Chicago and taking it slow…REALLY???

connecting over coffee

By Kenneth Justice

~ This past week more than a dozen of my coffee house acquaintances asked me about my upcoming Drinking in the Culture trip to Chicago this weekend,

—) “Are you excited Kenneth?

—) “What do you talk about with people on these trips?”

—) “Where are you going to stay and who do you think you’ll meet?”

Those are just a few of the types of questions I’ve been getting and initially I was a bit surprised at how interested my friends and acquaintances were regarding my coffee house tour weekends, but the more I thought about it; perhaps it is a bit unusual in Western Culture to set out on a venture every weekend with the express purpose of meeting strangers.

Although I should preface that last statement by saying many of the people I hope to meet each weekend are not necessarily strangers; they are men and women, readers and fellow bloggers who I’ve made connections with via the Internet throughout the past year. And that’s really the thrust behind this year long venture; to learn more about Western Culture and to better understand community, social networking, blogging, and the depth of the connections each of us make via the World Wide Web.

As I’ve been writing this past week; Western Culture is peculiar to the world in that hanging out with total strangers for hours upon end tends to be a bit unusual; but in other parts of the world meeting strangers and then sharing meals together is simply a way of life.

When I was in Costa Rica this past January I met many world travelers from the United States who told me countless stories of traveling throughout foreign countries and meeting locals at museums, cafes, and elsewhere and then being invited to these people’s houses; complete strangers inviting people over for dinner.

In Western Society this type of human interaction was normal hundreds of years ago. I’ve read enough biographies and personal diaries of 18th and 19th century Americans to know that it was customary to invite weary travelers (complete strangers) a meal and lodging. Before the era of Holiday Inn, Hilton and the Marriot… could count on the generosity of their fellow human beings to put them for the night.

Coffee houses are a great platform to meet people (and anyone who has read my articles is familiar with the concept of meeting people at coffee houses). As Western Culture gradually exchanged communal philosophies for greater levels of individualism, coffee houses have become a central fixture in many cities by offering people a place to hang out and enjoy community. Thus, a second aspect of this year long Drinking in the Culture Tour is to better understand the role of coffee houses within the local communities.

In just a few hours I will be boarding a train to Chicago. I’ve always preferred train travel over airplanes and it reminds me of something I read many years ago,

“There is more thrill in the smallest hill in Fairmount Park if you walk up it than there is in the grandest mountain on earth if you go up it in an automobile. There is one curious thing about means of locomotion—the slower and simpler and the closer to nature they are, the more real thrill they give. I have got far more enjoyment out of my two feet than I did out of my bicycle; and I got more enjoyment out of my bicycle than I ever have got out of my motor car…”

—J. Gresham Machen

I don’t dislike air-travel, but I’ve noticed I enjoy seeing the countryside more from the window of a train than seeing the tiny dots and striped farmland from the height of a plane. The gentle click-clack of the rail cars often helps connect my thoughts to what life was like a hundred years ago…..before all of the hustle and bustle of 21st century life.

While many of the  weekend coffee house trips I’ll be taking this year necessitates air travel; when opportunities like short-trips to places like Chicago come up I’ll be taking the train. A slower pace of life. That’s really what much of it comes down to for me; Western Culture is simply so bloody fast paced. So many of us are rushing around so quickly from one place to the next and I wonder at times if we are going so fast that we will wake up one day and realize we missed out on a lot in life.

While some cities I’m going to this year boast a ton of people I’ve met through blogging, I honestly don’t know very many readers and bloggers in Chicago. I debated awhile as to whether or not to add it to my itinerary, but in the end I realized I simply couldn’t leave the city of my birthplace off the list. And perhaps by only meeting up with one or two people it will add a different flavor to this weekend compared to upcoming trips; having a deep conversation with 30 different people at the same time just isn’t going to happen, so I will relish the cities like Chicago where I’ll have the opportunity to truly connect, listen, and learn about life outside of my own backyard.

