Monday, February 23, 2009

A town so smart it's spelling starts With: C - H - I - C...Chic!

Trendy trav'lers tend to talk
Of London, Paris, Rome, New York,
Like only they were stylish and unique.
But out in the Midwest
Is the city I love the best:
A town so smart it's spelling stars
With: C - H - I - C...Chic!
Chicago, Illinois, is like a shiny toy.

On my first day in Chicago I bolted out the door to greet the glorious sunny day! It was all sunshine and unbelievably freezing cold air. Such a trick this climate plays on one so trusting from Southern California.

I traded text messages with blogging friend Michael Guy and made plans to meet him for lunch. I put the location of my hotel into my Googlemap on my iPhone and then the location of Michael. I selected "directions" and "by foot" and my map coughed up a very clear path straight down Michigan Avenue (that was on my list to do) and told me it would be about a 12 minute walk.

I looked outside, saw the sun and thought "sunglasses". I was also smart enough to check the weather forecast which said "high of 31°" and said out loud, "Oh boy! My new gloves!" and also grabbed my scarf and jacket as well.

I know what you're thinking, "Californian. Won't have proper winter attire." But I have not always been a Californian, and I have traveled to winter before. I also had on my secret weapon for winter weather, Cashmere Socks!

I made my way down to the street, exited the hotel, made the required, "brrrrrr" sound and buttoned a button on my coat. I was gonna' be just fine. I walked to the end of the block turned the corner into a shady zone, and that is when the wind blasted me in the face, blew open my jacket from the bottom and filled my every pore with a soul crushing ice.

Doing up EVERY SINGLE BUTTON on my jacket, I crossed to the sunny side of the street.

I had underestimated other weather factors such as wind and shade in my plan for the day. I made a brisk (and I do mean BRISK) walk down the bright side of Michigan Avenue and made it to Michael's in a googlemap estimate busting 9 minutes. (that included photos along the way.)

Walking in to Michael's apartment was surreal. I've seen so much of his home on his blog, I felt like I was walking onto a movie set. "I've seen this." "I remember that." "This is where you took that photo of your bare bum in the kitchen!" Like Carol Channing's dress from Hello Dolly or Julia Child's personal Kitchen, this apartment should be destined for The Smithsonian.

We dined at a the very chic Oak Tree Restaurant on the 6th floor of 900 N. Michigan with a view down on the 4th Presbyterian Church and a view up the Hancock Building. After lunch I tortured Michael with a tour of Bloomingdale's where we happened upon the strangest sight.
MAC cosmetics has launched a new line with Hello Kitty. On the left you can see what appeared to be the Hello Kitty executioner. A well built man in (very) low (plumber low) fitting leather pants, no shirt, a black leather whip and a black Hello Kitty head covering. Disturbing.

Michael gave me the grand tour of everything Chicago can sell. Ralph Lauren, Hermes, Barney's, Nieman Marcus, Gucci... you know, Friday after lunch browsing.

We parted ways and I went to my hotel to get ready to meet Carolyn at the Big Catholic Drunk Fest (see previous post).

On Saturday I got up with a list in my hand and a mission to accomplish. Michael had blogged about the recent restoration of the worlds largest Tiffany stained glass dome. It was high on my list of things to see while I was in Chicago and it did not disappoint.

The entrance lobby and grand staircase set the tone for what you are about to see.

The hanging lights in the room are awash in detail.

A dome so large, you can't fit it all into your camera lens.

A closer look at the center.

After the Tiffany dome, I headed to the Art Institute of Chicago. Besides making the mistake of waiting until Saturday to go view art with the masses, it turns out that February is "Free February" at the Art Institute and no one has to pay to get in. It wasn't just the masses that were pouring in to the place, it also seemed to include some unwashed masses. I'll be honest, after a while it wasn't just crowded in there, it was also a little smelly.

I used to have to go to museums and museum gift shops for my job. (don't ask.) It is not glamorous nor enjoyable to do art tours on a mission with limited time. I am far too adept at walking past art quickly as if I am checking it off my to-do list. With as many people in the building, I quickly fell back into "work mode", pulled out my map, chose my highlights and made a brisk tour. All the while telling myself that I would return a different time, having had less coffee and more food, check my coat and breathe slower.

I was really surprised to see so many people taking photos of the art. Well, actually I am used to people trying to take photos of the art and being told they are not allowed to. Here, they seemed to be encouraged. So I took this one:
(It's significance being that I plan to see this view in person on April 2.)

I was out of the Art Institute in about an hour. I took a tour of Millennium Park and snapped some fun pics.
Cloud Gate a three-story, 110-ton steel sculpture that has been dubbed "The Bean", above the ice rink.

