Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Christmas in April

My Christmas gift from Patrick arrived on April 11.  He had promised me a trip to a musical in Chicago.  We settled on a day in April with the hope that the weather would be pleasant.  P. chose April 11.  I told him that if he’d picked the following Saturday I could have gotten Amtrak’s senior discount (over age 62).

Now that I’m a seasoned traveler, I had no qualms about taking the train.  I was really laid-back and actually left the house for the station several minutes later than I’d planned.  I walked into the waiting room around 6:00 a.m. and checked the on-time board.  No delays were listed, but I knew that did not necessarily mean the train was on time.  A few minutes before the anticipated train departure at 6:10 a.m., I observed the Amtrak desk clerk putting on his jacket.  I thought, “Hmmm, maybe the train is about to arrive.”  It did, and we departed only minutes after the scheduled time.  I was so surprised.

I followed the queue boarding the train and into the car.  Lights were dim – this is an over-night train from New Orleans – and many people were huddled down napping or at least resting.  It was difficult to figure out which seats were vacant or maybe the occupant was just somewhere else.  I followed other people into the observation car and settled in a seat there.  I’d been really intrigued by this car back in August so I thought now would be a good time to see what it was all about.  The wide, bubble-topped windows offered views from both sides of the train.  It also let in a lot of light which, although not uncomfortable, could be more than what you wanted as the sun rose.  I spent the trip alternately watching the passing scenery and reading a book (The First Family Detail : Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of the Presidents / by Ronald Kessler).

We made good time – no slow-downs – and arrived at Union Station in Chicago about 30 minutes early.  I’d texted P. when we passed through the Homewood station to give him a heads-up to come and meet me.  His commute was slightly delayed so I settled in a waiting room and people-watched and read my trusty book.

dinnertime along the Chicago River

We had quite a bit of time to kill so we did a little exploring.  First stop was Starbucks so that P. could wake up!  Then we walked to Chicago Public Library.  The central library is the Harold Washington Library, brand new in 1991.  The inside architecture is very impressive.  I marveled at the roped stanchions placed near the circulation desks which clearly indicated that the lines could get long.  I did see a couple self-checkout stations.  There were many, many public access computers and people already using them Saturday morning.  We didn’t spend a great deal of time in the library.  Just long enough for me to say that I’d been there.

Our next stop was Navy Pier – again, just so I could say I’d been there.  P. wisely called for an Uber car.  He remembered how too much walking last summer got me over-heated.  Nothing much going on at the Pier so we started walking back towards downtown.  I just happened to notice three dollar bills on the sidewalk.  We looked around to see if anyone seemed to be looking for them, then picked them up – P.’s tip for spending his day-off with me!

Our next destination was Eataly, and this time we took a cab.  Eataly is a combination restaurant/marketplace with an emphasis on Italian cuisine.  In fact, there are several restaurants inside the two-story building.  It’s an open-concept type of place.  We looked around and admired the products.  We shared a prime rib sandwich from La Rosticceria, a counter service (as opposed to a sit-down restaurant).  It is their “signature porcini-rubbed prime rib with extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and black pepper.”  It was really tasty. 

It was time to think about heading to the musical at the Bank of America Theatre.  We stopped by P.’s office so he could print out the tickets.  It gave me a chance to see their space again.  P. told me some things had changed, but I didn’t really remember it from when I was there a year earlier.

Another Uber car ride and it was time for
The Book of Mormon.  I had heard it was a sort of raunchy play, but I had no idea how extreme it was going to be.  P. pointed out that it was created by the people who created South Park (TV show), so “what can you expect.”  It pokes wicked fun at an organized religion without being nasty about their beliefs.  The content is risky, but the Mormon characters are loveable.  The musical was really good.  The music was catchy, although not well-known.  The whole production was excellent – I really enjoyed it.

We had an early dinner at River Roast along the Chicago River.  We each chose a meat dish and also selected a vegetable dish to share.  P. had salmon, I had meatballs, and the vegetable was leeks ‘cause I’d never had those before.  (Aside: it’s October now and I looked at their online menu to refresh my memory, but the menu has completely changed from 6 months ago.)

We were several blocks from Union Station, and I told P. I could walk back there on my own.  P. pointed me in the correct direction, and said “just keep walking ‘til you get to Adams Street, then turn right, go over the river, and you’ll see the station.”  There was no need to hurry, and I took a few pictures along my route.

from River Roast on LaSalle Street to Union Station

I boldly entered the station through a different entrance and took the time to explore a bit.  I sat in the food court area and collected my thoughts, made some notes, and read my trusty book again.  I then went to my departure gate and people-watched some more and read some more.  People with young children or over age 62 were lined up first.  If I ever take the train again, I will certainly relish that perk.  We departed on time.  My seat-mate was off somewhere most of the trip.  A young woman a couple rows behind spent the whole time talking loudly on her cell phone.  She phoned several people, and I heard over and over how she was going to have to go help her mother and she didn’t know if she would still be eligible for financial aid at her beauty school/college.  Oh, just shut up!

Another special day with my favorite son.  Thanks, Patrick, for the lovely Christmas gift.