If you are looking at the title of this post and don’t have a clue what’s going on, please back up and read my post from earlier this month. I am in Chicago!
It is also 2am, so bear with me. This entry will likely be my worst quality writing.
Travel: I had a pretty uneventful flight. Oddly, my boarding pass showed “priority boarding” and who was I to refuse? I gladly got in line with everyone traveling first class, went back to my seat in row 26, near the back of the plane, and enjoyed my private 8 or 10 aisles all to myself until everyone else showed up. My good deed was telling a woman traveling with her 8 (ish) year old daughter that they could move my camera bag around to make room for their final suitcase – this flight must have been unusually high in carry-on luggage because when the overhead bins were full, there were a good 20+ people in the aisle with luggage. I had paid the extra $25 to check a bag (my clothes) so that I could carry on my camera and laptop bags.
The entire airport-to-airport experience was smooth, including taking the CTA train (“L”) into the city. I thought it would be about 45 minutes to my stop, but it was actually about 80 minutes. I had my inkeeper’s phone number so I occasionally texted her to keep her updated. These first three nights, I am staying at a private place I found on airbnb.com, which I used frequently in Europe. I am staying in a house in the neighborhood of Pilsen, a heavily-Hispanic area just south of downtown. It is a 10-15 minute “L” ride from downtown (“the Loop”) and the stop is just about a 4 minute walk from this place. It’s like a house – I have my own keys – but it’s also like a hostel in that each bedroom is being rented and there is a resident lady who manages things. I have the “backpacker room,” an extraordinarily small room, but I knew that going in. The room is about 6′ x 4′ and has a sloping room. But it has a comfy single bed, a fan, a light, power outlets, a lock on the door. It’s fine for sleeping. Best of all, it was about $15 a night! The other rooms are in the $30-40 range.
So Thursday night, I arrived around 1am, and by 2am, I was asleep.
Today I woke up at 8:30, which is really 6:30am in the time zone I’m used to, and apparently I hit the snooze button enough times to turn off the alarm. I woke up at 10.
I took a shower, did a little organizing of my luggage contents, and got my gear ready. Wallet, keys and smartphone [ 🙂 ], check! Camera bag and tripod, check! Map and handwritten list of things to do and special photo locations, check. Then I remembered I hadn’t purchased my ticket for the Cubs game at Wrigley Field on Saturday. I got on stubhub and bought the cheapest ticket that wasn’t standing room only. It was certainly the most expensive ticket I’ve ever purchased – you can buy field-level Dodger tickets the day before a game for less than $15. This was…more than $50 for beyond the foul pole, second level. But whatever. I can’t go to Chicago and not see Wrigley Field. Out the door I went.
OH!!! Back up… here is how my trip really started. I was waiting at LAX and realized I didn’t bring my camera battery charger. That means I would get about 4 days of photos and 22 days of being angry. So, [with my awesome new smartphone], I quickly got on Amazon, bought a travel charger for $15, and paid the extra $4 for one-day shipping. It arrived earlier today. Problem averted.
So, at 11am, I walked out the door – very dehydrated, very thirsty, and very hungry. Within that 4 minute walk back to the metro stop, there is a trendy-looking coffee shop, totally a Seattle-style place that I would spend a lot of time in if I lived here. I went in an got a double americano. I don’t even care that it was way more expensive than a Starbucks triple americano because it was one of the best espresso drinks I’ve ever tasted. My only plan today was a 2pm “reservation” for a free walking tour. Before that, I had three hours, minus the 15 minute “L” ride to downtown.
My first stop was the Public Library – an impressive, ornate building in itself – for the sole purpose of using the public computers to print my Cubs ticket via Stubhub (if I had an Iphone I could use a “digital ticket”). Then I sort of spent a couple hours wandering the “Loop” and that involved pointing my camera in all directions. This downtown is very walkable and has interesting things to see, unlike Los Angeles. At noon, I was still hungry – having gone without breakfast, and basically without dinner the night before. It was time for #1 in my 3 “must-have Chicago foods,” a Chicago Dog. I went to Gold Coast Dogs, which was actually a Gold Coast Dogs/Popeye’s Chicken. USA Today and several other reputable sources call this the “top dog,” so to speak. It was a small hot dog, think and short, but was topped with hot peppers (that “giardinere” stuff) and a pickle, mustard, and on a poppy seed bun. It was tasty!
