Chicago, Chicago that toddling town.
Chicago, Chicago I will show you around – I love it.
Bet your bottom dollar you lose the blues in Chicago, Chicago,
The town that Billy Sunday couldn’t shut down.
˜Fred Fisher (1922)
Day 4 dawned sunny, hot and humid, feeling very much like summer in The Zone. This would be a day of extreme highs and lows.
We got an early start at the Chicago Cultural Center, waiting in line for their free! Architecture Loop Tour on the El. The CCC leases an El train each Saturday morning and runs a 45-minute architecture tour of The Loop. The train circumnavigates The Loop several times as the tour guide discusses 19th, 20th, and 21st Century architecture. Being elevated was a great way to observe design details you would not otherwise see from the street. We finished early enough to catch a Wendella Boat Tour from the foot of the Wrigley Building. I fished around in my backpack, looking for my digital camera. It was gone! It must have happened the day before.
Somewhere between Cloud Gate, the Crown Fountain, the BP Bridge and the Pritzker Pavilion (another Frank Gehry design), someone stole the camera out of the backpack. I’m lucky I had my cell phone in my pants pocket; otherwise, that would have been gone, too. Whatever pictures I took in Chicago up to that point are gone. I did have the foresight to pack my film camera also, but I was too rattled to remember to pack for Day 4. [That’s why all the photos up until now are from the Web.]
Back to the Chicago River . . . Wendella operates boat tours on the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. They depart from the base of the Wrigley Building. That day we arrived early enough to get tickets for the 90-minute architecture tour. It was fabulous! We were among the first in line, so we snagged seats on the top deck. The boat went down the river and through the locks to the lake. The boys had never seen or been through a river lock – although WineGuy and I grew up around them along the Potomac River in DC – and were fascinated by the engineering. The boat then cruised up and down Lake Michigan, while the tourguide gave excellent descriptions of the famous buildings in Chicago’s skyline. We came back through the locks and cruised up the river towards the Sears Tower. Again, the guide spoke at length about the city’s architectural code requirements and how they impacted the design and development of various projects. One other highlight of the boat trip were seeing each and every Chicago River drawbridge being raised that afternoon. Apparently, that is rare. Once we disembarked, we were pretty parched after an hour-and-a-half in the sun. So, we found a little Chinese restaurant just south of the river and stopped for lunch. We all enjoyed bubble shakes (smoothies with tapioca pearls) made from fresh exotic fruits, like lychee, mango, and soursop.
Thus fortified, we ventured back up Michigan Avenue to use up our last City Pass ticket: the Hancock Center Observatory. Although the line was long, our City Pass entitled us to skip right to the front and go right up the elevator to the 94th floor. One thousand feet above Michigan Avenue, the Observatory offers views of Chicagoland and the surrounding 80 miles, on a clear day. It was hazy that day, so we couldn’t even see Gary, Indiana, a mere 30 miles away. However, we had a great view of the city: Cook County Hospital (nowhere near downtown, for you “ER” fans); Cabrini Green, the famous projects; the United Center, home of the Chicago Bulls; Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs; U.S. Cellular Field, home of the White Sox; and the Baha’i Temple, 14 miles away in Wilmette. We came down from the aerie and listened to some salsa music playing on the plaza. The boys were being rotten, so we decided not to take them to an old-fashioned joke shop.
Instead, we bussed it out to Lincoln Park so WineGuy could check out Sam’s Wines, which some former Chicagoans recommended to him. That was a lot of shlepping for nothing, as WG didn’t buy a thing. We did have a lovely walk through Lincoln Park so we could catch a downtown bus to Greektown for dinner. We ended up at Roditys and stuffed ourselves silly with flaming saganaki cheese, moussaka, pastitsio, and spanakopita. The boys had another quintessentially urban experience as we waited for a bus back to The Loop: watching the winos panhandle for money while clutching their bottles in rumpled paper bags; smelling the awful stench of urine boiling up from the sun-baked city streets. We can only hope it made our boys thankful for the clean, well-off life they live here in The Testosterone Zone.
After another bus ride and a quick trip on the Red Line, we were back at our station. We ascended the stairs to find the block between the El station and our hotel blocked off. There were 20+ firetrucks of every shape and kind and countless police cars. As we walked around an entire city block to get back to our hotel, we learned that a fire broke out in an adjacent building. To Wild Thing and Moose, that was more exciting than anything else! They loved watching the firefighters, the flashing lights, and the spectacle of it all. Cheap thrills, indeed.