Sunday, August 31, 2014

Men in Kilts

I did something a couple weeks ago that was way beyond my comfort level: I took a train to Chicago ….. All by myself!!!

It all started the beginning of June.  I was randomly googling musicals in Chicago when I stumbled across a production of Brigadoon.  I was very excited to see a favorite musical.  P. has long offered to go to musicals with me when he can – and he’s done so (The Music Man, Bye-Bye Birdie, Les Misérables, Spamalot), all local productions.  Once he moved to Chicago, he encouraged me to find something that I would be interested in doing, and he’d go with me.  Bingo!  A fantastic musical would be perfect.

I had to talk myself into taking the train by myself.  Funny-- the biggest stumbling block was where to park my car for the day.  I'm not familiar with the downtown train station; there are different parking spaces for different time allotments and I think long-term parking is somewhere across the tracks.  But I studied the maps, and after reconnoitering one Saturday morning I discovered that metered parking on the street is free on the weekends.  I made the theatre reservations and reserved a round-trip seat on Amtrak City of New Orleans train.

My train was scheduled to leave at 6:10 a.m.  The trains running through C-U are notoriously late.  Had they been reliable I would have booked the mid-morning departure that arrives in Chi-town around 1 pm.  I arrived at the station well-before departure.  Around 6:05 there was an announcement that the train would be 15 minutes late.  That turned out to be an under-estimate.  We finally pulled out around 6:50 with the explanation that they’d been delayed by freight traffic near Mattoon, but they’d make up the time in transit.

We were told the train was full and that they were assigning seats.  I was given seat 3 at the very front of the car.  I was agog watching the scenery.  No one was in seat 4 next to me, so I had the whole space to myself.  Which was good because I proceeded to take a bazillian pictures out the window.  Really 75, but that's a heck of a lot.  I'd never have done that if someone was right next to me.  My intent was to try to get one "perfect" photo that would encapsulate the whole train experience.  That was difficult because the windows were dirty, and by the time I snapped the picture, the train had passed the view.  Nonetheless, I persevered.

I tried to figure out the small towns that we passed.  Only one water tower’s name faced the tracks, Chebanse.  I occasionally got out my cell phone and used its GPS to track our progress.  Somewhere between Clifton and Chebanse we slowed way down.  It was announced that we were under “restricted speed” due to “signal issues.”  Alrighty.

I told our conductor (who made the announcements on the PA system) that he had a nice, reassuring voice.  And that I could understand him.  Dopey, I know, but it’s nice to compliment good work.

I texted P. when we passed the Homewood station, “home-sweet Homewood” as the conductor called it.  That would give P. a clue to our time of arrival.  He asked where I wanted to eat lunch, and I replied “middle eastern” cuisine or another ethnic food or anywhere.

We de-trained (that’s railroad lingo that I picked up) at 9:35 at Union Station about a half-hour late.  With the “restricted speed” we didn’t make up much time.  I followed the departing crowd and ended up on the street.  I asked a nice police officer what side of the building I was on.  Turns out I was on the west side facing Canal Street.  I texted P. and he found me.  Success!

I’d previously mentioned to P. that I’d like to see the Bean at Millennium Park.  It’s really called Cloud Gate, but everyone calls it the Bean, I think.  We stopped in the Chicago Cultural Center which is located in the old Chicago Public Library building.  It has impressive architecture that includes a memorial to the Civil War and a stunning Tiffany stained-glass dome, the largest in the world.  Building tours are in the afternoon, otherwise I think that would have been interesting.

Chicago Cultural Center -
in the former Chicago Public Library.

Millennium Park was pretty much across the street.  After viewing the Bean I was ready for a rest.  The weather was lovely for sitting in the shade, but walking under the sun was quite warm for me.  (Think sweat, lots of sweat.)  P. and I found a shaded bench and watched a couple little kids bury plastic dinosaurs under the newly-cut grass.  We talked about walking over to the far side of the park to see Lake Michigan, but after our rest I decided I'd see the lake another time.  BTW, the Chicago Air and Water Show was that same weekend.  We heard the buzz/drone of aircraft overhead.

left:  "The Bean" at Millennium Park
right:  The Picasso sculpture at Daley Plaza

It was now time to think about lunch.  P. had found a couple middle Eastern restaurants in our general vicinity, and we headed in their direction.  We went to the address for the first place, but we couldn't locate it.  P. said it could be somewhere inside the building.  We decided to look for the other one.  Once again, we couldn't locate it.  But looking down a side street we discovered why: it's located inside the building with the address we're looking for, but its entrance was off the side street.  We lunched at Roti Mediterranean Grill on North Dearborn Avenue, but its entrance was on Washington Street.  It was somewhat similar to Subway in that you order at the counter and select what you want on your sandwich or plate.  I had a Chicken Roti Plate and P. chose a Chicken Roti Sandwich.  The sandwich was a wrap made with laffa bread.  I chose cous-cous and fresh vegetables for my plate of shawarma chicken and rice with yogurt-cucumber sauce.  It was refreshing and tasty.

Following our lunch we walked up the street to the Goodman Theatre.  We had "cheap" seats in the mezzanine.  The view was perfect.  I loved, loved, loved everything about the performance: the music, the acting and singing, the costumes, set design and staging, the whole production, and especially the dancing.  I'm surprised how much I liked the dancing.  The Scottish dancing had a mix of ballet thrown in.  P. even said the musical wasn't bad.

Following the musical we made our way to Bridge House Tavern on the Chicago Riverwalk for an early supper.  We both selected Chipotle Chicken Sandwich on a pretzel roll, although I deconstructed my sandwich and ate the parts separately.  P. chose an Allagash White draft beer which he thought might appeal to me.  I took a sip and pronounced it "not terrible."  We killed a little time and chatted.

left: lunch at Roti Mediterranean Grill
(that's pita bread on top, not a gigantic mushroom)
right: supper at Bridge House Tavern

Then P. escorted me back to
Union Station.  He contacted an Uber driver for his trip back to his apartment.  I headed underground to the waiting room, and P. exited to the street.  I had about an hour's wait 'til the 8:05 departure.  The train left pretty much on time, and I arrived back in C-U around 10:40 to sprinkles of rain.

This was an especially lovely day for many reasons: I managed a train trip on my own, I enjoyed a wonderful professional musical production, and P. was a super nice guide for my venture in the big city.

And the answer to the age-old question: What do men wear under kilts?  From my seat at the Goodman Theatre, it looked like black Speedo-type underwear.