Eventually, I made my way to the Tribune building on the north side of the river. The Nathan Hale statue was the meeting spot for my free walking tour. Man, I love these! I actually would like to be a free walking tour guide if I lived in a city that had them. How fun! Anyway there were six of us in the group, led by Shelby, who lives in Chicago via Seattle/Olympia via southern California. So we had a lot to talk about while walking from spot to spot! It turns out my favorite novel is Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie, which takes place in 1890’s Chicago. I have wanted to come to Chicago since I read that and we had a conversation about that book. It was really cool to meet her. She told me that there is an area of Chicago called Logan Square, which is where all the ex-Seattleites choose to live. I also spent a while talking to two girls who were from Australia and are taking a US tour together. They are going to San Francisco next, so we were talking about that. Side note: I thought everyone has seen The Rock, with Nicholas Cage and Sean Connery. Apparently, I’m wrong. Anyway, I learned a lot about the buildings and public art in the area.
After the tour, I walked to her bus stop which was conveniently next to a……Caribou Coffee. I was so excited to be there, and as proof of that, my drink was gone (down my throat) before I had left the store. Afterwards, I took more pictures and then sort of wandered over to the Taste of Chicago, the annual food festival where there are musicians, chef presentations, and over 35 restaurants selling their food.
I bought $12 worth of tickets – I still have some left. My only purchase today was a slice of sausage pizza from Lou Malnati’s (#2 on the list) which is supposedly the best deep dish in the city. I was actually disappointed because it was a bit watery. Maybe it’s because they were using portable equipment, but… yeah, I will go to an actual store -maybe not Malnati’s – and give deep dish another chance. I was talking to a guy who asked if I wanted his ribs (from a different vendor) because they weren’t any good. So maybe that’s what happens when a restaurant menu is cooked off-site. Eventually it was time for the performances – a country-ish band called The Lone Bellow, and the headliner Robert Plant. Free concert! It was neat to see him. Wednesday’s free concert was FUN (the band). Well, it’s free if you want the lawn seating. There are close-up seats one could pay for. I am coming back on Sunday for the Mowglis and Neon Trees. Free, again. Plus I need to use my food tickets.
By this time it was 6pm. The rest of my day consisted of: going to Trader Joes for apples, water, iced tea, clif bars, toothpaste (which I forgot), and some local beers. Chicago – the city, itself – apparently has a large tax on alcohol. Six-packs are at least two dollars more than they are on the west coast.
Now it feels like I am missing something – I must have just been wandering with my camera. Next thing that comes to mind is bringing my purchases back home. I put them in the fridge, plugged in my smartphone just a bit, because it was almost dead, and showered/changed clothes. I am not used to the one (or less) day life of a smartphone battery. I am used to about 7-10 days on my LG ENV3. Oh well, pros and cons…
I headed back into downtown and went to a bar/restaurant/lounge. Think BJs or The Ram, but with loud dance music playing – it was probably between 10-11 pm. I had an awesome buffalo calamari cobb salad. It tasty exactly how it sounds, with is awesome! It was calamari, seasoned like buffalo wings, on a cobb salad. Plus I tried some local beers. The Goose Island (Chicago) “Green Line” is supposedly an American-style IPA, and if that’s true, it is my favorite one ever, because it had just the right amount of hops (which I do NOT like). Then I tried the Goose Island “Matilda” which was a Belgian-style ale, a bit sweet and served in a goblet. Then a Metropolitan Brewing (Chicago) “Krank Shaft” which is a Kolsch-style beer. It would seem that was quite a bit of alcohol, but really it wasn’t. The fact that I made two mistakes on the way back (took the wrong line going the wrong direction, then after correcting things, I got off at the wrong stop) were truly because I was focused on my smartphone/focused on a magazine and not staying alert.
I got back around 1am, turned Pandora on a low volume (because who doesn’t function better with music in the background?), began writing this, and have also been chatting with a girl from Chattanoga, TN who is staying in the room across from me. Note to self: I need to stop saying “chatting” for real conversations because I instantly associate that word with Facebook. She and her friend are performers – the “Second City” type – and she told me about a cool, unique performance group in town. I may check them out while I am here…it sounds like something I would definitely like! Maybe tomorrow night. After the Cubs game, that is. By the way, if my observations are correct Cubs fans apparently leave the ballpark and go directly to a bar until they can not walk or stand up without falling over. Then they re-populate the transit system on their way home. About two hours after the game ended, I was in a sea of beyond-drunk people. Plus, the Cubs lost – what are they celebrating?
Freaky story of the day: the across-the-hall ladies came home with a bag of crystals, polished stones, and 30 sheets of paper. They were out at Lake Michigan and a bag containing these things drifted to them from out in the water. Weird, huh? Must be haunted.
Next: Day 2.