So Broadway happened and then life returned to normal for a while. Sure I was still watching too much “The West Wing”, assuming of course that there can be ‘too much’ of that. Before I knew it, October was almost over and I took off to Chicago for Halloween weekend.
I need to put it out there that I do not like Halloween. Well that’s not entirely true, I just don’t dressing up for Halloween. I have never been into the costume party thing ever, and I just can’t make an exception for Halloween. I know it’s not a particularly popular stance but there you have it.
And the thing about Halloween is that it’s a bit like in that movie “Mean Girls” (which starred Rachel McAdams and Lindsay Lohan when she actually had nice red hair and looked kind of normal). Anyway like Linday’s character in the movie, I always thought that Halloween in the US would be about dressing up as ghosts and zombies and vampires – except now I realise that costumes for women here are “sexy ghost” and “slutty zombie” and “buxom vampire pirate wench”. I mean, really? They’re our options? The scariest part about Halloween for me is seeing grown women who have shoe-horned themselves into those ridiculous costumes that you’d swear are actually meant for kids. And do men have these options? No, costumes for men are normal size. Of course. Ugh. Okay I know I'm ranting and I know that my point of view is not a popular one. So I boycotted Halloween this year and instead chose to go to Chicago, scheduling my return flight to coincide with the Halloween trick-or-treating madness 37,000 feet below. Yes fine, I was a party-pooper, I know. And nobody cares what I think about this stuff - I know. Jeez, can we move on already? Yes!
Landing at O’Hare just after 8.30pm on Friday night, I was almost dead on my feet but I had promised to meet L&D for a couple of drinks. My taxi driver either sensed the urgency or else was trying to quality for Le Mans, because he drove foot to the floor the whole way. I made it to my CBD hotel in just over 15 minutes. I am not sure that’s ever been done before, not that I didn’t appreciate it.
I decided to stay downtown at the Marriott on Michigan Avenue. When I lived in Chicago I never even went inside the property so I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I bargained on the whole “a Marriott is a Marriott” thing and figured it would be okay. Can you please just click on that link and check out the picture? I mean, I should have known better - but I was in it for the price and the location, okay? Anyway, the first thing that told me I was going to lose my mind was that there is a giant bar in the hotel lobby. I knew that from the hotel picture online but that could not have prepared me for the real life experience. I heard the bar before I saw it – the shrieks and boozy cackling of women who, by this point in the evening, were no doubt regretting their 4” stilettos. Then there were the red-nosed tradeshow delegates sitting off to the sides looking at said drunk women and taking bets on which of them would fall down first. Then there were the out-of-towners, in Chicago just for the weekend. You can pick them because they’re the ones doing shots straight off the bat. Then there was me – awestruck by the human zoo in front of her, horrified by the casino-style carpeting and irritated that the website had advertised the lobby chairs as “private oases” when in fact they were in between the noisy bar and the toilets. Plus I couldn’t find the check-in counter, but geography has always been a problem, so nothing new there. Fresh out of king rooms, I was put in a room with two queen beds. Faced with such an expanse of space, you would think I’d spread out, right? Nope. I basically lived in a tiny corner of the room and only crossed over to the other side of the room to open and close the curtains each day. LAME. I clearly don’t know how to life the hotel lifestyle, do I?
Dumping my bags I went out to meet L&D for a drink and some nibblies at Rock Bottom Brewery. And after the long day, air travel, white-knuckle cab ride, hotel culture shock and a couple of jumbo beers (delicious house brews no less), I was done for the night. Well by then it was just after 2am, and for an old bag like me that was a pretty good effort.
Saturday morning came a little too quickly for my liking. I tossed and turned, debating whether or not I should get out of bed and go on the Chicago Architecture Foundation boat cruise. Reason won out and off I went, bee-lining straight for the Argo Tea at the gorgeous Tribune Tower for a peppermint tea as big as my head. Stupid local brew beers. I got stopped at the Du Sable Bridge (also known as the Michigan Ave Bridge) because sailboats were lined up to get out of the harbour for the winter season. So the City was raising and lowering the bridges all day to give them safe passage. I stood on the wrong side of the Bridge, watching my cruise boat just across the River, steadily filling up with tourists. Fortunately some out-of-towners were ahead of me and told Mr City Official Bridge Inspector Guy that they also had tickets on the 10am cruise. They asked him to contact the cruise boat captain on his walkie-talkie and ask him not to take off without us. Genius, and hopefully something I would have thought of, had I not been quietly dying of Local Beer Disease.
Once I was safely onboard, the boat cruise was as wonderful as I remember. I didn’t sit outside though, as the morning winds off the River were pretty fierce. I found a sunny spot under cover downstairs and polished off my peppermint tea and chocolate cookie. It always impresses me how knowledgeable these tour operators are – not just describing the buildings we could see, but they offer up juicy morsels of info about the architects who designed the buildings and how the buildings fit in (or didn’t) with the City landscape as it was at the time. Even in my hungover and jet-lagged state I could appreciate the architectural beauty of the City. Peering at it through squinty eyes through dark sunglasses, Chicago is still gorgeous.
