Chicago, IL 2018


Friday March 2

Delayed. Ten minutes. Sitting at the gate looking at the sign for my flight to Chicago. In the meantime, let’s look at how I got here. Last year, at just about this date, El and I were on our way to New Orleans. We opted to take the bump not once, but twice. And when all was said and done, we had scored two, ticket price+incentive, travel vouchers leaving each of us with $451 in travel credit on Southwest Airlines. Hey, we were stoked with the voucher, not taking the time to read the terms & conditions. El was able to use her voucher for her trip to Florida in January, but I didn’t go on that trip. Then, about a month ago, I came across the unused vouchers and put a message on Facebook to see if anyone had a plan to buy a ticket before it expired in March. Until one of the commenters pointed out that with these vouchers usually the travel has to be completed by the expiration date. Sadly, I pulled out the voucher and zeroed in on the fine print only to see it confirmed in writing that the travel had to be completed by March 8. Well, who books a trip that will be completed within two weeks? I knew that I would have use it myself or the voucher would go to waste. I got on the internet and opened up Southwest and Pollstar and checked out some options. Where could I go to see a show? Also taking into account that I wanted a nonstop flight as I didn’t want to spend a lot of time in airports. Southwest flies out of Albany, but it is not a hub, obviously. So, my options were limited. Chicago, Denver, Baltimore, Orlando and a couple others. Then, I had to see which flights amount of the vouchers could cover and I settled on Chicago. I immediately reached out to a few people from my past and got the ball rolling. Unfortunately, one of the people I reached out to would not be in town. “I never leave this city,” he said…”except that weekend.” I was going to have to move forward as I had no chance to postpone the trip for another weekend. I tried to get El to join me, but her work schedule prevented it and I bought my ticket solo. The plane takes off ten minutes late and sitting at the gate I am getting real time updates from Cliff who will be picking me up at the airport in Chicago later this evening. He is keeping an eye on it and I am updating him as we progress. We pick up some time in the air and actually end up landing a few minutes ahead of schedule. Somewhere around 7:00pm. It turns out that Midway is about an hour (on public transport) south of downtown. Cliff lives about an hour (on public transport) west of downtown. So, the ride, on a good day is not just a quick skip from airport to his house. I see that if I planned to take the train from the airport to his house I would have been at least a couple of hours. Cliff agreed to pick me up out of convenience. Cliff was my college roommate freshman year, and though I am sure there were typical roommate squabbles, I don’t remember any specifically and have nothing but good memories of the arrangement. He moved to a different dorm for our second year and eventually transferred to a university closer to home. I was able to keep in touch with him sporadically through the years, but it was a reconnection on Facebook a few years ago that has allowed us to keep up a little more seriously since then. It's been 28 years since I last saw him. As I walked out of the security area, there was no mistaking the tall gentleman who smiled and pointed at me and it was as if no time had passed.

how has it been 28 years??

I had no checked bags, so we headed to the car and got right on the road. Traffic was heavy, but moving and this gave us a chance to catch up. Spending most of the ride recapping some of the events in our lives in the interim, it was good to hear his story too. It turned out to be a longer drive than I expected, and about half way through, we called his local pizzeria to order our dinner. This is actually on my list (not the phone call, but to try “Chicago style pizza”) and we are about 30 minutes away. Once we arrive we wait for the order, continuing the discussion from the car. One of the things that struck me (in a good way) was a comment Cliff made about the condition of his car. He pointed out some plastic bags in his back seat, which I surely would not even have noticed, especially in the dark, and certainly wouldn’t have made an impression. But, this mention opened up a discussion about my time in Peace Corps when Cliff was a reader of my blog. He recalled an entry highlighting educating my neighbors on reusable bags at the grocery store and how to avoid using plastic bags. That was more than five years ago and he still remembers some of the content of that blog and that impressed me. I will not judge anyone for the condition of their car, or for how they make use of plastic bags, but I will judge someone who was interested enough in my blogging efforts while I was away- because I appreciated that support. We order two kinds of pizza, one “pan” which I think is a “deep dish” with sausage and fresh tomato and one “stuffed” with my choice of pineapple and ham. There was a little bit of an education factor for me. I have had “Chicago style” before, but I had no way to know if that was truly the way they do it in Chicago, or not. The two 8-cut pizzas total $48 and have to weigh close to 8 pounds- I would guess. These things were heavy.

what's all the argument? tastes pretty darn good to me!

I, like most others, have heard for years about the Chicago people disparaging New York pizza, while New Yorkers put down Chicago pizza at any opportunity. I wanted to go in with an open mind to try to give an honest evaluation of comparison and not be one of the naysayers who hold a negative opinion before taking the first bite. I am starving and ready for dinner.