Crown Fountain.
Transparent glass block bricks are used to build two 50-foot (15 m) towers standing at either end of a long, black granite plaza. Behind the glass bricks are LED video screens. When the screens are illuminated they show the faces of nearly a thousand individual Chicagoans, which showcases the vast diversity of the city. Playing on the theme of historical fountains based around gargoyles with water coming through the open mouth of the creature, each video includes specific moments where the person purses his or her lips and water spouts from a point in the display, such that it appears as if the person is spitting the water out.
It was FAR too cold when I was there for water to be flowing. It even spit a few snowflakes out on me as I wandered the park. I was loving that.

Detailed faces of the front of a building along Michigan Avenue.

I traded some text messages with Michael and we agreed to meet on a street corner back in his 'hood and grab a bite. He escorted me to The Drake Hotel where we dined in the Coq d'Or. You gotta' love that name. Michael shared that the bar opened its doors the day after Prohibition was repealed and has remained a Chicago landmark since.
After lunch we toured the display case of famous faces who have stayed or dined at the Drake. We had a special moment of silence for Princess Diana and then I pointed out that the tiara she had on in her photo was the same as the one I sent to Carolyn. (Okay, Diana's was probably more real diamonds.)

It was Valentine's Day and we had dinner plans that evening. I had to rush off (shopping) so I could get ready for dinner in a few hours. When I returned to Michael's house I was treated to a special audience with none other than Michael's BGF. Since we never see photos of him over on Michael's blog, I will protect his "reputation" on mine as well.
BGF and I get our photo taken in Michael's boudoir, or as we remarked, "So this is where all the magic doesn't happen."

We went out for a lovely meal and then I did my best to drag these two sticks out for a cocktail. They kept telling me there was nowhere close. Nowhere to go that wouldn't require a long cab ride. Nowhere we could go and still allow the two of them to be home and in be before 11.

Then BGF cracked, "Well... there is one bar still nearby..."

And suddenly Michael went off on a rant of epic proportions on how he has never, would never, could never, will never be seen, step foot in, darken the door front, lay eyes on, or be located anywhere near, adjacent to, spotted at, found dead in, or even hear a whiff of scandal to be caught in a rat hole such as the bar (he dare not even say the name) that BGF was suggesting.

Well that had me hooked.

Here is the conclusion on Michael's rant:

Upon entering Michael immediately knew someone (a former neighbor) seated at the bar. Michael turned to BGF and I and cursed us both, "As long as I breathe on this planet I will never be able to live down the fact that you have drug me into this god forsaken hell hole and now there are witnesses!" Then he glided over, all smiles, to graciously greet his former neighbor.

During our second cocktail (okay, just me, Michael was too afraid he be poisoned), the Fire Marshall stopped in to check the patron count and occupancy limit (26 patrons/max occupancy 36). I told Michael that his worst fears had come true. His mother DID have a tracking device on him and now he was about to be hauled off to jail. He went white as sheet and I thought he was going to faint. I had a great time (I love being the youngest one anywhere) and the drinks were a blessing on my budget (like the clientele, so cheap!) but all good things must come to an end and soon it was after 11 pm.

Michael, BGF and I walked out and I threw an Oscar worthy performance trying to convince the two of them to stay out with me. From their respective religious upbringings I couldn't believe that both could be so immune to the guilt I was shoveling out. BGF literally ran from Michael and I, and then Michael hailed me a cab, told the cab driver where to take me, threw me in it, locked and closed the door so I could get back out and steal him away with me.

Funny thing about me, in a crowd, I am the life of the party, Mr. Entertainer, chatty Cathy to everyone who passes by... but alone in a nightclub by myself I am a complete wallflower. So I went to "Boystown", did a bar crawl, I think I wandered through 4, maybe 5? There was no cover charge anywhere so it didn't really matter. Then I grabbed a slice of pizza (okay 2 slices - but I put the second one in my pocket to eat back at the hotel) hailed a cab and went back to my hotel to sleep.

On Sunday I woke up wishing I had stopped at one piece of pizza. Bleah.

I made my way back to Michael's and we went for breakfast. We compared notes on what a lightweight Michael is and he reassured me that I was "entertaining" and not too pushy trying to coerce him into going out later than he wanted. BGF phone and he was walking to the gym right past where we had finished eating. We met up and walked him to school. Then Michael suggested we go to the Museum of Modern Art and when we got close I told him my brain just wasn't up for that much work on a Sunday. So we veered off course and went to the Ritz for coffee. The atrium lounge is on the 12th floor and has a brilliant view of the skyline, the Hancock building, the lake and the light snow that was falling. I imagine it would be even more impressive at Christmastime at night with a good think layer of snow and all the twinkling lights below. To be fair, sunshine and snow was a fun combination as well.

We parted ways both swearing we would go home and nap as we had even MORE things planned for later in the evening.

