Part 2 – I Can’t Get No Sleep.
1. Night 1 in Chicago was a blur. I had totally balls’d up the Business Lounge etiquette by drinking as much as I could on the outward flight which meant that my introduction to the land of dreams was marred by my vicious afternoon hangover. I certainly had not fulfilled my vision of skipping off the plane onto the US tarmac with a flashy grin and jazz hands. I’d waited 30 years for this and I messed it up by getting pissed. We got to the hotel and I can remember a few things before I went out for dinner (short lived) and then retired to bed.
a. I chucked my massive rucksack on the bed (I will go into more details about my choice of luggage later) with such weariness that it rolled over twice and fell off the other side. This made me feel more crestfallen because the food I’d stolen from the airplane would certainly be squashed flat now.
b. I tipped all my worldly items onto the floor and left them there for 2 days. I sat on the edge of the bed and stared at the pile of clothes and cables for while and wondered how I would 1. Get it back into the rucksack the following week and 2. How much of it truly need hanging up 3. Why I stole butter from the plane.
c. I had a shower and sang “We’re the kids in America” in it. I never sing in the shower but I was trying to psyche myself up into party mood. It wasn’t working. The water pressure was terrible and the temperature was worse. The water never got beyond luke warm. I wonder if it was something to do with lawsuits.
d. I got dressed into a crumpled-up dress and sat on the edge of the bed again. I felt very far from my family but tried not to think of it.
e. We went out to a nearby bar. I walked through the streets -it was nighttime – and there were lights EVERYWHERE. All different colours, sizes, all flashing. Big grates in the pavement, the smell of beef fat everywhere. Excellent smells in fact.
f. We got to a bar and our pals where there. They were all chipper and hangover free. I had a glass of wine and tried to take in my surroundings but nothing was registering at all. I was totally beat. In my last attempt to perk myself up, I ordered another bottle of wine, took a sip, and then walked back to the hotel.
g. I got undressed and saw Trixie, my daughter’s toy cat, in the rubble of my rucksack clothes. I took a photo of her against the skyscraper littered window (the view was tremendous from a high-rise hotel) and sent it to my kid at home. Trixie and I then went to bed for an amazing, sensible and well-deserved night sleep. It was around 9pm local time.
2. I woke up at 1.10am. I was wide awake. WTF. I need more sleep. They had all warned me about this. Luckily, my hangover had vanished but I knew I couldn’t sit up all night and work the next day. I laid there for about 4 hours and then switched on the TV. Trixie and I watched King Kong Island or Island of Kong or something for a little while. I hung up some work shirts and farted about with my phone. There was a posh coffee maker in the room, with coffee pods and stuff, so I made some hot choc. I decided to scope out the room and opened all the drawers and cupboards to see if there was any swag. There were some nice gin stirrers so I hid them to see if they would be replaced tomorrow. I went back to bed and laid there for another 3 hours. What’s App’d pinged and all my UK pals were all up staring at the ceiling too. We met in the café next door for breakfast. My boss couldn’t wait to show us this place. It was legendary for massive portions and he was getting all excited. I must admit, I didn’t know what to expect but I did know that, despite my tiredness, I need to sample some awesome US food. I clocked up that I had had 5 hours sleep over a 2-and-a-half-day period. It was like having a new-born again. What I forgot to mention is that this was a Sunday, the first day of our exhibition, and our long-awaited Customer Party in an Irish Bar was THAT VERY NIGHT.
3. The on-going lack of sleep was notable. I remember everyone telling me that this would happen. I remember listening with secretive glee that this insomnia and sleep deprivation would not affect me as my children were terrible sleepers for many years. I was used to “getting on with it” on very little kip indeed. I was certain that the Insatiable Insomnia of Illinois would not much impact my week. I was wrong and they were right. It was a killer.
4. The Breakfast. The menu was indulgent, but I didn’t appreciate what my boss was saying until it arrived. I ordered Scrambled Egg with Ham served on a Hash Brown. It’s more than I would usually eat for breakfast but sounded low key. What actually arrived was 4 eggs scrambled with bits of ham in, several rashers of very crispy streaky bacon and 3 crushed and deep-fried potatoes. Not 3 pieces of potato – 3 whole potatoes. It was bloody lovely but really a dinner rather than breakfast. I ordered an orange juice too and the waitress brought me out a glass that was at least 2 pints. I couldn’t stop myself stuffing my face and knew, on top of all that booze the day previously, that this would cause stomach repercussions at some point. Miraculously, I arrived at the exhibition with no mishaps in this department. We were all tired but excitable to see all our UK peers, partners and corporate chums at the exhibition. We made a sensible note that we would have an hour’s kip before our big shindig that night.
5. We didn’t. We had a messy night, lost lots of people and squeezed seven adults into an unlicensed cab for a 300metre journey. I had another 2hours-15mins sleep. During this spat of insomnia, I opened up the cupboards again and saw that the gin stirrers had been replaced by a travel sewing kit. This prompted a sensible thought in my head about my rucksack.
6. I don’t like suitcases much. They are heavy before you even put anything in them and they don’t squash into gaps. I also don’t like weaving in and out of them in train stations when people insist on using the pull-handle bit. It pisses me off actually. I had a couple of trains to jump on before I arrived at Heathrow for my flight and need something that I could carry and slot into luggage racks without too much problems. As I had hand luggage (laptop bag), I used a really large sports rucksack to contain all my clothes. I had used this many times and it was very reliable. My back hurt after putting it down but on the whole, it was good to be hands free on the tube. This rucksack is quite old and belonged to an uncle of my other half. It has seen better days and I had overpacked it in a rather irresponsible and over zealous fashion. On the second night, I inspected my ruck sack to see that the seams had popped open in 2 places and there were now 2 large fraying holes. I shoved my fingers into them to see if they would further open under strain and they did – a lot. I didn’t have a spare suitcase for my return trip so I was a bit screwed. Especially seeing as I would probably end up taking more stuff home with me on the return trip – like the posh coffee maker. I kept the sewing kit in a safe place for using later in the week and made a mental note to buy a proper suitcase like everyone else when I returned to the UK.