Thank you so much to all those who have provided so much encouragement to me in getting this year long journey off the ground. And having said that, I think it’s time for my morning coffee now.


For more dates and locations and a full list of cities that I will be coming to, go to my homepage and click on the link.

Categories: Culture & Society

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44 replies

  1. The train is the only way to travel in my opinion. I love riding the rails and really dislike air travel, but some of my trips, I must go that way. Wonderful post and do hope to meet you in Portland Oregon! Cheers!

  2. We enjoy train travel now and then. Planes are getting too difficult.

    We live in the far western suburbs of Chicago along the Fox River until 1992. We make a point of going back to the Loop every few years. It is a great city. We’ve always found plenty to do. The people are friendly. The lake front is such a great thing to have. Last time was in Dec. 2012.

    If I were there this weekend, I would try to stop in and see you face-to-face. Have fun.

    • Yea, I’ve always thought I was biased since I was born in Chicago and have been back so many times throughout my life I’ve lost count. But Chicago is my favorite non-ocean city in the United States 🙂

    • And also, your right; plane travel is exceedingly difficult. I never feel ‘exhausted’ when I travel by train, but EVERY single time I travel by air I always feel tired afterwards, they call it jet lag, but I think its the whole trip; getting to the airport, checking in, going through security, waiting for the flight, boarding the plane (BOARDING THE PLANE IS SO ANNOYING), then take off and landing, then departing from the plane (DEPARTING FROM THE PLANE IS SO ANNYOYING), then leaving the airport.

      Air travel often makes me feel like a schoolchild the way they herd us off and on the plane. Its one of the only places in life where they control you so much

    • Parts of your comments in ALL CAPS suggests those things really get you. Boarding can be done quicker without the regimented approach. I’ve seen the tests.

      Security clearance coming home from Ireland was much simpler and yet thorough. Bonus…I got to remain fully clothed. Most of the agents were smiling and courteous. We got to Ohare and the agents were crabby and grumpy.

  3. We are a changed culture in the Western world. These instances of chance meetings and shared stories amongst strangers are a wonderful reminder of what we used to be; and perhaps, a hint of what we may one day become again.
    Lovely post. Safe travels, enjoy Chicago!

  4. They are not strangers…
    What you are doing, in my opinion, is the perfect compliment to a connection made with your readers. You reached out, communicated and offered a place to exchange ideas, people liked the topics you chose and liked that they could exchange ideas even if they were opposing…and it was safe. No put downs…just an honest interest in seeking what others think and in making a connection. And, now you are heading out in the word to meet them, so to speak. I think knowing they are out there is what makes this trip really exciting.

    I think it would have been a completely different ball game if you knew none of the people in these cities. Doable, but certainly not as much fun. My ideal road trip would be to take a few months off and travel the world to connect with some the people I have met online. Let’s face it…sometimes the people who mean the most to us don’t live anywhere near us.

    I am a huge fan of rail travel! When I was a kid my sisters and I would travel from the Bay area to San Diego to spend the summer with my grandparents. Can you imagine a time when you could send kids, unchaperoned on a twelve hour train ride? I liked it so much that as an adult I traveled north to Oregon and quite often took the commuter to San Francisco, instead of car. Very pleasant and relaxing.

    • “sometimes the people who mean the most to us don’t live anywhere near us”

      So true! In my idealistic world, all the people I love and want to hang out with would live with me in Costa Rica where its 80 degrees every day and we’d all eat organic food, sit around drink coffee, and philosophize about the world; and in my REALLY idealistic world our conversations would lead to positive change in the world 😉

  5. I always take the train into Chicago. Dealing with traffic and parking just isn’t worth it to me. The train is the one thing I miss from the job I had in the city. I got so much reading done on the train! Unfortunately, this means I will likely meet you at your afternoon location. The train from my area makes a lot of stops on the weekends. It usually takes more than an hour to get into the city. I still like it better, so long as I’m wearing the right shoes ^_^.

