Monday, December 11, 2006

It's My Kind of Town

Matt and I took John to Chicago this weekend to see the King Tut exhibit at the Field Museum. While I don't necessarily recommend bringing your firstborn boychild along on your 10th anniversary trip, it was still great fun. It was also a treat to have John by himself, and see what a great kid he is when he doesn't have a younger sister along to bug.

I apologize to all in the Chicagoland area for not seeing you. It was a whirlwind tour. John was a very good sport about a lot of things, most notably a lack of lunch.

A few vignettes:

While touring the King Tut exhibit, Matt asked John if he wanted someone to put his organs in canopic jars after he died. John clutched his belly and said, "I'd like to keep them inside my body, THANK YOU!"

* * *
As we walked to the Sears Tower, John made eye-contact and said "Hi!" to a person standing and waiting for a bus. We had a quick-and-dirty talk (while walking) about city manners, and how they're different than small-town manners. "I know, Mom," John said. "I just felt that that man looked like he needed a little cheering up."

* * *
We knew the restaurant where we were eating our Chiago pizza was a good one, as they sent out bags and bags marked "CPD" for the cops who had to deal with hostage situation and shooting downtown. Three blocks from the restaurant.

* * *
On Satuday, we ate breakfast at 7 a.m. and went to the museum. We were there until 2, with a small break around 10:30 for a pastry. We came back to the hotel, dropped off our purchases, and then went out in search of the El, so John could have an El ride. The plan was to take the El to Wrigleyville, where there would likely be a sports bar or two, where we could have a beer and a burger, then come back in to the city, where our hotel was.

It was a cold -- by Minnesota standards! -- and windy day. We didn't really pay attention to our map and so when we tried to find our El stop, we found the one that was six blocks from our hotel, instead of two.

On our way to the six-block El stop, we passed and tried to resist the Prairie Avenue Bookshop, but we were sucked in. John sat in a chair and sighed and kicked his heels while Matt and I tried to take it all in as quickly as possible. When John finally allowed as to how he hoped that supper would occur sometime in the near future, maybe, Matt picked up the nearest book -- "502 Gargoyles" -- and put it in front of John's face. "Never mind, thank you," John said, and could hardly make it back to the chair he was sitting in, he was so engrossed.

I found a Soviet-era book called "The Architecture of the Interiors of Industrial Buildings," destined to be a classic, and we set out in search of the El again.

The six-block El stop was inside the Loop, where John saw his first beggars. Driving through the devastated neighborhoods of Gary our way to sneaking into a steel mill campus was hard, but this was harder. "Mom! MOM!" he called, as Matt and I tried to figure out which way to go. "MOM! I think that man needs some money! I have some! I have two quarters I can give him, Mom! I can help!"

And then a woman with her small son, a little older than Maia. You learn fast in the city, and by this time John was not jumping up and down and talking loudly, but he leaned into me and said softly, "Mom, I think that's her kid."

He was quiet on the El, thinking hard. By the time we got to the Addison stop, though, he had put these new troubling experiences aside for now and was ready for more adventures.

Unfortunately for us, Addison Street was celebrating the 12 Bars of Christmas, and so the entire street was packed with 19-to-25-year-olds, all wearing Santa hats and all drunk and yelling. It was too cold for boobie-flashing, which is good, because John had had enough education for one day.

Instead of listening to our good sense and turning right around and getting back on the El, we floundered through the crowd for a couple blocks, hoping to break through and find a nice burger-and-beer joint. I'm sure there were plenty there, but they were all packed with drunk people. And hey, I'm fine with the pointless drinking. In fact, had it just been Matt and I, we probably would have sat down in the first warm place we found. But we didn't want to drag John into one of those.

Speaking of dragging, as we walked John looked like he was doing the 1968 Mexico Olympics black-power salute. He refused to hold my hand, so I grabbed his wrist and dragged him along the sidewalk. Because it was cold, he put his head down as far as he could but kept his arm in the air so I could pull it.

As I said, he was being a really good sport.

Eventually we went back to the El, and back to our hotel, and we went next door to the Hilton and ate at the overpriced Irish pub there (but where they poured a nice Guinness), and which was packed with people at a huge expensive wedding reception. After battling the city in the cold for two hours, and then sitting down in an overwarm "pub" with a couple of black-and-tans in me, life couldn't be better. And out of the blue, John says, "I love Chicago!"

* * *
We stayed at the Essex Inn, which I highly recommend. It is a union hotel and extremely reasonable for being right on Grant Park. It is also gay-friendly, which is something I noticed while at the pool, when I was just watching other people and families swim and then thought, "Wait a minute..."

* * *
EPILOGUE: Why We're In Trouble, Example No. 233
We went to the Evolving Planet display at the Field Museum, which was excellent. At the end of it is a small display informing you that the planet is now in its sixth mass extinction, but because of climate changes, it's going much more quickly than other extinctions did. There is a small electronic counter that shows how many species have gone extinct since 8 a.m. that morning -- the time we walked into the museum. When we were there, it was 25, and as we read the display, it changed to 26.

Matt told me later he saw a boy tell his mom, "Wow, 25 species have gone extinct since this morning! Wow, Mom!"

And after spending an hour in a $15 million display educating her on how the world changes, his mom said, "Oh, I don't believe that."

And I saw someone read the display and say, "25 species, huh? Well, there are so many out there that we don't even know what they are. So does it even matter?"


  1. I live six blocks from the Addison stop—I could have directed you away from the drunken frat crowds. For example, you could have gone a block east to Halsted and walked south a couple blocks to a bunch of gay bars, which would have had a lot lower drunken-frat=boy quotient. Or west to Clark and north two blocks to Uncommon Ground, a nonsmoking coffeehouse/café that serves drinks.

    I'll bet most down-and-out people appreciate it when a kid smiles and says hi. So many people look through them as if they don't exist—a warm greeting is always nice. Although it's iffy for an adult to do that if they're not intending to follow through with an offering.

    And happy anniversary!

  2. That would have been helpful. We weren't particularly interested in that area -- we knew that right on Addison it would have been touristy, but we wanted a place to go just to be on the El and figured we'd get something to eat there.

    I debated announcing on my blog that we were going to be in Chicago. I shoulda.

    And the guy John said hi to didn't appear to be down-and-out. He was just waiting for a bus. Which made it all the more funny.

  3. And thanks for the well-wishes!