7. The rest of the week carried on like this – late nights, lack of sleep etc. There were some high points with colleagues – the Hancock Tower was lovely; we had ditched the corporate stuff and spent time with our own team instead. This was a great opportunity to wind down and chill the hell out. This didn’t happen. We had another 4am finish with a telling off from some bar staff for sabotaging their bar feature with a business card and topped it all off with the swansong of a US dinner - a kebab with tons of pickles and chilli on. It was delicious.
8. It wasn’t all about the beer. We had committed to a charity fun run on the Tuesday morning so we had a sensible night on the Monday. We really did succeed in this. We were particularly smug that we were seemingly the only UK vendor to commit to this race and we purchased witty corporate t shirts accordingly. We (I) didn’t read the small print on entering and saw that it was a 6.30am start. We had to get up at 5.30am. To run 5k in winter along Lake Michigan in the dark. All for an event tshirt and a manic photo.
9. And boasting rights, of course. Nobody could believe that we did it, but we did. We were really a team that day. In fact, one of our team was so euphoric that she signed up for a marathon the following month. I pondered if a 10k might be more fitting but she is a gutsy bird.
10. One night, when I was getting ready to go out, I stood at my hotel room window and looked out at the city. I was on the 27th floor so had a good view. On the opposite side of the street was a block of residential apartments. It was only about 80metres away and was well lit, so you could see in every room. I saw an older guy sitting in a reclining arm chair watching TV. I couldn’t see him very well due to the distance but the general bagginess of his body implied that he was of OAP age. I doubted he could see me – I was in a big hotel block surrounded by other lit rooms and I’m sure that I would go unnoticed. I waved at him. I saw him cran his neck. I waved again. He then lifted his arm off his lap and proceeded to wave back in the most unenthusiastic, slow, laboured and lethargic greeting that I have ever seen.
11. The final morning I felt very delicate indeed. Again, hardly no sleep and a sweaty attempt at sewing shut the holes in the rucksack. I had an hour to kill so I walked around the streets for a bit. I needed to find some carbohydrate to put in my mouth. I bought my sister a fridge magnet and saw an H&M across the street. I entered the store, which was empty of customers, and walked around to look for trendy American apparel. I knew that I needed a rest – I felt like I was in an elevator the ground was moving beneath me. It was really quite disorientating. I walked straight into a mirror because I thought it was another room. How I didn’t see my reflection, I don’t know.
12. Just before leaving for the airport, I gave my packed rucksack the once-over. It didn’t look great. I couldn’t take home any swag and my new H&M stuff had to be worn on my person all at once because there was no room left in the bag. I didn’t see how it could survive being manhandled by airport staff and I knew that it would arrive on the conveyor belt back in Heathrow in pieces, with all my underwear strewn all over the place for everyone to look at. What worried me most of all was that Trixie might fall out.
13. The flight home was not as fun. Christian wasn’t there for starters. Nobody wanted too much to drink. I obviously had the complimentary glass of champagne/fizz when I arrived on the plane and that was it. My boss and I were sat next to each other without the plastic wall between us so we set up a little cinema area. We synchronised the movie (Snatched) to play at the same time so we could watch it together on our respective TVs. We saw the funny bits at the same time and this was good. A plate of posh grub came out and I got confused with the order of it all and ate my pudding (it didn’t look like a pudding to be honest) first. My boss thought this was immensely funny so I didn’t tell him that I had done this on the outward flight too. I was very happy to have this retractable bed thing. I was looking forward to resetting my health and wellbeing levels with a great 8 hours sleep on the trans-Atlantic home.
14. There was so much turbulence that I didn’t sleep at all and fretted for my life for the last half of the plane. Everyone else was asleep and nobody was grasping the depth of the problem of this unstable and malfunctioning aircraft. It’s quite hard to sleep with your shoes on too. I pondered eating the catering size bag of pork scratchings that I had bought at O’Hare airport but resisted because I really wanted to show them to my kids.
15. The aircraft, passengers and offloaded rucksack survived boldly but the contained Twinkies did not.
16. I arrived home and was collected from my local station by my other half who had done a STERLING job of holding the fort all week. He was clearly pleased to see me and there was nothing to do when I arrived home. I shoved my bag in the corner and laid in my daughter’s bed with Trixie and fell asleep instantly for 3 hours. I collected the kids from school and they ran at me like something from the movies. My oldest cried “Mum’s back from holiday!” which made the teacher raise an eyebrow as if I was this flitty mother who would go on holiday without my family. I tried to mouth “work! I was at work!” at him but the judgement had been done. I vowed to show him the following week that I was a good sort so on the Monday, I brushed my daughter’s hair and put it in a pony-tail, thus affirming my maternal skills.
17. I was very happy to be home and I had had a brilliant time in Chicago. We could learn a thing or two about their front-of-house customer service, that’s for sure.
18. I have a brand-new with tags skater dress from H&M that I cannot remember buying but it doesn’t fit. Size US6/UK10 with labels. Get in touch for pics.
NB: Suggestion for the US Department of Transport. You don’t need the word “Don’t” in Walk/Don’t Walk for the pedestrian crossings. You just need to illuminate the word “Walk” to alert people to cross and turn it off when you don’t want people to cross. This will save quite a few light bulbs in the word “Don’t” and significantly reduce electricity usage in signage across your North American traffic control networks.