On Saturday, Allison and I took a day trip up to Chicago to celebrate our 3rd anniversary.
We began in downtown Joliet, boarding a 10:24am train northbound to Chicago. We picked up donuts and coffee on the way there, though during the trainride, I managed to spill a sizable amount of coffee on myself, though it simply rolled off my leather jacket and onto the floor. That’s why you never see any soggy cows, I guess. It’s amazing how big some of the train station parking lots are in New Lenox and Mokena, and how there aren’t any stations in places like Blue Island: people just board in the middle of the street. During the trip, we reviewed our plans for the day, which were carefully researched on the CTA’s trip planner. We had 1-day unlimited passes for the subway and busses, and sheets that said which bus to board at which location in order to get where we needed to be. I also had a shitload of cash for various tickets and for emergency taxi purposes (more on this later).
We arrived at the LaSalle street station at 11:45, where we happened to see an old high school friend, Erica (Allison knows her better than I), who goes to DePaul and was meeting her boyfriend. A few brief pleasantries later, Allison and I walked the less-than-one block to the L station, which was to take us within spitting distance of the Sears Tower. While waiting for the train, we mused about the bravery of the pidgeons that were pecking about for food. For being such filthy creatures, they’re actually quite pretty, with iridescent neck feathers.
Sure, enough, the train came, and within a few minutes we were standing at a street corner outside our destination. I checked the map to reorient myself and figure out what direction we needed to walk. As I scowled at the little fold-out CTA map, Allison interrupted. “Um,” she said, “I think it’s that way?”
“Oh?” I said, looking up…. and up, and up, and up, since Allison was pointing at one of the tallest buildings in the world, less than a block a way, a its telltale white antennas poking into the welkin. “Oh,” I said. “Let’s go this way.”
Soon thereafter, we were hit up by a very nice conman. A middle-aged black man with grizzly stubble handed us several postcards and launched into a preface about our troops and the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Oh brother, I thought. What’s this going to turn into? Then he informed us that he and his “kids” were homeless and living in a shelter. He was given postcards every week to go out and sell, and could we please support him?
My brain worked a mile a minute. There’s no way a homeless shelter would have its constituents peddle postcards on the streets of Chicago. On the other hand, that doesn’t mean he’s not genuinely homeless. Faced with a decision, I fished some money out of my wallet (too much, really) and gave it to him, which prompted a hug for both Allison and I. Feeling somewhat cheated, we continued on to the Skydeck. Where there was almost no queue for the elevators. “Great,” we said. “No wait.”
The elevators took us into a bright yellow room with royal blue accoutrement—the Sear’s Tower’s new branding—that was filled from wall to far wall with a serpentine line of people culminating in a metal detector. Still, it seemed to be moving pretty quickly, so we joined the queue and listened to all the different languages being spoken. There was a middle eastern family ahead of us with annoying kids (I profess to being completely ignorant of what exact nationality they were); a duo of dark-haired Russian men we passed on occasion; at least one Hispanic family. I may have heard more foreign languages than English, but I suppose that’s no surprise. The Sears Tower constitutes one of the main tourist attractions in the city (in the country, even), drawing in over 1.3 million people a year, according to their promo materials. We also met up—unplanned—with Erica and her boyfriend.
After getting through the metal detector (Allison’s belt buckle, of all things, set it off), we got to wait in another long queue for tickets. I thought maybe we could both pass off as 11 years old and save a few bucks, but later decided against it. After shelling out $23 bucks, we hurried up and waited in yet another long queue, this time to pack into a room and watch a promotional film about Chicago. By this time, I gathered that the intent was to stagger the flow of incoming people so that the skydeck itself wasn’t shoulder to shoulder. I remembered the video from the last time I was at the Tower (it was made in 1996), but it was horribly out of date, since Comiskey Park is now US Cellular Field (and what a shame) and the Sears Tower is no longer the tallest building in the world.
Once the movie was over, we shuffled out and waited, again, in one last queue for the super-powered elevators that would take us to the top (at 1600 feet per minute). At one point, the machinations of the line forced me to wait inside a revolving door. I made the customary physical gags about being trapped inside, but stopped short of miming a self-induced asphysxiation (a la Peter Griffin).
Finally, we made it up to the Skydeck, which was much different than I remembered it. Or I’m much different. Either way, it was a great day for visibility, even with a bit of haze marring the horizon. We did the requisite Oohing and Ahhing, attempted to take some pictures, and took the elevators down. Luckily, there were no long waits this time.
On the way out, we had to walk through a gift shop, and Allison pointed out racks of suspiciously familiar postcards selling for 40¢ each. “Yeah yeah,” I said, “but maybe he was homeless anyway.” That’s what I’d tell myself, at least.
