Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Second City

I slowly peeled my eyes open in the dimly lit upper room of Duncan’s house in Chicago as a couple of the guys went back and forth getting ready for church. I was feeling, uh, sluggish, so I declined to go. Probably should have, but oh well. I got showered, dressed, and got the car out of its spot to go find a Starbucks nearby and have a Venti Iced Latte to clear my head. It was just a few blocks away, and I got to practice my parallel parking skills after circling the store a few times. This is a common occurrence in Chicago city proper for sure.

I had texted Esther as I was leaving Duncan’s house, and she said she could meet me at the Starbucks and go pal around Chicago for a day. She had preparations for a wedding to complete that Monday before leaving for Michigan on Tuesday. No matter, this was Sunday, her free day. I hadn’t seen her since maybe July on the South Padre trip, so we spent a few minutes at a table outside catching up. After I told her what I had in mind for that day, we first had to park my car back at her apartment, then we walked a couple blocks to get a 3 day unlimited pass for the El train, which proved invaluable in getting around the city. This is how I found out what in the world a Jewel Osco is: a grocery store.

After getting the passes, we walked up the stairs from street level to the platform for the El station at Berwyn, facing a day of 75 degrees, pure blue sky and big white clouds over the city:

It was fun to ride the train to our first stop at Addison, where the legendary Wrigley Field is located. I had wanted to stop there both for Wrigley and for the memories made near there in 2010. I bet Erin and Jessica had gotten a look inside Wrigley the week before, but they weren’t playing a game and we hadn’t planned a tour, so we just got some pics of the two of us and the Duckies by the famous sign:

Ok, memories: when some of us fresh, new analysts at Comerica Bank went to this area, known as Wrigleyville, in August 2010, we, well mainly I, had way too much to drink in the bars on Clark Street. That night, something had upset me, and I’d left the group to do some thinking, and it was on the steps of this Starbucks that I decided the thing I needed most in the world was sobriety:

Where did I seek this most precious sobriety? Catty corner from the Starbucks, at the Mickey D’s of course:

It was here that I was so out of it I nearly gave away all my food because I was confused when picking up my order, and I nibbled agonizingly slowly on the nuggets and fries for a solid hour until the fog of drinking began to leave me. Whew! That’s why Esther took this picture of me looking down Clark Street, as if to say, “This all looks very different in the daylight…”

And yes, this is Wrigleyville by day; lots of bars and restaurants along this one street. At night, it’s a frenzy of cars cruising along and drunk people meandering on the sidewalks and sometimes in the street. This was Sunday afternoon, so lots of the sports bars were showing football games, in particular the Colts playing the Bears at nearby Soldier Field. Those fans were really into that game!

We walked a few blocks down Clark, then over to the Belmont station on the Red Line to head downtown:

Once we got off at Chicago and State, here’s the sign that greeted us as an entrance to the section of the city with that name:

Given my love of tall buildings, the fact that for a long time after Esther and I emerged from the subterranean El station, the camera was pointed skyward:

Downtown Chicago is so vertical, I love it! And this was just the start. Here’s more from our walkaround as we sought out more Starbucks and whatnot in the Michigan Avenue area:

It looks like we came across a park with a statue and many national flags too:

After going up a few levels of stairs, Esther and I arrived at the spot where Michigan Ave. crosses the Chicago River, with all the towers lined up along the south side:

Our destination lay below in the water: The Wendella Boat Tours, like Vince Vaughn worked at in The Breakup:

But first, unexpectedly, Esther and I came across a certain beloved pirate with a penchant for rum:

Those first two pictures were when I was trying to shoot from the hip rather than pay him for an official photo. Another strangely stingy time on a trip that literally had no budget…

We did eventually give in and put $2 in his hat and take a couple of pictures with him, that are probably on Esther’s phone. He had all the Jack Sparrow mannerisms down pat, and said he performed this act in Vegas and other places around the country. He asked Esther her name like so: “What’s your name, love?” and asked me, “What’s your name, mate?” Pretty fun encounter overall!

