Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Yankee's Guide to Chicago

Chris Hendricks, an Active Rain blogger friend of mine from Cali, is coming to Chicago to watch his beloved Giants take a few swings at our hapless Northsiders. I just looked up the word 'hapless' in my synonym dictionary to be certain I was using the correct adjective and sure enough, directly below the definitions: unlucky, unfortunate and woebegone...was a copy of the 2007 Chicago Cubs schedule. To me this posed yet another question: If 'hap-less' means unlucky, unfortunate, and woebegone...what does 'hap' mean? I looked it up too. And yes, it's a word as well. Definition: one's luck or lot. Funny, eighteen years of Liberal Arts education and I never heard of it. And, if the Cubs weren't already a half dozen games below .500, we wouldn't even be having this discussion.

Anyway, Chris and his wife are coming to Chicago and requested an insider's list of 'non-touristy' things to do while in town. I was thinking as a joke I might arrange a tour of the stockyards (or what's left of them) followed by a trip to the basement of the Sears Tower (think about it...nobody pushes the Down button in that elevator) then maybe a quick dip in the Chicago River after dinner at Charlie Trotter's (average dinner for two---$600. With wine, an easy grand, out the door---but a swim in the only river in the Midwest that flows in opposite directions---priceless,). Like I mentioned, Chris is a blogger friend of mine. I've never really met him in person. Please don't call Dateline.

All kidding to the side for now, I do think that a weekend trip in Chicago using only Public Transportation, specifically the Elevated Train system (EL), would be an awesome way to see our city. So to Chris and his lovely (I'm assuming) wife, here is what I propose:

Friday Afternoon: Fly into O'Hare field, collect your baggage from the lower level of whichever terminal your gate is located and follow the overhead signs to Ground Transportation and CTA (Chicago Transit Authority). Wait for the train to arrive at the platform and take the Blue Line east to downtown. While it may at first seem you are waiting for eternity, it's still a much quicker passage into the city than navigating the expressway with a kamikaze (I'm being polite) taxi driver during rush hour. (BTW, it is always rush hour from the airport to the city.) You will enjoy an interesting, if not scenic view of the urban topography that lies at the feet of our extended city limits. (The airport is actually about 17 miles northwest of the Chicago Loop and was annexed into the city limits by some back room gerrymandering decades ago.) Upon arrival, it's a short walk or cab ride to any downtown hotel.

Saturday Afternoon: Take the Red Line north to the Addison Stop. This is Wrigley Field, home of our hopefully soon to be 'happed' Chicago Cubbies. Come a few hours early to stroll through the surrounding neighborhoods. You may want to skip the likes of the Cubby Bear, Hi-Tops and other such tourist attractions and instead, walk a few blocks east before the first pitch. Boystown is always a fun place to stop for a drink or coffee. Just follow the rainbow flags along Halsted Street. I can't really describe it but you'll know it when you see it. Halsted Street between Addison and Belmont, you can't miss it.

Saturday Evening: If you haven't had too many $7 beers and you managed to arrive safely back to your hotel (Caution: the Red Line ride back after a Cubs game can in itself, be a David Mamet play) consider jumping on the Blue Line west to Bucktown for dinner. This is one of my favorite Chicago neighborhoods and this Metromix link will tell you what's happening there on a daily basis or simply walk the sidewalks and pick a place that feels right for you. You'll love it there. The train stops at the intersection of North/Damen/Milwaukee Avenues.

Sunday Brunch: Take the Brown Line northwest to Lincoln Square. This Northside neighborhood has a German heritage with plenty of local cafes, bistros and restaurants. Get off at the Western Avenue stop and wander eastward. The town square is beautiful.

Also, if you are coming from a northern or southern destination along Lake Michigan the Red Line can drop you within a few blocks of Millennium Park, a must see for everyone including Chicago natives. If you are staying downtown, it is walking distance east from most of the finer hotels and a few of the rattier ones, too. The Crown Fountain, Kappor Sculpture, Lurie Gardens, and Pritzker Pavilion, located in the Park, are all 'must sees' if you are visiting Chicago. The Art Institute is adjacent to the complex so pat one of the guardian Lions on the snout as you walk in to view a Picasso.

I must now admit that I am also a visitor of sorts in this amazing city. Born on the East Coast, I arrived here in the mid-1990's against my corporate will. For the first year or so I wouldn't take off my hat or galoshes in protest of the longitudinal relocation package that landed me here-- even in July. Finally I opened my eyes and learned to embrace the beauty of a 6 week Summer. The dozen or so times I myself have ridden on the EL in Chicago, it's been to the locations I mention above. (Personally, I own two cars and would drive to the mailbox if it wasn't just in my lobby.) Anyway, it's only a thought. Try the CTA if you'd like to give your Chicago visit an added twist of adventure.

As for my friend Chris and his wonderful (I'm pretty sure) wife--I hope this gives them a few ideas. Maybe try one rapid transit excursion this trip--perhaps the Red Line to the game and back or the Blue Line to Bucktown, to be sure. I happen to have house guests in town the same weekend the Hendricks are here so we may very well still never meet in person. My two young nieces from Doylestown, Pennslyvania will be anxious to see what big city surpises my wife and I have in store for them. First stop, Sears Tower...bottom floor....just for laughs.

Geno Petro

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