glow off of the water adds to the view and the city night sky. I had to take a moment to just stand on the bridge and just look and enjoy the sights. Even at 10pm the city is still alive with couples walking around and people enjoying the summer night so there is plenty to do and see. I finally made my way to the train station and headed home. Usually when getting off the train I would just catch the bus up to my stop and then walk in to the house. It was now close to midnight, always remember SAFETY FIRST, and even COMFORT FIRST, so instead of waiting at the bus stop I took an Uber home. You can chose whatever makes you comfortable in how you navigate when you are traveling by yourself. I always recommend you do what you feel will provide you comfort and safety. Since this was my last day the only thing left to do was pack up and prepare for the journey home.

Tuesday – July 23rd

After all the walking I had done the pervious day, I decided to rest and finished packing my things. I headed to the airport and made the journey back home.

I hope you enjoyed this experience! Until next time…..

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