We get to the house and I meet Greg for the first time. I am also introduced to the dogs, who behave most amicably during my stay. After a brief house tour, we break into the food. I start with my pick of pineapple and ham stuffed pizza. The thing is easily more than an inch thick and it gets served with a pie server. This and a Corona and I am on my way. After I finish this, I try a slice of the pan pizza. This one has sausage and tomatoes, though covered with cheese makes it look more like the stuffed pizza. I think the stuffed had an additional layer of dough on the top, sort of making the difference between an open to and crust topped apple pie. And after careful consideration, I don’t see why New Yorkers feel the need to put this style down. There was a lot of crust, so if you are more about the sauce, cheese, and toppings, I would think New York style would be more to your liking. This would be my only complaint, but if I can get past the amount of sauceless crust I was leaving plateside in favor of digging into a fresh wedge of the good stuff, it became less of a downside. An interesting contrast with the stuffed pizza compared to New York style is that when you order New York style with toppings, the toppings get distributed evenly across the top, whereas this seemed to have the bulk of the thickness come from the stuffing ingredients, becoming more of a topping sandwich between two crusts, and it can’t be eaten with your hands- a fork is compulsory, knife optional. The last thing on this subject is that no matter where you live in the US, you probably have your favorite pizza shop. I mean ask anyone in town their favorite place and you will surely get multiple answers. The factors in determining my favorite places revolve mostly around sauce flavor and topping quality. That said, to my mind, I would think if anyone in New York was to order a Chicago style pizza at their local pizza shop using the sauce and toppings that makes them your favorite, they would enjoy the pie. I still like my local shop’s pizza, but if they offer Chicago style, I might just order it- to test the theory. Thank you for the education, Cliff. Even though it was not a long trip, I am still a little beat from the travel and was good with a quiet night at home instead of venturing out to local watering holes. I enjoyed the time filling in gaps in the timeline of our 28 year separation. I was impressed several times with Cliff’s memory, recalling details from our first days at Syracuse. During the evening, I wanted to get a start on an outline of my weekend itinerary. Looking for some local recommendations, I rattle a few of the items off to Greg and Cliff, and I am surprised at how many items they collectively are not familiar with. Being my first trip to Chicago, I expect to see some of the big sites, but when I asked about Oz Park, neither of them knew of it. Cliff and I are booked for walking tours on Sunday, north of downtown. I have a commitment on Saturday at 3:00pm and would be hitting up the sites before then. Cliff was able to narrow some of the spots down for me as to which were better for Saturday and which for Sunday. Soon after midnight, we were calling it a night.

Saturday March 3

I wake a few moments before my 6:30 alarm. I shower and head downstairs. Cliff makes me a cheese and tomato omelette and some very tasty coffee. This is my last chance to narrow down my tourism list with Cliff. At 7:30 we leave to drop me off at the train station- trying to make a 7:55 train. I am a bit surprised how long the ride is, but Cliff tells me that there is a station in his town, but there is no stop on the weekends. We make it to the station in Elgin at 7:53 and Cliff briefs me as to which tickets to ask for and what questions to ask of the conductors. I make the train with a minute to spare. I am able to spread out my guidebooks and maps and notes and finalize my morning plan. The train ride is close to an hour and the ticket is $10, but it is good for the whole weekend. The fare is only good on the commuter rail and not on any of the CTA buses or metros. This evening I need to head out to the town of Elmhurst on the train, but that train leaves from a different train terminal a few blocks away from Union Station. As soon as I exit the train at Union Station, just so I know where I am going, I head past the Ogilvie Station that I need to leave from tonight. My first stop is the world’s tallest church. I wind up getting turned around and walk in the wrong direction for about five blocks before figuring it out and righting myself. I find the church, which looks a little strange as it looks more like an office building with a church spire on top. I had no plan on going into the building, I guess I just wanted a photo of the steeple. I walk up and down the block looking for a spot to take the photo from and I wind up taking it near an interesting, black, metal statue. I move on to the Cultural Center of Chicago to see their Tiffany dome. I arrive at 9:55 only to be asked by the receptionist to step outside and wait on the steps for the building to open at 10:00. Others are asked to do the same. I step outside as asked and keep and eye on the time. I went back in when my watch showed 10:00. I leaned my head in and asked if the time had come. She held up her hand, as if to say “hold up” as she checked her clock and as she stared at her desk with the hand up, I could see she was waiting for the seconds to count down. About 15 seconds later she looked up and waved me and the others in. I asked where the Tiffany dome was and was directed to the third floor. Unfortunately, the dome is located over a room that was roped off, making a straight on photo impossible. I did the best I could and got a few good shots of the beautiful ceiling.

