“Chicago is an October sort of city even in spring.”–Nelson Algren
“Place has always been important to me, and one thing today’s Chicago exudes, as it did in 1893, is a sense of place. I fell in love with the city, the people I encountered, and above all the lake and its moods, which shift so readily from season to season, day to day, even hour to hour.”
― Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America
There’s a slight chance this little blog thing of mine (which, I’ll admit, has been painfully neglected for the past year) could perhaps morph into a travel-ish situation…even though I’ve also neglected to post about our amazing Costa Rican adventure.
[How’s that for a teaser?]
When I was young, I won every single grade-wide spelling bee our school system had. From 4th through 8th grade, I was the Spelling Bee Queen. The grade-wide winners would then face off, Hunger Games style, to see who would advance to the State Bee with a [very, very, very slim] chance of moving on to the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
We’ll ignore the fact that I misspelled the word “apparel” at the city-wide spell off.
Two years in a row.
I used to spend afternoons and evenings having my dear old mom call out spelling bee words to me from our silver-chevroned couch as I lay in thought on our deep shag carpeting, the pale yellow book of “suggested words” expertly wielded in her hands. Mackerel. Sphygmomanometer. Fugue. Ennui. This same couch, clearly carrying with it a load of maternal ennui, eventually wound up in my college apartment (and later, at the KA house in Athens).
Being an only child is a blast.
My Dad would come home from work nightly during “Bee Season” and announce: “Chicken in your car and your car won’t go? That’s how you spell CHICAGO!”
Which, obviously, isn’t correct. And which, obviously, makes little to no sense.
No wonder I never made it past the City-Wide Bee.
But I digress.
Our little family just did Chicago over the 4th of July in a grand way.
We flew up to Chicago from Atlanta via Midway and Uber-ed our way to our hotel, the Westin River North. Russ checked us in while the boys and I watched the first of many, many weddings stroll through the lobby.
It was also the weekend of the LCI Con 2017.
That’s the Lions International Conference–which brings us back full circle to the above-mentioned chevron couch that saw its last (most definitely not ennui-ridden) days on a fraternity house front porch at the University of Georgia. Had it not been for my Godfather (and hometown next-door-neighbor and father of the said KA who, um, inherited, the couch), I would not have known what the Lions Club was. But I did and I do and, holy moly, thems some traveling folk.
Chicago was flooded with world travelers this past weekend. Absolutely flooded. We saw tourists from Japan, China, Singapore, Ireland, Australia, Jefferson City, Missouri (well, their honor band, at least…)
These world travelers inspired us, so we did our best to be as touristy as possible, which means cramming in an exorbitant amount of touristy ‘must-sees’ in a minimal amount of time (all while joyously not having to wear Lions Club vests or engage in pin swapping.)
I think we succeeded.
We threw our luggage down (All 5 of us managed carry-on only!! Victory is ours!) and walked down the street to Harry Caray’s for dinner. From there, we used the first of our 5 CityPass tickets to see/endure TILT360 on top of the John Hancock Building.
When faced with the CityPass or ChicagoGo Pass, the CityPass wins hands-down. Trust me on this one. After about 4 hours of research (which, let the record state, involved entirely way too much math), I decided the CityPass hit the big 5 and had Fast-Pass line options and was a better bargain.
We woke up Saturday morning and headed off to the Art Institute of Chicago. Tucker adores art museums; Russ adores Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, so this was set to be a win-win situation. But first up, we must see our friends The Lions again:
The International March of Lions in Traditional Cultural Parade Attire began lining up outside our hotel window at 7:30am. All kinds of cultural attire were represented. It was quite colorful. It was also quite entertaining.
We walked along the southern edge of Millennium Park and somehow managed to keep all children dry.
Even though it wins the dubious award of having The Most Confusing Museum Map Ever, the Art Institute of Chicago is unbelievable. It’s enormous. It’s spotless. Once we made peace with the fact that we were barely going to be able to put a dent in it, we settled down and had a blast (which included re-creations of critical scenes from Ferris Bueller.)
