Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Off to a Swell-tering Start

Leaving O’Hare International Airport, we were hit by the full force of the humidity. The CTA subway station was a dark, damp, airless pit of suffocation. The hour-long journey to downtown Chicago crowded in between our suitcases was slightly better.

When we finally stepped out onto the Chicago city pavement and into the light, I was dazzled by the sheer grandeur of the high-rises cutting into skies above… but mostly overwhelmed by the heat wave.

I’d only been here a few hours, but I have determined that “sweltering” defines Chicago in summer. I must now admit this is a sensation I’ve never once experienced in my 15 years living in California.

But by evening time, I had realized I’d spoken too soon about the weather. After an epically cheesy, delicious slice of Chicago’s signature deep dish pizza at Giordano’s, we were pummeled by a Midwestern thunderstorm and were forced to take refuge in Forever 21.

Other than the weather which I’m unfairly comparing to the mild California climate,Chicago is gorgeous, and the Drake Hotel is absolutely FABULOUS. We’re staying in the prime shopping district along the Magnificent Mile in the heart of Chicago. I’m so lucky to have Genevieve as my roomie for now, and we have an amazing room with the view of a spectacular stretch of Lake Michigan’s beach… and not to mention an adorable orange fuzz-ball of a guest.

Meet the new ILC Cornell 2011 mascot! His name is Cicero (:

Anyways, I am definitely warming up to Chicago, especially after it started to cool down a bit in the evening. Strolling down Michigan Avenue in the warm, moist air felt just right. We don’t get many beautiful warm evenings in the Bay Area. I was even enjoying walking in the rain (again, California doesn’t get too many warm rains). Of course, that was before the drizzle became a downpour and curbed our trip to Millennium Park.

There is just so much to explore in Chicago! The heat is not going stop us from making the most of this three-day venture.

Okay, it’s late and we have to get up early for tomorrow’s tour of Northwestern, which I am so psyched about, even if I may not seem so…this day has just been too long since 2 AM. Speaking of it, here’s some highlights of our journey from 4 AM at SFO to Chicago:

Checking in to SFO 4:30 AM

Sunrise at SFO

In the air!

Passing over the Rockies

Intro to Chicago

At 2:30 in the morning today, I looked in the mirror at my disheveled self, and tried as hard as I could to figure out why on earth I would want to be at my high school by 3:15 in the morning. I ended up somehow convincing myself that this trip to Chicago and Cornell was worth getting up at 2:30 for, even though I would try to sleep through pretty much anything. I arrived at the school earlier than Mr. Ramsey, which is usually the suggested arrival time. Before I knew it, we were in the shuttle on the way to the airport. I would talk more about what happened in the shuttle and on the flights from SFO to Minneapolis and from Minneapolis to Chicago O’Hare, but I slept through most of both flights.

CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) station at O’Hare.

After taking public transit in Chicago (which was much more crowded than I have ever seen BART) to our hotel, I was awestruck by just how extraordinary the Drake Hotel. Since I had already known that it was a four diamond hotel as of last year, I was expecting it to be pretty impressive, but its overall grandeur far exceeded my expectations.

After leaving the Drake in a daze, partly because I was thunderstruck by the hotel but mainly because I was just exhausted from the overall lack of sleep, we met up with a couple of WCCUSD grads who were currently living in Chicago. They took us around the town and brought us to an amazing deep-dish pizza parlor, Giordano’s. The great food was able to cancel out the only real downside of Chicago, the weather. When we had to walk from the station to our hotel, the temperature was around 90 degrees, but the humidity was by far the worst part.

The bustling lobby at the beautiful Drake Hotel.

The weather actually ended up taking a turn for the better, in my opinion at least, when a thunderstorm began at around 8:30ish and made Chicago rather chilly instead of sweltering, which I consider a pretty big improvement. These great foods also lead me to my first great accomplishment on this trip, when I was able to eat four and a half slices out of an eight slice 12” deep dish pizza. I still haven’t felt any negative effects from this feast, and hopefully that success is a sign of many to come.

The amazing deep dish pizza at Giordano’s.

El Cerrito to Minneapolis to Chicago....in 24 hours

Have you ever wondered how much can you could possibly fit into a single day? …Neither had I until today, haha. The Cornellians’ day started at 3:15am, when we met at El Cerrito High. I felt like I was going to pass out right then and there, but somehow I managed to make it from there to sfo airport without a wink of sleep.

Me without a wink of sleep...

Everybody was so excited during the shuttle ride, and of course a little nervous, but the day that unfolded was absolutely amazing.

At the airport we picked up some smoothies and goodies to keep ourselves satisfied during the four-hour flight to Minneapolis and right off the bat I knew that we were going to have a great trip because I received the most amazing cookie imaginable.

A little unconventional looking, I know, but it was absolutely amazing nonetheless.

We then embarked on our plane ride to Minneapolis. Admittedly, I was unconscious for most of it, but that was exactly what I wanted, so I would say that my flight was pretty great.

Minneapolis Airport

Minneapolis: Skyview

We were in Minneapolis for about twenty minutes before hopping back on the plane and heading out towards Chicago. On that ride, all of us El Cerrito High students sat in a row and passed the hour long flight playing a card game called “Consternation” (which we didn’t keep score in, but I must say that I did pretty darn well).

As we were finding our seats, however, we noticed that most of the people passing us by were speaking foreign languages. Normally that would not be big deal, but it was literally just about every person who passed us by. Then, Taylor noticed that one of the men sitting a few rows ahead of us was wearing a Cirque Du’Soleil jacket, and she made a wild guess that all of these people were part of the circus. To further investigate the situation, we struck up a conversation with the two young women sitting in front of us, and found out that they were in fact acrobats, and that nearly everyone that was sitting around us was a part of Cirque Du’Soleil! Terilyn and Kelly were able to speak Chinese to these two women and asked if we could get a picture with them.

Unfortunately this picture will not upload. My apologies.

From the airport we hopped on the CTA, the local train system, and rode all the way out to Chicago. Overall, the train ride was a good experience, but it definitely made me appreciate my public transportation back home. There were a few smells that I could only describe as curious and the floor was wet in a lot of places due to the humidity. A little gross, but I am happy to have had the experience.

CTA Trainway

Finally, we arrived in Chicago and walked a few blocks to the Drake Hotel, which is incredible. We then met up with a few WCCUSD graduates who now live in the city, and they brought us to some classic Chicago venues, including Giordano’s Pizzaria, and Garrett’s Popcorn. It did rain a little bit during this tour, which I have to say was a little discomforting for a guy in shorts and a t-shirt like myself, but seeing this new city and developing a feel for this grand new area was well worth a little bit of rain.

And now day one comes to a close. If the rest of our trip is anything like this then we will undoubtedly be in for one fantastic ride. I cannot wait to see what tomorrow has in store and am extremely anxious to continue this amazing journey.

And Here We Go!

Sometimes, I never understand why I am early.  It is a good habit to pick up, but it deprives me of sleep most of the time, especially when it comes to ordinary events and circumstances.  Nonetheless, there was nothing ordinary about today.   It was the longest day of my life, and one of the best I have ever had.  Today was the day we left to start our adventures.

My day actually started yesterday – I was busy figuring out what to do on my last day in California.  Over the course of that escapade, I managed to deter myself from sleeping at all, which was not a good idea. 

Fast forward to Mel’s Diner, at 2 AM – the food was good and I was nervous.  Or rather, I felt a little sick, though I did not really understand why.  A month away from home seemed like a momentous undertaking, an opportunity that would only come once in a lifetime.   And yet, the facts had not hit me yet, I still had two hours before I left for the airport.

At El Cerrito High School, I gathered my things and put them to the side.  The shuttle arrived and the group gave their goodbyes, goodbye to all the parents, the siblings, Mr. Ramsey and Don, all of whom helped along the way.  As the headlights flashed by the quiet city, it had not hit me yet.
San Francisco International was the same as ever, crowded and the service seemed a bit annoyed.  As we boarded the Delta Airlines flight and crammed into the aisle seat, things seemed all too surreal.
My memory of the flight was very vague because I slept through most of the four hours on the way to Minneapolis.  The connecting flight between Minneapolis and Chicago’s O’Hare Airport was the same.  Sleep is very appealing on long flights such as these.

From O’Hare to the L Train, the heat and humidity was starting to get to me.  However, the nice company on the train and the air conditioning kept me content.

After another connecting train, we left the subterranean world of transit for the sweltering city above.   Once the unrelenting heat, the thick humidity, the towering skyscrapers came into focus, it finally hit me.  I was here, and this story was beginning.

Once we found the hotel and freshened up, the group met up with two WCCUSD alumni who lived in Chicago, Stephanie and Donielle.  They gave us a little bit of insight on the educational differences between Chicago and the Bay Area, as well as great places to go.

Giordano's Famous stuffed pizza was fabulous.
We spent time at the world-famous Giordano’s for their deep-dish pizza.   Dinner was very filling, with a huge stuffed pepperoni pizza split between Kevin and me.  The pizza was incredibly good but a bit too much.  Shades of this morning’s breakfast rose throughout the dinner.

When dinner was finished, we resolved to visit Millennium Park.  However, the weather was not working with us as thunderstorms and rain came down, soaking all of us.  It was incredibly fun.

Now that the day was done, everything is beginning to sink in a little more.  Soon enough, sleep will come again and then, we set off for Northwestern, and the next chapter of this amazing adventure.

Here We Are Chicago!

This was the sight that greeted my sleepy eyes this morning at approximately 5AM at SFO. I had already been awake for almost three hours at this point, and barely had enough energy to take in the beautiful sunrise over the plane that was about to take us about 2,000 miles away. So far, I had dragged myself out of bed for the last time in three weeks, made my way to El Cerrito High (and not for school!), and bade goodbye to my dad as I boarded the shuttle taking me to San Francisco’s Airport.

Our two flights- a connecting one to Minneapolis where we boarded a flight to Chicago, our final destination- were relatively peaceful. I love flying, and spent the time either looking out my window admiring the bird’s-eye view, sleeping, or playing cards with my Joe, Taylor, and Nick. The second flight was interesting though as the whole of Cirque D’Soleil, acrobats and all, was onboard along with us.
Here is a picture of our hotel’s beautiful lobby. And boy, did the air conditioning and lavish furnishings seems ever so wonderful- especially after lugging our luggage (it seemed to be miles, though in actuality was only a handful of long blocks) in the muggy heat. I have never experienced such sweltering air! It was like swimming… but eventually we did make it, and got to check into our rooms.

The view from Kelly’s and my window was a beautiful vista of the beach a block away. I look forward to getting to see it tomorrow. Then, we went to dinner with some Richmond High Alumni who currently live in the area at a famous deep-dish pizzeria called “Giordano’s.” I stuffed myself yet still had a bit of room to try the caramel and cheese popcorn at Garrett’s for dessert.

Going back to my room; along with having a very comfortable bed, I discovered a small bat on the windowsill outside! Kelly and I named him Cicero in honor of one of the Muni stops we passed on our way from O’Hare Airport, and proceeded to announce him Cornell ILC mascot. He was adorable and even yawned for us, showing tiny little fangs. Hopefully he is not injured as it is night as is still in the same position, since I checked with people familiar with the area and apparently bats are not that common. He is breathing though!

Though the weather improved- or our experience of it did- when we ditched our bags at the hotel, it was still hot and humid. But lo and behold, we experienced our first Mid-West thunderstorm! All of a sudden, thunder was crashing and bursts of lightening lit up the sky. The windy downpour was a damper on our plans of going to the park, but we can always do that tomorrow. For now, I am going to head to bed since alarms are being set early to make sure we get to Northwestern on time for our orientation. Sweet dreams!

First Day In Chicago: Check

I have to admit that flying isn’t one of my favorite activities. I have a fear of flying because I have a HUGE fear of crashing, even though I know the odds of a plane crashing are smaller than those of a car. However, this morning I put my fears aside as we boarded our first plane headed to the Twin Cities, Minnesota. From there we flew to Chicago to start off out ILC adventure.

We landed around two o’clock local time and were greeted by the sticky, warm air of the O’Hare Airport. After one of the smoothest baggage claim claiming I have ever experience we moseyed our way over to the CTA station to get the feel for the subway system here in Chicago. I must say the CTA trains reminded me of the Muni trains in San Francisco minus the slow and frequent lurking that Muni is known for. So we made it to our exit smoothly, and then walked 3 plus blocks to our BEAUTIFUL hotel--the Drake.

The weather was, well not California weather. Having family in Texas, I have learned that I am very lucky on the weather front and that fact was reiterated today walking to our hotel. Which made walking into the air-conditioned lobby heaven. After we changed out of sticky, wet clothes we met in the lobby to walk to dinner. We were accompanied by two West Contra County grads who currently live in Chicago. While we waited the 45 minutes to be seated the two grads explained what brought them to Chicago.

After dinner we attempted a tour of Michigan Street but were defeated by thunderstorms and rain. I was honestly not expecting rain, even though Don had sent us the forecast. I would have to say that the weather that created us in the airport and out of the subway station did not suggest that it would rain later in the day.

