Road Tripping in Chicago, Part III


Hold on tight, everyone, because this one’s going to be long. I know what you’re thinking: they’re all long. And you’re right, they are, but this one is going to be long even by my standards. And so I’ll begin, as I sit, lightly sweating, in my 88-degree duplex (our A/C is broken. If you’re close to me then you’ve undoubtedly already heard about this. My repetition is borne of the belief that if I just mention it enough, the universe will have pity on me and suddenly fix that broken compressor. It hasn’t happened yet, but I have faith).

Sunday began with us waking and bidding farewell to Brit’s mom. She was to catch a flight back to the Land of the Lone Star later that day, so she couldn’t join our continued adventures. Her presence and her hotel room had contributed greatly to our time in Chicago, and there was much hugging as we left the “basic” hotel. Downstairs we climbed into our chariot – Brit’s Hyundai – for the first time in two days. Such is the way of public transportation.

As we had done with the previous days, we had items on our “to do” list that we were going to do our best to make happen. Whatever else happened – shoot-outs with mobsters, playing tic-tac-toe with a hobo, or trying to climb a tree to the moon – we would just roll with it. And roll we did!

The first item on the docket was a visit to Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio, out in Oak Park, Illinois. Oak Park is to the west of Chicago, and the drive there makes it feelvery farwest. Looking at it on a map, however, you get a better sense of how freakishly large Chicago really is. This was Sunday morning, probably around 9 or 10am, and we were very much stuck in traffic. Like, real traffic. Stop and stare at the people around you because there’s nothing else to do kind of traffic. We were perplexed by this, since weren’t we drivingaway from the city? And wasn’t it Sunday morning?

Some time elapsed, we listened once again to the splendid 12-minute closer to Wilco’s latest album (appropriately titled One Sunday Morning), and at long last we made it to Frank’s old house.

To please our angry stomachs we scarfed down some trail mix, then went inside. I had to pay extra to be able to take pictures, but I figured (correctly) that it would be worth it, and only thanks to that decision to you lovely readers get pictures of the inside of Frank Lloyd Wright’s home.

He was apparently full of himself and kind of a jerk (he replaced windows with wood once the house sprouted up next door, simply because it was so ugly that he didn’t want to even look at it), but man was he good at designing homes. I didn’t realize he was so into Japanese art and design, but it made complete sense as we saw his simplistic dining room and very ornate sky lights. The coolest part was definitely his studio, which he had connected to his house with a little walkway, complete with an indoor tree, just so that when it became freakishly cold in the winter, he wouldn’t even have to go outside to get from his bed to his desk.

The studio was huge and hexagonal with windows all around and tons of draft tables. The lights were held in place by a series of heavy chains that were mounted above the upstairs balcony, which he eventually turned into other bedrooms. Our tour guide was pretty good and jolly and of course we had that one girl in our tour group who for some reason simply could not filter her questions. She was Chinese but had an accent that suggested she was also maybe from somewhere else, and she seemed to not know what a stupid question was. Yes, children of the world, stupid questions do exist.

The tour came to a close and we perused the gift shop, where I skimmed a book of Wright’s designs that told me that only a few years before his death he had this grand scheme to make a city of the future. His proposed city of the future – which was the subject of a book of his and of a series of sketches and blueprints that he apparently traveled around showing to people – would feature helitaxis and be built so as to maximize on land use and minimize on urban sprawl. And this was in 1958. Why have we not made this yet?

We left the house and drove to Portillo’s, which is a fast food chain local to the area. It reminded me a lot of Burgerville, which we had while we were in Portland. Both Portillo’s and Burgerville are technically fast food, but are light years ahead of McDonald’s and Wendy’s. Their food is actually quality and, in Burgerville’s case, from local, sometimes even organic, sources. Neither chain is necessarily out to rule the world in the way that Ronald McDonald is, but the Portillo’s we ate at on that sunny Sunday was still incredibly crowded. Like, so crowded that there’s a girl to take your order while you wait in line to get to the cashier. This girl seemed delighted and amazed that we’d never eaten at a Portillo’s, and our simple explanation that we were from out of town didn’t seem to dispel that amazement.

We got hot dogs, because we were told that’s what you get there, and they were pretty scrumptious. The onion rings weren’t bad, but, between you and me, Burgerville’s got them beat on that front. My chili dog was, as expected, a complete and utter mess, but in the most delicious way possible.

Once done dining on our hot dogs, we again strapped into our rocketship (aka Brit’s Hyundai) and rode off into the sunset, heading back to Reilly’s apartment. There was significantly less traffic going towards the city, but the weather happened to be perfect on that afternoon and everyone had the same idea: go outside and smile at trees. We eventually found a parking spot and tossed our bags into Reilly’s place, then rode the train to Navy Pier.