For an early dinner, we ate at Pizano’s, which in my opinion is the best authentic deep-dish pizza in Chicago. It’ll be hard to top it, that’s for sure. Eating real deep-dish is a workout, it’s exhausting to power through a layer of cheese, tomato sauce and crust that’s over 2 inches thick! Pizano’s puts more cheese in each slice than Gino’s East, which is why I like it better. It also has tons of Chicago Bulls/Michael Jordan posters and other memorabilia on the walls, which makes for the perfect visual surrounding. Esther and I had a great chat over that pizza, and really enjoyed the whole experience; we ended up giving away the leftovers to someone on the street in the middle of an intersection.
Now, readers, hear me on this – the Wendella Boat Tour is one of the all-time tourism bargains if you love sightseeing, especially of cityscapes like I do. It was $28 a person for a combined lake and river tour which lasts over an hour. We paid, walked down to the boat, and waited briefly while taking a few shots of the buildings and bridge above us:

Yes, the Trump Tower is very tall (1,300+ feet):

At about 5, tour set off, and though I listened to some of what the guide was saying, I was constantly taking pictures of our surroundings on the river as we headed toward the Sears Tower:

This was our excellent tour guide, who turned out to be from Ireland:

He pointed out a ton of different buildings and facts about them as we continued downriver, which is further inland not lakeward for engineering reasons he told us about later. Soon we were in the area where the Sears Tower is:


It’s true that I was unable to make the Sears or “Willis” Tower, still America’s tallest building, look very appealing. I wasn’t very savvy at photography yet, but the rest of the boat tour made me seem like a better photographer than the first part. Near Sears, we did a full U turn in the boat, and started cruising back upriver toward the lake:





This is Lake Point Tower, which is notable for being the only tower built east of Lake Shore Drive:

The first of many Trump Tower shots straight down the river, hiding the fading sunlight:


What follows is a parade of pictures from the lake of the Duckies and the beautiful Chicago skyline:

Our Irish tour guide told us quite the tale of how, back in the late 1800s, the city leadership didn’t like how trash, pollution, and sewage was being dumped into the Chicago River and dirtying up Lake Michigan. They decided build locks at the entrance of the river, and reversed the flow to where it goes inland, toward Saint Louis. St. Louis wasn’t thrilled about the reversal, but Chicago sure was. That’s why, when the locks opened to let the boat back into the river, we were steaming with the current:

As the sun was setting over the skyline, my trigger finger continued its persistent barrage upon the camera’s shutter button:



Saw some poor saps kayaking in the river:

I say “poor saps” because it was pretty chilly by the time the tour ended. We had been cold for about thirty minutes by then; Esther was wearing a warm vest, and I think I might have been in short sleeves and jeans at most, so the wind out of on the lake really got me good! I just noticed I accidentally caught someone in silhouette along the bridge in front of Trump Tower:

So yes, it was a fantastic experience, well worth every penny. Afterwards, we walked around the Michigan Avenue area some more, taking more pictures of the architecture:

Looks like rows of torches doesn’t it?

That’s higher exposure and color balance for you. We found some familiar writing on a wall:

That news was heard far and wide!

We stopped by the entrance to Trump Tower for a glam shot featuring the Duckies:

I also had us walk down to Lower Wacker or Lower Lower Wacker or whichever road below ground it was that they filmed some of the action scenes from Dark Knight:

That was the scene where the Joker and his minions blow up the cop convoy with a rocket launcher shot out of an eighteen wheeler. Anyhow, we ended up in a sitting area near one of the bridges, and a homeless looking guy approached us, selling postcards. He pointed to a woman nearby whom he said was his wife. Esther was skeptical of whatever story he told us, but since the trip had no budget, I gave him enough money to buy 3 Chicago postcards. I thought they would make a cool souvenir. Esther said I was a better person for being generous to this guy (I think his name was James?), but I disagreed, sometimes I keep the wallet shut.

After that, I made war on a statue of George Washington, trying really hard to properly expose it for a good photo. It didn’t end well:

Fresh off that defeat, we walked to Johnny Rockets nearby for burgers, fries, and a thick chocolate milkshake; that incident is how I found out that Esther is very lactose intolerant, as I successfully tempted her into drinking more and more of the shake. The restaurant was close to the El, and the famous Chicago sign:

Esther swore off the shake before we left, but without her knowing, I snuck several extra straws into my bag after she threw hers away. I revealed the extra ones as we were about to get on the train to go to her place, where I stayed that night. She thought I was too conservative to stay at a girls’ house…ha! Not true, evidently. She was half mad, half happy that I had a straw for her to keep working on the milkshake. She paid me back later while we were looking for parking, hence our joke of her needing to find “a guy who’s worth hiding her lactose intolerance for”.

In the past 24 hours, my impression of Chicago had vastly improved, to something like this: