Chicago vs. Madrid

Thu, Apr 23, 2009


As you may know I spent last week vacationing in Madrid.

Both the Spanish capital and the Windy City are finalists in the competition to host the 2016 Olympics, together with Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro. The winner will be announced Oct. 3rd – and this is one Olympic competition in which there is only a gold medal.  The runners-up go home, with empty hands, shattered dreams, and millions spent in search of illusory glory.

I don’t know what factors the illustrious members of the IOC take into consideration when deciding upon a host city.  Infrastructure? History? Politics? How well the would-be hosts schmoozed and flattered the self-important nonentities who become big shots every four years?  Promised benefits, of whatever kind?  Ancient slights, or future favors?

Who knows?  We don’t, and their Olympian majesties aren’t about to tell us. 

But if mundane considerations such as airport adequacy come into play, Chicago is…well, let’s consider the words of Doug Moe, who coached the Nuggets when his weak, underachieving, and injured team, seeded 8th, were to face the mighty Lakers, seeded 1st.

Asked how he assessed his team’s chances in the series, Moe was blunt.

“We’ve got no shot,” he said, provoking howls of wrath from the NBA powers-that-be, which then as now brooked no deviation from the sportspeak party line, e.g. “We’re putting it all on the line, We have respect, but anything can happen, We’re professionals, and we know what to do, blah blah blah.”

But Moe was right.  The Nuggets were swept, and the Lakers cruised to the NBA title.

Based on two very recent experiences with Chicago’s O’Hare and Madrid’s gleaming new airpalace-I mean airport-Chicago isn’t even in the same league. If an airport can be still beautiful, as was Eero Saarinen’s 1950’s TWA building at New York’s Idlewild, Madrid passes that test.  It’s also clean, user-friendly, efficient, and sensibly engineered-especially for international arrivals and departures.

O’Hare, by comparison, is old, cramped, poorly designed, dirty, inefficient, and slow-especially for international arrivals and departures. Combine its inherent inefficiency with the callous bureacracies which “serve” travellers-customs, immigration, the TSA-and you have a supremely miserable travel experience. 

How miserable?  Try this-we exited our Madrid-Chicago cattle car at 2:00 PM, with plenty of time, so we thought, to catch a flight to Denver at 4:30.  We missed the flight. 

But the Lords of the IOC will see none of it-they’ll be flying first class, met by retainers, and whisked away.  They’ll have a classic Potemkin village experience-shielded from the misery of the serfs. 

But for us, the Americans who might actually go to the Chicago games, none of that matters.  We’re used to the chaos and inefficiency of domestic air travel, and Chicago’s a lot closer, and a lot cheaper, than Madrid or Tokyo, especially by car.

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1 Comments For This Post

  1. Scott Hente Says:


    You’re absolutely right about O’Hare. My wife and I had a similar circumstance to yours in 2007, only we were coming in from London. We barely made our connecting flight to the Springs (only after running from the TSA idiots to our gate) but our luggage didn’t.

    But not all overseas airports are perfect either. maybe will have a day when international air travel is painless, but I’m not holding my breath.