Our fall traveling adventures are coming to a close. We will camp near Memphis, Tennessee today from whence we will set out to visit Shiloh National Military Park in honor of my great grandfather, John William Seth Smith, who was a member of the Army of the Ohio, Kentucky Infantry, during that bloody melee in the early years of the Civil War. Tomorrow we will head to New Orleans for a couple of days of fun and food. From there we will head home to slowly make our way back into our normal routine.
I would be remiss if I were to report on all of the places that we have visited without making mention of Chicago, one of my favorite cities in the USA. We actually spent last Sunday there in honor of Mike’s birthday. It was a hurried visit. Andrew needed to get back to Purdue at a decent time to study for pending Chemistry and Calculus exams and Maryellen had to catch a plane back to Houston late Sunday night. We awoke at just after five on that day and hurriedly readied ourselves. We picked up breakfast at McDonald’s and made the two hour journey from Lafayette to Chicago without any problems. It was thrilling to see the skyline of the city looming before us. It is quite the breathtaking sight no matter how many times I see it. We rode along Lake Shore Drive which I believe is one the prettiest roads in any American town. Lake Michigan was glistening in the early morning sunshine and at least in the beginning of our tour there was very little traffic.
The museums in Chicago are incredible. I truly believe that it would take well over a week to really do them justice. Much like the Smithsonian venues in Washington D.C. they are packed with information and displays that are incredible. Andrew wanted to visit the Field Museum because he had never been there. I was happy with his choice because it has always been my favorite. As we approached the area the number of cars began to increase exponentially. It didn’t take us long to realize that the Bears were playing on that day. There were tailgating parties everywhere and crowds of people swarming like bees. When we learned that the cost of parking for the museum was forty nine dollars on game days we decided to change our plans.
I was somewhat disappointed and I think that Andrew was as well. He had been to the Museum of Science and Industry quite recently with my nephew, Daniel, so it wasn’t as much of a treat as the Field Museum would have been. Still, we were all together and he agreed that there was much that he had not been able to see on his last visit. We happily changed our route and enjoyed a bit more of the city’s magnificent scenery.
We were the third group in line that morning and we excitedly decided to pay extra to see the Robot exhibit. We also agreed that the Imax film about space sounded just right. We had determined our schedule down to the minute so that we wouldn’t waste a bit of our limited time. Unfortunately the best laid plans often go awry. The computer systems were down all over the building and the cashiers had no idea why. We waited and waited and waited. We watched a full hour go by and even considered just leaving but for the fact that it was going to cost us twenty two dollars to leave the parking lot whether we visited the museum or not.
Just when it seemed that our patience was going to unravel an IT guy corrected the problem and we fairly danced up the escalator that took us into the exhibits. The robot presentation was fantastic. I even got to see a Da Vinci robot like the one used to do my surgery last summer. We had fun getting the mechanized creatures to mimic our facial expressions and our movements. We had an amazing look into the future. Frankly I can’t wait for those machines to become a regular feature in every household. Based on what I saw the reality of that happening isn’t too far away.
We visited several sections of the museum and then watched the movie about the future of space exploration and the plans to go to Mars. It was an inspiring film but parts of it made me quite sad. They showed several of the shuttlecraft being taken to various places in the United States. I once again felt a surge of anger that Houston had not received one of the historic craft. I still can’t believe that Space City USA was so grossly overlooked.
The time that we had at the museum came to an end all too quickly just as it always does. We were on a very tight schedule and we had to leave so that we might enjoy some lunch. Since it was Mike’s birthday he had the privilege of choosing. I knew that he would want to go to Portillo’s. It is his go to restaurant whenever we are in Chicago. It features a variety of hot dogs, sausages, and sandwiches, along with salads. Mike always orders the Maxwell Street Polish which is prepared with polish sausage and grilled onions nestled inside a poppyseed bun. I have to admit that it is rather tasty so I got one as well. Maryellen and I shared one of the chopped salads and Andrew went native and had the Chicago style hot dog. We savored a gigantic piece of their famous chocolate cake in honor of Mike’s birthday.
All too soon it was time to leave and I felt more than a tinge of regret. Chicago is such a great city. It is a study in contrasts. It has the most remarkable architecture imaginable. One of my favorite things to do there is to take the Chicago River architecture tour. Just driving or walking in the shadow of the great buildings is an amazing activity. A short drive to Oak Park provides a view of one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s residences as well as a host of homes that he designed.
The Botanical Gardens are as enchanting as anything that I have ever seen. When my daughter, Catherine, lived in Chicago she kept a family membership there which allowed her to visit anytime that she wanted. She used to take her baby twins there at least once a week and they would enjoy strolls through the lovely flowers and shrubs. I always want to make that glorious place one of my stops.
Of course there is nothing quite like a ballgame at Wrigley Field. The Chicago Cubs are my adopted favorite baseball team right after the Astros. The fun in that stadium is like no other. Catherine lived within walking distance of the field until an unfortunate night time fire burned her apartment and she had to move. While she still lived in the area we always had great times strolling around Wrigleyville and getting an authentic feel for life in the third largest city.
I am also a mass transit junkie. I became rather adeptat navigating my way from here to there on Chicago’s elevated trains. It is such a sensible way to get around a city. I have often thought about how much simpler life is with such a system being so readily available. Besides it provides some of the best people watching ever.
I could go on and on and on about all of the things to do in Chicago. I didn’t even mention the fabulous shopping on Michigan Avenue which is a treat in and of itself. There are jazz bands and comedy clubs and fine restaurants everywhere. There is never a lack of something to do. I even get a kick out of visiting the local universities, a tradition that Mike and I initiated long ago so that our girls might become familiar with the many educational opportunities available across the country.
Of course there will be those who point out the problems that Chicago faces and they are certainly many. I find myself looking away in embarrassment when we pass by the housing projects on the south side of town. I worry about the people who seem to be victimized daily by the brutality of poverty, gangs, and murder. I know for a fact that so many of the better off citizens send their children to private schools, eschewing the troubled public institutions. There is a certain irony that such a beautiful and dynamic city would also house so many horrific situations. I suppose that this is the nature of urban environments but even after years of trying many things the difficulties just don’t seem to go away.
Nonetheless, in spite of all of its well documented problems I am game for visiting Chicago anytime. It is a wonderful place. It is my kind of town.