Tiffany dome

Moving on, I head to Millennium Park to see the Cloud Gate installation (locally known as “the bean”). It was pretty neat to look at and as you walk around the piece you keep getting a changing view of the city skyline. There are a lot of people all around it, all doing the same thing...taking pictures. Of themselves and of friends. The day is gorgeous and the vision in the piece is very nice. According to my maps, the Art Institute of Chicago is just down the block. I make it to the door at 10:25, and they open at 10:30. As I get through the ticket line I am disappointed to see the sign proclaiming that American Gothic is currently on loan to The Whitney in NYC. I pay the $25 fee anyway, since I also want to see something called the Thorne Miniature Rooms exhibit. This exhibit is 68 dioramas of rooms that were created with painstaking detail, down to the identical type of wood used in the real furniture. The rooms are different historical periods and more interesting to look at than I even expected. Evidently, Mrs. Thorne collected miniature furniture and started building these dollhouse-like rooms to showcase her collection. She would travel the world and get ideas, one example was a postcard she mailed to a friend with a Persian design that she wanted her seamstress friend to recreate in miniature for a specific room. Because each room is behind a glass, I found it a little difficult to get great shots of them. You can see how they were installed into the wall and the glass had a wooden frame around it. It was hard to get a shot without glare or reflection from the glass.

Thorne Miniature Rooms exhibit

Thorne Miniature Rooms exhibit

Thorne Miniature Rooms exhibit

Thorne Miniature Rooms exhibit

After I was done, I went to the impressionist wing and saw many paintings by many names I recognized. Turns out that this museum has one of the largest impressionist collections in the world. Several van Gogh, Manet, Gauguin, Cezanne, even a couple of pieces by Harmenszoon van Rijn- who knew Rembrandt was his first name? I think there were only one or two that were the definitive works by the artist. They have several van Gogh’s, but The Starry Night is not among them. A few Rembrandt’s, but not The Night Watch. And dammit, no American Gothic! But, I did see a recognizable Picasso, Andy Warhol, and Seurat. And, let me put it to you this way, I spent less than 30 minutes in the Louvre, and was absolutely happy with that while I spent just shy of two hours here! Sure, others spend a whole day here, but I did see more notable stuff than I expected. Photos were allowed (without flash) and I got a few pics.

Rembrandt...I mean, Harmenszoon van Rijn



I leave the museum and try to figure out how to get to the Museum of Surgical Science. The bus costs $2.50 cash per ride, exact change only. I am able to ask a woman at the bus stop which bus I need to go to the museum uptown. She explains my options, none of which are from this stop. I have to walk a few blocks to catch the 151 bus. Once I do, I am easily able to follow along on the map and get off at the closest stop. It takes about 20 minutes. I find the museum, which is part of the Surgical College. Once inside, I learn of the $17 entrance fee! Thinking that this had better be a good exhibit, I pay and head inside. There are three floors to visit and as I make my way through the first one, my expectations begin to slide quickly. It turns out to be a big disappointment. A lot of the museum is paintings of medical procedures, displayed tastefully, but I was expecting more of a collection of body parts in jars and photos of medical pathologies. Even the displays of medical equipment was a bit stale: an early 1900’s dentist’s chair and a tray of civil war era limb amputation tools. Nothing I haven’t seen before, but frankly the American Funeral Museum exhibit on medical history was more interesting and comprehensive. I was hoping for more like Mütter Museum, less like art institute. While it is sort of interesting to see how an apothecary operated back in the day, when you’ve been to the Museum of Pharmacy in New Orleans, you really can’t top that for detail and completeness of collection. For my $17 I wish I could have stayed longer to get my money's worth. Alas, I was getting hungry and needed to catch a bus back downtown to meet the Weird Tour at 3:00. I have picked a place for lunch, but as it is close to 1:20 now and I fear getting to the restaurant, eating, and getting back to the meeting spot will be cutting too close. Instead, I opt for a place near the meeting spot called Portillo's. It seems like a cross between and food court and a cafeteria and I want to see what a “Chicago style hot dog” is. I am instantly in love with Chicago style hot dogs. Unless you specify otherwise a “Chicago style” automatically comes with: mustard, raw chopped onion, sliced tomato, an unnaturally green relish, “sport peppers” which have the heat and flavor of pepperoncini, a wedge of dill pickle, and a pinch of celery salt. The dog is served on a steamed, poppy seed bun.

