Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Keep a hot dog warm for me, won't you?

 I just grabbed an In Style magazine off the library rack and then promptly assuaged my disgust at myself by also taking a National Geographic. On the one hand, both will allow me to peruse pretty things and on the other hand, both will also make me feel utterly insignificant; Nat Geo in a "the universe is so big and I am so small kind of way" and In Style in a "everything is wrong with your body, face, skin, abs, clothes" sort of way. Next time I'm going to get a Spiderman comic.

Anyway, I'm back home after a long weekend in Chicago. "A long weekend in Chicago" will be the title of my as yet to be written short story collection detailing the myriad things that make me blissfully happy. Also included in that entirely fabricated collection:  cat bellies, olives, baby thighs and fancy/fizzy cocktails (I'm easy to please).

But ah, Chicago. What is it about that city? I feel a little guilty loving it there so much, what with my fealty having been pledged to NYC a long, long time ago but that's just silly really. I fantasize often about picking up and moving there and then I remember this quote from Gary Cole: "I miss everything about Chicago, except January and February." I have yet to convince myself whether or not I'd survive the winters there. Still, after spending an hour on a May evening that felt like August, adrift among all the people basking in the very early and unexpected summer heat with Buckingham Fountain and that glamorous, endless skyline in my purview, so much seems possible. Then again, I could chalk it up to a vacation high and how dreary the everyday seems when you come home.

Lauren was my companion for this trip and it was wonderful getting to spend some time talking and laughing and just sharing the trip with her and her seemingly endless supply of optimism and good feelings. We did quite a bit so let me recap in my favorite, practically shaped format: the round black bullet.

  • On the flight in, we realized that every single person on board had to get up and use the bathroom. This was interesting for us, seeing as we were seated in the third to last row and had to taxi on the runway for about 30 minutes. I often consider that immediately after being told that one is stuck in a finite space for any length of time, one's bladder instantly becomes full, based only on the knowledge that there is no where to go. I came to formulate that hypothesis in a very controlled scientific environment. Look it up.
  • Upon arriving at the hotel (and being checked in by a front desk staff of four teenagers), we sat and chatted for about 2 hours, plenty of time to catch up and develop a raging desire for pizza. Having both been to Chicago before, we didn't need to do anything or see anything on a schedule. One of my favorite parts about traveling is the linger and wander and submitting to aimless distraction. How better to really feel like you've visited somewhere? Reminder note: I need to take more trips that allow this. And side note: the hotel, while comfortable and centrally located, was a bit odd. To wit: the room faced a brick wall yet still had a faint light that came through brick wall? The lobby was on the second floor and not at the entrance of the hotel. Also, there was a small band-aid on the skirt of one of the beds and one morning the housekeeping staff made one bed, but not the other. Strange room.
  • That first night, the following was consumed/took place: deep dish pizza, a quick cocktail in an old man bar that was nonetheless filled with the most random sampling of people. That quick cocktail was followed by a dirty martini in the hotel's "bar" and that "bar" was a front room of a deli and was lit as such. It was like drinking in a diner; I expected to find old couples ordering the lobster. It was a Thursday night and we got there just as a party of about six women in work clothes, who had clearly been stretching happy hour to new lengths, were wrapping up. Considering both Lauren and I lived that entire scene, what was it, like six years ago on an almost weekly basis (we called it "Men in Suits" Thursdays) we were amused. And, for a diner, they made a decent dirty martini. It was a relatively early night considering I'd been up since 5am New York time. I slept the sleep of the dead that evening and woke up only at daylight with the fleeting panic of "where the fuck am i??" that I am wont to take with me to strange rooms.
  • I kept thinking, throughout the weekend that we were getting "late starts" but in actuality we were getting reasonable starts. I can't help that my grim life forces me to get up at 4:30 every morning to prolong the grim feeling of my mortality all day long. I digress. We decided to take a hop on/hop off bus tour which for me is one of the best ways to see a city, in particular when you are feeling aimless. It was hot, but not uncomfortably so. I had taken this very same tour before but with a less charming tour guide. This time it was a woman named Rosie who was a bit heavy on the "women love designer shopping and men love to buy it for them" front. Seriously, every other statement from her was about shopping and how men needed to buy things for ladies. She was cute what with her old-timey delusions. I also remember her pointing out the statue of Ceres that sits atop the Chicago Board of Trade building. This statue has no face because apparently the designers thought no one would see her anyway. This made me sad, but only because I'm a strange person.
She can't see you.

