An Ode to O’Hare

As (perhaps, hopefully –  I have heard there are problems) you can see from the picture above, I have swapped the scenery of urban metropolis for that of rural tranquility, the role of student for that of professor. As I write, I have returned to Niigata Prefecture, teaching for the second year in the Intensive English Program at the International University of Japan.

But first I wanted to share some images and impressions from my time spent in the O’Hare Airport Monday last, en route from Portland, Maine to Urasa, Japan. You may recall I spent some time there last year…

…but as I contemplated a three-hour layover or so, I asked myself the question of how I could make this visit different than the last, extending the question to my time at IUJ as well. I have been accused of being somewhat of a novelty “slut,” craving the input of the new and untested over the old and familiar. So I have challenged myself to see somewhat familiar things with new eyes this summer, to look for stories hitherto untold. And what better way to begin than with a leisurely tour around this aeronautical behemoth?

Wiki tells us that O’Hare was the busiest airport in the world by number of takeoffs and landings in 2014, in 2015 the fourth busiest by passenger traffic.  It has the most number of runways (nine) of any major airport, covering 7200 acres and employing nearly 40,000 people. Any way you slice it, it’s a big operation.

That being said, he easiest course of action for a layover, of course, would be to do what many people do with a few free and relatively unencumbered hours in an enclosed space, and that is to catch 40 winks…

OH - dozers

Sweet dreams

…but as you have probably guessed, I’m too much of a wiggle-bug for any such doin’s, so I left the relative comfort and safety of Terminal 1, Concourse C and headed out. There are four terminals at O’Hare, 1,2,3, and 5, similar to Logan, and most have multiple levels. Getting from C to B requires using the lovely subterranean walkway you may remember from my previous post; but my adventure truly began when I greeted this fellow on the other side, standing guard over the Field Museum (natural history) gift store:


Little wonder the ceiling is so high

I can’t believe I hadn’t seen this big boy before, but usually one is a bit preoccupied when motoring through these halls; hence my determined efforts to slow down a bit this visit. As I walked through Concourse B on my way to Terminals 2 and 3, I saw the usual airport street scene – customer service desks, fast food outlets, places to buy headphones and rechargeable batteries. So when an interesting mirror caught my eye, I wondered if the nature of the stroll would undergo a similar transformation:

OH - Air Carnival

My version of a “selfie” with my (ahem) new iPhone…

And indeed it did. There’s a lovely curved corridor, lined with glass, that moves one from the relative banality of T1 to T2. Embedded in the glass windows are a set of lovely murals commissioned by the airport and Department of Aviation and painted by teen apprentice painters in 2008 thanks to a program called “After School Matters:”

OH art

“Mag” in more ways than one

But then it truly was as if after leaving this hallway the whole place…became more interesting, more local, more personal. This section, after the glass hallway, on the way to Terminal 2, had some features I had never seen at an airport before, certainly not at O’Hare, but of course that begs the question of whether or not I was looking.

The first interesting feature was a billboard promoting a wonderful new program to support the men and women of our military forces:

Vet tix

No one more deserving

Their website ( explains what they do: “Vet Tix provides tickets to events which reduce stress, strengthen family bonds, build life-long memories and encourage service members and veterans to stay engaged with local communities and American life…Vet Tix secures tickets to sporting events, concerts, performing arts and family activities across the nation.” Pretty cool idea.

Speaking of folks who are leaning in to the hard issues, here’s another group I had never heard of but which is clearly trying to make a difference:


A lovely way to address a devastating illness

From their website, we learn that as a member of the UsAgainstAlzheimer’s Network, WomenAgainstAlzheimer’s unites women across the globe to find a cure for Alzheimer’s. “Our growing network of women is impatient with the slow progress being made in the Alzheimer’s fight.” You go, girls.

My Air Carnival can’t just be about sober realities – there has to be a little whimsy as well. Somewhere in the depths of the myriad hallways, I spied this little fun factoid:


Don’t bee alarmed…

What I began to notice, in this stretch of terminal just before hitting T3, was an delightful focus on health and wellness, starting with this wonderful little space where smalls could get out of their strollers and blow off some travel frustration along with their doting parents:

OH playground

PeeWee Pilot Playground

Nearby, there was a small satellite urgent care center, for the little maladies on the road, and then all of a sudden I saw something I can honestly say Ihave never seen anywhere else before…


“Stayin’ alive!”

Yes, folks, it’s a genuine CPR training module, where you can, er, lay your hands upon the needy nethers of the soon-to-be resuscitated torso. Well I never.

If such exertions have made you feel a bit peckish, the good news is that healthy food is only a few steps away. I was astonished and delighted at the offerings that belonged to a comfy cybercafe:

OH healthy food

Quinoa on the hoof

….whereas in the more traveled thoroughfares, the following offerings were far more common (this IS Chicago, after all):

OH not so healthy food

Show your aorta who’s boss

But far too soon it was time to head back to T1 Gate C-10 to climb aboard the big silver bird and start the ~13 hour trek to Narita. On my way back, winding through through the colored underpass, I espied something I had never noticed before but upon inspection was truly glad existed:

Maintenance 1

A very well deserved salute indeed

If there’s anyone we airline travelers are thankful for (besides the pilots, naturlich), it’s the mechanics, normally an unsung brotherhood. But here’s United honoring its master mechanics. A closer inspection of the plaque in the lower right above reveals the following:

Maintenance 2

A “United Nations,” all of its own

I was struck by the range of surnames, reflecting the diversity of Chicago: Launius (Lithuanian), Quinones (Hispanic), Smuszkiewicz (Polish), Romsik (Czech), La Barge (French), and Carlson (Swedish), only to name a few. In a season when I feel this country is more divided than it’s been in a long time, this brotherhood was a warm reminder of who we have been and who we can be again.

Safe travels, and more soon from the Land of the Rising Sun.

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2 Responses to An Ode to O’Hare

  1. Janet Stebbins says:

    Fabulous post! Congrats on your resolve to “challenged (yourself) to see somewhat familiar things with new eyes this summer, to look for stories hitherto untold.” New eyes indeed. A reminder to us all that we need to see and not just look. FYI: From those of us following you on email, the top picture you reference does not show up (until we come here), and when you say “picture above/below…” it is sometimes in a different place. Great reading. Keep ’em coming.

  2. Rachel says:

    The Vetix program sounds so interesting. I’d love to learn more about it.

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