Come On Feel The Illinois(e), Part Two

(Part One of our Chicago adventure is here. Also, just as a warning, this post is LONG. Apparently I have a problem with brevity when recapping vacations, so I would advise you to grab some snacks now. And also maybe your cane and some Metamucil, in case you turn another year older while reading this.)


After the White Sox beat the Yankees fairly spectacularly, we spent most of the next day slinking around Chicago, trying not to call attention to ourselves. Since the plea that we check out Wicker Park (and the three hundred excellent eateries therein) had dominated the Internet-Approved Suggestion List, we took the El there first thing in the morning on Friday---which wasn't really "first thing" at all, in fact it was, like, eleven, but hey, we were still on West Coast time---and wandered in the direction of The Bongo Room.


OH. MY. GOD. Which of you was responsible for suggesting The Bongo Room to us? Because I'm going to hunt you down and find you, FIND YOU, I SAY. Or at least I would if I was't still lying immobolized in a food coma, sprawled on the side of North Milwaukee Avenue, my veins no longer pumping blood but bursting, instead, with gingersnap lemon butter. Yes! Gingersnap lemon butter! On top of the most perfectly fluffy lemon ricotta pancakes! Oh, you are a cruel, cruel mistress, you who recommended the heaping plates of deliciousness at The Bongo Room. Now come here so I can kiss you.


After a wander around Wicker Park and Bucktown, we headed to Millennium Park, where we took a lot of arty shots at The Bean, and stripped off all the layers we'd put on that morning, baring our pale San Francisco flesh to the warm Midwestern sun. We walked all the way along the lakefront to Michigan Avenue, where we took a bunch of touristy photos, then stopped for a touristy bag of Garretts popcorn, which dyed our hands a lurid orange not found in nature (or likely on this planet.)


In the evening, we got horifically lost on the El---Sean was navigating and knew we were supposed to get off at a stop called Sedgwick, but managed to put us on the wrong line and get off at a stop called Sheridan instead, and if you know Chicago, you know these two places are VERY VERY FAR FROM ONE ANOTHER---then gave up and caught a cab instead. We saw the comedy show No Country For Old White Men at the Second City Theatre, which was so funny I wished I'd worn waterproof mascara because I was crying, and then spent the next hour wandering around in the rain, dodging closed El stations and trying to figure out where to eat at ten---no, wait, now it's ten thirty! now it's eleven!---at night.


We'd just about resigned ourselves to room service, when glowing like a beacon through the raindrops, we saw the sign for Cafe Iberico. "Hey! The Internet recommended this!" I said, and just like that the decision was made; we ran across the busy intersection in the rain, burst through the doors a smidge past 11:30pm, and shouted "ARE YOU STILL SERVING FOOD?" Well, dude, Cafe Iberico is a tapas restaurant, so of course they were still serving food! They were serving food, in fact, until one thirty in the morning---that's how they do it in Barcelona, yo---and they looked at us unfazed, like we'd shown up for the Early Bird Special.


You know, I may count that meal at Cafe Iberico as one of the top ten best of my life, and while 90% of it had to do with how good the food was, another six percent had to do with how quickly it came (have you ever waited until 11:30pm for dinner? Because it's not recommended for the cranky among us). The final four percent, however, was all about the entertainment on the flat screen TVs above the bar, which consisted of loud Eurotrash music videos featuring scantily-clad babes writhing suggestively. "What channel is this?" I asked incredulously, as a Shakira lookalike gyrated in a metallic bikini against a lurid sunset, showing off more than you would at your average OB-GYN appointment. "Because I know this isn't MTV."


"It's called TMF," said Sean, squinting up at the screen. "But what the hell do you think that stands for? Too Much Funky? Too Much Flesh? Techno Music Fentessssssy?"


(Sadly, it actually stands for The Music Factory. Letdown or what?)


On Saturday, we woke up bright and early to collect our rental car, heading through Indiana---WE DID NOT GO THROUGH GARY, WHAT HAPPENED?---and into Michigan, where we stopped first in Kalamazoo for a little bit of thrifting (and so I could say "Kalamazooooooooooooo! Kalamazooooooooooooo!" a lot, because MAN, that never gets old. Especially if you are the passenger in a car with me.) After some wandering around and lunch at the excellent Bell's Brewery, we got back into the car to head for Holland and Saugatuck.


First, however, we stopped for a bottle of water at The Most Enormous Shop In The World, otherwise known as the Meijer just outside of Kalamazoo, otherwise known as The Place Where The Beer From Lunch Finally Hit Me, Oh My God, Why Am I Wandering Around A Warehouse Looking At Synthetic Babydoll Shirts And Where The Devil Is Sean?


Seriously, it was one of the most surreal experiences of my life: the store was so huge it defied description, I had a little bit of a buzz going on, and I somehow managed to find not only an aisle filled with British candy (Maltesers in the middle of Michigan? Who knew?) but also a plethora of jello salads, and we all know how much I like jello salads.