a Chicago style sausage

Being my first time, like a messy taco, I dropped more on the tray than went in on the first try. I think I will have a few more of these this weekend! I head next door to a bar called Stout to work on my journal until I need to meet my tour at 3:00. The beer selection is good, the music selection is not. I crank my headphones up to 10. At this point, I start to get some texts from friends of mine that are planning to go to the concert with me tonight. When I initially chose Chicago for my weekend jaunt, I saw that Y&T was playing at the Arcada Theater in St. Charles tonight. A big fan of ‘80’s rock, I reached out to an old friend Dave who lives in the Chicago area. When I mentioned the show, he offered to make some inquiries for tickets. I assured him, I was planning to buy them at the door, but that any help would certainly be appreciated. In the interim, it turns out that a friend of mine from Fairbanks, AK who I have spoken with on the phone and emailed countless times- but never met in person, was going to be in northern Indiana this week. When he heard that I would be in St. Charles tonight, he made his arrangements to come and meet up before the show. Between Dave keeping me apprised to the ticket situation and Steve keeping me updated with his plans and what he has learned about the taping situation at the venue, I am completely updated before my beer is done. Around 3:00 I head out to the next block to meet the tour group. As I stroll down to the meeting spot there seem to be way more people than I expected. Turns out that the tour has 44 people today. The school bus pulls curbside and we are checked in as we walk on. When I signed up for this tour, called “Devil & The White City,” I only saw/noticed the part of the tour that dealt with a lesser known serial killer named H.H. Holmes who was active in the late 1800’s. Being interested in the macabre nature of the subject, I was intrigued at the prospect of visiting his “murder castle”. I figured, if done properly, we could spend an entire tour inside a “murder castle”. As the bus pulls away and during his opening remarks, our very animated guide Eric asks a question that sets me back…”so”, he asks, “how many of you have read the book “The Devil In The White City” (by Erik Larson)? To my surprise, I appear, out of 44, to be one of only two who do not raise their hand! Book? What? What is that all about? He continues with his introduction and continues to explain that today’s tour will all be to spots written about in the book. Hmmm. Will it be interesting enough for someone who has not read the book, I wonder. On the way to the first stop, we get a history lesson about the Chicago Fire. I learn, for the first time, that the story that everyone knows about Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicking over the lantern to start the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, is actually a myth and that the true cause of the fire is unknown.The first stop is a Fire Academy and Museum that today stands on the site of Mrs. O’Leary’s farm. Our next stop is the Hull House, where we get some seemingly true history and some some lame stories of possible hauntings. At this point I do start questioning some of his information and wonder if any of the tour will be interesting to me. Our next stop at the South Side Stockyards. At one time Chicago used to be a world leader in all things related to livestock processing, and this was the hub of activity. From the transport and housing of livestock to auctioning, butchering, and carcass disposal, hundreds of thousands of heads made their way through the yards during its prime. Standing on the grounds of the stockyards, much of the discussion relates to the smell and waste associated with the activities here. Evidently, the smell was enough to affect the downtown parts of the city. Our next stop is the first to mention Holmes and we pull up to a United States Post Office building. By this time, I have to pee pretty bad and upon the guide’s direction, I take advantage of the Aldi’s supermarket across the street for a restroom break. It only takes five minutes and I return to the group only to find that the guide continued the tour while me (and others) were in the bathroom. So basically, when I get back into the fold, he has already spoken about Holmes’ capture and the resulting police investigation into his “murder castle”! Really? I missed the explanation of the only thing I wanted to hear about on this tour?? I do hear the part that the castle burnt down many years ago and the the post office on the site is newer construction and not a repurposed house of horrors. There is supposedly a piece of the original basement still intact that no one that works in the post office will venture to, except one janitor named Don who will take curious explorers to the chamber that is said to have much “dark energy”. Of course, it is closed today, so the point is moot. There are a couple more stops in and around Jackson Park and mainly related to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. This was the time frame of the Holmes murders and somehow the book The Devil In The White City ties them all together, but having not read the book I don’t know if this is historical fact or speculation on the authors part. By the last stops of the tour, the air that started cool is now downright cold and some people opt to not even get off the bus at later stops. I have been keeping my eye on the time as the train out to Elmhurst to meet Dave is at 5:40. However, we are several miles south of the train station and to make it back on time is assuredly impossible. I text Dave that I will be on the 6:40 instead. At our last stop of the tour, we are told about the Japanese gardens that are located on an island in the park behind the Museum of Science and Industry. I make a mental note to look into checking that out. At $35 this was a disappointing tour. I seemed to detect more enthusiasm from the rest of the people on the tour, so maybe if I had read the book I would have a keener perspective on/interest in the information. We get back to the beginning of the tour around 6:15pm and I know I have to hustle to make the 6:40pm train. I run as much as I can with my backpack on and make the train with minutes to spare. Dave is only eight stops outside of downtown and I arrive at 7:12pm. I text Dave to let him know I had arrived and he was right there to pick me up. We spend the 20 minute ride to St. Charles catching up and reminiscing. Dave and I graduated high school together and I reconnected with him at a reunion 10 years ago. Through Facebook, I know more about him and his family then I would otherwise. He is genuinely a fun person to hang with and I hope to get the opportunity again. On the way to the show I learn that he is less familiar with Y&T than I expected and is interested enough to check them out, but not to commit to staying the whole show. We will see how the night progresses- though I wish I would have been able to make the 5:40pm train to have an extra hour to hang with him. On the ride, I get a message from Steve that he is at the venue waiting for me. He has decided not to go to the show at all and all of his efforts (coming from Indiana, getting the hotel room, coming to the theater) are just to put a face to the voice he has heard so many times on the phone. I walk in to the concourse area and as I am thinking about texting him, we spot each other at the same time. After brief introductions, Dave heads to get our tickets while Steve and I get acquainted.

