*Note: Unfortunately, Oprah does not make a cameo in this blog.
All of my life I have only known the East Coast and the West Coast. Never have I had the opportunity to experience the Middle.
Growing up in New York, and growing up again in Los Angeles, I've only known the Middle to be the Land of the Cornfield and Culture-Deprived. And Chicago? All I knew about the Windy City I learned from John Hughes. And Adventures in Babysitting. And Perfect Strangers.
Crash a parade and dance on a float while lip syncing to "Twist and Shout"? Check. Pose as Abe Frohman to get a table at a swanky establishment? Check. Break into a skyscraper to find Thor?
"Thor's my hero."
My long Chicago weekend started with two hours of sleep, something I obviously wouldn't recommend. My layover in Minneapolis was a blur of magazine racks, souvenir stands, coffee ads and flight-status monitors. Flying in, I caught fields of green, houses with angled roofs, three-laned highways and a quaint-sized metropolis in the distance. The West Coast had officially gone bye-bye.
Two hours later I landed at O'Hare. From there it was a shuttle to the Blue Line and a train ride to Logan Square (first impression: slightly Bronxy), where I grabbed another bus which took me to the intersection of Diversey and Clark.
I was staying with an old college friend in Lincoln Park, an adorable subsection of the city known for its gentrified streets, gorgeous brownstones and hot young denizens. Jen lived off the busy Clark Street (how cute, you only have one lane), right behind the hoppin' Mickey's Bar and Patio, where they apparently "have the best spinach artichoke dip you'll ever have."
There was no time for naps. I dropped off my luggage at the apartment, and Jen gave me a rundown of the hood as we walked to Dominick's, a local grocer, to get me a 3-day pass for the L trains and CTA buses ($12 if you're wondering - totally worth it). From there, we hopped on the Brown Line to my first meal in Chicago - the Flat Top Grill, popular chain where diners are allowed to fix their own bowls of raw veggies, rice, noodles and meat, choose from a variety of sauces, and watch chefs stir-fry the shit out of it.
Then it was a hop on the downtown bus for a quick drink and some good old-fashioned blues at Blue Chicago, where we befriended our spunky server, Erica, a San Diego transplant and singer of the blues herself (she's performing at B.L.U.E.S. on Halstead next week, fyi). One rum and Coke later, we were both ready to head back to the apartment and crash for the night.
"I went to Chicago, and all I got was an expensive tube of toothpaste."
Saturday started after a blissful nine hours of sleep and a strong iced mocha from Caribou Coffee, a more country-cozy version of L.A.'s Coffee Bean. A two-mile walk down the scenic Lake Shore Drive (think: Storrow Drive in Boston or FDR Drive in Manhattan) took us past shirtless volleyballers on North Avenue Beach, joggers covered in SPF and dogwalkers getting their daily dose of cardio with their prized pooches.
Water Tower Place marked the beginning of our walk down Magnificent Mile, Chi-town's take on Rodeo Drive (slightly more average-consumer-friendly). C.O. Bigelow was where I purchased my first authentic souvenir: an eleven-dollar tube of Jasmin Mint Marvis toothpaste (it happened to be on sale for nine). Lunch was downstairs at Foodlife, a busy marketplace with fresh produce and gourmet delicatessen delights. One barbecued chicken meatball and crabcake later, it was off to window shop along the retailers outside.
Brunch at Nookie's Tree on Sunday helped to relieve the enormous headache I had had after a pink-lemonade-vodka-fueled Saturday night at Roscoe's (FYI, do NOT get the $12 pitcher - sure, the price of six cocktails in Chicago is the equivalent to the price of one in L.A., but don't let that tempt you to order their deceiving, basement-brewed concoction). Seriously, my headache had been so bad the morning after, my eyes teared up and I was balled up on the couch as if a railroad spike was slowly being pushed into my temples. Major no-no. Lesson learned. I'm a dumb tourist.
Following our meal was a browse through the flamboyant Beatnix ("The prices are so good and the sunglasses are so plentiful, it's hard to get put off by any attitude coming from whoever's behind the counter"), where Jen purchased a glittered Spider-Man mask to wear at the upcoming Market Days festival. Then, it was a bus ride to the John Hancock Building that rocked me to sleep...Navy Pier, one big county fair overlooking Lake Michigan ("Really? It's only a lake?")...A scrumptious sushi dinner at Tsunami with the kid sister of an old elementary school friend of mine...Dessert at the new Molly's Cupcakes on Clark (Home of the best red velvet in the city...send my love to John Nicoladies and the trio of gals who helped me pinpoint the best frosting to add my end-of-the-day treat).
Monday started with some French toast at Meli Cafe in Greektown with Mary. Three hours were spent in the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC), where I admired the usual Impressionists (Seurat, Manet and Monet, oh my!) and was blown away by several modern installation pieces from early 90s activist-artists from New York City.
Downtown was more like Manhattan than I thought it would be, and its surrounding neighborhoods and cultural pockets felt very much like a Boston-San Francisco hybrid. The scenery was so layered, textured, something entirely different from the flat and palm-tree-riddled Los Angeles I have grown to love.
By Monday I was feeling the slight pangs of being away from home, away from my office, away from my bedsheets...away from my car. My pair of Reeboks were put to good use, adding at least six miles of concrete to their wear-and-tear (Pinky toe, meet your new blister).
At 5am on Tuesday morning I was riding the Blue Line once again, heading back to O'Hare where Northwest Airlines would return me to L.A. and plop me down in the middle of my currently crazy summer schedule: HIH meetings, writing deadlines, film festival screenings, Comic-Con preparations...my franchised life is going into overdrive...to be continued...
In the meantime, a slideshow of my Chicago travels, if you will:
Chicago - July 2008
*And for those wondering: Yes, I had me some deep-dish pizza...along with a foodgasm.