Vacations are hard work. You can spend a lot of time carefully planning out the itinerary and packing appropriately for what the weathermen and weatherwomen predict, but something will always go wrong. I have a bit of a track record for minor misfortune on trips. Approximately all of my adventures turn into a series of mishaps, and my trip to Kanye’s hometown last week was no different.
Many people questioned my venture to Chicago in the middle of April for seemingly no reason, and my answer didn’t seem to clear much up. Something you should understand about me is that I will take a trip for just about anything. If someone wants to go on some excursion, I will neither deny him or her that nor will I let it go until it happens. Positive and persistent is the name of the game.
My sister is an accountant, so when Tax Season (is that a proper title?) ended April 15th, she wanted to get out of town for a few days. Additionally, she is embarking on a cultural pilgrimage to see the Rangers play in every ballpark. They just so happened to be playing at Wrigley Field last week, which just so happens to be in Chicago, the hometown of my musical and personal hero, Kanye West. Say no more.
You should know that there is no bigger Kanye fan in the world than me. I know a lot of people say that about artists they love, but I’m not just saying that. I own over 230 of his songs, be those album tracks, B-sides, unreleased demos, features on other peoples’ songs, what-have-you. I cried both times I saw him live. I wrote my senior Religion thesis at TCU on the spirituality of his 2011 album with Jay-Z, Watch the Throne. I have the unique and annoying ability to quote him in almost every situation; I’m basically a human encyclopedia of Kanye quotes and facts. I might know more about his life than him (a stretch, I know).
The night before departure, rather than spending time looking at weather forecasts and packing my bags to carry-on perfection, I did what any sensible person does when they’re traveling to the city where their favorite artist grew up: I researched and created a log of Kanye quotes to be able to caption all of my Chicago pictures to perfection.
And guys, I nailed it. Every picture had such perfect captioning of my Chi-nanigans (see what I did there?) that you could bet Kanye probably wrote the line in the same place I took the picture. A famous pizza place that has served the likes of Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z, and Beyoncé even tweeted me back about my caption at their restaurant. Kanye and I are obviously connected on some deeper level of the soul than any onlooker could understand.
Now with such great captioning, you must think that our trip went off without a hitch. But you forget that you’re dealing with a guy who will commit to such trivial matters as picture captioning that he forgets to plan the rest out.
Some highlights of our lows:
Emily and I went to the Rangers-Cubs game severely underdressed for the cold, as I did not have the time to research weather conditions due to my extensive lyric research project.
We walked to Millenium Square from our hotel after being told it was a “few blocks away” which translates to an hour on foot. And don’t forget the rain.
We refused to buy an umbrella in the pouring rain, but ended up snatching one from a couple who left The Book of Mormon early after being offended (a rare victory for us, actually).
We failed to eat before the Second City comedy show, and only found an open Cheesecake Factory at 11 p.m. that refused to serve us for twenty minutes in protest to us showing up thirty minutes before they closed (which actually ends up being on their cheesecaked hands, not ours).
We went to the Field Museum with tired feet, complaining the whole 2-3 hours unless we were looking at dinosaur fossils. Pro tip: Don’t go to the Shedd Aquarium to look at live animals and then go to the Field Museum to look at taxidermy animals. It’s very anticlimactic, and the Museum sincerely doesn’t want you tapping on the glass to make the stuffed animals move (lesson learned).
We went to a couple of art museums, including the Art Institute. After failing to find the Picasso exhibit for a couple of hours, I asked someone who looked like a friendly attendant.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” I politely interrupted her daydream, “Where is the Picasso part?”
“Do you mean the Picasso exhibit?” she sassed.
“Yes, where the Picasso paintings are,” I returned.
“Try the double doors up the stairs with the big sign that says PICASSO,”she snapped, inflecting ‘Picasso’ to make it sound like a dirty word.
Suffice it to say, I could not enjoy the Picasso exhibit because I kept returning to retorts I should have given the woman. “Thanks, I hadn’t gotten that far,” I kept muttering under my breath. “I could’ve sworn the sign that says Picasso lead to the Rembrandt exhibit, but you’re right.”
When all was said and done though, the biggest disappointment was that I did not get to see Kanye’s childhood neighborhood. On the last day of our trip, Em and I went to see the University of Chicago. On the way back, we had the brilliant idea to convince our cab driver to go through Southside on the way to the airport.
But this was not to be. “We need to go to our hotel to get our bags,” I told the large Ugandan driver. My sister gave me a look to keep going. “Umm. And. Also. Could we perhaps go through Southside on the way there?”
The man turned and looked at me. “What?”
“The thing is,” I began, “I am the biggest Kanye fan in the world, and I was kind of hoping to see where he grew up.”
The driver laughed, and turned back around. “You don’t want to go there,” he said, and headed for the hotel.
There’s something about humans that lets them get easily hung up on disappointments. People are only full of so many chances for others before they give up and write someone or something off.
All of the little hang-ups in Chi-City did nothing to stop my big sis and me from having the time of our lives (this is Ben Taylor you’re talking to—I could have fun with a pile of dirt), but I can guarantee they would ruin someone else’s day. Some lady on our flight to Chicago complained to anyone with ears that she was late flying in, as if the rest of us weren’t arriving at the same time as her. The couple next to me at The Book of Mormon left thirty minutes into the musical because they were so offended they couldn’t stick around for the message behind the vulgarity. Our cab driver on the last day knew too much about Southside to even drive through it for me.
And I have a sneaking suspicion that some of you read that I love Kanye, and shut down to anything I might say about him. He offends you, doesn’t he? The mentioning of his name pulls you back five years to that incident with Taylor Swift, or a few years before to that incident with Katrina, or any incident at all that involved Kanye on national television. To many, he is nothing but an arrogant child that can’t keep his mouth shut.
But Kanye West has done more for me than a lot of people in my life. Here is a man who grew up middle-class in Chicago, but still managed to speak out against the murder happening in his city while other rappers boasted about killing others. Here is a man who was told for years he couldn’t rap and now has released 7 albums, won 21 Grammys, and is notorious for releasing classic after classic. Here is a man who got famous for a song about his walk with Jesus, and then spent the rest of his career being criticized by Christians while he continued to search for God in his misery. Here is a man who lost his mother and all four of his grandparents in one year, and wrote an entire album about what it’s like to have everything in the world in the way of fame and girls and money, and yet have nothing at all.
Here is a man who is a human being in a world full of fakes.
He’s the sole reason I started rapping and doing spoken word, a large part of the reason I started writing, and the reason I don’t see people as good or bad, right or wrong, but both good and bad and right and wrong and totally and fully human. Imagine that: I was inspired by someone I don’t idolize as a god, but by someone I believe points me to God.
You don’t have to love all of a person or a place or a thing to learn from it. The world isn’t so simple, and people certainly aren’t. Vacations are wonderful things that often contain many small mishaps, but those mishaps are part of what makes them so great. In the same way, people are complicated beings that often contain many big mistakes, but those mistakes are part of what makes us human. Last week I saw the home of someone who taught me to love where I am and who I’m with, regardless of what goes wrong. It was truly an experience to remember.
If you don’t know by now, I’m talkin’ bout Chi-town.