    I’m excited to fly next year to Peru for a trip because I rarely get the chance to fly. When it comes to what I really want to see, Machu Picchu, I plan on hiking. I could take a train up, but you miss so much that way. I’d rather spend a few days hiking to see everything possible while I’m there.

    Safe travels to Chicago. This whole thing is new to me, but that makes it that much more exciting! I’m also paranoid I won’t be able to find you. If you see a girl who looks lost, say hi. It’s probably me.

    World travel is something I really want to do with my life. Maybe, as I make more efforts to see the world, I’ll lose some of this social anxiety.

    • Ha ha, I don’t think Filter is too big of a place…. if it is I’ll make sure I have one of my ocean pictures from Costa Rica out on my table, that’s got to distinguish me from everyone else lol

      I’m so jealous of your Peru plans, its been on my to do list for a long time and I’m hoping ill be able to do in the next year or two :0)

    • I was going to do it this year, but I wanted to save more money so I wouldn’t be broke when I return. along with the cost of the trip, I have money saved in case of an emergency. IF an emergency occurs and I need to spend that, I do t want to be broke when I come home.

      I’ve never planned a trip out of the country on my own, so Peru is both exciting and terrifying for me. I hope that, as I get better at world travel, it will become an easier and cheaper experience.

    • I think you’ll find that its a whole lot more fun & laid back than terrifying 🙂 People are usually so friendly to travelers and are ready to help if you don’t understand something or can’t figure out where you’re going

    • After looking at all the fun train schedules, I’ve had a change of plans. I think I’m going to pump myself full of caffeine and see at at The Gallery Café. I don’t know how long you plan to stay at one place or the other…. but I just thought I’d let you know.

    • I’m hoping to be out of filter by noon so I leave plenty of time to make it to The Gallery 🙂

    • you’ll have to forgive me for planning my unscheduled community a bit. The train from my suburb takes over an hour to get into the city on the weekends.

  6. Have a lovely trip! Counting the days to Philly!! 🙂

    • I am SO looking forward to Philadelphia, its such a shame that with as many times I’ve been to the east coast I’ve never traveled the short distance over to Philly to hang out!

  7. I think in a city you do not know many people you can see if it is true if we westerners are open to start new conversations with strangers. if we are as open as we claim to be.
    It is like an experiment to see how different cultures interact when we do NOT know the people As you had in Costa Rica.
    I honestly enjoy your idea and what you try to do. Have a great weekend. Thumbs up and have a cupper

    • “I think in a city you do not know many people you can see if it is true we westerners are open to start new conversations with strangers”

      Exactly! Atlanta went really well; I was surprised how many strangers simply started talking to me. As I write this comment to you I’m sitting on the train to Chicago and while I was waiting for the train to arrive 30 minutes ago, this young college student walked right up to me and introduced himself, “hello, I’m Jose, is this the train to Chicago” he asked, and then for the next half hour we talked about culture, coffee, and pubs we’ve visited around the world lol

  8. Love travelling by train. Looking at the scenery passing by the wondows is better than countless movies I’ve watched. I describe a little of one train journey I took across Turkey in my latest post.

  9. I remember as a kid traveling w/train always exciting trip; long but the whole time would be more interesting looking through the window different cities, farms, nature,ppl and socialize w/new friends in the train.
    Don’t know if I’m too slow or time is too fast, hate the pressure of running out if time.
    Enjoy your city & hope u get some sun😊

  10. Trains. Yes. Went from Baltimore, MD to LAX by train in one trip just to do it. We were headed to Hawaii and loved the trip. Of course we flew from LAX to Hawaii…Hmm. Anyway, hope you meet some really interesting people and have an awesome time conversing.

