On the Train to Kankakee

I’m in Aurora, Illinois, back in the USA and midway through a seven-cities-in-seven-days lecture tour. I’ve given eight talks in two days in Minneapolis and Chicago, and am swimming in memories of the fun meetings I’ve had with travelers at all these gigs.

The group I’m talking to later this morning has put me up in an exquisite little “French Colonial” hotel, which I have no time to appreciate (as is generally the case when I’m on the road in the USA).

I’m lying in bed wondering why I won’t go for this opportunity to get a full eight hours of sleep. Three things are on my mind: I’ll be talking to a gang of a thousand in a sumptuous old theater. I have two hours to talk and I’m debating how light and happy versus how edgy and political to be. And I’m reminiscing about a 1993 trip to Russia.

My five events in Minneapolis were all jammed with travelers — huge, enthusiastic groups. My three events (bookstores and a luggage store) in Chicago were small and relatively disappointing. Even so, I met fascinating people. Because they were small groups, we kept things intimate and casual…with lots of Q&A.

One man asked about honeymooning in Ireland…in December. That seemed comical to me and the entire group, so we had fun with that.

A couple — the woman with harsh orange lipstick and the man with Borat hair — came up afterwards and showed me their “Rick Steves prayer cards.” The size of playing cards, they were laminated with goofy photos of me happy in Europe. One said, “Don’t be a grouch.” The other said, “Ricardo says ‘Though shalt not be grumpy.’” They explained that when they traveled, whenever one or the other was complaining or getting in a bad mood, the other would play their card…and they’d get back on track.

That reminded me of the American Girl Scout group I once met in the Swiss Alps (at Walter’s hotel in Gimmelwald). I dropped by one evening as they were eating dinner. As they had based their trip on my material, they were happy to meet me.

The woman leading the group had clearly worked hard and creatively to help make the girls good travelers. To show off, she demonstrated how they had taken a line from the Back Door travel philosophy I lay out in each of my guidebooks as a group motto.

She called the group to order and said, “If it’s not to your liking…” All twenty girls responded enthusiastically in unison, “CHANGE YOUR LIKING!”

Sorry for the delay in getting an entry up on this blog. I’ll finish this with the 1993 Russia trip (flames were coming out of the parliament building in Moscow, where Communist hardliners were holed up during the Boris Yeltsin stand-off)…on my next entry. But right now, I have a talk to give.


11 Replies to “On the Train to Kankakee”

  1. Good morning, Rick and happy Veteran’s Day and Washington Statehood Day (November 11, 1889)! Cannot think of a better day for you to be at your best i.e. edgy, political and controversial…go for it!! Life is so boring if we all agree about everything. Just as traveling is a learning experience, being exposed to diverse opinions serves the same purpose.

  2. Oohh, that must be a pun for those who want to have phun. The no grumps on travels must be a real motto for folks. Rick, sounds like you’re enjoying your travels in the states. Great to hear your on home turf. I’m still planning my trip to Ireland, but not in December. :) Take care!

  3. I visited Minneapolis, on business trips, many times. It was were always in “bad” weather (Compared to California).

    Maybe it wasn’t as cold, as snowy, as rainy, as icy as the last time, but always one or the other. I discovered in the winter time, the only thing dumber than getting on an airplane in Los Angeles with an overcoat, was getting off an airplane in Minneapolis without one.

    One morning several of us were in the lobby of a hotel in downtown Minneapolis, waiting for a taxi. Outside it was maybe 15 or 20 degrees below zero, with ice all over the place, and it was snowing and blowing.

    While we waited, the newspaper truck stopped, the man threw a bundle of papers at the feet of the doorman. The headline said, “Minus 40 Degrees in Bemidji,” (in northern Minnesota.) The doorman said, “Gee, Bemidji, ain’t a fit place to live!”

    What did he see just outside his door?

  4. Rick, your talk at the Paramount was perfect! I’m glad you didn’t censor your thoughts to satisfy a few narrow minded people. I wish we had known that there wouldn’t be too many people at the book signings, or we would have attended those as well. Come back to Chicago soon!

  5. If I had known about your Chicago stops, I would have been there! I did get to see you at a WTTW event and it was awesome. Come back to Chicago and the crowds will be better.

  6. Ah…wish I could’ve made it out to one of your Chicago speeches! I, too, was “on the road” this weekend. Couldn’t make it to Switzerland, but did the next best thing: traveled to New Glarus, WI. It’s a great little “Swiss village”, an American historic treasure. New Glarus was settled by Swiss immigrant farmers 150 years ago, coming from the Swiss canton of Glarus, and has a thriving, if somewhat kitschy, tourism industry. However, there are still many folks living there who speak Swiss-German, and take the culture very serious. It makes for a fun day trip out of Chicago, and the whole of Green County, WI is picture-esque and quaint. It may not be Gimmelwald, but it is a slice of rural immigrant America. Anyway, keep on keepin’ on, Rick! Hope you find time to get some rest!

  7. Hey Jim, if the only time you come to MSP is when it’s between 20 and -20 then you need to stop coming in January and February. Try coming in the middle of July when it’s 92-95 degrees and so humid that you sweat when the air conditioning is on and you’re just sitting in your living room watching TV!

  8. Always appreciate your blogs, books and DVDs. As a former flatlander, I am sorry your time in Chicago was small. Many have no idea what they missed. Upon reading your daughter’s blog, I was shocked. She’s a keeper, Dad. When I saw her picture, I couldn’t believe she is the same young lady I see in your 2000-2005 DVD series. Thanks for all your time investing in others’ lives. Tim

  9. Hi Rick!!! It was nice to meet you at the Travel Trade Show in Westfield, Nj / Oct 2007!!! Thanks for the fun / informative and energetic talk you gave!!! I stayed for both ‘-))) I have purchased and have used most of your guidebooks, as well as many or your travel supplies on my many adventures in Europe!!! Thanks and Best Wishes!!! Gary G. Schempp GaryGS1@yahoo.com http://www.GaryGS1.com

  10. Hi Rick, I had mention to my Mom that you would be in Chicagoand ask her to please, please come and see you at the Borders Books in Lincoln Park. She had mention that their wasn’t that many people their and being from Chicago and living Seattle. I was disapointed… “Come On Chicago People, Learn…. to Travel and open your minds”Well Rick, My mom enjoyed your speech and I will bring her to another one of your speeches in the Seattle area when she had time. thanks,

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