meeting this guy for the only time in 24 years

We skip the opening act and at five minutes before 9:00pm, Steve heads out and Dave and I head in. The band is on at 9:00 sharp and plays just about 2 hours. About half way through, they play the only song Dave knows and likes, so his exit was expected. It was good hanging with him. For the rest of the show I weigh my options to get back to Cliff’s, where I will sleep. The show is over around 11:00 and as the show finishes, I pull a hail Mary and stand at the exit asking the next thirty or so people if anyone is heading in the direction of Pingree Grove. While a couple of people replied with “sorry, I am heading in the opposite direction”, more often my request was countered with, “where’s that?” and since I really don’t know, I had to be honest about that. Once the exodus had thinned, I walked across the street to a bar, ordered a beer and considered my limited options. I could call a taxi, or do what seemingly everyone around here does, call an Uber. While not opposed to Uber, my extremely brief experience with them in New Orleans was a bit sour. My maps tell me Cliff lives 19 miles from St. Charles, and I expect this will run at least $30-40. There is a friendly couple sitting next to me that have just come from the show. They were nice enough that there was a glimmer of hope that they might even take me on as a passenger on their way home. Sadly, they too had never heard of Pingree Grove and look it up to see they are not headed in that direction. I quickly download the app and literally within 5 minutes I have ordered my first Uber. The ride costs $21 and he picks me up in mere minutes. The driver is nice and we have good conversation on the ride. When I get home, Cliff is still awake and I stay up with him chatting about my day and our plan for Sunday. We call it a night and we are in bed just after 12:30.

Sunday March 4

Much the same as Saturday, I wake at 6:30, shower, but today I need to pack my backpack as I am not sleeping here tonight. Cheese and tomato omelette and coffee for breakfast. Say goodbye to Greg, as Cliff and I head to the train station again. Only instead of dropping me off, he parks and we go together. Catching the same 7:55am train into Union Station our first appointment is a free walking tour at 10:00am. The train gets in around 9:00 and we discuss a couple of things to see on the way to the meeting spot. Cliff asks if I had seen the Picasso statue yesterday. I told him I hadn’t and don’t know why I wouldn’t have seen that on my list. We walk to Daley Plaza to see the sculpture, and as we enter the plaza, I recognize it as the interesting, black, metal statue where I took my church spire photo yesterday. So, I had seen the sculpture, I just didn’t know that was what it was. We continue on to a bakery near to the meeting spot. Thinking that we will grab a cup of coffee while we wait, we walk in to the Magnolia Bakery and the first thing I see is a counter with several bakers working behind the glass. There are trays of miniature pies and cakes all in various stages of completeness (some waiting to be baked, some in line for frosting etc.) I lean in and ask one of the bakers what the bakery is known for. All of the items look so good and she tells me that banana pudding is what they are known for. I step up and order a small pudding while Cliff gets a hot drink. As I dig into the cup, I would say this is easily the best banana pudding I have ever tasted. No My-T-Fine here! This is made from scratch and has a rich banana flavor- with no hint of artificial flavoring. Just great. At 10:00 we meet up with the tour group and immediately the guide rubs me the wrong way. He was nice enough, but for example there are about 25 people on the tour and the first thing he wants us to do is have everybody introduce themselves, say where they are from, and also some interesting fact about themselves. I have taken many tours and in no cases do I ever become friends with others on the tours. I don’t care where they are from and I certainly don’t want to know if this is their first time in Chicago, if they are here for work, or they like cooking. The tour is mostly outside and we see government buildings, theatres, and some buildings that have significances such as the oldest skyscraper or a building that was so popular with business people wanting to be in it that they added two additional floors. The guide does not project is voice well and on the street it can be hard to hear his information. At some point we go in to Macy’s that has some Tiffany mosaics on the ceiling that you would probably miss it wasn’t pointed out. One of the other spots on the tour is the Cultural Center that I went to yesterday to see the Tiffany dome. The tour makes it as far as the lobby and we get our information here, but the guide tells us that he is not allowed to take the group upstairs to see the dome and if we want to see it, we will need to come back on our own. The next and last stop of the tour was in Millennium Park at the Cloud Gate.

