Chicago, Illinois, Greatest City on Earth

final minutes in the hostel
final minutes in the hostel

I went to a wedding in Chicago a few weeks ago. I love Chicago. Really love it. I get this big, stupid grin the second my plane touches down there. And I walk around grinning the whole time I’m there. I’m really gonna have to move there one day…

I tried to Priceline a room, but had no luck, so I ended up staying at the Arlington House International Hostel. What a stroke of (accidental) genius! The hostel was clean, convenient, cheap – $65/night for a private room w/ half bath (showers down the hall) – and located two blocks from Lincoln Park! Perfect!

I arrived early so I could screw around in Chicago for an extra day. And I planned not to do anything I’d done there before (I’ve been in a rut). I made one exception.

best pancakes in the world
best pancakes I've ever tasted

The Salt & Pepper Diner (there are several locations) serves my absolute favorite pancakes in the world. I had to go. I took a really, really packed redline train to the Addison stop, and I soon realized why the train was so packed: Cubs v. White Sox. The diner location I prefer is the one by Wrigley Field and when I got there around 10am on a Friday morning, the whole area was totally bumpin’. Cubs &/or Sox fans as far as the eye could see!

Cubs v. Sox mob
Cubs v. Sox mob

As a native Texan, I am unused to the feeling of being caught up in a rush of humanity. Sure, I’ve been to some Spurs games, maybe some other pretty crowded places, but there’s nothing like being in a big city at rush hour. All the people on the streets and trains are amazing to me. I never tire of just wandering about in Chicago checking the people out. And the train ride to Wrigleyville was perfect for this. It was packed! Everyone was in a good mood since they were probably playing hooky & had a whole day of fun ahead of them. The crowd was so delightedly boisterous!

Lincoln Park Conservatory
Lincoln Park Conservatory

On Saturday, I went to Lincoln Park without a plan. I wanted to hit the Conservatory, but other than that, I just wanted to wander about. And I did. I checked out the zoo, I accidentally went to a street fest (the back gate was open & I didn’t realize I’d snuck in w/o paying until I happened upon the real entrance!), and I had some Indian food for lunch.

a lion sunning his balls
a lion sunning his balls

I checked out the Lincoln Park Zoo, too. There’s no admission and the crowd was totally respectable, without being a mob. The weather was just lovely, as the above lion can attest.

I also took in the Architecture Foundation’s Architecture River Cruise. It was pretty good. The tour guide knew lots and was relatively entertaining. Unfortunately, I’m kind of a geek about Chicago architecture and I was hoping for something different. It was a lovely tour, though. Really.

There were more good times, but if I told you everything here, well, we wouldn’t have anything to talk about when we meet in person, would we?

Chicago, Illinois, Greatest City on Earth

STL-bound

City Museum, STL, 2006

City Museum, St. Louis, MO – 2006

I’m currently in the process of packing for a trip to visit some friends in St. Louis, MO. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a lot of fun, but there’s a slight chance it could turn into Hell Vacation. We shall see.

My rad boss told me to have a good time and keep an eye out for Beatle Bob. BB was one of the first topics we really connected on and we update each other when we see him. Interestingly, one of the friends I’m going to see in the STL loathes BB (as do many local live music lovers) for his negligence of courtesy and his sense of entitlement. But he also does a funny dance and some people like that. His stamina, dedication, and seemingly endless supply of sport coats are also inspirational. And he likes to pose for photos with people (I think he’s one of the only people I’ve gotten a photo with all tourist-style like that). Search “Beatle Bob” on Flickr if you don’t believe me. Or see below.

me-n-beetle bob, SXSW 1998

Me & Beatle Bob @ SXSW – 1998

Also while I’m Midwesterly, I hope to be lunching with a long lost acquaintance. He used to be a dude in a band I liked. He and his (male) band mates were much older than me and my (female) companion in rock. This was particularly problematic since we were in our teens at the time. They were in their late 20s (early 30s?). We hung out after shows sometimes. It all seemed very innocent to me, although in retrospect, I can imagine how fraught it likely actually was. But they were always perfect gentlemen — when we were present, at least. The dude is now an academic, as, arguably, am I. We’re both married & he’s bringing his toddler along to lunch. Ah, the times they do change. Oh, and he’s also the person who first explained to me who Beatle Bob was. At SXSW, um, 1995? 96?

The rest of the trip will involve daytime sightseeing which I am uncharacteristically playing by ear (botanical garden? transportation museum? arch again? H&M? thrift shopping? bowling? pool party? microbrew festival?), and nightly attendance at Twangfest. I’m not particularly hyped about any of the bands, really, but last year, my friend discovered a really amazing band there. And I’m interested in checking out some folks I’ve never seen (Old 97s, The Gourds), and curious about a couple more (Ha Ha Tonka, Miles of Wire, Hayes Carll). I’d like to see Centro-Matic, but they are playing, um, right now, so that ain’t gonna happen. And the Waco Brothers top it all off, which is their specialty. I’m totally excited to see them every single time. Helps that I’m usually in my cups by that hour. The front of the stage at a Waco Brothers show is my favorite place to be when I’ve had more than three drinks in an evening.

Waco Brothers @ an early Bloodshot Records party @ Yard Dog Art Gallery, SoCo, ATX – SXSW 1998 (notice Fred Armisen on drums)

Oh, and man! I have been waiting for this Obama shit to take off for soooooo long. Here’s a photo from his appearance at Garry Mauro’s house when he was raising $$ for his Senate bid (Mauro’s been working hard to promote Hillary in the primaries). That was the first of many $25 donations I’ve given him. He was amazing. He called us Progressives. I got to shake his hand. Hott!

Barack Obama fund-raising for his 2004 Senate bid @ Garry Mauro’s joint – August 2004

STL-bound