Our next stop was Marshall Fields, which involved boarding a bus (my first time) and enduring the manic drive through construction. Once there, I was awed at the store. Mind you, we have a Marshall Fields here in Joliet, which is two floors and fancy enough, I suppose. But this thing was nine floors, and basically a mall in and off itself. And it was crawling with people. And had a ceiling like a cathedral. Allison drooled at the mammoth selection of shoes, somewhat put out that she had no money to treat herself. I marvelled at how such a monstrosity could exist in a place where real estate is at such a premium. The store was an entire city block and 9 stories tall: what a testament to opulence. I would find that at least in downtown Chicago, this will be a theme.
We took the red line subway to Grand, hungry for lunch. We walked for a while, not seeing the giant frog that marked out desination, and realized that we were walking in the opposite direction. We executed an about-face, walked a little faster, and arrived at the Rainforest Café (again, my first time) at about 3. And good timing, too, since we seemed to miss both lunch and dinner rushes. Within 5 minutes, we were seated and ordering, our conversation interrupted only by the howls of frightened/angry animatronic pachyderms and the squeals of the children seated in the area. Oh, and by mouthfuls of food, since we both tore into our meals with gusto. I noticed that they served alcoholic drinks in clear plastic classes with multicolored LEDs blinking at the bottom. I was instantly even more angry that I am not yet 21.
Our next stop was Michigan Ave., the “Miracle Mile” and the home of the most opulent (and yet depressing) sights of the city. We first stopped at Nordstrom’s, which had some sort of famous people there, I guess, involved with the Heatherette fashion line. There were three very skinny models in strange dresses and stage makeup dancing, while two very gay men (really, their loafers were so light they were floating) signed shirts or something. Everyone seemed fascinated or excited or something, but I was instantly struck with the urge to punch the pompous autographers in the face and make the models eat something.
By this point, it was about 5, and Michigan Ave. was awash in pedestrians, moving from store to store. What struck me the most, I suppose, was the juxtaposition of opulence and decay. Sure, there was Saks Fifth Ave., sitting proudly and richly, but in front of it were droopy-eyed transients, holding out cups for spare change; blind men sleeping against walls; busking the likes of which I’ve never seen. We made our way down several blocks, stopping at a crowded and surprisingly run-down Walgreens for gum, avoiding the Apple Store at all costs, perusing the Disney Store at Allison’s request, and finally finding The Cheesecake Factory. Instead of order there, though, we stopped at Jamba Juice, which Allison loves to pieces. She got her usual Razzmatazz and I got a red tea, though I confessed that I considered ordering a wheatgrass enema.
Then the fun started. By means a bus screwup—the details of which are not worth specifying, except to say that CTA can kiss my rump—we ended up taking the wrong bus up Lake Shore Drive, getting off at Belmont. We needed to be at Navy Pier. Our precisely laid plans didn’t account for this. Desperate, we decided to bite the bullet and hailed a passing taxi (again, my first time). We were at Navy Pier lickity split, and it only cost $11 (though I tipped handsomely).
Navy Pier was overrun with children dressed up in Halloween costumes. It was also much bigger than I remembered, and looming over all of it was the Ferris Wheel, which I had earlier agreed to ride on. Allison loves things like Ferris Wheels and roller coasters, and I—needless to say—do not. Still and all, if I can’t pee myself out of fear for the woman I love, what good am I, right? We both used the bathrooms, watched a juggler in bemusement for a few seconds, and headed up. While I still profess my fear of being suspended in baskets 150 feet above the ground, we managed to snap some nice pictures, including one of us.
We killed some more time by walking along the pier’s edge, bought some food, wandered around the “stained glass museum,” and then found the right bus to take us near the La Salle St. train station. It was a long bus ride, made longer by the fact that we were sitting next to a somewhat drunk black man nursing a beer can in a paper bag, and soulfully but ineptly crooning spirituals at the top of his voice.
We departed at State & Congress, bought some coffee at a 7-11, and trekked back to the train station. I was in familiar territory now, having come this way when ffanatic and I saw the Red Sparowes. It took a while for the train to open up, but eventually were were boarded and on our way back to Joliet, having only to avoid the car filled with sugar-crazed trick-or-treaters and their unfortunate parents. Once in Joliet, I plucked a $3 parking fine out of my windshield wiper (I thought they didn’t enforce the meter on weekends, but either way, it’s cheaper than filling it) and we called it a night.
I could wax grandiloquent here about the juxtaposition of social classes in Chicago or something like that, but I won’t because it’s late and I’m already sick of writing. Let’s just say that I don’t think I’d like to live and work in Chicago unless I was making a sufficiently high salary (six figures, minimum) to justify the traffic, noise, and urban sprawl. It’s a beautiful place to be a tourist, but it’s a city with its own problems nonetheless. It’s that toddlin’ town.