Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Chi-Town the Musical

Matt and I have amazing weather karma when it comes to travel. I mean amazing. Las Vegas last year: highs in the 80's everyday. Baseball game in St. Louis in mid- July: 72°. Sea World San Antonio: overcast and in the 80's. Chicago, the windy city, in the dead of August: mid-80's all week and only ONE day of wind! It was perfect weather that allowed us to traipse all over downtown. I think we walked at least 452 miles and I've got the sore muscles to prove it. Even my toes are sore. Of course it didn't help that we stayed at two different hotels, both on extreme opposite sides of Michigan Avenue. We started out on the far south side at the Chicago Hilton where I was working. It is a beautiful and historic hotel. Every American President who's been in office since the place was built has stayed there. And they filmed the last hour of The Fugitive there. AND our room had a view of the city AND Grant Park AND the lake. I even got to see the ridiculously huge fireworks show over Navy Pier from the window. But, it was quite a hike to get anywhere and I was sore and exhausted after only the first day. At the end of the week we had to move to a new hotel since the lovely and historic Hilton would not extend to me the special cheap rate they had given my company/employer. Where did we go, you ask? Well, the Ritz-Carlton of course!

And now you're all puzzled because that's just financially senseless…right? Haha!! Wrong! Thank you Jesus for and the "Buy 2 nights, get the 3rd Free" sale they were running for the Ritz. When I averaged it out, it was just a few dollars more per night than La Quinta! So then it was decision time……Free waffles and juice at La Quinta every morning, or the freakin' Ritz!!! Yeah. No contest. So we found ourselves this time on the far northern end of Michigan Ave. and still hiking everywhere we wanted to go. But it was soooo worth it. We had a nice big room with a great view of Navy Pier and the lake and the city. And then there were the fuzzy robes and slippers and turn-down service in the evenings. I could go on. And on. It sure as heck beat free waffles! Of course, there is a downside. Now that I've been spoiled rotten by the fancy-pants Ritz I'm sure my stay at the Quality Inn next week will result in copious amounts of pouting. Oh well.

Here's part of the city view from our room

But let's get back to my toes. The sore ones, remember? There is an extensive public transit system in Chicago, however, to access most of it, you have to get yourself to the mid-downtown portion of the city. And so we walked. First we walked to Millennium Park where we discovered that later that night there would be a free Jazz concert. So we walked until we found a blanket and a bottle of wine, then back to the park to enjoy the show. Now, I'm not a big fan of jazz music, but for a little girl from West TX, there's just something magical and perfectly peaceful about sitting in the shadows of the city's high-rises under the open sky and with grass between your toes. And it might possibly have helped that a couple of un-named little boys were 1000 miles away torturing all the grandparents instead of me. Possibly.

Pavilion at Millennium Park

Our reflection in the Cloud Gate sculpture at Mil Park

The next day we took the subway to Grant Park for Lollapalooza. And then we walked. The park is about a mile long (and I'm not even exaggerating this time!) and you have to criss-cross the park every hour or so because the bands you want to see are never on the same side of said park. And then there's the hike to the bathrooms, aka port-a-potties. Ick. Did I mention that it was raining which makes walking to and fro from stage to stage a real pain in the bahookey? You wouldn't have believed all the mud. It was quite a sight to behold….at least 100,000 people in various stages of dress and undress, a quarter of them in ponchos of every color, another quarter sporting umbrellas, the other half happily soaking up the rain, ALL of us spattered in mud, squelching around the place. Matt and I chose to be poncho people, and boy howdy were we cute!

Ben Folds on stage at Lollapalooza

Okay, so I make it sound like a nightmare, but really it was the most fun we've had in ages. Seriously! I know it sounds like our good weather karma ran out on this crazy day, but it was actually right on. We weren't sweating our eyeballs out in the humidity or getting sunburned and dehydrated and the rain sure as heck made the whole experience unforgettable. It finally let up around 6:30 and we started making our way toward one of the main stages to watch Depeche Mode. We were totally exhausted at this point and not feeling up to braving the massive crowd so we perched ourselves on a hill off to the side of the gathering throng where we could watch from the comfort of our ponchos turned picnic blankets. Turns out all the other old people had the same great idea; so we all sat/lounged/napped and watched the drunken young people be-bop by toward the front of the crowd. Wasn't I once one of those people? Young I mean. Not drunken. Well, maybe drunken, but that's beside the point. It just never ceases to amaze me that I've reached the point in life that I've started referring to college age humans as 'kids.' GASP! How did this happen to me?? So, I figured that with all this age comes wisdom. Therefore my wizened old self reasoned it would be logical to drown that particular depressing moment in one of the bottles of wine the vendors were selling at the very sensible price of $24. And what's even better is that there was no glass allowed in the park so they poured our wine into a plastic sports bottle. Talk about classy!

Lounging on the old people hill during Depeche Mode

We'd managed to mostly dry up off by the end of the night and were able to make it back to the subway with minimal squelching. Now here's where the nightmare began. When the already packed train stops and the doors open, NO ONE gets off and the crowd behind us starts surging forward, pushing Matt and I into the 3 cubic inches of space that were available. And several more people came in behind us! Ouch. I was holding onto Matt for dear life until we got pushed apart, twisted and contorted and had to let go so his arm didn't break. Now I understand the saying about being packed like sardines. I literally couldn't move and was so squished I couldn't even take a full breath. My right arm was pinned out to the side of me between some girl's boobs and some guy's back. Meanwhile, Matt was similarly paralyzed. Apparently some girl that got pinned against his backside was quite angry with him and probably would've been audibly cussing him had her face not been smushed into his backpack by the people behind her. Miraculously we both made it off the train at the same stop which was fortunate for me as he was carrying everything with him….phones, credit cards, cash, ID's, room keys, sports/wine bottle. I didn't even have my poncho! Lesson learned, thankfully not the hard way.

We did finally make it back to the hotel. I can only imagine what we must've looked like waltzing into the Ritz Carlton crusted in mud and God knows what else. Rednecks in the big city….watch out!!