Things coalesced very well to make a vacation in Chicago into a spectacular trip. It started almost a year ago when I volunteered for an oversold flight and got a free ticket for the continental U.S. some time within a year. The year was almost over and I needed to use the flight. Second, a few friends had won a special award and were going to be presented in Chicago. Third, a best friend from high school and middle school lived in Chicago, and I hadn’t seen him in a few years and hadn’t yet met his wife. So I decided to go to Chicago for a few days with a free ticket and a free place to stay and lots of people that I know there.

The flight was uneventful. I arrived at O’Hare, then got on the train and made progress towards southern Chicago where Adam lived. He met me at the station and we immediately went to his work. Adam works for the Chicago Parks District, and part of his job is doing site visits at pools to look at how an extracurricular lifeguard training program is working. The program focuses on places where children are at risk of joining gangs, so the city was trying to get kids to do something more productive with their lives. The first place we went was in the projects. We sat in the back of the classroom for a little bit, and I struggled to understand what was being said. Then they changed and went to the pool and Adam evaluated their swimming.  Then we were off to our next place, and my GPS phone came in handy finding it. It didn’t help us get in the building, though. We tried all the doors, wandered around, and finally found an open one, walking through a volleyball game to get to the pool, where it turned out they weren’t even practicing that night. Oh well. We went back to Adam’s place, then to a barbecue place for some food. When Sarah got home and I finally got to meet her, we walked down to the nearby bar for a couple drinks.

The next day Adam and I started early. We drove downtown to so he could go to a meeting. While he was in his meeting, I went to the Hancock observatory. It was really windy, so I got some neat videos of the clouds racing across the skyline, and I got a couple postcards for my sister. We met up again and walked around downtown. We saw Millennium park and the giant mirror bean, the huge amphitheater, the fountain. We went back into downtown and stopped for a quick lunch before getting back to the meter just in time. We had passed by the art museum and been intrigued, so we tried to find a parking spot. We spent a lot of time trying to find a parking spot. It was a Thursday afternoon, and on Thursdays after 5 it’s free admission, so in the end we decided to just be patient and come back later. Adam had another site visit to do, so we drove over there, another school in a different ghetto. We were escorted by one of the many security guards to the pool. Again, I struggled to understand what people were saying, and the problem was exacerbated by the acoustics of the room and pool. Some girls were even trying to talk to me and I unintentionally ignored them because I didn’t understand that they were talking to me or even what they were saying. I felt bad when they finally did get my attention and pointed out I had been ignoring them.

We left the car at the school and took the bus downtown to the art museum, where I was very pleased to find some of my favorite impressionist paintings ever. There were three rooms where I was just the happiest guy in the world. It was raining hard when we left, and the bus leaked through the roof, but it didn’t bug me. Thankfully the car was still intact. Adam, Sarah, and I then went North of town to a neat little restaurant where I had a great burger and we discovered the Goose Island Matilda beer. Then we ventured across the street to another crowded local hangout and had some German beer and talked for a bit. When we got back to the apartment we installed Unreal Tournament on the computers and played a few games. Even Sarah got in on the action.

Friday was a very busy day. It started when Sarah and I walked to the Museum of Science and Industry, though she continued on to work. I toured around the museum a bit, then met Wendy and Dave in front of the Star Wars exhibit. We went through that together, then split up for another hour and a half to tour the rest of the museum. I got there at 10:30, and we were done at 2:30, and it took all of the 4 hours to get through the place. It was a huge museum, and except for the little kids running around and narrowly avoiding accidental crushing, a very cool museum. The three of us met and had a quick bite before taking a taxi, an interesting and somewhat stressful taxi, to the Sears Tower, where all of the Tri-Cities travelers were finally together at once. The tower was neat, though I’m pretty sure I enjoyed the Hancock Observatory more. Next we went to dinner at Giordano’s, which is a chain, but a fairly small and local one, and a must for authentic Chicago deep dish pizza. From there we took the L to their hotel, then took the free trolley down to the pier. There were a ton of small stores along the pier, and mostly I wasn’t interested, though I did enjoy people-watching. We made it to the end of the pier, where there was a haunted house. But the line was long, the price was steep, and the fireworks were supposed to start in 20 minutes. Behind the house was an open air bar with a live but not so good band playing, so we watched the night skyline while we waited for the fireworks. They were great; there were even a few kinds I had never seen before that did all sorts of neat tricks. After that, we took the trolley back to their hotel, where they were all tired and not interested in going out. I walked back to the bus and rode it back to Adam’s place, where we played gamecube and went to bed.