Navy Pier is the world’s longest pier. On it is a bunch of carnival-like stuff (a big ferris wheel, stands of unhealthy food, dismayed parents), and a gigantic convention center. Parking there is $25 and the line still wraps all the way around the block. We did our usual trick of sort of guessing which train stop is best, then deciding to walk the rest of the way.

Once we emerged from the subway, cold air hit us. Why the cold, we wondered, with fond memories of the warm tree-smiling still dancing in our heads. Chicago weather is brutal, and whenever approaching the lake, it seems that drastic changes in temperature should be expected. We walked for quite some time and the fog grew thicker. A light mist began to fall and frozen children became more common on the sides of the roads. Their weak little bodies freeze up and give in to the cold too quickly, and since they’re not even good as a food source anymore, their parents wisely discard them.

At long last we reached the pier. It’s over a mile long, straight out into the lake, and we walked the whole length of it. To be honest, we were less than impressed with it. This is due in part to the fact that in the Architecture Museum (see Part II), there were several diagrams displaying awesome futuristic designs that had been proposed for the Navy Pier.

Things like a community garden, a fish hatchery with layered levels so kids could watch the development and spawning of certain fish species, and a really awesome-looking amphitheater on the very outskirts of the pier. After seeing those things, it’s no wonder we were disappointed, even though the pier itself is pretty impressive. It just seemed like they could do more with it – and I suppose they agree since they were willing to even show those sketches.

We left the pier and hopped a train to an area that was close to Fat Cat, a bar that happened to be hosting a Mad Men watching party. You see, that Sunday was the Season 5 premiere of Mad Men, an absolutely brilliant show that had been off the air for around 17 months. We were initially dismayed that we wouldn’t be around a TV to watch its triumphant return, but then we learned of the watching party, complete with drink specials, and felt that we had to attend.

But before that watching party we had about two hours to kill, and our stomachs demanded sustenance. After walking the neighborhood a bit, it became clear that we were in another Chinatown portion of Chicago, though this one appeared to be almost strictly Vietnamese. On the way to a closed restaurant that sounded delicious based on its internet presence, we crossed paths with a very strange man. He was on curved metal stilts (like these) and wearing full biker gear with pads and a tinted helmet so we couldn’t see his face. Since he was wearing stilts, he was some 10-feet tall, and he just decided he would casually walk around Vietnamesetown like it was no big deal. Needless to say, he was probably super weird and we avoided him.

We ended up eating at a Pho place called Tank Noodle. It was so crowded that we sat at the same table as two other couples, one of which were two Vietnamese teens that looked to be from the area, and the other of which were two Eastern Europeans. Then there was us, two white guys from Nashville, from Dallas. That table was a real melting pot, a little microcosm of American culture, and the food wasn’t bad either.

Brit’s sweet tooth demanded tribute, so after dinner we trekked to a Chinese bakery and got some eclairs, which we devoured while walking over to Fat Cat. We were still a little more than an hour early to the party, but the place was almost full already, so we went in and grabbed a seat. As the time of the premiere inched closer and closer, more people showed up in costume. There were dapper suits and sun dresses complete with ’60s hair and bright lipstick. They served Old Fashioneds right at your table with a little drink cart. It was a good time.

Then we found out that the premiere was actually two hours long, which bummed us out because we could only stay for the first hour. The show began and an entire bar full of people (seriously, standing room only) shut up while our old friends from Madison Avenue played across the admittedly-poor quality TV and speakers. It was fun just being there with other fans, and I wish something like that existed in Nashville, but to my knowledge it does not.

After our hour was up, we quietly slipped out of Fat Cat and walked a few blocks south, aided once again by our smartphones (how did anyone travel before smartphones?), to the Music Box Theatre. Why did we go there, you may be wondering. Here’s where it gets exciting.

We come in, get our tickets, and the guy working there says, “Tommy and Greg are signing and doing pictures before the showing, so here’s the line.” When he says Tommy and Greg, he means none other than Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero, the creator and stars of The Room, the best worst movie ever. I’d seen it four times before that night and it had become a staple with my college group of friends. At every available opportunity we would try to push its teachings onto strangers, and so when we showed up in Chicago to Reilly saying, “Hey, you know The Room? Well it’s showing here and Tommy Wiseau is going to be there,” we simply had to go.

