Chapter 7 – Sweet Home Chicago

April 2016

Hooking up my old Moto X to the aux jack in my mom’s Honda Pilot, I set it to the “Roadtrip!” playlist I had made during my longer tech support calls and began the long, grey and rainy drive to Chicago. As the raindrops pattered onto the windshield I sang along to the likes of Van Halen (David Lee Roth years, of course, I’m a woman of taste), House of Pain and old school TLC.

Ah, Chicago. My love for this city knows no bounds. The drive, however…there’s no love lost there. The route between Cleveland and Chicago consists of absolutely nothing. By “nothing” I mean cornfields, some rest stops in Bumfucktown, Ohio, more cornfields, Gary, Indiana, and not much else. As far as I’m concerned that entire drive can just fuck right off. But I had a sense of purpose for this trip, so it was a necessary evil.

The skyscrapers of Chicago eventually rose up over the horizon, boasting their prominence in the city’s signature skyline. My heart panged with excitement. This was it. I was finally here, and not just for a fun weekend trip. This time I was here to apply for my residence permit to live in Germany. A huge step in my plan was about to be taken.

I. AM. DOING. THIS.

Holy shit. I am REALLY DOING this.

This was no longer an idea cultivated by google searches, language software, and cancelable reservations. Oh no, shit was about to get real.

Well, it did. But not the way I had planned.

I managed to navigate my way through the chaotic Dan Ryan Expressway and into downtown to figure out the horrific parking situation – $47 per night at the cheapest. Damn ripoff. I unloaded the Honda and with my luggage in tow and hoofed it around the block to the Holiday Inn Express, my home for the next two days. I checked in and took the very slow and creaky elevator to the 10th floor. The room was tiny and utilitarian, but enough for one person. I did have had a rather nice view of the city block and Sears (Willis) Tower, so I was content. But the best part was the real reason why I picked this hotel – it was a four minute walk to the German Embassy. I wanted absolutely nothing keeping me from getting to my 8:30am appointment, not traffic or train delays or whatever else. Nope. Come hell or high water I was going to be there.

I dumped my suitcases in the tiny closet and immediately headed back out again for my first order of business – finding a Walgreens to get my residence permit photos. I could have gotten them taken in Cleveland, I suppose. But I figured if any drug stores would be privy to the specific photo requirements for a German residence permit, the ones close to the embassy here would.

I was partially right, as the first one I went to normally did those but their camera was out of order. I asked the young man behind the counter where I could find another Walgreens and was given rather vague directions. After following said vague directions for about 20 minutes, I somehow ended up at the Hershey Store. While not a terrible outcome for a chocolate lover like me, it wasn’t very helpful in my mission. Resisting the urge to Pac Man my way through the place, I whipped out Ye Olde Moto X to Google the right Walgreens.

As it turned out, this Walgreens was about five blocks past where the guy told me to go and one street over.

*Sigh*

Finally, after a lot of walking and dodging of panhandlers the proper permit photos were taken, printed, and paid for. YES. I hurried back to my hotel with the coveted photos to tuck them away in a safe place with the rest of my documentation. I continued to spend the rest of the afternoon sorting, signing and rereading everything, making sure every i was dotted and t was crossed.

Okay German Consulate, I’m ready for you.

Since I hadn’t eaten since my 5am breakfast of an English muffin and an apple, I moseyed on over to Gino’s for dinner. After all, I was in Chicago, and not going to Gino’s and getting one of their deep dish pizzas would have been an act of treason. I found a seat at the crowded, graffiti-laden bar and ordered myself a dram of Lagavulin, my usual drink of choice when I’m celebrating. While I was waiting, a rather intoxicated man took the seat to me. In my quest for peace and self-preservation I did my best not to turn my head in his direction or make eye contact.

But this guy had other ways of getting my attention. I felt a tap on my shoulder, and I turned to see him leaning a little too close to me, drooling heavily, and wordlessly beckoning me to grab some napkins for him from the dispenser on my right. As I quickly handed them to him, I saw that he had puked all over the bar. And just before I could turn away in disgust, he did it again.

I shot out of the bar stool and took several steps down the bar away from him.The smell stung my nose. I felt the lump in my throat grow as I fought off the contagious nausea of having a strange man vomit less than two feet away from me. I waved one of the bartenders over to assist, and moved over to the other end of the bar. Two older gentlemen who had been seated on the other side of the man joined me, and we chatted a bit and ordered our food (miraculously still hungry, but damnit it’s Gino’s!) The one man was a physician from Buffalo, NY attending an occupational medicine seminar, and the other was attending a commercial plastics sales convention.

During our chat the physician and the bartender engaged in a friendly but determined continuation of one debate that has been going on for over 100 years: Chicago-style vs. New York-style pizza. The physician admitted that he liked both for two completely different reasons, which happens to be my stance on the issue as well. You can either fold up a nice, flat slice of New York pizza and enjoy it as you wandered, or sit in a fine establishment such as Gino’s and attack the decadent deep dish with a fork and knife. After some friendly banter over this topic, we parted ways.

The next morning I bounced out of bed at 5am sharp. It was a big day and I was a big bundle of nerves.

My appointment was in three hours. I decided to run off my nerves before breakfast and did a few laps around downtown. When I returned, I spent the rest of my time primping, organizing, and double-and-triple checking that all of my paperwork was in order.

One hour to go.

I. Am. So. Nervous.

I arrived at the German consulate at 8:00am, 30 minutes before my appointment was scheduled. I was not going to be even a minute late. I factored in any oddball occurrences that would happen between my hotel and the block and a half walk to their office. Traffic, car accidents, tornadoes, tsunamis, alien invasions were all plausible events for which I was sure to leave enough time to bypass.

I dutifully signed in at the front desk, then took the elevator to run through the security check. The guard had me hand over my phone for some reason and showed me to the seating area. I have no idea how my jacked-up, 3-year-old phone could be any kind of security threat, but I wasn’t about to go questioning authority now. I obliged and took my seat. I had my passport, my documents, and I was dressed in my best “Responsible Adult” outfit. I was ready for anything.

Here goes nothing.

Finally, I was called up to the desk. On the other side of the glass was a blonde woman about my age with a stern look on her face. With her gentle German accent, she asked for my passport, then started into the conversation about why I was there.

She was very nice and listened to my story, which I backed up with every shred of documentation I could get my hands on – my apartment reservation in Dusseldorf starting in October, my bank statements, my catering contracts given to me by Joachim. She excused herself while she spoke with her supervisor for a rather long time. I sat there and waited in anticipation.

During that rather long time, my thoughts snowballed into rather outlandish territory.

Is she printing my permit?

Is she telling her supervisor to blacklist me from Germany?

Where is she?

Maybe she had to pee?

Or she’s getting candy? I like candy.

Fucking hell, Laura, she’s not getting candy!

She eventually came back and told me that I was far too early to apply for anything, but everything I wanted to do was actually handled in the Ausländerbehörde in Dusseldorf. She went on to warn me that my chances of being issued a residence permit allowing me to work were not guaranteed, and because I don’t have a degree I wouldn’t qualify for a work seeker visa. I asked her about the catering contracts I had gotten from Joachim, but she informed me that those may not be enough for me to stay.

So basically, this trip to Chicago was for nothing.

I felt the beginnings of the lump in my throat as I gathered my things to leave. Before I stood up, the woman added that it was good that I started this early so that “I have time to reconsider.”

I’m not giving up, goddamnit.

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