Friday, June 5, 2009

My Kind Of Town!

The first time I remember setting foot in Chicago was the summer of 1990. I was on tour with my drum corps and we had a free day between shows somewhere in the Midwest. The bus pulled in front of Shed Aquarium about 10am, dropped us off, and basically said to be back by 6pm. I remember walking through the streets with my cohorts in complete awe of the variety of things to do, places to shop, architecture, sculptures, and culture as we tried to find the Sears Tower in the gaps between skyscrapers. Since then, I have always said that if I could live ANYWHERE else in the US, it would be Chicago.

This past weekend, after finally accepting a standing invitation from one of my oldest friends, Josh, I got to return to "that toddlin' town". He's told me time and again that I should hop a train and spend the weekend with him at his apartment by the lake, so I finally decided to take him up on it. After a mere 32 hours in Chicago, I am more in love with that city than ever before.
I woke up 2 hours before my train was scheduled to leave, just to be prepared for any SNAFU's. Having worked both jobs the night before, I was amazed at how much energy I had! I double checked my packing list, loaded up, and got to the station 45 minutes before departure. I spent a peaceful half-hour snapping pics of the dawn on the trees and playing my uke to kill time. The train ride was SOOO relaxing compared to driving, and for roughly what I would have spent in gas anyway, by FAR the best choice.

I emerged from Union Station about 1/2 hour later than planned, and so I didn't have to wait long for my friend Jenny to pick me up. We headed (via several missed turns and 2 calls to Josh for directions) to Josh's place of employ, as he planned to buy us all lunch at his upscale steakhouse while he worked his shift. Thankfully, it was VERY slow at the restaurant that day, so we all hung out, ate, chatted for a few hours, and did some much needed catch-up for a few hours. Afterwards, Jenny drove me to Josh's place, we talked for a while, and when she left I played on Facebook while waiting for Josh to return from work so we could hit the town.
We walked from his apartment the 3 blocks to the El station and hopped the train a couple miles. We get off, walk 2 blocks, and Josh says, "Paul Keiser, meet Wrigley Field." I look up and there's the sign I've seen in so many of my favorite John Hughes movies. Josh took the obligatory tourist photo of me, then we walk down a few blocks, turn, and all of the sudden I am confronted by a TIDAL WAVE of fabulosity. Josh had taken me to "Boy's Town", the GLBT Mecca of Chicago. We head into his favorite watering hole he described as "the un-gayest gay bar in Chicago...aside from all the Madonna & Cher on the jukebox". The vibe was fun, the beer was cold, the patrons cool, the owner was great, and Josh and I had a great conversation without having to shout (much). I had a BLAST!

After 4 beers and 3 shots of Jager, I'm beginning to feel the fact that I hadn't had much more than 4 hours of sleep in about 40 hours, so we stop by a Mexican place for some grub and hop a cab back to Josh's to turn in.

Sunday was to be the day we hit the downtown. I woke up about 2 hours before Josh, so I played on my computer and watched Ferris Bueller - ya know, for research. Once Josh is up and we'd had abut 3 cups of coffee each, we headed out in the GORGEOUS sunshine to explore Josh's eclectic neighborhood on the way to have Dim Sum for breakfast. We passed stores, markets, restaurants and bakeries representing just about every culture in just the 4 blocks to our destination, all the while Josh pointed out their specialties and his favorites within them.
I've never been much for ethnic food. I'm a fan of the "know quantity" and rarely stray much form the menu at a typical corner diner. I was in an adventurous mood, however, and Josh hadn't steered me wrong yet, so Chinese it was - and I loved it. We strolled back to the apartment, stopping in a few shops on the way and looking at the whole cooked pigs, chickens, & ducks hanging in the windows.

I then packed my overnight bag back up, and we took the bus downtown. The weather was absolutely perfect. Josh planned the route very carefully, apparently, because we hit most every major Chicago icon on our 3 hour walk through the city. The Chicago Theater, the river, Millennium Park, Buckingham Fountain, Sears Tower, Chicago Stock Exchange - everything south of the river - on our way to Union Station so I could catch my train home. I got a ton of great pictures you can find on my Flickr page.

As I edited and cropped my pictures ion the ride home, I realized why I love Chicago so much. It has a layout and footprint that feels very much like Detroit, but so much better. The transportation system works, the parks - ALL of the parks - are maintained, the buildings are clean, and best of all, the architecture is maintained and restored, rather than neglected or demolished usually.

Someday down the road, maybe I can find a way to move there. It'll be a while, because I'm not leaving my kids, but someday. It certainly is "My Kind Of Town".

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