Chicago Thursday

I can't believe it is taking me so long to write these things.  Good thing I have notes to refer to. My Thursday adventure in Chicago after the jump.

Thursday morning  I had a ticket for a boat tour that started at 10 a.m.  Lucky for me the docks were across the street so I gave myself a treat and slept in and had room service.  I love having room service for breakfast, but I usually only do it once on a trip.  My favorite room service breakfast order is toast and bacon.  I don't know what it is about those simple foods, but I love ordering it.  Pancakes and french toast (and I love both) are more of a special occasion food for me and they are also quite heavy.  The Hyatt had the most amazing toast I've ever had at a hotel.  It wasn't regular old sliced bread as in most hotels.  It was thick cut slices of some kind of hand formed bread.  Four huge slices.  I was in heaven.

When people would hear that I was going to Chicago almost every single one of them told me to take an architectural boat tour.  I love architecture so who am I to argue!  I signed up with the Chicago Architectural Foundation who not only gives boat tours but walking tours of the area.  I would have loved to have time to take some of those tours as well.  I like going on tours.  I know it is hokey, but I like listening to stories about the places I'm visiting.  I was one of the first people in line and got to listen while the docent went down the line meeting people. Just from the people around me the visitors were from Massachusetts, Minneapolis, France and Australia. Chicago truly is an international tourist destination.  While I was standing in line I became aware of the fact that it was a bright, sunny, cloudless day and it was already getting hot.  I, of course, did not have sunblock.  Sigh. I'm usually pretty good about remembering sunblock, but it just never occurred to me to bring some on the trip.

This tour was perfect for me.  I love boats, I love water and I love tours.  I can't explain what a peaceful sensation I get on the water.  It just makes me happy.  The tour guide was ok.  I will admit that I am very snooty about tour guides.  I have high standards.  She stammered some which takes me out of the narration and would exclaim "look at that building" and start going on about it except for the fact that we were surrounded by buildings.  Which one?!?  It was fine though.  I figured most of it out.  The cruise itself was wonderful.  Great views of the city and no walking!  Hooray!  There was a wonderful cool breeze coming off the water.  Houston even got a shot out during the tour.  She mentioned that she remembered someone on the boat was from Houston (that would be me) and pointed out an example of the "Modern" style which is all over Houston.  My favorite quote of the day in describing certain architectures was "nature knows no right angles."  Chicago is also having a condo boom like Houston, but it of course didn't bother me as much because I don't know which buildings were there before.  In the case of building on the river and revitalizing that part of the city I think it is a good thing.  

Even though the breeze was good it was still hot and I started wondering if maybe I should spend the afternoon taking a different boat tour.  What I had originally scheduled for the afternoon was the audio tour of Chicago landmarks that I downloaded from the Loop Alliance. While on the boat I looked at the map and I had already seen a fair number of things on the list and the others weren't a real high priority.  I was enjoying myself so much I thought about maybe taking another boat tour or even one of the bus tours that I saw all over the city.  I decided that I would hit the one big thing from the landmark tour that I hadn't done yet and then decide from there.  So off I went to look for the Chicago Theater sign.  The theater was built in 1921 and it's marquee is iconic.  I hadn't realized how many places I had seen it in my research on Chicago until I saw it for the first time in person.  It was outside the first rail station that I used and it was like the sign was screaming at me "you're in Chicago!"  When I think of the sign, it will now always be tied to that sense of adventure and wonder tinged with a little bit of awe.  I had taken some photos of it the night before when I was passing it on my way back to the hotel, but I wanted a good daytime shot.  Of course when I got there most of the good camera angles were blocked with construction.  I don't think I really got the shot I was looking for.  I would love to have taken a tour (see! tours!) of the inside, but I just didn't have the time this trip.  