The next morning I took the bus to the Shedd Aquarium and had some time to take a great panorama of the skyline before the others arrived. We had a good time in the aquarium, then took the conveniently located water taxi over to the pier. We were a few minutes too late, though, and missed the architecture tour we intended to take, but we got on the next one shortly after. It was an interesting boat ride, and fairly enjoyable. After we returned, we walked back to their hotel; we had plenty of time to kill and it was great weather. Some people went inside the hotel to change or get ready, while some of us went to the nearby Rock Bottom Brewery and had a couple pitchers and appetizers on the roof top. Next we took a short taxi trip to Gibson’s Steakhouse, which is very famous and known to have great food. The waiter brought out a plate with each of the cuts and told us about all the different ways we could have our steak. I picked the Chicago cut and all of the couples decided to split their steaks. I was able to finish mine, partly because it was among the best steaks I’ve ever had, and remarkably I was still capable of eating more. Nobody else was, so we paid our bill and left. We walked around for a little bit before going our separate ways; the rest had tickets for Jersey Boys or Wicked, and I had slacked off ordering tickets for a show and didn’t get anything. But I wandered around, going up and down the mile and a few side streets, stopping at the Hershey’s store for a brownie while I waited for Adam and Sarah to get downtown. Coincidentally, they arrived at the Hancock tower at the same time I did, and the line to get to the Signature Room moved quickly. The Signature Room is at the top of the tower, and is a restaurant/bar that takes up two floors. There was another line at the top of the elevator, but for some reason a waiter came to the end of the line and was able to give us pretty cool seats almost immediately. We each ordered different martinis and chatted while we sipped. We ordered a second round, and enjoyed six of the best martinis ever. They were totally worth the $12 each. After the Signature Room, we walked to a club that was inside an old church. Inside was a dance floor with two levels above it looking down. On the third floor was the entrance to another section where there was a live (not quite sure how it worked) techno band with a dance floor that had two more levels looking down on it. The place was huge, and there were so many people. Sarah really liked dancing, too, so I didn’t have to dance alone. I was very happy that night. We took a taxi home and played a little gamecube before crashing.

Sunday everybody else went back to the Tri-Cities, but I couldn’t get a flight out, so I was staying an extra night. It was a very lazy day. I played a lot of gamecube, and eventually Sarah and I took a walk. We had intended to eat at a nice local bakery and restaurant, but there was a line, and we wouldn’t have had much time afterwards to pick up Adam from work. So we continued our walk and made it to Hyde Point, where I got a jumping pic. There was some kind of accident in the water off the point, and there was a boat, a helicopter, ambulance, and firetruck there. There was a guy on a bike selling ice cream to the gawkers, too. We finished our walk and got the car to pick up Adam. The three of us went North of town to Wrigleyville, where we had a couple beers and appetizers at the Goose Island Brewery, then wandered around and saw Wrigley Stadium. After that we went back to the apartment and then to dinner at a really cute southern place called the Dixie Kitchen, where I had a really good crawfish etouffee and was amazed to see a Chateau St. Michelle on the wine list. CSM is from Washington, and is one of my favorite wineries. After that, we walked by a local jazz bar to see what was happening, and indeed there was a live jazz group, but it was slow and none of were into it, so we went back to the apartment and watched Sideways and drank wine and talked.

We finally got to bed a little after midnight, but were up again at 3:30 so I could get to my flight in the morning. I kept telling them I could take the train and they should sleep, but they both insisted on taking me. It was very nice. I couldn’t have asked for better hosts, and they were so fun to hang out with. I’m glad I got to meet Sarah, and Adam is a lucky guy. If only I had a convincing reason to get them to come here to see me. The flight home was easy, but since I had left my car in West Richland, and everyone was at work, I took a taxi. Taxis are not cheap in the Tri-Cities. I asked the driver how much it would be, and he said “at least 30.” “Less than 50?” “Yeah.” “Ok.” On the way we had a nice chat and I learned some things I didn’t know about here. About 3/4 of the way through the trip, at $37, he stopped the meter and continued driving until we got to my car. I always think you get further by being nice and friendly than by being a jerk and demanding things you don’t deserve.

So my trip to Chicago cost only a few hundred dollars, and was a lot of fun. I like Chicago so much that I would seriously consider moving there to live. What a great place, with so many young people, so many things to do, and so many opportunities.

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