Thursday, October 21, 2010

Windy City, Windy Blog - 4

Missed the first three parts? If you're some sort of insane completist, here they are - Part One, Part Two, Part Three. However, feel free to dive in here and pretend you've read the others. I won't know the difference.


As I look back over my notes, I'm somewhat astounded by how much we crammed into every day of this vacation. What I find most interesting, though, is that it didn't feel as though we were pressured in any way, shape, or form. There was no, "We have to do this NOW! We'll regret it forever if we don't make it there on time!" Instead, we did what we wanted to do, when we wanted to do it, and if something else of interest was placed in our path, we enjoyed that, too. It was truly a swell trip.

Wrigley Field

I come from Boston. We have Fenway Park, the oldest major league baseball stadium in existence, built in 1912. The only other park I have reverence for, and which I would go out of my way to visit, is Wrigley Field, the second-oldest, built in 1914. So, since we were in the neighborhood, we did.

Wrigley Field is home to the Chicago Cubs. The last time the Cubs won the World Series was in 1908, which will be 103 years ago when next season rolls around. That is the longest drought, between championships, of any major North American professional sports franchise. Hell, the last World Series they even took part in, win or lose, was in 1945. Being a Red Sox fan, and having seen the somewhat recent ending of our own 86-year misery, I very much empathize with Cubs fans. I follow their games and would love to see them vanquish the various bogus curses under which they are supposed to be operating.

(That anyone would buy into something as silly as The Billy Goat Curse thrills me to no end. It is what makes America great. You can always get at least some people to believe any bunch of malarkey you concoct. It is this sort of thinking that makes me refuse to lay down my dream of becoming the first musician to release a million-selling recording of nothing but bass guitar solos.)

As with Fenway in Boston, Wrigley is located in a residential neighborhood. That was part of the charm of such older ballparks. They weren't occupying some godforsaken 20-acre cement slab in a suburb 35 miles outside of the city for which the team was named. They were right in the heart of that city, and thus truly in the hearts of those who followed their fortunes. They weren't just entertainments. They were neighbors.

The season (at least for the Cubs) is over now, so nothing much was happening around the ballpark. We took a nice walk, enjoying the statues of past Cubbie heroes, the quaint (for this day and age) architecture of the park, and the quirks of the neighborhood. For instance...

Waveland Avenue sits behind the outfield, and thus behind the bleacher seats within the park (which you can see a slight bit of on the extreme right of the photo.) One of the totally charming aspects of Wrigley is that the apartment buildings behind the park all afford a view of the games from their rooftops. That isn't to say Joe Blow off the street can go up there and squat, but if Joe Blow rents an apartment on Waveland he can see all 81 home games absolutely free. Those apartments come with a season ticket. That the Cubs management hasn't built a huge wall to destroy the view speaks volumes.

(When it was just the apartment dwellers watching from their rooftops, and perhaps having a cookout, Cubs management put up with it magnanimously. Once construction of the rows and rows of seats began, with concomitant admission fees and sale of food and drink, they did raise a stink. A settlement was reached whereby the Cubs received a percentage of revenues. Still quite generous for a sporting franchise, in my opinion. They could easily have built a 'spite' fence and left them with nothing.)

As we finished our circle of the park, we came upon an entrance used by equipment vehicles and so forth, and spied a view of groundskeepers working on the field prior to its winter shutdown. One of the crew saw us pointing our camera through a metal grating. He came over and kindly opened it for us to get a better shot. How nice was that? If it was a Fenway groundskeeper, he probably would have chased us away with a shovel.

I have nothing but kind words for the Cubs, and I hope they win it all in 2011.

Art Institute Of Chicago

After Wrigley, we headed for The Art Institute Of Chicago. This was on MY WIFE's 'must do' list, and I had no objections. She's more of an art admirer than I am, but I enjoy a nice afternoon in a museum, too.

A Magritte. I say I like surrealism. MY WIFE says that
I like anything with tits in it. Both are true.

The place houses a great art collection, but we found the layout bewildering. One had to go through some very weird hoops to reach certain areas of the museum. This problem was exacerbated by one of their elevators being under repair. Perhaps we might not have found it so trying during some other week, but it seemed that every time we tried to find a specific gallery, we had to go up a flight of stairs, then go down in an elevator to a mezzanine, then take a different set of stairs back up, and so on, until we were ready to just say to hell with it. Very convoluted.

