Thursday, February 28, 2008

Chicago Visit was an adventure

This first published February 28, 2008 in the Henderson Home News, a Community Newspapers of Nevada publication.

A few thoughts after a winter week in the Windy City.
First off, if you are from Chicago or any of the surrounding suburbs and now living in Southern Nevada, I don’t ever want to hear you complain about the roads or traffic here. Before leaving for Chicago, my biggest concern was dealing with snow. Even though I learned to drive on the snowy roads of Northern Nevada, I was still a bit apprehensive.

To my surprise, the greatest challenges of driving in and around Chicago were the monstrous potholes the size of swimming pools. While staying in the suburb of Oak Park, I encountered one intersection at West North Avenue and North First Avenue on the border of Melrose Park and River Forest that made the back roads of Africa seem tame. Actually I’ve seen 4x4 trails in Nevada less intimidating.

It was quite a sight, waiting three light cycles to reach the intersection, then watching vehicles of every shape and size swerving, rocking and bouncing to negotiate the moon like terrain of the crossroads.

I’ve often been told how beautiful Chicago is by several former Chicagoans now living here in the desert Southwest. Granted, Chicago did appear much nicer when my bride, Donna, and I were there in late August dropping our daughter Brenna off at school. It must be the winters that drive folks to Las Vegas from the Midwest.

Have you ever noticed people in Chicago don’t smile in the winter?

The locked Apple experience
While Donna and I were there this week to visit Brenna, I was given the challenge of removing a cable lock from her laptop that a roommate’s father was kind enough to give to her to secure her computer. It worked really well until the key was lost and the cable had to be cut. She was tired of walking around with a laptop that looked like it belonged on a stolen property list.

We planned a trip into the city, to the Apple Store on Michigan Avenue, to get the lock removed. After arriving at the store, we did the customary login at the Genius Bar – or for non-Applephiles, the service counter –where we learned it would be about an hour’s wait.

That would give enough time to walk down Michigan Avenue and grab some lunch. Even though it was about 6 degrees with wind chill, the sun was shining and the sights were amazing, even though no one was smiling.

In the end, our trip to the city would be fruitless, because the lock was more sophisticated than the Apple Genius.

What to do? Hit the Internet and start looking for locksmiths, of course! After a few calls, that plan, too, looked discouraging. None of the locksmiths had ever removed a lock from a laptop computer. However, one suggested I reinstall the software because that’s what he does when he gets locked out of his laptop.

Clearly he was thinking of the wrong kind of lock.

The situation was getting desperate, so we turned to the Internet searching “computers locks” and “removing lock from laptop,” where we found a video of a guy removing a similar lock. We gathered up the materials needed from the video, which consisted of an empty toilet paper roll, some tape and scissors.

It didn’t work, so I won’t bother explaining how it was supposed to work. So much for the Internet. Turns out half of the businesses we looked up on the 'net in the Chicago area were out of business.

I suggested we actually stop at a lock shop, so the locksmith could see the lock. Brilliant, ehh! We did, and the guy had a picker that could work on this type of key slot.

Still, after about 15 minutes, he gave up and said, “Sorry can’t help you.” There must be an easier way, so I convinced Donna to let me buy a hacksaw. Yes, I asked her permission, because we have this agreement when it comes to
me buying tools. I have too many already that I don’t use. She agreed, and we were off to Sears to buy a $6 saw, plus $4 in extra blades, because this lock must be made out of some kind of super steel that
would dull the teeth on the toughest blades.

With saw in hand, I suggested while the girls were in the mall I’d hang out in the car to work on cutting the lock off. Surely, it would take time and patience. Wow, within 30 seconds the lock was off without a single scratch on the computer.

Frankly, I’m still kicking myself, because I could’ve bought a single blade to do the job. On second thought, I have one more tool I won’t use, but hey, it’s from Chicago.

Ice on the lake

One of the most beautiful sights in Chicago in the winter has to be the ice on Lake Michigan. Its illusionary sight is hypnotic in some ways. The eye is unable to find a focal point, making it look never-ending. This is highlighted by harbor ice broken up by an icebreaker that glistens like floating diamonds in sunshine.

Polar Adventure Days
Finally, we went to the Polar Adventure Days at Northerly Island, where kids and parents were treated to horse-drawn wagon rides, ice sculpting, arts and crafts projects, live owls, several Siberian huskies to pet and many other fun things to do in near-polar temperatures.

I did pick up a handy travel tip before I left, and it paid off for us. A
friend suggested we fly into Rockford on Allegiant Airlines. Although it’s
80 miles from Chicago, it’s a lot less hectic than O’Hare International
Airport, and the flights are cheap. We had to rent a car anyway, so it
worked out well.

Tim O’Callaghan, co-publisher of the News, can be reached at 990-2656 or