  11. Ugh, think of the time when people had to take a stagecoach. 😦

  12. How much coffee do you consume daily? I started drinking it when I was 14 y.o and consider myself a coffee addict. I tried to quit many times w/o success. Right now I am down to 2 big cups, black, strong, potent. How much do you ingest daily? VW

    • i try to limit myself to one cup when i wake up in the morning to write (around 4 or 5ish) and then a second cup when i stop in at a coffee house in the morning…..thats about it honestly, if i drink any in the afternoon i try to stick to decaf, but i don’t like decaf on principle so usually that is rare 😉

    • I think decaf is an insult to the brand, but hey each to their own:)

  13. i’m now tempted to actually stop and have a coffee when it doesn’t involve a meeting! 🙂

  14. I always used to love plane travel 40 years ago. I love that feeling when the plane takes off and you are leaving the normal, everyday life behind and that ‘setting off on an adventure’.

    I daresay, since 9/11, all the queues, scanning and red tape would be fatiguing nowadays. It would take part of the fun away.

    Maybe I should try a long train trip. Or even the overnight ferry to the island state below where I live.

    I’m sure you’ll meet just as many interesting people in Chicago, but I wonder if they’ll stop long enough for you to hold a long conversation so you get to really know them?

  15. My son and I just had the train vs plane conversation today. While I said trains for short trips and planes for long ones he was 100% train…for the same reason you mentioned…being able to really see the sights along the way. He’s pushing really hard for a cross country train trip. The California Zephyr is calling his name :). Enjoy your trip!

  16. Enjoy Chicago, and in response to the quote, I find being on a bike (as a pillion only) you appreciate things a lot more than being in a car. Your senses are heightened, and the trip is so much more exciting. Similar I spose to train rather than car or air travel.

  17. Your choice to take the train rather than a plane reminds me of a report I just heard. Amtrack made a deal with writers who apply to get a chance to spend some time on a train to write. Whoever is selected can be “writer in residence’ for a few days on one of the trains. I wish they did it for bloggers too!

  18. One of my favorite things about having gone to Italy/Switzerland was the trains. Omg European trains are so amazing and so much smoother than US trains (the Swiss ones in particular). You could hardly tell it started moving. In Switzerland, this was particularly nice because the scenery is simply stunning. The trains alone are part of why I want to go back, let alone the food, the people, etc. I agree that it’s so nice to see more of the country that way and also to sleep when you need it and not have to pull over or whatever. The trains alone can be a way to connect to people also – you never know who you’ll meet and talk to. I know when I was coming back from my crazy adventure in Biloxi, Miss., I ended up taking the bus back and it was fun and interesting. I didn’t mind it at all and I certainly talked to some interesting folks. I definitely need to see about taking the train next time I travel somewhere. Love trains.

  19. “Coffee houses are a great platform to meet people”

    I agree there is definitely more depth found in a coffee house than a bar. I am glad I love coffee and stay clear of alcohol. More healthy too 🙂

  20. Hi Ken,

    I visited a few times last year. And then got your like on a poem I guest posted on OM’s board. I can relate to a lot of what you say here in your posts on culture from my time on the east and west coasts (in the States). I also grew up with the trains in NYC and Philly.

    Let me know if you’d like to participate in the Race Around the World (info on my front page). I’d be happy to promote your blog. Power bloggers who’ve collaborated with me have made out well on my platform. I have a very deep, responsive community. My own story that has launched the Race is lengthier than I’ve asked of contributors, btw.

    See you.


  21. Love Chicago and trains. We lived in various places in the Chicagoland area for ten years (city and suburbs). It’s my wife’s birthplace too. I used to take the commuter train downtown to Union Station every day to work back in the day. Great sleeping because you can’t miss your stop. 🙂 We also recently took a train to see our sons in Seattle. It was a beautiful and relaxing trip.

    I know you’ll have a great time in Chicago. As you know, people are very open and willing to chat.

  22. Trains are the best! I love travelling by trains. But sadly, here in my country, Indonesia, train fare are quite expensive compared to other types of mass transport.
    Nice article. And thanks for stopping by my page 😀

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