I have to admit that the brevity of the blog is due to my lack of sleep. As many of my cohorts mentioned we met outside of El Cerrito High School this morning at 3:15 and now it is 10:40pm local time. I am not a plane sleeper so I am running on very little sleep. Tomorrow the great 8 (my fellow cohorts and myself) will be attending a Northwestern University tour and info session followed by a dinner with the admissions officer for California, so I am signing out of the night.

Until tomorrow, over and out blog readers

Hello Chicago

It is still Tuesday.

It’s still Tuesday, the same day I woke up tired and groggy after sleeping for two hours, the same day we all met at El Cerrito High School in the dark and said goodbye to our families, the same day we left for SFO at 4 in the morning, the same day we ate lightly salted peanuts while staring out at the feathery clouds, the same day we got off the plane in Minneapolis in cloudy weather and got back on the plane to go to Chicago.

These moments are peculiarly distant now. In less than 24 hours, we have been in three different states. We have experienced fresh cool air and humid raindrops. We have experienced both thunder and lightning, glaring light and dull overhead clouds.

So much has happened, and it is still Tuesday.

Today we met two of Ms. Neal’s friends who were both WCCUSD graduates and who live in the Chicago area. They showed us around the city, brought us to eat Giordano’s pizza and Garrett popcorn, and danced with me in Forever 21. They also suggested we walk to Millennium Park to see Buckingham Fountain lit up at night, but since it was raining pretty hard and because the wind was getting cold, we ended up walking back to our hotel, The Drake, and had a blogging party instead.

We are all tired now, but we plan on visiting the beautiful beach across the street from our hotel still. We also plan on visiting Millennium Park and getting Kevin to teach us how to ballroom dance in the ballroom. It won’t be today, but we plan on doing these things before leaving for Ithaca.

Terilyn’s (Personal) Random Observations for 6/21:

· Many girls in Chicago wear pretty long skirts that are kind of hippie

· The humid weather in Chicago feels like weather in Taiwan

· Minneapolis has a lot more trees than SF does

Look what the wind blew into Chicago, IL 2011…

That’s right, students from West Contra Costa Unified School District and myself, their chaperone.

We had an early morning flight from San Francisco to Minnesota. After a short layover, we landed in the windy city of Chicago at O’Hare International Airport. The students and I quickly got a lesson in transportation and learned how to take the L (Elevated Train) from O’Hare to our hotel. I had to give our students a quick lesson in Chicago etiquette, with all of our luggage, on how to get on and off the train without being trampled. We were able to seamlessly transfer from the Blue to Red Lines and arrived in downtown Chicago. We are in the lovely and historic Drake hotel.

After settling in for a moment of rest and relaxation we were off to meet two wonderful WCCUSD graduates with advanced degrees. Ms. Stephanye Johnson graduated from Richmond High School in 2003 and received her degree from Chico State in 2009 in Art with a specialization in painting and print making. Ms. Johnson currently teaches art in an afterschool program in Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Ms. Donielle Robinson graduated from Richmond High School 2000. She graduated from UC Davis with a degree in Community and Regional Development. She received a master’s degree in social work from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is a social worker in CPS. They were excited to meet with the students and share their current and past experiences as students. The students asked questions and shared the process they endured in order to get into this wonderful program. They all showed enthusiasm as they took pictures as well as the sights and sounds of Chicago. We all shared a wonderful dining experience at Gioridano known for their deep dish pizza. The students enjoyed meeting people who could relate to WCCUSD experience. Our tour guides then took us to Michigan Avenue and shared some of their Chicago experience. Many of the students discussed their future goals and plans. Some were interested in art and psychology. It was also a time that allowed me to get to know the students better. They were great sports when we were caught in the rain and were delighted to get back to the hotel. We look forward to seeing Millennium Park and eating at Spagio as well as our tour of Northwestern University. We can’t wait to see where the wind will blow us tomorrow as we explore the great town of Chicago.

Chicago the Head-Spinner

When I initially thought I was going to get at least some minutes of rest before our journey, I was completely wrong. Throughout the whole night, all I could think of was the adventure we would soon embark upon, and in a matter of mental minutes, my mom was trying to wake me up to head off to El Cerrito.

Once my family and I arrived at ECHS, I was absolutely tired as we got last-minute items from Don and weighed our luggage. We took a final group photo against the wall and were distributed contact information and other important things. Then after we said our final goodbyes to our family, it was off to SFO for our flight to Chicago.