I am a particular fan of Salvador Dali, and there were, as I recall, three of his on display. Other surrealists, such as Magritte and Peter Blume, are well-represented.

MY WIFE's tastes run towards the less-nightmarish, with a particular fondness for the impressionists and pointillism. Unfortunately, the one painting she particularly wanted to see, one she had admired in prints and other copies for years, was not available for viewing.

Paris Street, Rainy Day, by Caillebotte, was the one work in the museum that MY WIFE absolutely wanted to see. And it was on loan to another museum. That lack put a damper on what had been, even with the weird layout of the place, a fun afternoon of enjoying artwork. I think it can safely be said it was the major disappointment of our trip (MY WIFE's disappointment stemming from not seeing it, and my own disappointment due to her disappointment.)

Laurence T.

However, as I have espoused, Everything Gets Better. Upon our exit from the museum, I heard a magnificent voice singing some seriously good soul. I looked around, expecting a radio or boombox, but saw Laurence T.

This man was performing on the sidewalk, in front of the museum, with a portable amplifier and mic. He had some sort of a karaoke set-up. That is, he had backing tracks pre-recorded, and he was vocalizing on top of those. And he was tremendous.

Laurence T. & MY WIFE. The man can SING.

We stood on the museum stairs, transfixed, listening to this amazing voice. After he finished a number, I went and dropped a dollar in his bucket. He began another, and MY WIFE came over to me, grabbed me, and started dancing with me on the sidewalk.

You must understand: We don't really dance. MY WIFE is proficient, but I'm horrible. However, she had it in her head to do as many things as possible that were mentioned in the song "Chicago", and "I know a man who danced with HIS WIFE" was one of the lines. Laurence T. saw us dancing and, during an instrumental break, said, "Now that's what I'm talking about!" We danced for a short while and then settled down on the museum steps to listen to this guy belt out a couple more.

I can't for the life of me figure out why he doesn't have a major recording contract. No, let me amend that. I can't for the life of me figure out why he isn't an international superstar. He has a smooth sexy voice, with both high and low (extremely low) range, and he also has absolutely stunning stage presence, especially for someone who was performing on the sidewalk of a busy downtown street.

After MY WIFE put an additional dollar in his bucket, he handed me a business card, reproduced here. Now, please go to You Tube and enjoy a performance. Once you do, I expect you may be of the same opinion as me, in that, even though he has apparently made national television appearances, and performed in Las Vegas on a regular basis, he deserves a wider audience. He's a superb talent. And there he was, performing on the street for us, for relative chump change. An amazing highlight of our day, for sure.

Millennium Park

After having enjoyed Laurence T. and his superb pipes, we walked a short distance to Millennium Park. It is Chicago's downtown green space, a cousin to The Common in Boston and Central Park in New York.

The place is full of fascinating stuff. I'll describe a few of those we enjoyed.

The Crown Fountain, which consists of two towering glass blocks at either end of a shallow reflecting pool, was the first thing we encountered. Video projections of the faces of Chicago residents play on the blocks, changing every few minutes to a new face. The overall effect is supposed to be one of the faces spitting water into the pool, and that must be incredibly cool when it's happening. However, that aspect of the fountain is only on display during warmer times, and wasn't happening while we were there. Still, the faces were fun, and without the water it looked as though they were blowing kisses to each other across the couple of hundred feet between the towers.

We strolled through meandering gardens of wildflowers and shrubs, a contemplative space amidst the big city racket. It was surprisingly quiet, with a small stream flowing there where the more adventurous took off shoes and refreshed their feet in the waters as we passed by.

Near the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, an outdoor concert space, we came upon an oddly curving and shape-shifting pedestrian walkway, sort of a maze that you can't get lost in. As with so much of the other bits of this park, you can't see the entirety of it from where you stand. You have to explore it if you want to see it all. Just about everything in the park is more than at first meets your eye. Much of the artwork incorporated into the landscape was designed by Frank Gehry, and he deserves big applause for providing so much relaxing entertainment for the mind.

Our favorite thing was The Big Bean.

The official name is Cloud Gate, and it was created by the artist Anish Kapoor (from whose site the above image comes.) It is... well, you can see what it is. It's a big silver reflective bean. Everybody who comes to it loves it. No matter how old the person interacting with it, he or she is childlike with wonder.

The reflections are truly quite amazing. Here are our shots of it.

If you look closely, you'll see the two of us reflected,
dead center, taking the photo.

This shot was taken from underneath the sculpture,
inside it actually, looking up. Again, we are in the
shot, but in this instance some 8 or 9 times, at least.