Next I decided to find the nearest Garrett Popcorn.  So, here's the story.  Popcorn is fine, but I'm not a big popcorn eater.  I'll have it on occasion.   I'm sure gourmet popcorn is fine, but it just excite me like cookies and cake does.  Before I even left town my online friend and photography mentor, Matt, told me that I needed to try Garrett Popcorn.  I just filed that away with the list of all the other things that all the other people told me that I should do.  I didn't even look up anything about it.  But after my first two days there I couldn't help but notice the inordinately large number of people walking around with shopping bags from Garrett's.  About halfway through Wednesday I had decided that if I passed one I would stop.  By Thursday, after another tweet from Matt about going, I decided to see if there was one near the Chicago theater.  Sure enough there was one a few blocks away.  

As I said about the Magnificent Mile, shopping venues weren't real high on my priority list.  As I was making my way towards Garrett's I found myself on State Street and in front of the old Marshall Field's, which is now Macy's.  I pulled out my audio tour and got an overview of the building and it's history.  I really wish I was a little more prepared for that store and had more time to explore.  I loved the old clocks on the building and it had such a wonderful history.  I imagine it was gutting for the city and it's long time residents when it changed to Macy's.  The audio tour talked about going in and exploring different areas, but I really didn't have much time.  I decided to go in a few steps just to say I had been there.  I walked through the cosmetic department, turned the corner and wow.  Just wow.  The thirteen story atrium with a skylight at the top.  I must have looked slack jawed because a man walking by me said "It's quite something isn't it."  Yes, yes it is.  It was only after I got home that I realized the Tiffany mosaic dome was in the same building.  I had read about the dome early on in my preparation, but since Macy's wasn't on my agenda I didn't come across it again.  It is aggravating to think I was that close and didn't go see it.  Oh well.  My few minutes in Macy's was fantastic.

On to Garrett's.  It was hot and getting hotter.  I almost always regret my wish for a sunny day when it turns out to be a sunny, cloudless and hot day.  I finally got to Garrett's and stepped in. Matt had suggested that I get the Garrett's Mix.  Garrett's only offers a handful of different flavors in their retail store including plain, buttery, caramel crisp and cheese corn. I decided that I would get some caramel crisp and some cheese corn and what do you know, that is exactly what the Garrett's Mix was.  Matt's pretty smart. I bought a small bag and grabbed a water and moseyed my way back to the hotel. My feet hurt and I was hot and tired (this is a common theme, I know), but as I was making my way back to my hotel I decided to walk a few more blocks and go see the building Aqua which was just finishing completion.  Hot, tired, achy.  It didn't matter because this was something I wanted to do so I fought through the pain.  That sheer determination surprises me because it is very intense.  I'm not sure why it isn't present in everything I do.  I need to learn to harness it.  Let's just say the Aqua building is super cool.  After that I finally made it back to my hotel for a break from the heat.

When I got back to the hotel I checked my email and I had one from Matt with a link to Garrett Popcorn and a statement that he would disown me if I didn't go.  I laughed at the email and decided to try a handful of the popcorn which I had been planning to save until I got back to Houston.  Oh.  My.  God.  It is amazing.  It is fantastic.  I am completely head over heels in love with this popcorn.  The cheese corn was so warm and fresh it practically melted in my mouth and with the mix of caramel it was such a wonderful combination of cheesy and sweet.  The cheese quickly covered my hands and I stopped before I got too carried away and too messy. In all honesty I should really be mad at him for making me go there.  The popcorn is only sold in Chicago and one store in New York.  It is unfair to get me hooked on something when I don't make regular trips to Chicago.  They do sell it online, but I can't imagine that being anywhere near the same.  Trust me I'll be able to tell you because at some point I will be ordering it.  I heard the band director was going to Chicago in December and the first words out of my mouth were "can you bring me some popcorn?"  This is such a surprise to me because as I said I'm usually so-so about popcorn.  But not Garrett's.  I'm in love.  It is just that good. 

As I rested in the hotel I had a decision to make.  My original plan was to go to the Hershey's store and then use my day pass for the John Hancock, but my aching feet and my sunburned body were making a strong argument for taking a tour on either a boat or a bus, not using my feet and feeling a nice breeze.  There was a boat tour that goes out into the lake and would have offered some wonderful views of the skyline and of course I love anything water, but int he end I decided to stick to my original plan.  After about an hour I was ready to head out.  It is amazing how just one hour can recharge you.  A good argument for a centralized hotel location.