The fact we were all fatigued became prevalent in the shuttle that transported us the airport. With almost drop-dead silence, it seems as if we all wanted to try and get as much rest as we could before touching down in Illinois.
A look at our line at SFO for our flight.
Unfortunately, the fact I’m still not as used to flying as my other cohorts came back to haunt me on my flight as motion sickness ran through my body in the most uncomfortable ways possible. While I can still feel its effects continue even as I write this blog, it is, as odd as it sounds, part of the whole learning experience.

A beautiful shot right from the
exit of our station.
Despite the little sleep and sickening feelings I collected on the plane, stepping out onto O’Hare did not energize me, but invigorate me. The excitement and energy of stepping onto one of the nation’s busiest airports and eventually one of the nation’s busiest railway systems, the L, was truly awe-inspiring. The L, although one of the busiest rapid transit transportations I have ever seen, is extremely efficient. The stops and routes are elaborate and extensive and stations pass by almost every five minutes.

After conquering the rail’s intricacies, we stepped out of the station and enjoyed a wonderful view of the Chicago skyline. A few blocks from the station was the hotel we will be expected to stay at for the next three days, the Drake. The Drake Hotel lies in the heart of the Magnificent Mile, which is a famed commercial piece of Chicago Avenue.

Once check-in was complete and we got our room assignments, we went back down to be toured by Stephanie and Tanya, two WCCUSD graduates who now live in the Chicago area. Our first stop was a famed pizza joint titled Giordano’s. We split ourselves up into two tables at the restaurant as the adults claimed their own. I was hungry throughout the day and I was finally glad to get a bite of something to eat. However, we were all overwhelmed and surprised with how heavy a deep dish pizza can be. We simply didn’t expect for so many leftovers to remain available for scraps!

After our greatly fulfilling meal, we took a quick stop to the popular Garrett’s for some of that sacred popcorn that only Chicago can deliver.
The pizzas that arrived for the guys of the group.
As we were about to visit Millennium Park, rain started to pour and the scheduled thunderstorm kicked in. While the weather beat us this time, we’ll be trying our best not to let us and our plans be defeated.

Our first day in Chicago has been very jam-packed and our next two days should be able to end of the same great note as tonight has.

Nine to Ithaca, Please

The instructions that our Cornellians were given was that they were to be at El Cerrito HS at 3:15 in the morning to prepare to wing their way east to Minneapolis, then to Chicago and finally to Ithaca.

There’s an unofficial game that is played where we mentally bet on who will be the first to arrive and who will get us to worrying whether they’re even going to show.

Jobel Vecino won the prize this time around when he arrived extremely early and had his entire family in tow to see him off.  Even though we all know who the last to arrive was, there’s never a need to alert the world.  As we’ve been telling our ILCers they have followers in more than 40 countries reading their blogs.  I’m betting that our friends in Nigeria and Estonia can get by just fine without knowing who was the last to arrive.

As each of our cohorts arrived they were quickly ushered over to the bazaar table where they could pick from an assortment of ‘loaner’ items they might need.  Laptop security cables, Ethernet cables, card readers, laundry bags, alarm clocks, extension cords, umbrellas, travel irons, flash drives, desk lamps and USB cables—what every traveler needs.

Their luggage was weighed, they were reminded about blogging and then the obligatory group photo for the ILC archives.
Look closely at this photo and the recurring theme is that everyone is wearing sweats.  This isn’t brought up as a commentary on their sartorial splendor but to point out that they chose sweat to wear because they were cold.  Some of the young ladies are even standing in such a manner that suggests they would be more comfortable inside a building or the airport shuttle.

The strange part of this is that here in the Bay Area right now we’re experiencing a heat wave and even though it was 3:30 in the morning, it was 76 degrees outside.  I’m standing there in shorts, sandals and an aloha shirt and I’m sweating while our ILCers are dressed in warm clothing and still look cold.  What’s wrong with this picture?

With all of the pleasantries concluded, hugs and tears all around, the luggage loaded on the van and the Cornellians packed in like sardines, at 3:57 AM the eight Cornellians and their chaperone headed to their waiting plane which would take them to Minneapolis for a brief plane swap before spending several days in Chicago visiting some of the nation’s finer Universities.

By the end of the week, though, they’ll be firmly entrenched in their dorm rooms at Cornell where half of them will study in the world-renowned Hotel Management program while the other half matriculate to the Freedom and Justice program.

These students will earn college credits while at Cornell and study in courses the same as if they were enrolled as regular Cornell students.

If these ILCers perform as well as those we’ve sent in previous years—and we fully expect that they will—the people at Cornell will know the caliber of student produced here in the WCCUSD.