Around 6 (ish, I am from California you know) I met back up with Michael, BGF and FofBGF. I felt like it was third callback for the role of "fun out of towner" and this would be my final audition. We headed out to Sidetracks for what was promised as a rousing evening of SHOWTUNES!

Now I have been to my fair share of video bars where they play showtunes and there may be a few who sing along, a few with a witty remark, even sometimes a little audience participation for a clip or two... This was the culmination of all those other bars put together. For example, take the entire 20 minute all singing all dancing extravaganza of ship videos featuring the Broadway cast of Titanic the Musical, segued to Maureen McGovern singing "The Morning After, theme from Poseidon Adventure" over a montage of clips from that movie which flowed into Barbra Streisand on a tugboat singing "Don't Rain on My Parade". The amazing part is that EVERYONE in that (very large) bar was singing along. As if the Chicago Gay Men's Chorus had unloaded 3 buses out front. And then when Shelly Winters gets stuck in The Poseidon Adventure, the entire bar chanted together "Push, Push, Push!" and when Barbra Streisand gets off the train to run down the dock to the tug boat, the whole crowd shouts, "RUN BARBRA! RUN!" and then stomps their feet until she appears on the boat. I was in heaven.

I had one more item on my "meet and greet" list from the blog world. Frontier Psychiatry. He agreed to come out on Sunday night and make an all too fleeting royal appearance.
The red bars in honor of London Preppy who never showed his full face on his blog...

Michael, BGF, and FofBGF peeled off to go get food and I remained at Sidetracks yacking away to Frontier about all the things that 14 year old girls like to yack about. He tried to convince me to watch Gossip Girl and I sent him emails from my phone telling him which old movies they were playing on the video screen that he would love to see in their entirerty. I think we wandered out to the street around midnight both of us suffering a slight loss of hearing and completely hoarse. Each of us grabbed a cab and headed home. Thankfully I did not have a pocket full of pizza.

Monday came all too soon and my time in Chicago was up. Carolyn made a grand gesture and came to see me for lunch and drive me to the airport. Although now that I think about it, perhaps she just wanted to show me an additional full length fur coat (black mink, thank you). When she asked me what I wanted for lunch I told her on my list was "true Chicago-style pizza" where upon she rolled her eyes and said, "Everyone claims Lou Malnati's is the classic Chicago deep dish pizza, but for me I think it's Gino's East. So I'll take you there." It's right off Michigan Avenue and as we were seated Carolyn mentions she is unhappy that she is certain to be taken for a tourist. When the waitress asks us how we are, I announce "I'm good. I'm from out of town," pointing at Carolyn, I continue, " and she is NOT a tourist!" That out of the way we get to the task at hand, EATING.

We ordered the four cheese deep dish pizza with bacon added (I am who I am) and we are notified that it will take 45 minutes to prepare.

OMG. So worth the wait. I had two pieces (and I may still be digesting them) and Carolyn had one piece. She took the rest home to serve her family dinner that night.
I promised our server I wasn't getting her face in the photo, just her chest.

I had an amazing time. So amazing I got sick on the flight home. You guys wore me out and I will probably never recover. I can't wait to come back in the summer and show off my super tan legs.


jason said...

love it! Like I was there....right down to the pizza

Peter said...

Jim, thanks for the tips for my coming Chicago vacation. Hope M.G. has settled then.

"Just David!" said...

What a fun trip that must have been! And in February, you're very brave. I used to go to Chicago a lot when MFL was there and the cold would kill me.

Sherri said...


Anytime I get to go somewhere cool, my mom in law is always there (since we have no money and she has LOTS, and she can't get her son to go places with her as her escort unless she takes me along). I can't go hang with the cool kids, or roam around, or anything like that.

It's a very odd, tense, and fun killing experience, in general.

Tried to get to Chicago last summer, couldn't do it because the hubby's schedule went wonkers. Am GOING TO get there this year, because I SAID SO. Wish you'd be there, because you look SO good in a tiara.



Michael Guy said...

Okay. You must have had an AdMin assistant following us to recall all of the grand details noted here. But I must inquire: did your people contact MY people with regard to the airing of raw video footage? I usually have a grip with a follow key light and that's clearly missing from the snippet provided here.

We covered a great deal for such a brief visit. (btw: did you find your briefs?!) Har. I kid.

The one thing we did not do is go dancing under the influence; let's pencil that in for the NEXT visit. Or my FIRST visit to your neck of the woods.


Carolyn said...

I was wondering what you did all weekend while I was recovering from Catholic Drunk Fest. You are a much more seasoned drinker than I am if you accomplished that much...I was barely functional all weekend.
What are we going to do this summer?? Baseball and Chicago -style hot dogs??
I miss you!

dit said...

This makes me smile. Two bloggers meeting. I hope someday we all can meet.

Rachel said...

Now that's a deep dish pizza! Wow, it sounds like you had a glorious time.