Sorry for the delay in getting back on the blog here, but my trip to Chicago was a bit of a letdown, thanks to several things beyond my control—not the least of which was the weather, which was vile during most of my stay. I got really lucky with the rental car and lodging, but poor timing, a ton of rain, frustrating traffic and under-budgeting all led me to actually cut the trip a day short and bag Milwaukee altogether—much to the chagrin of the Fonz and Mr. & Mrs. C. Therefore, I haven't been all that motivated to write, plus I've had some other issues to deal with on homefront here. It wasn't all that bad a trip, really, but a big disappointment after months of plotting and planning and high expectations on my part. Anyway, as promised, here's my pictorial tour...
CHARLIE PARKER LIVES?
Five hours out of K.C., my first stop was this oddball little quonset hut known as Charlie Parker's Diner in Springfield, IL, home of their trademark "Horseshoe" meals. CP's has been featured on Food Network's "Drive-Ins, Diners and Dives" and I'm quickly discovering that even when the featured food looks really good on TV, it doesn't always live up to expectations in person. I had the ham-and-egg horseshoe, which is a piece of toast with the ham and eggs on top of it, smothered by a plateful of hash browns topped off by gooey cheese sauce. Dandy tasting, up to a point, but the cheese kinda overwhelms the whole thing after eating about half of it, and I found it slightly underwhelming overall. Still, it's not bad at all for the price ($5.95), and I give the place extra points for the numerous '50s/'60s/'70s record albums (and jackets) that adorn the walls therein, especially the Dave Edmunds albums. Kinda hard to find the place, but it's worth a stop if you're ever in the Springfield area.
LIVIN' IN THE LAP OF LUXURY
Or at least the belly-button of it, anyway. Check out the room I stayed in, complete with wall-mounted flat screen Philips TV, spacious bathroom and two double-beds. Think I stayed at a semi-upscale hotel chain? Guess again—it was a Motel 6, of all things! I stayed at this same location in Arlington Heights near O'Hare Airport about seven years ago, and it was pretty nice then, but they've since remodeled and it's now easily the nicest Motel 6 I've ever lodged at. Even better, my room normally rents for 90 bucks a night, but I got it for the low, low price of $32.95 a night, thanks to my Internet rate and the hotel industry's current desperation to fill rooms.
REALLY GETTING MY GOAT
As planned, I paid a visit to the infamous Billy Goat tavern in the heart of Chicago's downtown underworld on lower Wacker drive, just a few blocks from the John Hancock building and Marina City. The Goat is the original home of the late John Belushi's legendary "Cheezeborger! Cheezeborger! Cheezeborger!" skits on "Saturday Night Live", and while the layout was a bit different than the one on SNL, the feeling was pretty much the same. That's my double cheezeborger and cheeps, and unlike on SNL, you can get a Diet Coke instead of Pepsi, if you dare. The cheezeborger was nothing terribly spectacular, but it hit the spot and I can now say I've been to Da Goat. The walls of the place are also adorned with numerous old newspaper articles about the guy who owned it and put the "Curse of The Goat" on the beloved Cubbies.
"OUT OF MY BRAIN ON THE TRAIN..."
I've been to Chicago at least four other times in the last 25 years, but this trip was my first experience with riding the El trains, and I was greatly impressed with how easy it is to get from one side of town to the other and back. I've ridden St. Louis' MetroLink trains many times and enjoyed them, but the El is a totally different animal. The ride into town from the O'Hare area was especially fun, and I was amazed at the way the train went screaming past numerous two-story houses and coming literally within five feet of people's bedrooms, which we can only hope are occupied by the deaf. I wasn't even sure where I was when I got off the train underground inside The Loop, so my attitude was like "surprise me", and when I reached daylight again, I was right smack dab in front of the famed Chicago Theater, not far from Marina City and the Chicago Riverwalk. It took me a while to decipher all the color-coded train lines, but once I did, I had no trouble getting from downtown to Comiskey Park then back to downtown and up to Wrigley Field and ultimately over to United Center for the Blackhawks game. The train rides were also a fun and unique opportunity to do a little people-watching during evening rush hour. There was even a guitar player in the bowels of the subway (Johnny, I presume) "down in the tunnel tryin' to make it pay", as the Dire Straits song goes. I found the entire El system to be totally fascinating in its scope, and I marvel at how efficiently it gets all those millions of people from place to place—Chicago would be a total clusterfuck without it.
