This is me, all in black, for no particular reason.
Well, OK, the color hides the fifteen pounds I
put on eating humongous amounts of steak, hot dogs,
gelato, stuffed pan pizza, and other Chicago staples.
Time once again for you to be whisked away to Chicago. Or, rather, for you to be bludgeoned over the head with interminable detail concerning our recent trip to Chicago. Same thing, right?
[If you missed parts one and two, lucky you! Here they are, in case you have a masochistic streak - ONE, TWO.]
MONDAY, OCTOBER 11
As usual, the day began with the wonderful (free) breakfast at Homewood Suites, our hotel. After filling ourselves with various proteins and carbohydrates, and lubricating their passage with plenty of liquid caffeine, we went to take our 9am tour on The Chicago River.
Chicago Architecture Foundation River Tour
We had heard that this was a "can't miss" tour, and those who told us were absolutely correct. If you are in Chicago, take this tour. It is tremendous.
You board a boat on the riverside, at the corner of Wacker and Michigan, and you are then taken on a 90+ minute ride on the Chicago River. During the leisurely trip, a volunteer docent gives running commentary concerning the many fantastic buildings you see from your seat on deck.
For better information than I can possibly give you - that is, correct information - please visit the foundation site.
Photo opportunities abound, and I took many. I'll now show you a few of them. If you ask me to impart any knowledge concerning the buildings, though, I'll have to admit to you that I can't tell you much. I enjoyed the tour thoroughly, and I was given a wealth of information concerning every single one of the buildings we saw, but I have retained little of what we were told. This is not the fault of our tour guide, who was one of the best.
Lindy Trigg, our FANTASTIC tour guide. If you get her as your
docent, you will be blessed. Funny, knowledgeable, friendly,
and superbly entertaining, my ignorance is not her fault.
Of course, that's obvious to most of you by now.
The very tall black building is the Willis Tower
(formerly known as the Sears Tower, it is the
tallest building in the city, and formerly the
tallest building in the world.)
The Civic Opera Bvilding.
Nice reflection of buildings from the opposite bank.
The first 12 or 13 floors of these residential buildings
are taken up with parking spaces. See the cars?
Reminds me of The Jetsons buildings.
I now wish I had taken notes during the tour, so that I could tell you more about some of the spectacular sights, but it was much more pleasant just sitting back and being entertained by it all. I suppose the dearth of information I've given you may cause you to want to take the tour yourself in order to gain the knowledge, and, if so, my spectacular ignorance has been a good thing.
Coffee, Candy, & Restrooms
One thing I wish to emphasize, concerning Chicago, is the friendliness of the people who live and work there. We encountered nary a single scowl or even a tiny bit of rudeness during our entire week-long stay. Now, obviously, visiting a city and living in it are two different things. Residents may be able to tell you about all sorts of hideous people within their metropolitan area, and we dealt mostly with service personnel who are trained to smile and make our lives easier. However, coming from the northeast of the United States, where "Fuck You!" is sometimes not seen as that different a greeting from "Good Morning!", we found the overall civility of Chicago to be a very pleasant change. I'll give one short anecdote as a sample of what we ran into every day.
After leaving the river tour, we wanted a cup of coffee. About a block from the river, there was a coffee shop. We went in. Before ordering, we inquired about the possibility of using their restrooms.
As it turned out, they didn't have any public restrooms. However, the nice young woman behind the counter (and 'nice' is not a word usually associated with baristas in our part of the world) told us that if we backtracked two doors down the street, to a candy shop, they had bathrooms we could use. She also said that they give out free samples, and maybe we'd be lucky in that department. We thanked her, and told her we'd be back for coffee after we took care of our other business.
We went to the candy store, and they did have restrooms. However, in order to use them, a woman had to come out from behind her counter, with a key, and lead MY WIFE into another part of the building. She did so, while I perused the most excellent candies on display. She returned, sans MY WIFE, and offered me a free sample of a delicious mint/chocolate concoction. When MY WIFE returned, she got a sample as well.
