| We weren't off the runway yet when overhead compartments started popping open and a few passengers were bolting down the aisle toward the door. The flight attendants had their hands full getting everybody back into their seats and keeping them there until we were at our gate. Once the plane stopped moving, all hopes of an orderly exit were gone. We put on our coats, grabbed our small bags, and waited in the aisle for everyone in front of us to unpack their stuff from the compartments and start moving.
We followed the endless corridors to immigration. There was one line for US citizens, and about ten lines for everybody else. We passed all of the "everybody else" lines - which were mobbed - and walked right up to the bored agent in the "US citizens" line. He flipped through our passports, stamped them on the last page, and as he handed them back to us he muttered, "Welcome home."
Not many other people had cleared immigration by the time the baggage carouselle started moving. Right away we started seeing suitcases that looked like they'd been smuggled from Stonehenge. Obbie's pack showed up right away, with one end of the waist strap torn loose from the body of the pack. Since a shoulder strap is attached to each end of the waist strap, that pack would only have one functioning shoulder strap for the remainder of our trip.
We had to wait a long time for RoZ's pack. Meanwhile, tiny Indian women reached for bags twice their size on the carousel, but the weight of two or three other bags always seemed to keep the target pinned into position, and it would escape for another lap around the carousel. We heard the clang of pots and pans as one case landed on the carousel. We felt like we were travelling with a plane load of refugees. Maybe we were.
Once the baggage claim ordeal was behind us, we braced ourselves for the customs ordeal. On the plane we'd been given a form to fill out. We had to list all the countries we'd visited, and make an inventory of all the loot we were bringing back from those countries. When we got to customs, the agent took the form from us, said "thank you," and sent us on our way.
Somewhere between the plane and baggage claim we'd latched onto a baggage cart, and with one of our packs out of order we planned on clinging to that cart as long as possible. By this time it was 8:30 in Chicago, or 2:30am in London, so were were getting tired and cranky. We took the automated train to the other side of the airport and made our way to the 'L' station. An escalator marked the end of the line for our trolley (uh, baggage cart), but we still had to deal with what looked like another half-mile of corridor.
We finally got to the station and found the ticket machines. Fare is $1.50 ... no change given. We had plenty of American money, but all we had were 20's, and there was no change machine in sight. RoZ watched the packs while Obbie scrambled back to find change. Once we got on the train we fumed for a bit about how ridiculous it was that you can't buy a train ticket from a machine or a human that can make change. The ticket dispensers in the London Underground were wonderful. In New York you can buy subway tokens from a human in a bullet-proof booth. Chicago can't be more dangerous than New York, can it?
Even though our train sat still in the airport for another ten minutes, the airport hysteria was gone once we were on it. As we studied the system map posted in our car, we noticed that its design is much the same as the London Underground map we were working from a day earlier. Between Chicago, New York, London and Paris, the design of the rail system maps is pretty consistent. Once you've learned to read one city's map, it's pretty easy to figure out the others.
We retraced our steps from September and recognized the smell of the breeze off Lake Michigan as we walked from the station to our motel. By the time we got to bed at around midnight, we'd been up for 22 hours. Sunday felt like two days, one in London and one in Chicago. We slept well until about 5, when our biological alarm clocks (still set to London time) started trying to wake us up. We kept hitting the snooze button until about 8:30.