(In case you were worried, by the way, since he was the one operating heavy machinery, Sean was entirely unaffected by the one beer we'd had at lunch. I am obviously just a total lightweight. Or else he slipped me a roofie.)


After cruising through a lot of Michigan farmland---which I somehow hadn't been expecting, I'm not sure why---and stopping at various antique malls dotted along the Blue Star Highway, we arrived at The Greatest Antique Mall Of Them All, a place where I could happily have spent the entire day.


We met up there with Dutch, Wood, and sweet baby Gram, who watched bemusedly as I bought a turquoise electric can opener from the late 1960s for which I would gladly have sold my left kidney (but which instead only cost $18! Bargain!) and then we all drove out to some glorious dunes on the coast of Lake Michigan. I cannot remember the last time I walked barefoot on the sand like that. I also cannot remember the last time I was able to be on a beach without wearing a hat, scarf, gloves, and winter jacket. Michigan has San Francisco beat there, for sure.


When we parted, Dutch said "Go enjoy the rest of your trip! Go enjoy not being parents!" and that became the refrain for the remainder of our vacation: want another beer? Sure, let's enjoy not being parents! Want to stay out late? Sure, let's enjoy not being parents! Want to see if I can do 80 when the speed limit is 75? Sure, let's enjoy not being parents! Living on the edge, we were.


Back in Chicago that night, we met up with Nancy and her husband for pizza at Gino's East, a blog rendezvous that was long overdue as Nancy's was one of the first blogs I ever read. And even though we both knew the other was going to be in Chicago for the weekend, it still didn't make the moment any weirder when we BUMPED INTO EACH OTHER CROSSING MICHIGAN AVENUE---one of the busiest streets in the world!---on Friday afternoon. There is nothing so disorienting has having someone call your name in a city where you're not supposed to know anyone. After such a random meeting, of course, a proper sit-down dinner together was imperative. (Also: Gino's East! So totally different from the pizza at Giordano's! I'm awfully glad I got to conduct such a scientific comparison.)


Sunday was our last day in Chicago, and we spent it arguing over how to find The Art Institute, wandering around The Art Institute barely speaking to one another, finally making up in the Miniatures room, and enjoying not being parents by drinking chocolate martinis at 4pm at the top of the John Hancock Building. (Eh, two out of four ain't bad.)


What followed next, however, were two of the most horrendous hours of my life, during which we were stuck on the El---and then on a bus, and then on the El again---and ended up missing our 6:35pm flight back to San Francisco, a state of affairs that was slightly embarrassing (don't you just feel stupid when you miss a flight?) but mostly just incredibly maddening. Nine times out of ten, of course, any flight I take is delayed, but the one time I get stuck on the El and show up late? Well, then the flight is perfectly on time, of course, and takes off with all the flight attendants smiling smugly and the passengers sitting there with their hands folded piously in their laps, shaking their heads at the empty seat next to them as though butter wouldn't melt in their mouths. Honestly, they all but pasted scarlet letters to us at the airport.


We didn't let it mar our vacation, though, and in fact it was fine: we got on the next flight on standby (time to wait: shorter than your average airline delay!) and even ended up getting to sit next to one another, after a very kind flight attendant did some shuffling to move me up from the VERY LAST SEAT at the back of the plane to an aisle right next to Sean.


Unfortunately, the man in front of me had a wicked case of B.O., so wicked that I almost headed right back to my seat next to the toilets when I discovered it. It was one of those situations that required weighing up which smell was worse: the faint tinge of human waste or the strong stench of human sweat, and I went with the strong stench of human sweat in the end, because it meant I got to sit closer to Sean. Hey, you hear that, Sean? That's love right there.


















May 02, 2008

I hate when you are trapped anywhere with the stench of unwashed human permeating everywhere. Breathing through your mouth only works for a while as does pulling your t-shirt over your nose.

You are right - that is love like you have never seen to sit beside that just to be close to your amour. You are the best!girlfriend!ever! for doing that!

Anne & May
May 02, 2008

Reading this it sounds like you were gone for...a week at least.

Could you kindly plan my trip to Atlanta? I'll be there the same amount of time as you were in Chicago.

Somehow I think you'd figure out how I could do the Coke Museum, swing by Euro Disney, and of course, not miss sunrise on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

May 02, 2008

Sorry about missing your flight. I hate it when that happens. I'm glad you had fun in our city. Iberico is the BEST!

May 02, 2008

I grew up with Meijer (and Jungle Jim's, which is six acres and has had its own Food Network special), so no grocery store can ever phase me.

May 02, 2008

"as though butter wouldn't melt in their mouths"

My friend uses this expression all the time! It must be a British thing. ;)

I always semi-panic when I have to rely on public transportation to get me to an airport. Glad your wait was blissfully short!

May 02, 2008

That made me very tired, like you should have stopped under a Chicago tree and taken a nap. Doesn't the midwest have haystacks you could lie under?