the skyline changes as you move around it

Knowing we have another tour at 2:00, but that we need to eat and see Oz Park before we meet that group we make a quick exit to catch the “L” to the Lincoln Park neighborhood. The first stop we make is Oz Park. It is a small park dedicated to the writer of the Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum who spent many years in the neighborhood. The park has statues of a tin man, scarecrow, lion, and of course, Dorothy, complete with ruby slippers and Toto. No witch though. The park is small enough that it does not take long to walk through. Cliff went to school in this area and recommended a place for hot dogs around the corner. A little shop called Devil Dawgs whose menu is primarily sandwiches that revolve around some sort of tube shaped pork product. I order the Chicago hot dog and it is similar to the one I had yesterday. Complete with all the toppings on a steamed poppy hot dog bun. We meet the tour a few blocks away. Our guide, Hilary is great. Funny, personable, perky, engaging. Basically everything the last guy wasn’t. Highlights of the tour, for me, were the Biograph Theatre and the alley where John Dillinger was shot and killed, and the site of the St. Valentine’s day massacre- though that is just an empty lot as the actual garage has been long since torn down.

The Biograph Theatre where John Dillinger was killed by the FBI

She had good fun facts, and the tour was quite entertaining. We ended at the Lincoln Park Zoo (a free zoo). After the tour is done, Cliff has to catch his train out of Union Station and after walking a few blocks towards the “L”, our paths diverge and we say our final goodbyes. I head to a heavy metal restaurant called Kuma’s Too in the Lincoln Park neighborhood figuring it will be less crowded than their downtown location. As I walk in, believe it or not, the music is a little too extreme for me. Lots of death metal and grindcore that I simply have no appreciation for. I would much prefer Slayer or Metallica to this extreme stuff. My waitress sports a Misfits shirt, this is my kind of place. The beer selection is good, and I order the Slayer burger- which is a plate of french fries, with toppings of chili, caramelized onions, hot cherry peppers, and sausage, then a bunless burger is set on top and the plate covered with Monterrey jack cheese and scallions.

the Slayer burger at Kuma's Too

After I get through about one third of the plate I am struggling to continue. Knowing I will have no fridge tonight, I opt to continue to pick, knowing I will forfeit any unfinished portion. I check into my flight for tomorrow and learn that the concert I was planning to see tonight is now sold out. I will head after this to the hostel to check in and probably just go out tonight in the area of the hostel and try to make an earlier night.

I know that El would have had a good time if she was able to come with me on this trip, but I had a fun time learning about this city on my own, too. I take the “L” back downtown missing one train by mere seconds, I wait for the next which arrives soon after. I step onto the red line during but, the train does not move right away. I have my headphones at a level that I cannot hear anything going on around me- except maybe a nearby car horn. I am in my own world, literally. By the time I think that the train should have closed its doors by now, I look up and a young man gets up from his seat and walks to the door open door, I glance around the car and notice, what appears to be an altercation between the guy and another man, then a woman on the platform gets involved by yelling, I can’t hear anything, but the facial expressions and gesticulation lead me to believe something is happening. I remove a bud from my ear and from the sounds of it, the man must have caused some ruckus on the train in the stops just before I got into the car, to the point that police were called and it was those police that were preventing the train from leaving before extracting the man from the car. The only part of the exchange that I heard was when he was trying to plead his innocence with the cop and looking to people in the car to come to his defense. However, with the cop there, everyone seemed to turn on the guy in unison and start asserting their experience with his unruly behavior in the car. The guy now finds himself first arguing with the cop and now arguing with the people in the car. It is me, minding my own business, the guy, the cop trying to sort it out and about 12 people that were in the car to witness his antics. Sensing he is on the losing side of this, the guy throws a fit and exits the train. We are on our way…finally.