In case you couldn't see us in any of the others,
here we are again!

Another shot from under the sculpture.

The entire park is a great public space, and we loved it.

Silly Damned Ride On The El

We went back to the hotel and freshened up. After another great meal at OYSY, we finished our day with a pointless ride on the elevated.

We enjoyed most of our rides on the CTA. It's a good efficient system, and has enough character to entertain thoroughly (not quite as much as London's Underground, or the New York subway system, which are my two faves, but still quite a bit.) Our previous tour of the Pink Line had been fun, and riding around The Loop was always fascinating. However, our final extended ride was rather mundane and mostly boring.

We decided to ride the Blue Line to O'Hare airport. It looked to be a longish ride, and we assumed, since the majority of the system as a whole is elevated, this ride would provide us with a nice nighttime view of some neighborhoods. However, to our dismay, only a short section of this line is elevated, most of the distance either underground via subway or running in the middle of an expressway (which has a certain charm, but becomes repetitive quite quickly.)

We never even made it as far as O'Hare, deciding instead to cut our losses by disembarking at Jefferson Park and waiting for a return train. Oh, well. Not every day can end with a winner. Tomorrow will, though.

(That's a teaser, of course.)

Soon, with tomorrow.


Craig said...

I am loving these, Jim. . . Just, you know, for the sake of sayin' so. . .

I LOVE Wrigley Field (and join me for just a moment in shedding a tear or two for old Tiger Stadium, which opened the same day as Fenway. . .) But I never took the time to do a walking lap of the ballpark, so thanks for that! (And I don't know if it's significant of anything, but both the Cubbies' last championship, and their last World Series, were against my Tigers. . .)

It's funny - I'm really not any kind of 'art maven', but I REALLY enjoy the Art Institute. As I recall, 'American Gothic' lives there. And one of my visits, they had the 'Mona Lisa' on loan. I also enjoy the surrealist stuff (with or without tits), and one of my favorites was when they had a traveling exhibit of Escher. And somehow, the Fountain of the Great Lakes (displayed outside, on the grounds) touches my soul.

The Bean must be new-ish, 'cuz I've never seen it; very cool (altho - is the world ready for 8 or 9 Suldogs?) Did you see the Picasso at City Hall? My friend calls it the Cast Iron Buzzard; to me it's obviously a kind of interpretation of Carl Sandberg's poem ('Big Shoulders', 'Hog Butcher', 'Bread Basket'), but I've never seen that interpretation anywhere else. . .

Buck said...

Your encounter with Laurence T. was the highlight of this post for me, The Bean in all its reflective glory being a close second. I've seen hundreds of talented buskers in my day... some QUITE phenomenal, such as the string quartet doing Mozart in an SFO BART station... and am firmly convinced that "stardom" is rarely conferred solely on merit. Good on ya both for having that impromptu dance.

Suldog said...

Craig - I think I may have already told you how much I despise the fact that they shut down Tiger Stadium, but just in case I didn't, let me state here that it sucked. I loved the deep center field - it was 440, correct? Shame on them for getting rid of it.

MY WIFE said that the Picasso looked like an homage to the Chicago Bulls. I thought it resembled a baboon, myself.

Buck - Really, the guy was great. The You Tube videos capture some of it, but his presence in-person was awesome. True about stardom, of course.

Anonymous said...

Hey! I saw that condo building on an episode of House Hunters and they did mention the view of Wrigley Field!

And...I have to tease. "a swell trip."

I felt like I had been transported back to a "Leave It To Beaver" eppy.

I enjoyed this post. It was swell.

hee hee

Suldog said...

Quirky - I love The Beaver. And, yes, I do mean the TV show. So it's no surprise if I get all 'Gosh Golly' every once in a while.

Daryl said...

LOVED Millennium Park .. the amphitheatre .. the spitting fountains ...

IT (aka Ivan Toblog) said...

I'll buy that recording of bass solos.

About the only thing I can tell anyone about the Cubbies this year is, "Fukudome."

Michelle H. said...

Another incredible post. Hate to say it (well, not really but I'm sure it's blasphemy) I'll always think of hockey and the Winter Classic associated with Wrigley Field (please don't hit me!) That, and of course the gum...

Suldog said...

IT - Thank you. Only 999,997 to go (So far, there's you, me, and My Mom.)

Daryl - Yeah, great place. I wish it had been during the time when the fountains are operating, but they had already shut down the waterworks for the season. The faces were still cool, though.

