Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Windy City, Windy Blog - 3

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.]


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.

Pan Pizza

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.


Michelle H. said...

Now you got me into the mood for pizza. I hope to try your Pleasant Cafe pizza someday.

Question: Is that you in the photo (at least the back of your hat) of the formerly named Sears building?

Craig said...

Well, now I've got to figure out a way to fit one of those Chicago River architecture tours in, next time I'm in the city. . . Downtown Chicago is just a target-rich environment for architecture buffs (of which I'm really not one, but there are loads of really cool buildings there).

The John Hancock Building, I think (the tall, black, vaguely pyramidal one in the North Loop) was designed as more-or-less of a self-contained city - parking on the lower levels, seven floors, starting at street level, of shops, including grocery stores, 30-40 floors of offices, another 40-50 floors of condos, and top-end restaurants at the top, with the obligatory observation floor about the 94th or so. . . So it would be at least theoretically possible to live and work in the same building, and never leave. Which has always struck me as a little weird. . .

Did you go up the formerly-known-as-Sears Tower?

Suldog said...

Michelle - No, that was the guy in front of me.

Craig - I try not to do heights, if at all possible. If there's one overwhelming fear for me, open heights is it. They now have this absolutely insane thing called "The Ledge" in that building. There are four platforms, extending out from about the 95th floor, constructed entirely of glass. For a price, you can walk out onto them and have an instant heart attack. No thanks.

Everyday Goddess said...

I've never been to Chicago, but if the Jetson's live there and eat delicious pizza like that, I'm in!

Sueann said...

The building tour was great! I have been to Chicago but never took that tour. Must do that the next time I go.
That pizza is something else I never tried. Looks fabulous! And sounds even better!!
Oh and I don't notice the 15 pounds at all.

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip said...

One of the things I noticed about Chicago was the lack of graffiti... and yes, the folks there are truly friendly and merchants have a good grasp of what customer service is about.

Cricket said...

Hey, you got two laugh-out-louds from me with this one: "bvilding," and "...coming from the northeast of the United States, where "Fuck You!" is sometimes not seen as that different a greeting from "Good Morning!"


"Rarely, if ever" in Boston? Yeah, I'd incline more towards "if ever."

Another great one.

Pat - Arkansas said...

Anxiously awaiting reports on next three days of trip. Gained three pounds just looking at that pizza!

Ruth and Glen said...

Think we must have a masochistic streak as you say. . . cuz we're here for round 3!! Really enjoying your account of the Chicago vacation. New York gets our vote for the best pizza too. Mmmmm !!

Daryl said...

Is that the museum with the mine shaft? ToonMan remembers such a place .. and when you get here you must come uptown and try a slice of Big Nick's Pizza Joint pizza .. deee-lish

Anonymous said...

Okay. I think you left out one important fact.

The Muzak. Were they playing, "The Night Chicago Died" near the Great Chicago Fire display?

I bet they were! I just bet they were!

"nah nah nah nah nah
Brother what a night it really was..."

Ha! And you're welcome for the ear-worm.

Pam said...

I'm so glad you did the Architectural Boat Tour! It is a must do for a visitor and a perfect way to learn a little history while seeing the beautiful balloons.

You must've seen The Bean in Millenium Park.

For 30 years, my hubby worked in the building across Wacker from the Civic Opera House.

You definitely went to the best place for pizza in the city! They just opened a Giorano's by us. Thick and gooey pizza all the way!

It's wonderful that you found everyone friendly! Chicago surely needs you to promote the city.

i beati said...

Boston or Chicago??I left to buy a black outfit- love Sandy

Suldog said...

Daryl - No! The mine shaft - and I'm glad you reminded me about it - was at the Museum of Science & Industry, which we did on our last day. I'll definitely be writing about it. And, next time we hit The City, we must all hook up, and I'll definitely try ANY pizza you recommend :-)

Quirky - Ugh. Haven't thought of that song for at least ten years, and thankfully so. I owe you, you bi... well, you're too nice to call that, but I still owe you.

Pam - The Bean will be mentioned prominently in the next installment.