And winning the award for Weirdest Piece of Artwork We Saw is this fine gem:
That, my friends, is a video of a person. Bathing a live duck in a bathtub. Played simultaneously on four ancient Panasonic television sets. With over 100 bricks stacked in piles in front of it.
We played the Tacky Tourists at lunch, sitting on the top deck of the crusty beach bar/restaurant Castaways on the North Shore Beach.
Later that afternoon, we braved the masses and headed to Navy Pier. There is an “interactive [art] installation” by Roger Hiorns in Polk Park, the greenspace you cross to get to the pier.
His description of this piece of art says:
“The sculpture will produce giant foam clusters, which will be shaped by the wind and spread across the landscape. In this way, the artist engages with the surroundings, and blurs the lines between where the city begins and the art ends. The public is welcome to engage with the interactive installation, with the foam becoming the connective tissue between the individual and the artwork.”
In reality, it’s a giant bubble machine atop several corrugated tin cylinders sitting in a mud bog in the middle of a park overlooking a lake.
The boys loved it.
In the interest of full disclosure, we will say it smells. Big time.
After a quick rinse-off-attempt in the fountain, we were off to find the Tall Ship Windy for an afternoon sail on Lake Michigan.
The Tall Ship Windy is a working sailboat that cruises out on Lake Michigan for a little over an hour. One of the tours described on their website claims to be an architecture tour. I think that’s exaggerating a bit; if we were to do it again, we’d have chosen the actual architecture tour on the river. I was trying to kill two birds with one anchor: we wanted an architecture river tour, but we also wanted a boat that served drinks. After seeing boat after boat zipping down the River in front of our hotel in rapid, methodical, cramped fashion, I’d thought I’d gotten the hipper, cooler deal. It was indeed hip and cool but more attuned to the art of sailing than to the art of building. Lesson learned (but it was still a great ride!).
Tuck and Theo help hoist the sail.
Once off the boat, we headed back into town on a mission (see what I did there? shout out to The Blues Brothers) to track down a pop culture icon…
(Chicago, you’re beautiful, by the way…)
…The Billy Goat Tavern!
All you SNL fans out there will surely remember the “cheezborger…cheezborger” skit with John Belushi and Bill Murray. (Interesting fact: the SNL skit restaurant was called The Olympia Cafe but was inspired by the Billy Goat Tavern.) The Billy Goat Tavern is underground, gritty, greasy, and filled with surly locals…just like a good dive should be.
From the dark belly of a subterranean Chicago hole-in-the-wall, we then headed to the most colorful place on the planet: Dylan’s Candy Bar. You’ll want to steer clear of this place if you have sensory issues; it’s a cacophonic, rainbow-colored, child-filled, bizarre 3- leveled situation, but it also brilliantly includes a bar for the adults.
Russ ordered an Old Fashioned, and it was a total production. Never seen a cocktail with dry ice in it before. It looked more like a potion out of Hogwarts than a drink.
On the walk home, Tucker tried to stump a street magician.
He was not successful.
And finally, does anyone remember these awesome candy cigarettes? They have some type of powdered sugar in them which, when puffed on just so, lets little clouds of “smoke” waft out. Obviously, these were one of the more offensive (or, at least, questionable) types of candy ever made, so the powers that be removed them from the shelves of America.
Or so we were led to believe.
Guess what we unearthed at Dylan’s Candy Bar?
The boys found them–the Lucky Strikes from my days of yore–and begged to get them. Hopefully this is the first, last, and only shot of them ever doing this (and I’m grateful no one thought to take a photo of me puffing along and laughing just as hard beside them…)
Our first 1.5 days in the Windy City were enough to have us hooked and fired up for the hard-core touristy stuff I’d planned for the remained of the trip. Next up? Food Tour!