My first stop was Hershey's.  I had worked pretty hard to avoid national businesses and stick with just Chicago things.  I of course violated this for the Apple store, but that was spontaneous, plus it was Apple so I am helpless to avoid it.  The Hershey's store was on my agenda from the beginning.  I love Hershey's and always have.  I encouraged you to read the book The Emperors of Chocolate.  It is a little outdated now, but I am sure the story will still stand up.  It is an incredible tale about the rise of Hershey and Mars, two candy giants.  Their lives, their worlds and their philosophies could not be more opposite.  I'd love to go to Hershey Pennsylvania one day.  They say you can smell the chocolate in the air.  Can you imagine!  So into the Hershey's store I went.  It was a high ceilinged candy shop with the different brands of candy all over the place.  I was very tempted to get a Kisses shaped tin.  It was cute and I love Kisses, but I am working hard on not picking up useless "stuff" so I left it.  Instead I decided to eat something from the bakeshop and ended up choosing a Hershey's Smore.  It was more like a bar cookies with a graham cracker bottom, layer of chocolate and marshmallow topping.  It was good and very sticky.  I ate it and looked out the window at my next destination, the John Hancock.

As I said on the Wednesday post, I loved the atmosphere of the John Hancock the evening before.  It was so laid back and peaceful.  It didn't have that harried tourist vibe that the Sears Tower had.  By the way the name of the Sears Tower officially changed when I was in Chicago. On Wednesday I was in the Sears building.  I was in the Sears building on the very last day of it's existence.  On Thursday while taking the boat tour the guided pointed out the Willis Tower. It's name had officially changed that very day.  

So what would John Hancock have in store for me during the day time.  More of the same! Again, no lines!  I really don't understand it.  Maybe it is because the Skydeck Ledges had just opened, but John Hancock really is the better tower.  But the night before when I asked about lines in comparison to what the Sears Tower had, the attendant said "I wish."  It seems that they don't have to deal with the crush of crowds that the other tower does.  One is on the 103rd floor and one is on the 94th.  The views are so much better at the John Hancock.  If I lived in Chicago I would be a John Hancock advocate.  This is tied with Millennium Park as my favorite place in Chicago.  It was peaceful and I spent quite a while there taking in the views, listening to the audio tour, sitting in the coffee shop and just looking over the city.  I probably could have sat there even longer if I didn't have a scheduled event.

When I found myself back outside the tower I wondered what I should do for dinner.  Things had changed around enough on my itinerary that I didn't have anything planned.  I pulled up the Yelp application and looked for something fast and simple.  There was the name Billy Goat Tavern.  I had seen it another restaurant application and I knew it was associated with Saturday Night Live in some way.  What can I say you hipsters.  I'm totally uncool and don't know a lot of the popular references.  The restaurant was near my hotel which meant that I once again walked the Magnificent Mile.  I finally came to the location and took the stairs down to the restaurant. I'm not sure what I was expecting.  Maybe a place where I wasn't going to feel comfortable or a place over run by loud tourists.  It was quiet with some locals at the bar.  There was nothing intimidating or scary, not even the sign above the door that said enter at your own risk.  I ordered a cheeseburger, got talked into a double cheeseburger and sat at the table nearest the counter.  I pulled out my iPhone and decided to look up information about the place while I was waiting and I'm so glad I did.  You can go and read the write up of the history of the restaurant.  There are two big things about the Billy Goat Tavern.  First, the owner brought a goat (he liked goats) to a Cubs game in 1945 and was turned away.  The owner put a "curse" on the team and they promptly began losing and have had a losing record ever since.  In recent years there have been attempts to break the goat curse, but they never seem to take fully.  According to the write up the goat was turned away again (oops!) but after many tries he finally made it into the stadium.  They didn't take him on the road during the playoffs which of course seems logical since they barely let him in the stadium, yet the Cubs had a poor playoff record.  The one time they did bring the goat on the road they won the playoff series.  Would you like to guess which team they beat?  Houston!  They have an interesting little chart on their history page which shows pre-curse and post-curse.  The other thing the tavern is known for is the Saturday Night Live skit with Dan Akroyd, John Belushi and Bill Murray.  Belushi and Murray lived in Chicago for a while and based their Olympia Grill skit on the Billy Goat Tavern.  In the skit, the chefs are always telling everyone to get a "cheeseborger" and "cheeps."  Funny, but that is exactly what they did to me.  As I was sitting near the counter eating I listened to them do it to another family that came through.  That place had such character.