Sandy - I got mine at L.L. Bean (not The Bean mentioned above) if that helps :-)

Buck said...

I want a Wacker beer sign. Or a sixer of Wacker beer, itself. The name is just SO fitting, innit?

The detail in the full-size pics taken from the boat is great. Thanks for posting the larger versions of the photos... much appreciated, Jim.

Kat said...

I love all of your Chicago posts, and I'm so glad you enjoyed yourselves as much as you did. Chicago is practically in my backyard (ok, not really, about 2 hours away) and my hubby and I used to go there frequently. Since having all 5000 of our children we've had less time to do so. But we miss it. We will go again soon, I hope.

The people are friendly cuz this is the midwest! That's how it is here. Even in the biggest cities. It's nice. :)

Tho, I must admit, I really did love Boston when I visited. Certain surlyness (sp?) is part of the charm. ;)

Hilary said...

I'm quite enjoying your Chicago trip as if I were there myself. I love your photos of "bvildings" and the similarity to the Jetsons architecture.

I'm looking forward to hearing about the Museum of Science. That's the one place I did visit when I was in Chicago some years back. I thought about that mine shaft with the recent events in Chile.

Craig said...

Sorry I forgot to mention it before, but your black-shirt/green-shirt bit reminds me of something I saw many years ago about why cycling shorts should never be any color other than black. It had brightly-sunlit photos of two professional cycling teams, one of which wore black shorts, the other wore red. If I say that shadows aren't very visible against a black background, you'll get the idea. Altho I'm sure that some of the Red Team's girlfriends were very proud. . .

Speaking of which, some of those delightful old buildings are positively phallic, aren't they?

And Quirky - I could be wrong, but I think that song is about the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, not the Fire. . .

Maggie May said...

That pizza had my mouth watering.
Glad the people of Chicago seem more friendly than Boston! (Remember that tea party?!)
Maggie X

Nuts in May

Chris said...

Couldn't agree with you more on your pizza analysis. If you don't have to fold the slice in half to eat it . . . it's not pizza.

On an educational note, I had no idea the Sears Tower had changed its name. Must've gotten married?

And I loved the Jetsons reference.

nick said...

My kinda town. I lived there for several years back in the 80s. You haven't experienced Chicago unless you've spent time there in Jan-Feb. Ahh, -20 degrees, 40 knot winds, 10 ft snow drifts .....and wait until you step outside, then it gets really bad.

CiCi said...

Your description of the people in Chicago sounds like people in Nebraska. We have been here two years and we still are surprised with the genuine niceness of the people here. In two years we have not seen someone flip someone off and in San Diego it was every day. Your time in Chicago sounds like a wonderful vacation. You are doing much for their tourist business I can tell you.

Jenn Flynn-Shon said...

It always amuses me to see the difference in people from state to state & town to town (city to city in this case I guess huh?). I've heard great things about midwesterners and you're solidifying that right here. In Boston that coffee shop owner would have said 'No. Next.' without so much as an inkling to where you might find a bathroom. Our city is great for lots of things (like sports teams/fans, Chinese food, history, and [dare I say it because I like ours better than NY's and that's after having lived there almost 3 years] pizza) but polite courtesy is definitely NOT one of them.

Love that rounded corner building. Architecture abounds! Looking forward to the rest of the tale...

lime said...

i gotta tell ya, on a visit to boston when i was pregnant and therefore in frequent need of a restroom we planned activities based on how long it would take to get back to the harvard bookstore where there was a restroom i was allowed to use. at one point my husband and our friend stood in line to buy mcd's fries just so i could use the restroom....which i stood in line for while crossing me legs and dancing nervously since no one took pity on the pregnant lady. mind you, i love boston but the lack of public potties was problematic during that visit.

ok, that pizza.....that alone makes me want to visit chicago!

Karen said...

I feel claustrophobic and acrophobic just looking at the Jetson building! I don't think I could live in something like that. I've never had a deep dish pizza and up til' now, didn't think I missed anything. You may have changed my mind :)

Jeni said...

What can I say? Everyone else has said it all and done it quite well too. You've produced another masterpiece of prose -historical and humorous too -simultaneously.

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