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Chicago, Take Two

July 16, 2014

Wrigley Field

On our first road trip the Hamster and I spent an oppressively hot day seeing the major tourist sites of Chicago: Willis Tower, Navy Pier, Millennium Park, the famous Buckingham Fountain, and of course a Cubs game. Visiting Chicago again presented both a challenge and an opportunity to find other interesting things to do, which in a great city like this isn’t very difficult.

Making things harder, though, was the fact that today was a Jewish fast day that commemorates five tragic events in Jewish history but most notably the Romans’ breach of the walls of Jerusalem in 69 B.C.E. It’s not easy to balance the sad, somber nature of a fast day with the fun of vacation. And fasting, especially in the summer, creates an exhaustion and listlessness that physically limits what we can take on during the day.

Our first thought was where to break the fast, which ended at dark, which in Chicago today was at 9:15. The answer was easy: a second trip to Milt’s!

[Side Note: In the past 28 hours we have discovered that the great thing about going to the same restaurant two days in a row is that it eliminates indecision: if you’re debating between two options, you get one the first night and the other the second.]

For the rest of the day, though, we needed to be a little creative. Seeing a ballgame is our go-to activity, but tonight was the MLB All-Star Game so there’s nothing doing at Wrigley Field or at whatever corporate name the White Sox want me to call their stadium. The most popular sites we didn’t hit the first time are all museums (the Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum, etc.) but Sam doesn’t like museums.

So we decided that this would be a take-it-easy day. We slept a little later than usual, puttered around for a while, and then headed to Wrigley for a stadium tour. Sam has been with me on stadium tours in Boston, Cleveland, Denver, Cincinnati, and Madrid (yes, Madrid) and I’ve done a couple without him. This one was different from the others in that it focused much more on the history of the team and the building and much less on visiting parts of the actual building. This was the first tour I’ve been on that did not include a visit to the luxury suites, and the first that included a stop in the home team’s clubhouse.

The Cubs' Clubhouse

I loved the baseball history lesson, and Sam loved the press box, the clubhouse, the dugout, and the field. But I think he was most amused when he realized that two other guys on the tour were wearing the exact same sneakers as me, and that we were all walking behind each other. You have to look closely but here’s some photographic evidence:

All the other kids with the pumped-up kicks

All the other kids with the pumped-up kicks

From Wrigley we went to an unlikely place: the National Veterans Art Museum. I’m not a big art museum person and Sam is much less of one, but a while ago I saw a photo of a permanent exhibit at this museum that was so moving I didn’t want to miss a chance to see it in person. It’s a 10-ft-by-40-ft rectangle made by dog tags hanging from the ceiling. The dog tags are replicas of those worn by every American serviceman killed or declared MIA in Vietnam. Sam wasn’t too excited about this stop, but I did manage to get him curious about the dog tags, and I figured a war memorial was a good choice on a Jewish day of mourning.

We were a little surprised when we arrived at the museum and almost missed it, as it’s on a decrepit-looking block populated mostly by empty storefronts.

Museum? What museum?

Museum? What museum?

The museum itself was much more of a disappointment than the block; it turned out to be just a couple of rooms of very strange-looking art, some made by veterans and some made in honor of them. Worst of all, the dog tag exhibit wasn’t there–it’s in storage while it’s being prepped for its new space, and it won’t be reinstalled until roughly October.

Our next stop was the Cook County Criminal Court Building, which is not so exciting except that it’s the courthouse where the Black Sox were tried for throwing the 1919 World Series.

Having seen it, we were done with our to-do list for the day but we still had six hours to kill before the fast ended and we could go get dinner. Originally I had made plans to meet up with an old friend who lives here, but her young son got the cast taken off his broken leg today so the timing didn’t work out. Plan B was water sports on Lake Michigan, but today’s weather was cold and kept vacillating between bright sunshine and ominously dark storm clouds, so we nixed the water. Sam wanted us to drive up into Wisconsin, not to do anything but just so he could say he’s been to Wisconsin. I checked the GPS, which said it was about an hour drive each way. Under other circumstances I might have been more willing, but after 14 hours behind the wheel yesterday there was no way I was going to drive an extraneous two hours just to cross a border.

We drove aimlessly around downtown Chicago for a little while, which was fun just because the architecture here is so cool and every building is completely different from the next. But we needed something to do. Suggestions from friends ranged from playing in parks to blues clubs to a podiatry museum, but Sam was unimpressed. Finally I hit on a solution: the Shedd Aquarium, one of the most well known and highly regarded aquariums in the country. Our general policy on these road trips is to avoid zoos and aquariums and science museums and amusement parks because we can do those things at home, and the ones at home are fantastic. But the New York Aquarium still has not really recovered from Hurricane Sandy, and I was running out of ideas, and Sam loves animals, so Shedd was a good call.

It took a while to fight the traffic, and by the time we got there and parked it was a little after 5 pm. The aquarium closed at 6, which didn’t give us a lot of time but I figured we’d just get as far as we could before we got kicked out. First Sam needed to pee, and instead of waiting to do so inside the aquarium he insisted on stopping at a cafe next door to the aquarium to pee there. I’m not sure exactly how long it took, but I do know that we walked up to the ticket counter in the aquarium at 5:19, only to be told that the last entry was at 5:15. We were pretty frustrated and the situation instantly reminded me of the day on last year’s road trip when Sam’s dilly-dallying made us just a couple of minutes too late to go to the top of Pilgrim’s Tower in Provincetown. But this time we recovered quickly and took some time to enjoy the great views of the lake and the skyline. We also found some interesting statues nearby–especially this one of a giant piece of mac-and-cheese:

Big Noodle

If that’s not amusing enough, take a closer look at the text on the bottom right of the base of the “statue”:

Big Noodle

Big Noodle is what they used to call me in high school.

It might be the most unintentionally comical safety warning of all time. Also, for a couple of years now, Sam and I have been playing a game where we follow up any odd phrase by saying, “[Odd phrase] is what they used to call me in high school!” Sam hasn’t been to high school yet, so his version is that [odd phrase] is what they called him in kindergarten. Needless to say, we both raced to be the one to declare that “Big Noodle” is what they called us in whatever school applied.

Anyway, we still had a few hours before dinner, and we were pretty exhausted from not having eaten all day, so we headed back to our motel and watched the first few innings of the All-Star Game, which is exactly what we did the very first night of our first road trip.

Eventually we ate, and we watched the rest of the game, and we agreed that the third base umpire totally blew the call on that double, which totally should’ve been called foul.

Ultimately, the day, and the trip overall, was one dichotomy after another. We haven’t had great weather but it’s been a whole lot better than the epic two-day rainstorm we’d be “enjoying” if we were still in New York. We spent one day in the car and another fasting, yet we have eaten very well. Neither day was a great day, but we enjoyed them both (today more than yesterday) despite some serious obstacles.

We’re both looking forward to tomorrow, when we get to eat for real, drive a completely manageable amount, and visit our hero, Abe Lincoln!

One Comment leave one →
  1. Yehuda Lazar permalink
    July 16, 2014 8:30 am

    Best part of the all star game was the blurred Mets players tipping their hat to Jeter in the Re2spect commercial.

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