Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Chicago - It’s a Toddlin’ Town!

Some stops on this tour were visited specifically because there are/were people there we wanted to see -- Pine Mountain, Huntsville, Asheville, Pittsburgh and Columbus are examples. Other cities had people we wanted to see and things/sights we didn't want to miss -- Atlanta and Washington DC, for example.

As it happens, Heather’s brother Mark and his gal Rochelle live in the beautiful Chicago suburb of Oak Park -- but we would have hit Chicago no matter what. I love that town, and I’ve mostly visited it in late November, so you know I mean it! Having said that, it was extra nice to spend some time with them as well, and we got to see mostly bits of the town we had not been to before.

For the third city in a row, Frank Lloyd Wright was a dominant force in our activity-planning. Turns out Oak Park is full of houses he designed, including his first self-designed home just a few blocks away. Who could miss that?

Sadly, we were not allowed to take pictures of the insides of any of these buildings, but the outsides kinda give his distinctive style away. The picture gallery is here.

Lest you think it was all houses, we also went out to catch some real Chicago theatre. Of course, Second City was sold out months in advance, but we found a fun evening in the late-night comedy romp “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind” at the Neo-Futurist Theater. The premise is that up to 30 very very short playlets are performed by audience request in a mere 60 minutes. Almost all of them were funny/effective enough to elicit a laugh or cheer from the audience, and thus this show (which refreshes its playlets almost constantly) has run for almost 19 years.

The fun thing about hanging with Mark and Shelly is that even though we’ve never been to their home in Oak Park before, Mark always makes it feel like home. Maybe it’s the tech toys strewn about the place, or the playful familiarity of Mark and Shelly together (her family has been part of the Rubin circle of friends forever), but it's comfy.

Later, we went into downtown Chicago to see the University Club, a stunningly tall private club of the style they just don’t make anymore. For one thing, it had a mini-Explorer’s & Gentlemen’s type Victorian lounge -- in the men's locker room! It had a Edwardian library (you know, big fireplace, ladders on rails, etc -- very Harry Potter) on another floor. Near the top, it has a gothic-style cathedral right in the building, perfect for large elegant gatherings. We got some great shots from the balcony.

We eventually made our way down to street level and began a walking tour of downtown, from Millennium Park all the way around to the Navy Pier (which, to my delight, was actually open!). We finished by taking an after-dark ferris wheel ride on the pier, seeing the lights of what Carl Sandburg called “The City of the Big Shoulders.” We plan to come back here in the summer for another visit, and do some of the things we missed this time.

And thus the Northern Leg of the Chas-n-Heather tour comes to a close. On Monday the 5th, we headed out west and finally crossed the Mighty Mississippi, where Midwestern and Western America really begin. It’s a part of the United States we have very little experience with, and from here the friends and relatives are few to be found until we reach the west coast. Wagon Minivan Ho!