On my way back to the hotel after dinner I stopped by the Wrigley building.  I didn't stay very long, but walked into the area between the two towers where I was surrounded with the incredible architecture.  What a lovely building.  It almost glows in the day time.  The glow comes from the glazed terra cotta and the style is French Renaissance.  One of my favorite buidings in the city.  

By the time I got back to the hotel I only had 15 minutes to get ready before I headed out again.  I had tickets to see the recording of the show Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me.  Since I was running late I decided that I would just pay to take a cab to the building because I wanted to be early. As I was leaving I saw it was getting cloudy and considered taking my umbrella, but decided not to (cue ominous music).  By the time I got to the entrance of the hotel, the rain began falling very lightly.  I learned two lessons during this excursion.  Lesson No. 1.  You can't get a cab in a big city in the rain.  The reason is because everybody else is in a cab in the rain. I waited for a while in front of the hotel, but there was a line of people in front of me waiting. I decided to walk in the light rain to Michigan Avenue which was a block from my hotel and catch a cab there.  As I got away from my hotel it started to rain harder and that's when I started noticing that most of the cabs were zipping along at a fast pace because they already had fares.  I then decided to try to make my way towards the rail station as was my original plan before I began to run late.  At some point I just had to accept the fact that I was going to be walking in the steadily increasing rain.  All those romantic stories about dancing in the rain? Bah.  It isn't fun to get rained on. I passed another hotel who had a pack of people huddled outside waiting for a cab.  I pressed on.  By this point it is really raining and I'm wondering what in the heck prompted me to leave my umbrella at the hotel.  Lesson No 2. If the thought crosses your mind that maybe you should take your umbrella, take it!  I must have looked quite a sight on the rail, soaking wet. But it got worse.  I'm not sure whether I read the map wrong or if things were different because of heavy construction, but the door I thought was the entrance to the building was not open.  And this is when it started to rain the heaviest.  Every door in the area where I was standing was locked so I had to walk around the not small building to find another entrance.  By this point I was jabbering to myself and I was getting a little hysterical on the inside.  I finally made it into the building much later than planned.  I went to the restroom to dry off but of course they didn't have paper towels!  I dried off as best I could and then went and got in line for the show.

Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me is one of my very favorite forms of entertainment.  The show is funny and witty and I look forward to it each week.  This show is what sold me on going to Chicago. They only announce tapings about six weeks in advance so I didn't know when I booked my flight if they were going to be in town or on the road or even if they were going to be on vacation.  Everything worked in my favor though and I am happy that I got to sit in the Chase auditorium that I hear about every week on my iPod.  The auditorium only holds 500 seats.   The panelists for the evening were Roy Blount Jr., Roxanne Roberts and Charlie Pierce.  The celebrity guest was Jimmy Fallon.  It was strange to suddenly be at the taping.  They really didn't give us any instructions other than to make our reactions audible.  Nodding heads and quiet smiles don't translate well to radio.  There was no audience wrangler to tell us when to clap or when to be quiet.  I suddenly couldn't remember when the audience applauded on previous shows.  Now that I've listened to some more shows it is interesting that each audience reacts in different places from week to week. After the show they had a merchandise table and I bought a water bottle and a sticker.  Those items plus a t-shirt from John Hancock and some pencils are all the souvenirs that I purchased.  My main souvenirs will be my pictures.  I did not look forward to heading back out into the rain, but luckily it had cleared up and it was a beautiful, clear night.  I was a little nervous about riding the subway alone at night, but I just acted brave and honestly no one paid me the least bit of attention.  My last night in Chicago.  

Chicago Friday

Time to say goodbye