Three Days in Chicago

I don't know whose idea it was to do Chicago as this year's venue for the Traveling Trio, but in its aftermath a resounding three votes were cast in favor. We had all been there before, in one way or another, but this trip would show us Chicago like none of us had seen it.

We met at Chicago’s Midway airport, the Dynamic Duo having flown in from Maine. That gave us a good look at the public transportation system, which appears also to link the more famous O’Hare airport with downtown (our goal). The Orange line takes you into the Loop, and from there many other routes (ours was the Red El) wend their way throughout Chicago proper. Upon descending from the Red into the general area of our hotel (MileNorth), we were already struck with the sophistication of the stores. But we learned later that we were in the Shopping District, which is what the world knew before malls. My own belief is that if Amazon can’t ship it to you, you don’t need it, but I found myself rooting for these lovely stores as we walked past them several times. One morning, Susan went shopping, and reported to us later that in Nieman-Marcus there did not appear to be anything less than $1,000.

MileNorth put us up around the 20th floor, which showed us nearby Northwestern University and its many departments. In fact, two or three Northwestern hospitals occupied the rest of the block on which our hotel sat. Our schedule called for catching Les Miserables at the Cadillac Palace Theater in Chicago’s Theater District, but we had time for a drink atop the John Hancock Building, as well as dinner at the Spiaggio Cafe. Someone had warned us to stay out of the restaurant—we probably would not have been able to afford to look at a menu. But the cafe (like few cafes I’ve know) was just fine. The only price I recall was $24 for my Italian beer.

These pictures were taken in a lounge atop the John Hancock building.

The Dynamic Duo probably enjoyed Les Miz more than I did (who had not seen it), but it did give me some things to think about.

The next day was to include the famous architecture boat tour. The weather was uncharacteristically gorgeous for end of November (although it did get cold on the boat). As noted by several previous travelers, the tour is a must-see, if you are visiting Chicago for at least a couple days, and I’m sorry that I did not catch the woman's name who narrated our voyage. Absolutely incredible, but of course the many Chicago buildings and history thereof would probably shine some glory on just about anyone. At one point, I simply stopped taking pictures. I wasn’t going to be remembering the building names anyway, and there are so many of them! Our guide pointed out the importance of the river itself for the making of Chicago.

The afternoon was spent at the Art Institute of Chicago. I had hoped to see again the Edward Hopper Nighthawks painting but it was on loan to some place in Paris. We had lunch in the neighborhood, and I was astonished at how many Asian female students there appear to be at the school part of the museum. We’d been remarking at how many Asians in general Chicago seems to host, but they were all Americans. The students appeared to be from outside the country, and especially from China. The Art Institute is also near the Millenium Park, which is pictured here with its ice rink.

Thursday night’s entertainment was a visit to Second City, the famous comedy group that gave so many comedians their start. I believe that we attended the main show but there are actually several shows going on at the same time. It was wonderful, and as the theater productions we saw kept pointing out, live theater is quite different from watching television.

That was the last night for the Dynamic Duo, but I would be staying on another night, since I was taking off Friday, anyway. On that last day, Ed and I went out to the Museum of Science and Industry, which is an incredible structure somewhat south of the city. We had given it far too little time, so we did not get to tour the WWII German submarine fully installed in the museum basement. You’d probably need a day to best appreciate the facility.

Then came the final scheduled activity for the Traveling Trio: a visit to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oak Park first home and the origins of his famous architectural practice. I had seen this about 15 years ago but was delighted to have a return visit. We took the El (Green Line) out to Oak Park and waited for the official tour. These photographs were taken during the tour.

I had a couple hours to kill after the Dynamic Duo went to their plane, so I found a little something to eat in a nearby Corner Bakery. Still with some time before the show I intended to see started, I crossed the street and stumbled onto this: Christkindlmarket! As soon as I saw it, I knew that I had seen it years before but couldn’t remember where. As I write this, I’m now certain it was here in Chicago but on a much colder pre-Christmas evening. Anyway, what a discovery to make when you’re wandering around killing time. Too bad I had already eaten, because there it all was before me. Sigh. There were hundreds of folks partaking of this very special commercial enterprise, and the Christmas spirit was so thick you could practically cut it. And that is how I vaguely remembered my previous encounter with the phenomenon.

When finally time for A Christmas Carol at The Goodman Theater, I walked back across the street and found my seat. I had seen various versions of the show over the years, and was glad to join the season fundraiser in Chicago. Many theaters (as, for example, our own Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC) use this show to pad the books before year’s end. It was a wonderful production, probably the best I’ve ever seen. Larry Yando is simply remarkable as Scrooge but then so are the rest of the parts.

With my navigator gone, I had planned to simply take a taxi back to MileNorth. Fine—there are lots of taxis in Chicago, but so did a few hundred other folks, all of whom seemed to be better at flagging down an unoccupied taxi than was I. Eventually, one pulled over and I got in only to discover a young woman driving. She proved to be from “Eastern Europe,” and we talked about Chicago during the nice trip back to the hotel.

The next day, my flight home was in the afternoon, so after kicking around a bit, I found my way back to Midway airport. At about four, I took my seat on the plane. Soon after, a young woman took the other seat and made the serious mistake of saying “Hi!” as she did so. Convinced that no American girl (especially one looking like that) would be so friendly, I asked her from where she came. "Mexico," she replied, "I left Mexico City several hours ago, and I'm going to Detroit to be with family." Well, we chattered on for quite awhile, failing to note that the plane hadn't taken off. Eventually, we were told that they could not get the second engine started, and that we would be deplaning to a then unknown location. Before we could be completely dispersed, it was discovered that the last plane of the day was coming in and could be used to get us to Detroit. Too late for my connection, but Lulu was only going to Detroit and the agent suggested that I do my overnight there rather than Chicago. So off we eventually went again, Lulu telling me about her life and, especially, what it's like to live with the current threat of terror that it seems affects all of Mexico. During the extended non-flight time, she was on the phone with boyfriend in Detroit and mother in Mexico, first alarming them with our situation, then calming them when the solution was achieved. Quite an adventure.

Once in Detroit, a couple other passengers and I—the relative few who had missed connections—were given our passes to a local motel and taken over there. It was kind of fun to have a late dinner with those guys and hear about their lives. The next morning, I found my way back to the airport and was this time successful in leaving and returning to National Airport here in DC.

Michael Broschat, 2 December 2012