Understand? This would rarely, if ever, happen in Boston. One storekeeper, rather than just tell us she had no bathrooms, gave us the extra information we needed, unasked. The other storekeeper left me in her store, fairly much unattended, while going out of her way to leave her shop and take MY WIFE into another part of the building. Once she had done so, she left MY WIFE there alone - where, if she weren't MY WIFE, perhaps she could have stolen any number of things - returning to the counter to offer me free stuff. When MY WIFE returned, she got free stuff, too. This all occurred with genuine smiles - no heavy sighs, or any indication that we were putting these hard-working people to a task they'd rather not have to do - and this is the norm in that city, so far as I can tell from all of the other interactions we had during our stay.
(In turn, of course, we purchased both some candy from the one woman and some coffee from the other, so everybody got something good from the transactions. A little kindness, and a smile, greases the wheels of commerce quite wonderfully.)
Chicago History Museum
After our coffee, we went to the Chicago History Museum. It is a bit off the beaten path, a good healthy walk from the nearest El station (accessible by bus, but we weren't certain which one, so we walked it.)
We had chosen to go there because admission is free on Mondays.
(That wasn't the only reason, of course. It appeared, from brochures, to be a likely destination for quirky and interesting sights, as well as a good history lesson concerning where we were, but free always helps.)
There were exhibitions concerning weddings in Chicago, past and present; historical struggles for freedom; how Chicago grew from a one-man fur-trading outpost to a city of millions; and the many and varied facets of Chicago's Chinatown neighborhood. A wonderful presentation of dioramas showed important periods in Chicago history, and, of course, the place was loaded with facts and figures concerning The Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
The quirkiness, which is what makes this museum endearing, comes from collections of small commercial artifacts; some classic automobiles; the presence of the very first El train; and other stuff of that nature, which we hoped might be in such a place but which we weren't sure of until we got there.
The generic must-have shot when something has your name on it.
Notice how the green shirt does not hide the poundage
quite as well as the black at the top of this page...
An entire wall of an old building, complete with genuine advertisements
of the day. We speculated that the 35 cent room came with a bed,
while the 50 cent probably had sheets to go with it.
What can I say to make you want to go to this place? What if I told you, that after having been there, we would have gladly paid the admission? I suppose that might do the trick. It was a swell afternoon's entertainment, and we recommend it.
Chicago is the birthplace of pan pizza. It is an incredibly thick and gooey take on the pizza one finds in most other locales. We would no more have come to Chicago without trying this pizza than we would have gone to Las Vegas without gambling.
Now, I have to tell you that my favorite pizzas have always been those with a thin crust, somewhat crisp (although not cracker-like.) I prefer them not loaded down with too many toppings. New York pizza is the best pizza in the world, for my money. We have one or two very good pizza places in the Boston area - as a matter of fact, I love the pizza from The Pleasant Cafe, in Roslindale - but New York abounds with them. The first thing I do when I arrive in New York is search out a local parlor - any one - and grab a couple of slices. So, the general idea of pizza that is a few inches thick is off-putting to me. However, when one views this dish as not so much a pizza as an entirely different style of Italian cuisine, I think that's the right approach. You won't enter into your meal with expectations that won't be met.
We went to Giordano's, a famous pizza emporium somewhat near our home base. There was a twenty-five minute wait for seating, and they suggested that we order our meal as soon as our name was added to the waiting list. In that way, the pie would most likely be ready near to the time we were seated. As you might imagine, a pizza that is two or three inches thick takes a while to bake. We ordered one 10 inch pie, which is more than enough for two people. You can get any number of toppings (or, more correctly, fillings, for this style of pizza) at slight extra charge, so we ordered sausage and green peppers with ours.
After a brief interlude outdoors, wherein I had a cigarette and listened to a street person give a spiel about his Christian homeless shelter (I gave him two bucks for the entertainment value alone), we were seated, ordered a couple of drinks, and received our pie a few minutes later.
My God, if I had ordered pizza anyplace else and was given such a thing, I would have sent it back and questioned the sanity of the chef. However, since I knew what to expect... well, damn it, it was absolutely delicious. Magnificently chewy cheese, fresh vegetables, savory sausage, a buttery crust (perhaps a bit salty, but still nice), and, when combined with a local ale - Goose Island 312, which is pretty damned good in itself - just one hell of a satisfying meal. We took home about a third of it for snacking later as the mood hit.
And thus ends Day Four in Chicago, and the third installment of this trip report. I've got three more days to tell you about, and I hope I can fit them all into two more postings. If not, more's the pity for you.
Soon, with... well, you know.