  • Since we were free to hop on and off like little rabbits, the Gold Coast neighborhood seemed as good as any to eat a hot dog and stroll around to see what was what. I'm normally a pescetarian but took one look at this and knew I had to put it inside my body:  
I digested the guilt away.
  •  After that, here's what ended up being what was what (what?): we stopped in a swanky place for one fancy cocktail which turned into full on day drinking which then turned into evening drinking. Wobbling, we emerged from our day drinking hovel in search of a place for dinner. On the way, Lauren asked a random stranger if he had any recommendations and lo and behold, he was an out of towner too. Very randomly and quite nicely, he decided to join us on our quest for food and ended up spending dinner and drinks in our company. Chicago! Bringing random friends together! We ended up at this wonderful Italian restaurant which was recommended to us by a group of about six cops. I mention this only because when we spotted them, they were all seated against a wall on lawn chairs. It looked like a coffee break but who am I to say? They all had thick Midwestern accents and really discerning palettes apparently, since the place they recommended was so fantastic. They also overlooked how drunk Lauren and I were, which was very nice of them.
  • At the end of our lovely meal, Lauren told the waitress it was our new friend's birthday and we got some free lemon cookies. Delicious? Maybe. Hilarious? Definitely. After dinner we walked across the street to continue the long day's long streak of drinking across that long city. Our new friend taught us several magic tricks that I'm trying out the next time I go out drinking which, based on the raging hangover I labored through the next day, will not be for a very, very long time. 
  • The next day we actually did get quite a late start and did the smartest thing I've ever done (twice) which was go on a boat while massively hungover. Yeah we chose to tour Lake Michigan on a tall ship on a pretty windy day with fake pirates giving us lectures. In order to get to the ship we had to run through Navy Pier which, and I'm just going to go ahead and say this, is a complete shit show. Too many sweaty tourists in too compact a boardwalk. I had visions of South Street Seaport and the Las Vegas strip. Again, I chalk this up to being hungover but...did not enjoy. I did enjoy the ice cream we ate and the "DJ" that was playing and rocking out quite hardcore to Whitney Houston in the middle of the pier. When I felt myself wobbling again, we decided to go back to the hotel and rest up to prepare ourselves for a fancy dinner.
  • We spent about two hours researching and  picking a place and ended up in the Wicker Park neighborhood, which neither of us had visited before. The restaurant was French, and they made me a sidecar so already, a place after my own cold heart! I had a leek salad and a comforting pot of seafood bouillabaisse and Lauren ate some onion soup and tried rabbit. Wicker Park is very, very hip. It reminded me of Brooklyn but probably less pretentious and less expensive. (See? I'm so unfaithful to NYC sometimes.)
  • Our last full day promised to be 97 degrees and humid so we did the sane thing and went to the Art Institute of Chicago which is one of the greatest museums I've ever visited. There is a Lichtenstein exhibit on at the moment which is pretty fantastic and beautifully arranged. We saw a fashion in art exhibit which left me intrigued and Lauren deeply disturbed. I got to see five Klee paintings and the same statue of Shiva about four times as we navigated our way through the day. I got the chance to stare at some Jackson Pollock which I've been wanting to do for a few weeks now. The room of miniatures is a place that I know, if I ever did live in Chicago, I'd spend a lot of time in. We had a sub par snack in the museum's cafe to avoid going outdoors and while we were doing that, we observed a small, red headed child staring at his sister while eating a chocolate chip cookie and this child may or may not have been possessed by Satan. Still, after spending the whole day there, I don't think I've seen the entire museum. Oh well, guess I'll have to go back!
  • After the museum we braved the heat and Lauren did some cartwheels in the shadow of Millennium Park and we made our way to a lovely Mexican dinner and a margaritas. We rode that odd but very convenient Loop train and after dinner we walked to Buckingham fountain where I experienced all the possibility mentioned a million paragraphs ago. It was the perfect image to take back home with me.
    So that's it. Four days, condensed though it might not seem like it. Chicago, I love you, madly. I'll be back. Keep a hot dog warm for me, won't you?