When I was 21 I left England for America, with me was my friend
Jane, we were due to attend the University of Illinois for a whole year
and we decided to head over there a few days earlier and travel
The adventure started at Chicago airport, we landed, not having made
any arrangements for somewhere to stay. We had a half-baked idea that
we would head for the Illinois campus in Chicago and speak to someone
there. Firstly we had to get out of the airport, we followed signs for
an exit, got in a lift and found ourselves in an underground carpark.
We immediately thought of all those American movies, when people got
attacked, killed, kidnapped, mugged....all in underground car parks. We
got back in the lift.
We managed to find the right exit, and found ourselves on the Loop
(overground train) actually heading in the right direction and got off
at the right campus, at around 5.00pm. There weren't many people around
but we did manage to approach one person, a guy in his 30s. We
explained that we had just arrived, and asked if he knew of any cheap
places to stay. He offered to take us to his place as he was having a
party that night, we got carried away by his enthusiasm and followed
He said he needed to pick up his car, so we followed him to a street
corner, there we stood outside some sort of kung fu club in a dodgy
looking street as he disappeared. We had about 10 minutes of high
anxiety, we were convinced that we would come to harm, but he did
return and we got into his car, and he drove to Oak Park , a prosperous
suburb, I think it's where Hemminway was born.
And there was a party going on that night, we dumped our stuff in his
house, he and his friends cooked us dinner, we went to a softball
match, and then back to a big party. We both had a fantastic time and
lost count of the number of times we said "I just flew in from London,
to ever increasingly appreciative American ears.
I think out rescuer was called John, but this is 15 years ago so if it
is wrong and you read this story, thank you so much for taking in hand
a couple of stupid English students.
We decided to spend a few days in Chicago and headed for a hostel at a
place called Loyola, close to Lake Michigan.
One of those days after travelling around chicago for hours, we were on
our way home on a busy train. A man got on, he started to do the 3
shells and a pea trick. You know where this is heading , but I'll take
you there anyway.
Jane was sitting away from me and the guy grabbed her attention, I
don't know why but the both of us went into some kind of Hypnotic
state. I watched as a couple of people won 20 dollars from him and then
got off the train, and then watched as Jane had a go and lost her 20
dollars, even then our trance-like state did not change. I then got the
stupid idea that I could win her 20 bucks back, and suddenly about 10
minutes after we had first spotted the guy, he was off the train and we
were 40 dollars poorer.
We got off the train and did what any sane and reasonable people would,
we went to a liquor store. luckily I was over 21 and was able to score
for us about 8 cans of Colt 45. We went and sat next to the lake and
drank all of them, by the end of it, we were lauging our asses off and
promising each-other that it would remain our secret. It did for a few
years but eventually did get out.
Then we decided to go to Milwaulkee, as you do. We hopped on a bus and
3 or 4 hours later we found ourselves at a beautiful hostel called the
Red Barn. We appeared to be the only residents, but our hosts assured
us that there was one other, he was at a Dungeon and Dragons
conference. He kept manic hours, he seemed to come in at around 2 in
the morning and leave at around 6 in the morning to get back to the
Jane celebrated her 20th birthday in Milwaulkee, we managed to get a
drunken lift home in a Police Cruiser, the cop was seduced by our great
accents, cheaper than a taxi.
We then left Milwaukee to head for Champaign, Illionois, our home for
the next year. But the fun wasn't over quite yet. When we got off at
the bus station, I realised in a panic that I had left/lost my wallet
somewhere, it had my return ticket to Chicago and 40 or so dollars,
enough to get down to Champaign.
Jane offered to pay for another ticket but I had a better idea (of
course) I said I would hitch back to the hostel, (why didn't I just
borrow a bus fare ?)
I saw Jane got on the bus and I started hitching. A guy picked me up in
a Kharman Ghia, I didn't know what car it was at the time, but having
discovered cars, I now know it was. He was definitely on a heavy drug
use day, he told me he had just got out of prison and was trying to get
back with his wife. He didn't seem to know about the 55mph speed limit
so I got back to the hostel really quickly, I thanked him and was glad
to get out.
There was no one at the hostel so I went to a supermarket down the road
and asked them if they had found a wallet (it had a kangaroo on it -
useless detail I know)
They hadn't found it but took my details. I then went back to the
hostel where I met the managers.
I again explained my circumstances, looking back, they must have
thought it was a scam, I've hear a similar stories myself in London.
But, they bought it, and offered to lend me 25 dollars to get me where
I needed to go. They said they couldn't really afford it, and made me
promise that I would send them the money when I got home.
I finally got a night bus from Milwaulkee and arrived at the house me
and Jane were staying at around 5 in the morning. I remember not
wanting to wake them up, so went to an all-night diner for a few
A week later, a parcel arrived, it had my wallet in it, with the 40
dollars and bus ticket and a lovely note from staff at the
And of course, I sent the money back to the couple at the Red Barn