how to see a sliver of chicagoland in 2.5 days


Drive to the GO Station.
Leave your car.
Take the train to Toronto.
Sit next to a guy who works for the TTC and who has an intercom system in his house so he can contact his children when it’s time for dinner. Discover this and other details of his life. He is a wonderful travelling companion and once at Union Station knows the way to the shuttle bus for Porter Airlines.
Get on said shuttle.
Get on ferry to Toronto’s Billy Bishop tiny island airport.

Make mental note to write a letter. “Dear Porter Airlines: I’m very cross with your greedy antics in trying to expand the island airport. It, and you, happen to be perfect as is.”
Although arriving an hour early, be the last one to board the plane. Blame the free salted almonds and comfy armchairs.

Fly into Chicago’s [also perfect in its smallness] Midway airport where you will be serenaded with the blues.
A cab ride into the city takes about half an hour.
You’ll know when you get there by the sound of the el trains.
Because you know somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody, get a room in a historic building at the southern end of The Loop where you are practically the only guests. This is the Chicago way.
Go outside.
And discover that you are on a Great Lake. Not like in Toronto, but for real.

If you’ve got a serious chess habit, be happy; you’re in the right place.
Take time for reflection.
And music.
Discover neighbourhoods in the middle of downtown with off-leash dog park, running track, ball diamond. Try not to look impressed.

Discover a palace filled with fresh food—local ramps, dried grapes still on the vine, rows and rows of olive oil, fruit and veg you’ve never heard of, two dozen kinds of mushroom, cheese, pasta, seafood, home-made gelato, chocolate, bread.
Be sorry you don’t have a kitchen in your historic room.

Be happy there are places to eat in the food palace.
Walk some more.

Find the Tiffany ceiling in the old Marshall Fields [now Macy’s] building. Be prepared for staff who do not know what you mean when you say ‘Tiffany ceiling’. What you mean is the ceiling made in 1907 by Tiffany & Co. using 1.6 million pieces of favrile glass. It took something like 50 men and 18 months to install. The best view is from the 5th floor lingerie department, but you can see it from the first floor also, by looking ‘up’.
Looking up  is good advice generally.
IMG_6039 - Copy
But not mandatory.
Have dinner at Boka.
Have the octopus as a starter and if you have room have it again for dessert then take your happy belly to City Winery, a combination restaurant and music venue. Something like Hugh’s Room, but bigger.

On the way home, get some tea from the place down the street. Give the woman who’s bedding down on the sidewalk some money.

Look out your window at 3 a.m. and see the definition of not a creature was stirring…
Look again a few hours later.
When your window turns golden it’s time to get up. Be grateful you’re facing east.
Ask people on the street where the diner Lou Mitchell’s  is and when they don’t know and you explain that it’s legendary, that it’s where Route 66 began—and they still don’t know—realize you’re probably too far away to walk. Get a cab.

Enjoy the Milk Duds and doughnut holes they give you as you walk through the door.  Also the single prune and slice of orange that comes with every order.
Be thrilled to find a cab waiting outside the diner when you leave. Jump in and then be annoyed that you forgot to walk over to Daley Plaza, near Lou’s, to see the Picasso sculpture, Chicago’s first piece of outdoor art.

Of which there are now oodles.
Not the least of which is The Bean, which 10,000 people told you to see.

So see it.
Console yourself about the Picasso thing with a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art. 

Discover Vivian Maier in the magnificent book section of the gift shop.IMG_6115_1
Take a seat on the bench in front of a series of full length windows by Marc Chagall.
Do NOT take a seat on the pink box.
It is NOT for sitting. It is art.
Be glad you asked.
And then pretend you knew all along…
Go back to the palace of food to look at the olives. Share a kale salad before heading to Giordano’s for pizza. The salad will tide you over while you wait in line. Leave with half a Giordano’s pizza in a box. Ask the woman who lives on the street if she’d like some pizza. She will say I won’t complain. And as you walk away you’ll hear her friend say Give me a slice…

Take the architecture boat tour.

