Each time I travel to a new place, I try to seek out one tiny detail to remember that can be mine and mine alone. Something you’d never read about in a guidebook or see in a slideshow. It’s proof to myself that I was there, that I took the time to notice the little things.
I don’t usually share my tiny detail, because I like for it to remain mine. But just this once, here is the detail I found in Chicago: Hidden in a dusty nook of a lower trestle on the underside of the DuSable Bridge, you’ll find a pair of old boots. They look well cared-for, though worn, and protected as if they may be one of someone’s few worldly possessions. I don’t know how a person even gets to the spot where these boots are. You have to climb. You have to break laws. You have to hang 40 feet above the river. I don't know if they’re loved or forgotten about. And I don’t know who left them there. I do know that whoever it was valued these boots. They worked hard to hide them and if it weren’t for the fact that the midday sun reflected just so off the aquamarine Chicago River to illuminate the underside of the bridge, I, just like nearly everyone who has ever visited or lived in Chicago, would have missed them.
Details like these make me feel like rather than just seeing a place, I've somehow experienced it. They help me transform memories of that experience from just a collection of magazine-glossy impressions with guidebook copy into a real place that was built with human hands and lived in by people just like me.
The next time you go somewhere new, or even somewhere you’ve been 100 times, see if you can spot the hidden details waiting for you. Make them yours. Be grateful for the grit they put on a place. And if you ever find yourself on a boat tour of Chicago and the guide is pointing out the six different shades of English terra cotta that gleam from the facade of Charles Beerman’s Wrigley Building, take a second to turn the other direction, open your eyes, and meditate on the mystery of a dusty pair of boots.