I think The Music Factory should change its name to Techno Music Fentessssy! immediately.

May 02, 2008

I'm pretty sure my flight two weeks ago was the first one I've ever been on from O'Hare that has left on time. Maybe it's a new thing they're trying out.

May 02, 2008

I have to second wwcutie's comment that once you grow up with Meijer, you just can't take another grocery store seriously again. When I moved somewhere without a giant warehouse open 24 hours a day, I found myself wandering through the streets at like 11 pm, trying to find someplace to purchase duct tape and a tarp. If I had been in Michigan, I could have gone to Meijer. But there was no place to go. I was sad. And duct tape-less.

May 02, 2008

I am rather in awe of your travelling prowess. I would have collapsed by Indiana. And died. Only chocolate martinis would have revived me.

May 02, 2008

Ooooh, Meijer! LORD do I love me some Meijer! You can get ANYTHING there, at any time day or night, 365 days a year. Need a goldfish, a power drill, a carton of milk, and a new bikini at 3am on Christmas Eve? Meijer has got your back! And they're CHEAP, too! They should really be EVERYWHERE! I think that would make the world a much, much better place.

As for how you missed Gary, it sounds like you took 94 the whole way to MI, instead of 90 out of the city and then 94 the rest of the way. 90 runs right along the edge of the lake and takes you through Gary, while 94 runs farther inland. Your olfactory nerve is probably rejoicing your "mistake" even as I type this :-)

So, since you managed to have them BOTH (in just 4 days! Go you!) which side do you come down on in the great Gino's vs. Giordano's debate?

May 02, 2008

I lived within walking distance of The Bongo Room. DANGEROUS.

May 02, 2008

Lord, do I hate being cooped up next to people with bad B.O. The worst is in an elevator. No, I take that back. Elevator rides are SHORT. I don't know how you did it.

"Enjoy not being a parent" is probably the best advice I could ever give anyone. Today my younger kids flushed a small screwdriver down the day care lady's toilet, and we're waiting to find out how much the plumber charges because we will be receiving the bill.

Chicago sounds awesome. I've wanted to really explore it for a long time, but somehow end up only stopping over at O'Hare.

Bird of Paradise
May 02, 2008

This is by far the best post I have ever read on this blog or any other. Reading it was like opening up a book of the world's best quotes and stringing the most clever ones all together. Fantastic.

May 03, 2008

I must have "Gingersnap lemon butter! On top of the most perfectly fluffy lemon ricotta pancakes!" IMMEDIATELY.

Those sound so heavenly, I'm having hunger pains.

Camels & Chocolate
May 03, 2008

I agree with Jemima: After reading this post, I feel a nap coming on (and I just woke up half an hour ago!).

And you were tipsy after one beer? What happened to all the bragging that the Sasquatch made you immune (or so my sources reveal)?

Melanie Avila
May 04, 2008

YAY!!! I suggested Bongo Room AND Cafe Iberico. I'm so glad you made it to both places. The ambience totally makes the restaurant, especially the videos. We took some friends from Kentucky there and the guy said all he remembered from his meal was that Shakira screamed at him the entire time.

And double yay for Meijer!

Glad you have a fun trip, even if the El screwed you in the end. Love the post!

Rachael W
May 04, 2008

Your comment about hearing your name in a city where no one is supposed to know you made me laugh (as did many of your other witty turns of phrase). When my family and I were riding in a touring horse carriage in Vienna, Austria, my mom suddenly stood up and yelled, "That's Wade! Hey, Wade!" It turns out one of her co-workers was in Vienna for a mathematics conference. Since we're all from California, it was definitely an odd experience.

May 04, 2008

I much prefer Gino's over Giordano's. It's the cornbread crust at Gino's that makes it SO MUCH BETTER.

Glad you enjoyed our fair city. And also, please tell me that you didn't actually pronounce it Illinoise.

Colleen Snell
May 05, 2008

As a Chicagoan, I have a few comments to add to your post:

--What CTA employees did you happen to meet that were actually nice and helpful? And where can I get one of my own? They're usually too busy filing their nails or texting their friend to even pay any attention to the customers who need service.

--You were at a White Sox game, clearly, if you saw 3 fights in the stands. Those big boys wearing black and white jerseys always start some trouble. Next visit, go to a Cubs game - everyone is much nicer at Wrigley.

--Isn't the Bean on a sunny day magnificent?

--So glad you went to Second City, and enjoyed it. I usually spit my beer out laughing so hard. They're brilliant.

--Ginos, Giordano's and Bongo Room in one weekend? You MUST still have a tummy ache.

--Go Bell's Beer! Love the stuff from the 'zoo. :)

May 05, 2008

This is a tiny bit off-topic, but I saw this on, fell in love with it and then thought of you (and it almost matches the can opener!)

I, too, love everything turquoise. My husband thinks it's an illness.

May 06, 2008

my husband and i are moving to chicago in june and you've gotten me so excited! it's such a great city.