The boat tour must have been quite restorative because alighting at the Michigan Ave bridge I almost bounded to the bus stop to go and meet R&L at their place for lunch. With two adorable kids now, I was so looking forward to spending some time with the family and just catching up - particularly on all the goss of baby sister's wedding and my not-so-new job in New York. We went to a great little Mexican place and I stuffed in a giant burrito (naturally). Relaxing, delicious and a long-overdue catchup, which was great.
R&L dropped me off at my hotel/zoo and I had a little bit of downtime before it was back into get-ready mode, to meet LH. We high-tailed it out of my hotel lobby and headed straight to PF Chang's for dinner. The poor restaurant was having some problems with its lighting and every so often, we got plunged into darkness. Great atmosphere, but rather confusing. But hey, we figured that as long as the dodgy electrics didn't impact the kitchen or the bar, we didn't care what was happening. After dinner we walked to The Peninsula where LH was kind enough to share with me a gift certificate she got for the hotel's 'Chocolate At The Pen' enticement. That it is a chocolate buffet does not do the experience justice. This was a pretty fancy, la-di-da buffet and the chocolates on offer were like little works of art. Mini tiramisu, little parfait glasses with delicately-crafted layers of chocolate, fruit and cream - all so dainty and single-serve and very, very rich. I always make the same mistake with buffets - I go in too hard, too early and I end up stuffing myself. I had a take a break half-way through the circuit and I wished I were wearing elastic pants rather than my little black dress.
After this we waddled out to Michigan Ave and took the bus out to our old neighbourhood, to a dive bar on Broadway called Jaqueline's. In the four years I lived in Chicago I never went into this bar, but I'm the poorer for it I have to say. The bar IS a dive, sure (tacky Halloween decorations, dart board, scary toilets - but it's also a bit of a blast. We had parked ourselves right by the jukebox and subsequently took control of the musical entertainment for the evening. I probably spent as much money on music as I did on drinks, but at least I ensured that my terrible musical taste was experienced by as many people as possible. And fortunately our fellow patrons were on the right side of sober to seem like they were really enjoying our musical offerings. It was great fun!
Sunday morning came, as Sunday mornings often do, and I was actually feeling really good. I put myself on the train to J&D's house, where we had a couple of mimosas and then hit the Chicago Brauhaus for lunch. OMG how long had it been since I'd enjoyed a schnitzel?! Too long I think. A couple of beers, a delicious schnitzel with fried potatoes and green beans, and I was a very happy girl. It was a shame that the full oompah band wasn't starting until later in the day (when we would be long gone) but there was one little old man on the stage playing his keyboard and at least filling the place with some musical vibe. On a soppy note I really thought it was amazing how grown up people's kids get when you're not watching. J&D and A&L have such gorgeous, well-behaved kids and it's so funny to see what little adults they have become in just a few short years.
Monday morning was another early start because I wanted to spend the day at the Adler Planetarium, another place that I had never been when I lived in Chicago. Along with the Shedd Aquarium and The Field Museum, the Adler is part of what Chicago calls "Museum Campus", and it enjoys prime lakefront real estate. If you worked at any of these places, how do you not stare out the window all day at those amazing views? I have no idea. But I digress. On my trip to the Adler, I dragged L along with me so we could geek out together. We sat through a couple of really impressive video displays about our solar system and learned about our sun and the Milky Way and what will happen to the earth when the sun finally burns out. Sure, this is not likely to happen for another 4 billion years, but it still gave me the creeps. There is still so much I need to get done. I love chatting to L because he doesn't think I'm a weirdo for being addicted to "Ancient Aliens" on the History Channel. I was telling him all about the ancient astronaut theories and how I used to think they were crackpots but now I think they're onto something. L is a HUGE fan of Ancient Egypt so he (kindly) listened with interest as I talked about the idea that aliens helped the Egyptians build the pyramids so precisely aligned with the constellations. As we gazed up at the planets and stars around us at the Planetarium, I think we were both wondering what else was out there in that huge expanse of outer space. That of course led us to talking about religion and the meaning of life, which we could only do properly once we were in the cafeteria, stuffing in paninis and potato chips.
Before long it was time to get back to the hotel, collect my luggage and get back out to O'Hare. Whenever I visit Chicago I run myself ragged but I always have a really great time. This visit I did things and went places I had never enjoyed before - but it was so much fun. I was exhausted on the plane home, and almost dead on my feet by the time I got back to the apartment. Despite our best efforts to be welcoming to the little trick-or-treaters in our building, K said we only had two kids visit. Now we have a whole stack of horrible candy left in our apartment that neither of us want to eat. I'm sure it will keep until next year...