Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Nancy and John’s Great Adventure

Back in December Patrick took a job in Chicago.  This past weekend John and I visited him in the big city.

Saturday, May 10

Our first adventure was finding P.’s apartment.  He had given us driving directions that said turn left.  I think it should have said exit off Lake Shore Drive then turn left.  But we continued a bit further north than we should have.  Instead of getting back on Lake Shore Drive and going back to the correct street, J. decided to head into the city and go south.  His theory was we would eventually hit the street we were looking for.  Not a good plan.  I had printed a couple Google maps, but they did not include the area that we were in.  We pretty much didn’t know where we were so it was difficult to know which direction to go or what street to take.  I think that is what is known as being lost.  I stopped a young woman walking by and asked if she could show me whereabouts we were in relation to our map.  She saw Oz Park on the map and pointed us in that direction.  We headed out again.  And finally pulled into a no-parking spot in front of P.’s apartment.  Whew.  Probably increased our travel time only about 15 minutes.  Incidentally, we knew when we were at Oz Park because there was a statue of the Tin Man on the corner.  Perfect photo-op, but I’ll have to save it for another time.

We phoned P. to come out; then he and J. drove off to find a parking spot.  I waited and watched the city comings and goings.  I pretty much came to the conclusion that this is not the life for me:  narrow streets, cars parked bumper-to-bumper on either sides of the street, noise, trucks parked in the street to unload, traffic lights, one-way streets, too many directional signs, and on and on.

P. then took us in his apartment.  It is a converted hotel, possibly built in the 1920s/30s/40s.  I really don’t know, but a while ago.  His apartment is one room with a small bathroom.  A small kitchen area on one side of the room with cabinets and counter, sink, stove, refrigerator, and microwave.  P. has the bare kitchen essentials.  I did not snoop.  He says he has never used the stove, only the microwave.  He gets a lot of his meals at work or while at work.  He purchased a full-size bed, and except for a table and desk chair that were left behind, that is the extent of his furnishings.  I think the windows in the room are on the north.  They face the brick of the building a couple feet next door.  At present he can’t get them open.  The room is not air-conditioned, but there is a ceiling fan.

We decided we would walk over to Lincoln Park Zoo.  But first, lunch at Cosi, home of freshly baked signature flatbread.  We chose this restaurant because it was in our vicinity and it looked like it had salads and sandwiches.  I chose Adobo Lime Chicken Salad; P. had Korean BBQ Pork Bowl; and J. chose a Turkey Sandwich.  The “signature” flatbread came with all of our meals, and it was very good.

Lincoln Park Zoo – It’s FREE!  It was o.k.  Unfortunately it’s undergoing a major renovation that made it difficult to get from one side to the other.  Difficult in that when we circled around one side and wanted to go to the other side, we had to retraipse our steps.  And for someone who isn’t accustomed to walking, this repeat was not welcomed.  I took lots of random pictures, and because of the sunlight, I really couldn’t see what I was taking.  We never did find the seals or the zebras which were on the zoo map.

After the zoo, we rested for a very short time back at P.’s “dorm room” and refreshed on water. Once it was close to 3 p.m. (checkin time at our hotel, Best Western River North corner of Ohio and LaSalle – just a couple blocks from P.’s office building) J. gave P. the keys to the car and asked him to chauffer us there.  We then talked about where to explore next.  Tossed out some ideas – I would have liked a photo of us at the Wrigley Field sign – but decided to head south across the Chicago River.  I remembered stopping in the James R. Thompson Center 20+ years ago when P. and I accompanied J. for one of his training sessions.  I was curious to reacquaint myself with the building.  We got there and realized it’s a state of Illinois government building, and no one in the state’s government works on Saturday so it was closed.

I continued taking random pictures.

P. knew that J. and I would need tickets for the “el” for evening plans so we went to the Merchandise Mart where we could buy them.  We also thought we might be able to look around the building a bit and find something cold to drink.  Wrong!  It was pretty much shut-down for the weekend.  The food court had only a couple stores open where P. purchased an ice coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts and fetched me a glass of ice-cold water.  Relief!

P.’s original plan was for us to go to CafĂ© Ba-Ba-Reeba for dinner around 6 p.m.  Then we’d go to ComedySportz Theater for the 8 p.m. show.  Since we were tiring, he checked his phone and saw there was a ComedySportz show at 6 p.m.  We decided to reverse the show-time and dinner-time.  We purchased day-pass el tickets for J. and me and set off for our evening’s entertainment.

ComedySportz is an improv audience-participation comedy show suitable for all ages.  It’s much like TV’s “Whose Line is it Anyway.”  We enjoyed the show, although P. commented it wasn’t quite as “good” as the other times he had been there.  We speculated that might have something to do with it being the earlier performance.

