Chicago: Day One

I meant to complete this and post it on Sunday, but instead went to dinner and then hit the hotel gym. As they say on Earth…c’est la vie. Either way, why let the reflections on the day go to waste?

Chicago: Day One

OK, so technically day one was Saturday when I landed and it took nearly as long to get to my hotel as it took to fly the several hundred miles from DCA to here. But all I did was get to the hotel and then go out to dinner (though dinner was all sorts of fantastic – Tavern on Rush serves incredible steaks. I got the Kansas City Strip with garlic seasoning. Wow.)

But today (Sunday) was my first day from sunup to sundown. There were some really wonderful moments and some important lessons learned.

First and foremost is that the cabbies in this town suck. They’re not impolite or anything, but they can’t drive. I’ve been in New York cabs. New York cabbies at least seem to have this sixth sense about them, an awareness of the lay of the land and a simple determination to get there without getting their fares killed. Not so with Chicago cab drivers, who apparently have so little a fear of death that they would really like to test their passengers’ limits. Bravo, Chicago, you’ve got cabbies that make the New Yorkers look sane.

However, I’m not using that as a springboard into negativity. I’ve kind of fallen in love with this town in short order. The first place I hit was the Museum of Science and Industry, which just about turned me into a seven year old kid again. Since I was alone on my travels, I didn’t have to worry about anyone else’s timetables or interests. I went through that place with a ton of wonderment and excitement and even caught myself giggling (yes, really) at a few things having to do with ‘splosions and the horrific wonders of the scientific age.

You get to run a simulator with a tornado that destroys a farmhouse, cause an avalanche, watch people blow up a hydrogen-filled balloon, study the history of inventions of neat stuff like the Super Soaker and see yourself on a thermal imaging camera like the Predator is watching you. Although as a tip, try to wear a long shirt. Trust me.

The only things that gave me pause was the enormity of the place (I can’t emphasize enough how overwhelming it is), and in the interactive exhibits about genetics viewing the overwhelming results (about 70% overall) that the respondents had little to no reservations with genetic engineering. I’d hope that they reached that conclusion after a lot of inner thought and soul-searching but something tells me that most people don’t really pause and consider the monstrous ethical issues with it.

Honestly, though, a museum exhibit giving you real pause for thought is a great thing. Even if you find out you’re in the vast minority (10%) that really thinks we need to consider every step very, very carefully before accidentally creating Khan, having him start the Eugenics Wars and having to freeze him and launch him into deep space.

After that I jumped into another cab (they put this place on the outskirts of town and basically have a cab stand because all of us out of towners have to get there somehow). This driver was 70 years old. I’m not exaggerating, that’s what he told me. He was pleasant to talk to and had the endearing habit of addressing me directly. Looking at the road while talking doesn’t engage the listener quite the same way, though the terror of seeing him weave through traffic sure focuses you. Also you learn to start doing the majority of the talking so that he has no reason to look back. And yes, I know that’s not a real challenge for me anyway. Enough with your jibber-jabber.

I got dropped off near the Wendella Boat Tours and had an hour to kill, so I asked the ticket seller where I should get a good Chicago hot dog. She sent me to Pie Guys and I had a slice of pizza and Chicago dog. It was good.

Then I hopped on the Wendella tour boat and went on the ‘combined’ tour that gave a history of the architecture primarily (it’s awesome) but also had a few historical tidbits like the multiple origins of the ‘Windy City’ nickname, and pointing out the parking garage that was used in the beginning of The Dark Knight. Geeky Batman fanboy that I am, that was neat. Also, I’ll have to watch Batman Begins again, but I’m pretty sure that phenomenal helicopter shot of him standing on what looks like a cathedral is the Chicago Tribune building. And the bridges are pretty obvious landmarks too, so it’s easy seeing the Batmobile jump over them.

I do have to heap praise on the architecture of the city, both the older and the newer stuff. It’s amazing. Even the new stuff is really well-designed. What’s more, the city skyline is like a snapshot of the history of architecture from the 20th Century through today. Unlike New York, which saw modernity invade and eat its architectural skyline, Chicago has buildings all within blocks of each other that are clearly demonstrations of the best architectural design and technology of each respective period. That is just ridiculous.

You can stand at the end of the Navy Pier, or cruise through the lake, and point to each building and accurately guess when it came into being. To some that might not work too well, but to me it’s the best of all possible worlds. It feels like the city is sharing its entire being with you in a glance. I’ve always been a sucker for architecture, though.

I will say that what they did to Soldier Field is a crime. Not surprisingly, it’s lost its historical status because the work just kept on going until they changed so much that it was no longer considered a landmark. In a town dominated by mobs, unions and dirty politics I can’t possibly see how that happened, but that’s how it is.

I came back after the boat tour to join Stacey and some of her coworkers for dinner at Opera, and I can tell you the food was fantastic. If you come to Chicago go to 1301 South Wabash. It’s worth it.

Then it was a final cab ride back to the hotel. The added bonus to this cab ride was the smell. It literally smelled like the guy had pooped in his cab and either forewent cleaning or just thought wiping it off the floor would be adequate. I had chosen to sit up front which was my horrible mistake, because apparently the odor wasn’t very noticeable in the back. Also, he was having a heated discussion in some language with someone else and the only word of English I made out was “attorney.” But seriously, bad driving and an inability to breathe well combine for some of the tensest minutes you can imagine.

Then it was hotel gym and sleep. Looking forward to tomorrow!


Addendum: I’ll hopefully post today’s blog tonight, though if I do end up going to Wrigley for the ball game it won’t be until well after today. But yeah, today was even better.

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