IMG_6286IMG_6277 - Copy
Be a little surprised at how much water is in and around this city.
Stop by to see Vincent...
and friends.
And then walk some more.
Walk all the way to the beach. One of the beaches.

There are 26 miles of beach.IMG_6150
Meet a hacky sack guy who takes pictures of himself hacky sacking and wonders why more people aren’t curious about what he’s doing. In exchange for your curiosity he will offer you a hot tip: Ghiardelli’s gives free chocolate samples. IMG_6290

Forget to ask where Ghiardelli’s is and then decide that wherever it is it’s too far to walk.

Make a note to rent a bike next time.
Be amazed by it all and worn out and belly-filled and happy. And remember the things your neighbour from Chicago told you. About the other end of The Loop. About the other 25 miles of beaches, The Field Museum, street food and Frank Lloyd Wright. About tiny tucked away neighbourhoods where the ‘real’ Chicago lives. Realize that, despite all you’ve seen, you’ve seen almost nothing…

Wear pin-stripes.
At least once.

More travel here.

can we ever stop comparing??

In last Saturday’s Toronto Star, Karen von Hahn wrote a piece suggesting—no, stating—that not only does Chicago sit “smack dab in the middle of the North American continent” (by the way, it doesn’t), but that its music, architecture, shopping, dining, general amusements, and occasional citizenry are superior to Toronto’s. 

Oh why bother I say…

I’m just so (yawn, yawn) tired of the endless comparing ourselves with anyone; it’s a bad, silly, and negative thing to do. And serves zip purpose. Except of course to encourage people to take sides and engage in conversation, which is always divine. So, okay, well done and thank you, Ms. von Hahn, for that, for igniting some small debate at this end.

My response (which ran in yesterday’s paper—for some reason without my final comments re Winnipeg) is as follows:

Re Karen von Hahn’s “Chicago wins style smackdown”— Sat., Oct. 9th/2010

Sigh. Not again with the comparing. This is so tiresome, and ultimately pointless. Fine, fine, Chicago has a brilliant waterfront and a few things Toronto doesn’t have. So? Do we really want to be like Chicago? Are we meant to come back from every little sojourn bleating and mewling that Pisa has a tower that leans…why doesn’t ours? And why aren’t we like Stockholm or Reno or Santiago? Why can’t we have Ayres Rock?? Seriously, do we really care that there’s no Barney’s on Bloor? Is that how low we’ve sunk that we define our style by some other city’s retail spaces?

In any case, if we must make lists, may I suggest the article missed a few key things. Like beaches, parks, the islands—the wisest minds may not have been at the wheel when configuring the waterfront, but we do have some spectacular green spaces right in the middle of our city. And true, we don’t have ‘Chicago blues’ but neither does Portland or Berlin. We do, however, have Caribana, the Pride Parade, the Toronto International Film Festival, to name but an easy three.

As for the Shedd Aquarium ‘equivalent’ Ms. von Hahn says “we’re still waiting for…” —we are? I’m not waiting. Is anyone waiting for this? Frankly I’m very proud we don’t have an upscale Marineland in our midst. This is style?

Ms. von Hahn says Chicago has Oprah and Obama. Yes but we had/always will have Jane Jacobs. Now there’s style for you. And she chose to live here. Imagine that. Especially when she could so easily have returned to the States, moved to, oh, I don’t know… Chicago maybe.

Ms. von Hahn suggests these comparisons matter because great cities attract great leaders, or vice versa. The implication being, I guess, that Chicago’s had some good management in the form of a “mayor with a vision for positive and stylistic changes, and the power to make it happen”. Maybe so, but not until they clean up the mess that is Chicago’s west side or the south side’s Englewood, will I covet what they’ve got.

And probably not even then because everything’s a package—the good, the bad—and I’ll take Toronto’s good along with some of its bad—including an opera house that lacks a piazza—anytime.

Finally, and if nothing else I’ve said changes your perspective one iota, please, please, Ms. von Hahn, get this straight: Chicago is NOT the centre of North America. That distinction—you will find if you only press google—is Winnipeg’s.