Following the entertainment we caught the el for dinner back at Ba-Ba-Reeba.  P. thought we would enjoy this place because it specializes in tapas.  We could share the small portions, plus J. and I had never been to a tapas restaurant.  Unfortunately because of Mother’s Day weekend, the wait-time at Ba-Ba-Reeba was about 2 hours!  So we wandered a little bit in the area.  P. inquired at Taco Joint (he’s been to another one near his company), but it had a long wait-time, too.  Across the street was Pasta Palazzo so we headed there.  Happily we were seated after only a short wait.  Pasta Palazzo is very small and the dining area was separated from the open kitchen by a counter with stools.  (I later discovered good online reviews including: “A gourmet pasta diner.”)  J. and I ordered “specials” – risotto with sausage and mushrooms for J. and cavatelli with shrimp, mushroom, spinach in a “spicy” vodka tomato sauce for me; P. had gnocchi.  I tasted both of their meals – both were “firsts” for me.  Well, the cavatelli was a first, too, but it was just a different form of pasta so not really new – it was definitely spicy.  [Hey, guess what.  I just googled Pasta Palazzo and discovered it had been featured on a Rachael Ray Show a couple years ago.  That’s about as close as I’ll ever get to a celebrity.]

By happenstance our supper restaurant was just a few blocks from P.’s apartment.  Following our dinner, he pointed us in the opposite direction towards the el stop and explained several times to follow the signs that pointed to the train to The Loop and that our stop would be Merchandise Mart.  He also told us “When you get off the train head north to Ohio Street then east to your hotel.”  And this was the important part: “If you come to the river, you’re going the wrong way!”  Then “Call me if you need help.  And call me when you’re back at your hotel.”  Talk about role-reversal.  How many times had I said something similar to P. back in the day?

We followed P.’s directions to the el, but when we got on the platform it didn’t feel right to J.  We discussed:  He said The Loop is that way (opposite of where the train we were waiting for would be going); I said but what is that tall building? Isn’t it in the city?  (As if one tall building defines “the city.”)  I also reminded J. that we had heeded P.’s instructions to follow “to The Loop” signs.  Fortunately a young couple overheard our conversation and intervened to tell us we were in the right spot to catch the train for Merchandise Mart.  We arrived at our correct stop, but I couldn’t figure out which way was north – after all, it’s dark now and nothing is familiar.  I simply followed J.’s lead.  His theory was that the train had been heading south so if we walk in the opposite direction we must be headed towards Ohio Street as P. had instructed.  We never saw the river so that was apparently an accurate deduction.  Got back to the hotel completely pooped by all the day’s walking.  I texted P. that his little lambs were safely back.

Sunday, May 11

P. was to meet us at our hotel before 10:00 for Sunday’s adventure.  I was up early and decided to walk a block north to Walgreens and see if I could find a postcard and a refrigerator magnet to commemorate our great adventure in the big city.  I took my camera just in case I encountered something memorable.  I did find the souvenirs I was looking for and a photo-op at a two-story McDonalds near P.’s office building.

P. had originally suggested that we have breakfast at The Donut Vault.  It was in the vicinity and a friend had recommended it.  But, according to their Internet information, it didn’t open on Sundays until 9:30 and we were concerned about getting to our destination on time.  Instead J. and I had a breakfast of granola bars that I had brought with us.

P. arrived and we again set off walking.  P. had reservations for us on Wendella’s Chicago River Architecture Tour which departed from a dock at Trump Tower.  Our guide was certainly knowledgeable and spouted off a myriad of names, dates, and facts.  It was a lot of architectural data with quite a bit of Chicago history and folklore included.  We enjoyed the tour.

After the tour we meandered back towards P.’s office and considered restaurants for lunch.  We finally settled on the Taco Joint which is in P.’s office building.  P. gave us a tour of his company and desk.  Nothing spectacular.  We then had lunch.  Lucky for us P. gets a 10% building discount which they honored.  J. and I both had Pollo al Carbon Tortas which is a “traditional” Mexican grilled chicken.  P. chose the Yucatan Torta which was a pulled pork sandwich with plantains and other ingredients.  

It was now time to head back to our car at the hotel’s parking garage.  P. did not want to dawdle because his bus was due to arrive.  Because of that I skipped taking pictures at a building we walked past: Sports Authority on LaSalle Street has a Chicago sports Wall of Fame on the outside of their building.  It includes handprints of a variety of athletes, for instance Michael Jordan and Walter Payton.  I managed to catch a glimpse of Ryne Sandberg’s handprints as we hurried by.

I handed P. the remaining granola bars, then J. and I were on our way.  We left the big city without a hitch around 1:30.  I was certainly happy to be back into the familiar vista of I-57.  We arrived back to C-U around 4:00 very tired but pleased with our special weekend.

It was such a nice two days with P.  He had sight-seeing activities planned, ideas for restaurants, and kept us on course as we delved into the intricacies of traveling in the city.  The weather was just right: sunshine, temps in the 70s, and a light breeze.  Coincidentally our weekend just happened to be Mother’s Day, and it was special to spend it with my sweet child.