MDGF - No, no problem. It was quite the sight to see the NHL skating there. They had the very first Classic there, right?

Cricket said...

Great stuff, Sul. Not to be putting on the brown lipstick, but you do have a gift for travelogue/food writing. Well done.

Almost makes me want to leave my customary 5-mile radius.

Michelle H. said...

No, the first was at Ralph Wilson Stadium in New York (hope I got that name right). The second Winter Classic was at Wrigley. Third at your stomping ground of Boston. The fourth will be in Pittsburgh at Heinz Field.

lime said...

have i ever mentioned how much i love YOUR WIFE? i do. i adore her. i love that she grabbed you to dance in the street. and i like that she let you take pictures with lawrence t and at the big bean, which looks like a lot of fun!

Pam said...

Another great post! You should be the ambassador of Chicago!

I'm a huge die-hard Cubs fan and so glad you got a good look around the ball park. Nothing like those ivy-covered walls and crowd on a hot summer day and here's hoping they go all the way in 2011.

Cool pics with The Bean! It's so great with the reflection of the Chicago skyline. It has to make you smile and then it's great to talk underneath it and hear your echo.

Way to go with Laurence T!

Thanks for another great travelogue!

Hilary said...

I suspect that you could make any city sound wonderful.. as with beauty, much of a town's charm is in the eye of the beholder. Through your eyes, Chicago sounds like an old familiar and comfortable neighbourhood and I'd love to know it the way that you see it.

I love your openness for whatever adventure may come your way. I love that YOUR WIFE grabbed you to dance. And especially that her disappointment about the absent painting was yours.

Thanks for these posts. They're wonderful.

Karen said...

I listened to Laurence T - it must have been so great to hear him in person! This is so much fun - can't wait for tomorrow!

Jewels said...

Definitely on my top ten places to visit in the US. I love these posts.

Craig said...

Actually I think the first Winter Classic was in Edmonton (at least it was the first of the recent series of outdoor NHL games; I don't know if it was designated a 'Winter Classic' or not. . .)

Land of shimp said...

I like the Big Bean! I want to be its friend. Come, talk to me, Bean. I like your bigness, and your shininess and...

Oh, hello Jim :-) Hey, you're looking thin, in your windy City photos there, sir! It looks like you are both having a good time.

I've read all four posts in one sitting, so of course my brain has been crushed under the sheer number of words but it was a fun brain crushing. Really, how often do you get to say that?

Thank you for the trip report. I've actually never given a thought to traveling to Chicago, but clearly I should.

Oh, and wow, you'd really have to love baseball to live there, wouldn't you? said... of my favorite cities in the world. I did wholesale shows there every Feb. and July for eeons. Loved every second of it: Michigan Ave, Navy Pier, the museums, restaurants....the el! My sister and I even accidentally wound up in a high-class brothel one nite. Now THAT was a Chicago adventure to remember!! Glad you enjoyed it!! Can't wait for 'tomorrow'!

Anonymous said...

Not feeling pressure to do this or that, is a great vacation. Sounds lovely so far.

Crazed Nitwit said...

It's really too bad you had such a sucky time. Next time visit Seattle. A city with much less history.

(rolling with giggles at my own wit as usual)

Chris said...

My bucket list definitely includes trips to Fenway and Wrigley. I could definitely root for the Cubbies to win a World Series (provided they're not playing the Yankees . . . sentimentality will only take me so far).

An apartment with a view of the field? Heaven, I tell you.

Jeni said...

Another winner, Jim!
And of course, this one had baseball in it too. No stone unturned, right?
But I really enjoyed this post -great pictures and the story of Wrigley Field with the "extra" seating on the rooftop -terrific! Where else would I learn these things if not for your exploring and then telling about them.

Sueann said...

Oh I am so sorry that the Institute was not that much fun for your both. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit there but I just wandered from room to room. I didn't seek out any one collection. Maybe that is the trick?
Loved the sculptures; esp. the bean!!! So cool and your photos are wonderful
Thanks for your continual sharing of this trip. I love it

CiCi said...

Laurence T is so good, really really good. I really like the photo of you and your wife standing together looking up. Nice.

Jenn Flynn-Shon said...

I love cities that have random enormous funky sculpture plunked right down in the middle of the city like that (Albany has some wild stuff). The reflectiveness of this sculpture makes it look like a droplet of water that was caught mid air as it bounced back up. Very cool.