I find the hostel. It is a 17 floor building and I would guess it used to be an actual hotel. I requested a lower bunk as I do not do well with upper bunks if I can help it. The receptionist switches my room to accommodate. I go and get settled into the room and put my bag away in the locker. I also take this opportunity to make my bed so as not to disturb others if I come back later than them. Head down to the hostel's bar for an old fashioned and to do some research for tomorrow morning. The problem is that with my candle thoroughly scorched at both ends from the last couple of days and nights, at 7:30pm, my eyes are starting to get heavy. I am tired, it is cold out, and though my packed attire works for the daytime, it is woefully insufficient for the chilly evenings- at least in the next couple of hours. I think I may call it a night soon and hope for an early wake up and get out. A pair of shoes on the floor and a suitcase in the corner tells me I have at least one roommate tonight. I meet one guy in the room as he is on his way to checkout. All (up to four) of us will share a bathroom and it is nice and clean. I want to go out or at least get another beer at the bar, but I am exhausted from the walking today and the short sleeps the past two nights, so I guess I will go take a nap now, if not get the full nights sleep.

Monday March 5

I wound up going to sleep at 8:00pm last night and I slept right through until 6:15 this morning. I really was beat. There was one other young lady in my room last night and I did hear her come in, but she wasn’t inconsiderate with her noise levels. I have to catch the subway to the airport and am supposed to allow an hour for the journey. Flight is at 1:30pm- so I think I will be safe if I can shoot for 10:30 to head out. That’s probably too early, but obviously better safe on the early side. Free breakfast in the hostel starts at 7:30am, so I think with four hours to work with, I could fit another one or two stops from my list. No time to waste, I head to the Japanese Garden of the Phoenix. I find the red line subway (the same I will need for my trip to the airport. It is the same I came in on last night, but I was a little turned around and needed the map to locate the hostel. I take the red line to Jackson- isn’t the internet great? I just type in my destination and it finds me and tells me all of the modes of transport with approximate times. Turns out the gardens are a little more than eight miles away regardless of how you travel. As instructed, I exit the train and walk towards the bus. A couple of times I considered walking or taking the subway further and then walking from that stop, but my phone is now telling me that I will be on this bus for 21 stops. I am glad I thought the better of the walk. It is chilly this morning, much colder than the rest of my time here. It was supposed to rain today. It is a little overcast, but rain is not yet impending. I leave the rain gear in the bag, but grab the mittens. In retrospect, I should have bought a day or weekend transit card, but, I shortsightedly stick with my single trip fares, all the time reminding myself, this has got to be the last trip I will make on the visit, except it never was. The train is $3 per trip and the bus is $2.50 each ride. Hungry for breakfast, but not wanting to sit in a café or shop, and knowing that I will need exact change for the bus, I do a quick money check and see I could use a few one dollar bills as no change is given on the bus and I have a few coins, but no small dollar bills. A 7-11 is on this block and I try to think what item I could get that would result in exact change for the bus. Right on the counter when I walked in was a pile of single bananas, 2/$1. Perfect. I head across the street to the bus stop and review my bus number options and it looks like the 6 is an express with stops near the Museum of Science and Industry. It is the next bus that arrives and I confirm with the driver that he will stop where I expect. As I ride, it looks like the metro portion of the trip was completely useless. I could have caught the bus further north and not had to do the metro/bus combo. Thus would have saved $3 for that leg of the trip. As expected, I exit the bus at 60th street and walk to Wooded Island where the gardens are located. I understand from my White City tour that this garden started as an exhibit during the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 when Chicago actually invited countries from around the world to participate with exhibits of their own. Most of the prime real estate went to the countries that Americans were most comfortable with, which meant that by the time it was time Japan’s turn to get a designated area, only the least desirable sports were available. They embraced their assignment and built an exhibit called the Osaka gardens based on an actual garden in Osaka. An oriental pavilion was also constructed on the site and the exhibit was very well received, introducing many Americans to Japanese culture for the first time. The gardens were maintained well after the fair had ended and around the time of WWII when the Japanese were not exactly in America’s best graces, some people ventured to the island specifically to burn down the pavilion. I imagine the gardens were probably not left pristine either. Anyway, a few years ago, with a donation from Yoko Ono, the gardens were rebuilt to their prime and once again became a bit of nature surrounded by urban sprawl. The gardens are free to visit and once I got off the bus it was only moments before I was crossing the bridge to the gardens. The island is in Jackson Park and the signage lets me know I am on the right path. On my walk in, I come to the realization that as the date is March 5, the long winter has taken a toll on the grounds and while they will no doubt be spectacular in the spring proper, there is not as much floral beauty at this time. The grass patches are closer to yellow-brown than to lush green. There’s more bare than foliaged, and the water, while not frozen sports more fallen leaves than floating lilies. However, the stone paths, foot bridges, coy, and full size bonsai trees (funny, to see what looks like a full grown old tree in miniature), basically the parts that are not dependent on blossoming flora, were quite pleasing to look at and I can easily see that once the spring is ushered in in the coming weeks, when the blossoms start maturing, this could really be a beautiful place. It is barely above freezing this morning and I am obviously the only one around. I don’t dawdle and I make the loop through the gardens in a few minutes. I get a few pictures, though I fear there is not much exciting to see in them.

