On to Chicago
From the Badlands, we needed to make it to Chicago by evening and so we left bright and early. If you’re trying to make the 12-hour ride in one day, it doesn’t leave a lot of time for side trips. Fortunately, along I-90, there are neither too many convenient nor noteworthy ones. Minnesota perhaps had two. The most westernmost, the Pipestone National Monument requires some understanding of the Sioux and/or Plains Indians to be intriguing, and was not a crowd-pleaser being somewhat far off the highway. The second one, the National Eagle Center, houses a total of five eagles, and since I saw one in Yellowstone, I figured I already saw 20% of what they had to offer. (Sorta.) In any case, we made a beeline for Chicago, with four square meals of Subway, McDonald’s, microwavable gas station food, and Hardee’s, interspersed with handfuls of sunflower seeds and Arizona ice tea. The healthy stuff.
The only other noteworthy thing on the drive (beyond my 1/3 lb. Bacon Cheese Thickburger from Hardee’s, of course) was the Mississippi River. It is cool if you know it’s the Mississippi, really want to see it, know the history and its importance, and so on. If you are just driving on I-90, and zone out and happen to be on a bridge slightly longer than most, you wouldn’t be remiss. It’s not particularly jaw-dropping. And so we continued on to America’s Second City.
In Chicago itself, having lived there for four years, I set out to do as much touristy stuff as I could to show Shine, knowing we were there for just a day. Some things we could do without. For instance, Navy Pier is worth a look for about 10 seconds. Take a picture, gawk at the Ferris wheel for an amount of time inversely proportional to your age, say you’ve been there, and then go somewhere that’s actually worthwhile.
For her, that was the Field Museum, and just as well, it was a place I hadn’t really been in my four years. The Field Museum is a truly awesome place. The taxidermy is the best I’ve ever seen. Perhaps this collection may be a relic to hold onto as it’s slightly taboo to stuff rhinos these days. The exhibit states that these were mostly collected in the 1950s during a different era. Would we use the same practice today? Hopefully not, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fully enjoy the creatures. It gives you an immense appreciation to these beasts, I’d never had before. I know now that if I ever see a moose again, it will probably be my last. Everything about the museum is fantastic, and I can’t say enough about the city in general.
Chicago is, in my opinion, the most beautiful American city for architecture. Boston, New York, Washington, Charleston are all phenomenal places, but Chicago just runs away with it for me. Parks lining the massive Lake Michigan. 19th and 20th century skyscrapers oozing with style. Chunks of dozens of other world famous buildings embedded in the Tribune Tower. The spunky North Side neighborhoods. Modernist buildings dotted throughout the city. A shout-out to the stunning gothic style of my alma mater, UChicago (as well, as a face palm to the ugliest building this side of the galaxy, the Regenstein Library). And lastly, the Vagina Building apocryphally known as being a tribute to feminism amidst all those phallic beacons downtown.
We indulged in some Chicago-style hotdogs. (NO KETCHUP, YOU HEATHENS!) Strolled through Millennium Park. Shopped up and down the Mag Mile. (Don’t say “Magnificent Mile.” That’s a damn mouthful.) And sank our teeth into a just single slice of deep-dish pizza, because any more slices and you’d be comatose. And we ended the night inside the college favorite dive bar, Jimmy’s Woodlawn Tap, playing old favorites like “The Finger Game” where people flub simple rules and rub dirty fingers on a communal glass. Good stuff. We headed back to our place, and woke up the next morning for the last stop on this road trip.
The city gets so much shit, and frankly it’s deserved. The river caught fire more than once. Catch fire once, shame on you. Catch fire a dozen times, honestly what the fuck, Cleveland? Further, its football team is embarrassing, and some parts of the city are left looking rather shabby because of economics, city planning, urban sprawl and probably other reasons.
However, if you want to say, categorically, Cleveland sucks and you’ll never go, then good for you. That leaves Cleveland for the rest of us to visit.
My college roommate, Tommy, grew up there and is Cleveland through and through. He loves the city much the way I adore Springfield, Mass other than the fact that Cleveland is at least sizeable and has genuine attractions. (I kid; how I love you Spfld!) He took us to the West Side Market, where a market has been for over a century and a half (with the existing structure having been built in 1902). Having served the area as an open market, especially immigrant and ethnic communities, it is still thriving today.
They offer absolutely delicious meats and fish and produce, as well as some prepared dishes. There is a Polish influence for sure, but you can find stuff from all over the Mid-West, the US and the world really. The market itself is in a pretty nice area with unique restaurants and stellar breweries. It even has a subway-light rail-bus stop just outside for your convenience.
He then whipped us through the city, by the football stadium and where Lebron unfortunately plays. The Cuyahoga River cuts the city in half, and an interstate flies over it, which could be the ugliest thing in the world. Highways need to stop dissecting our lovely, easily-walkable-otherwise cities. It’s killing us. He also swung us by a restaurant in the Polish section, where some stoic faces exchanged kielbasas, pierogis and golabki for greenbacks. If the cooks don’t smile while serving the food, the customers certainly do while eating it.
And for the very last thing on this road trip before I flew back to Massachusetts, he drove us down to Lake Erie, where Cleveland Metroparks have recently spruced it up, and honestly it’s an absolutely amazing spot. There’s a huge grassy area to go sunbathing, play Frisbee, practice rugby (as you do). There’s an expansive beach with throngs of Clevelanders doing all sorts of beachy things. There’s a multi-story central structure, with bathrooms and food and drinks. It’s really an amazing spot, and evidence of how good city planning and park creation can bring people together. Good work Cleveland. It was only a few decades back you had a combustible river. A+.
And I guess that’s a good note to end on. Cleveland isn’t so bad. Chicago is still sick. And everyone and their mother should go enjoy the National Park Service. Took my going around the world to realize how freaking beautiful my own country is. Amen.