VERTIGO IN REVERSE?
It's been a while since I've been around buildings this tall in person, and I was taken aback when I looked up at this over-sized Thermos bottle.
These two rascals are pretty imposing from ground level, too...
DISCO DEMOLITION, ANYBODY?
And here's the site of the infamous "Disco Sucks" riot thirty years ago this summer, better known as old Comiskey Park on the South Side. The White Sox paved paradise and put up this parking lot, but at least had the good sense to mark where home plate was (relatively speaking anyway—home plate at Comiskey got moved around a lot over the years from season to season). I still, for the life of me, can't understand why they didn't point the new stadium (U.S. Cellblock Field nextdoor) toward downtown instead of toward the projects where J.J., Thelma and the Militant Midget lived.
"WELL, THERE WAS ONE THING I WAS SURE PROUD TO SEE..."
...there wasn't a soul up in Section La-Dee-Dah—the skyboxes at the United Center—during the Blackhawks game I attended. One fan I spoke to told me that's not uncommon during both 'Hawks and Bulls games at the UC, which otherwise is usually packed to the gills every night. As for United Center overall, it's big, it's pretty, it's functional—and about as soulless as a Pat Boone record when compared with its predecessor, the mighty Chicago Stadium, which used to sit right across Madison Street. Even with 21,000 people screaming as loud as they can during the singing of the "Star-Spangled Banner", "The Roar" wasn't nearly as ear-splitting as it once was across the street. Still fun, though, and a great way to get pumped-up for a game. Another new wrinkle at Blackhawks game that I love is the celebratory tune played after each 'Hawks goal, "Chesea Dagger" by a group called the Fratellis, which has become an instant favorite of mine. Goofy little song, but it sounds great with an arena full of people chanting the "Dut-duh-duh-dut" parts. Another thing I was pleased to see was how well they've cleaned up the area surrounding the venue, which was once a major ghetto and shooting gallery, and I felt perfectly safe walking to and from the El three blocks away. Meantime, the 'Hawks were leading those evil Vancouver Canucks 2-1 when I left about midway through the third period, but Vancouver scored two late goals and won 3-2. I knew I shouldn't have left them alone...
And this would be Bob and Emily Hartley's deee-luxe apartment building in the sky. Doesn't look like it's changed much in 35 some-odd years. If you're looking for it yourself while visiting Chi-Town, it's located at 5901 N. Sheridan Road, which morphs into Lake Shore Drive not far from Wrigley Field.
NOT PICTURED, BUT WORTH MENTIONING...
—I was quite pleased with my rented Ford Focus from Enterprise, which not only got damn good gas mileage (32 mpg on the highway), but was fully-loaded with a six-disc CD changer and Sirius XM satellite radio. This was my first extended taste of non-terrestrial radio, and I got spoiled with it real quick. I loved the '60s, '70s and '80s channels, as well as the numerous different Rock genre channels. But I have to draw the line at the Springsteen Channel—you can track through his entire catalog in less than 24 hours, I would think. And the Grateful Dead Channel? Obee-kaybee. There's even a Martha Stewart Channel. Oy!
—Another pleasant surprise was the eye-candy I encountered on the streets of downtown Chicago—attractive women in skirts! Working in the medical field, all I see anymore are chicks in scrubs, so I felt like I was on parole when I saw numerous fashionably-dressed cuties of various ages roaming the streets of the Windy City, many of them in boots, to boot. Haven't seen that many girls in boots in the same place since Nancy Sinatra's video! Naturally, when I got back to town here, I decided to pay a visit to our downtown in hopes of seeing more of the same, but evidently the Great Skirt Embargo is still in force here, as all I saw were gals in pants, even during the heart of the lunch hour. We are so lame here. D'oh!
—There is a Denny's eatery within walking distance of the hotel I stayed at, so I hoofed it over there for dinner one evening around 7:45, and I shit you not—I was the only customer in the whole place! If it were 4:00 in the blessed A.M., this might not shock me, but it seemed pretty odd just after the dinner rush.
—On the way out of town, I endeavored to find Michael Jackson's boyhood home in Gary, Indiana, but was unable to (based on the incorrect info I had) even after Mapquesting the place. Meantime, I got a firsthand visual on why Gary has such a poor reputation—what a depressing shithole of a city! Slummy houses, crappy streets, dead animals everywhere—no wonder Joe Jackson whored out his talented kids to escape the clutches of such a moribund town. Downright fugly...