the peaceful, though cold, and not very lush, yet, Garden Of The Phoenix

I exit the Garden of the Phoenix and continue to walk through the rest of the nature preserve, but it is quickly obvious that the Japanese Garden has more hearty items than the rest of the grounds as signs around, alert us that planting is in progress. The brown will soon be replaced with green, but today, I think I will call this a mission completed and head back to the bus. I eat my bananas on the way out of the garden and catch the bus back to the loop/hostel to get a real breakfast and check out. The bus gets me as far north as Wacker Ave and Michigan. I walk the rest of the way to the hostel. My roommate has packed up and gone leaving me to pack without worry of disturbing her. I get everything into my bag and head down to the kitchen for the free breakfast that ends at 10:00. Most hostels seem to offer some sort of free breakfast, and the quality and offerings can vary widely. Some offer made to order omelets, some have hard boiled eggs for the taking, and this one offers bread, packets of dry oatmeal to be reconstituted with boiling water, and 3 varieties of cold cereal. I decide to pass and consider my options for a few seconds. It is about 9:30 now and I should be at the metro around 10:30. If I leave now I can run to the Navy Pier, which I assume has food vendors, grab some breakfast there and then head to the train. With my pack on my back, I check out and confirm my route. Navy Pier is on Grand Street and about a mile away from the hostel. As I walk towards the Pier it seems remarkably quiet- even with my headphones on, for a top tourist site on a Monday morning, there is nothing going on around here. I have come all this way, so I might as well see what the story is. When I go in, there is a manned information desk. I ask for any information she can give me about where I am. She tells me that there is a major construction project going on near the entrance, but that once you get beyond the partitions with “keep out” signs, the rest of the place will be open today. However, depending on what type of business it is, it will open between 10:00 and 11:00. There is some stuff open now, but not much. She gives me a map and I walk to find some food. I walk about five minutes and literally the only things open are McDonald's and a Starbucks cart. Some other eateries have people working doing preopen prep, but the farther I go the less activity I see. The Navy Pier, from what I can see reminds me of something like the Atlantic City Boardwalk or Santa Monica Pier. Lots of shops, lots of food, lots of family friendly activities, and a lot of fun (if you are into that sort of stuff) on a warm day (though this is partially enclosed and can be enjoyed year round). I look out and see some naval ships moored on the pier and I expect you could probably tour them, or ride on the Ferris wheel located at the end of the pier. The amount of time I have here is going to limit me to finding some food and deciding if I want to come back on future trips. I know it is a popular spot and it was recommended even on this trip, so I would be willing to come back with a local that can help me get the most out of it. Starbucks and McDonald's aren’t going to get my money today. I decide to head to the train and get started on my hour journey to Midway. I expect I will be there early enough to get food. The train is easy and not very crowded- in fact not many people at all. Once I get to the terminal, I am through security in the matter of minutes and at the gate close to 11:30. With two hours until take off, I get one last Chicago style hotdog at the food court. I know I will be tasting that for the rest of the day, but it was just as good as the first and second I had earlier in the weekend.

In conclusion

This was a fun trip for me. I did enough touristy stuff to decide that I do want to return. I am sure El and I will have a fun time here. I am glad that I was able to spend the quality time I did with Cliff and Dave. And meeting Steve for the first time was fun, though I look forward to spending more time in the future. It was nice to shake his hand and understand there were other commitments to consider- next time I hope to get more than 20 minutes. It seems that this is a very walkable city and easy public transport can whisk you around quickly. There is also a lot going on in this city. Many neighborhoods offer different scenery and I could see myself/us having a great time exploring them for a week sometime. This trip was put together with very little notice and minimal planning. I am so glad everything worked out the way it did. After 30 years, Cliff and Dave really stepped up for me, and I really appreciated it. Beers are on me next time we meet up. And who knows, Steve, maybe Fairbanks should be on our list sooner than later. That could be a time too!