Tommy Wiseau is a mad man. You may or may not know this. He wrote The Room as a play, but after no one would stage it, he decided to instead make it into a movie. When he couldn’t raise funds, he did some super-shady illegal selling of Italian leather jackets or some such nonsense, and miraculously raised the $5 million that he then shot his movie with. He shot it half on film and half digitally, because he didn’t know the difference. The internet certainly can’t tell you these things. But, thankfully, he’s writing a book to educate everyone on the differences.

So anyway, we wait in line for a bit, becoming more and more giddy. We could see them, just standing and delightfully signing things. Tommy had on giant ridiculous sunglasses, even though the theater was fairly dark. We finally got up to them and they both shook our hands. Mad man though he is, Tommy Wiseau seemed genuinely thrilled to connect with his audience. Whether or not he realizes how awful his creation is is still a mystery, but Greg Sestero seems fairly aware of it, as evidenced by his comparative lack of enthusiasm.

Inside the theater, we were joined again by Reilly and Cate and Reilly and Amanda. Tommy and Greg did a Q&A in which Greg was asked almost nothing and Tommy was asked the important stuff, like, “Why do you like playing football from 3 feet apart?” and “How come you wear sunglasses inside all the time?”

Then the movie played, and it was glorious. Even though I was more than familiar with the film, there were several things that I hadn’t caught before. Things that the whole audience participated in, ranging from yelling at a weird neck spasm to cheering on the relentless pans across the Golden Gate Bridge. People brought tons of plastic spoons to throw whenever the camera showed one of the inexplicable framed images of spoons. Once the movie ended, there was much crunching of plastic spoons underfoot.

The movie ended, I was feeling elated, and we all left the theater. Sam and Cate caught a cab back and the rest of us walked to a train station. We walked right by Wrigley Field, which was one of those things I’m supposed to see when I’m in Chicago. Seeing it at 1am on a Sunday night was especially interesting.

A train and bus ride later and we were back at Reilly’s apartment, tucked into our freshly re-inflated air mattress bed and off to sleepyland.

Early Monday morning, our last day in Chicago, we had planned to go to a nearby coffee shop with Reilly. He was running late, though, and decided he didn’t have time to do it before work, so we said our goodbyes and left. We took a train downtown, walked a fair bit, and had coffee at Intelligentsia, which had been recommended to me by my excellent creative writing professor via Twitter. Intelligentsia, according to him, has the best lattes in the universe. I had one, and though my latte knowledge is elementary at best, it was certainly a tasty drink.

After chowing down on some caffeine and muffins, we walked to where the Aquarium and Field Museum live. It was a gorgeous day with a nice view of the city and of the lake, but the wind was fierce and cold (it was 35-degrees when we woke up on Monday). After seeing that the Aquarium – our intended destination – had a gigantic line out front, we decided to skip it. We also skipped the Field Museum, pledging to view their treasures on a future trip.

We then walked back to the train station, then back to the car, then packed everything up and said our goodbyes to Chicago.

On the way back, it was a similar aural cocktail to what we’d had before: lots of good music punctuated by podcasts. With the Chicago skyline still in sight behind us, however, we made a point to do a really dorky English major kind of thing. While listening to Sufjan Stevens’ Illinoise, I read a Carl Sandburg poem aloud from my phone. He is, after all, the guy that comes up when you Google “poet Chicago”, and more or less typified the city. Here’s the one I read. It’s good.

We drove and drove, back through that huge Indiana wind farm, and back through all of the boring nothingness that lurks in northern Indiana. I looked up a pub that was supposedly good for lunch in Indianapolis and we stopped and ate. The food was good, but then we also got some local beers. I was amazed by the IPA that I got, which was brewed at Sun King just down the street from the pub. It tasted like summer and wondrous fun. Indianapolis seemed to be cooler than we’d thought.

Back in the car, we did a loop of the downtown and then took off again. Only later did I realize that in one of my pictures of downtown Indianapolis, I’d accidentally caught a mural of one of my personal heroes, Kurt Vonnegut.

Just outside of Louisville, a co-worker tried to call me. I texted her, as I’m wont to do instead of calling back (it’s my generation or something, I don’t know), and asked what was up. She replied by saying that our boss had quit that day. Our boss was a bit eccentric but a very cool guy and easy to get along with. He had been the one who had hired me and thus was kind of responsible for my moving to Nashville at all. My co-worker had a long-standing theory that our boss would soon quit and go after bigger fish, but no one thought he would go so soon or so suddenly.

As our fantastic four-day road trip to Chicago came to a close with the sun setting behind the Louisville skyline, all I could think about was how things were about to change again. I guess they’re always changing, though, and you just have to roll with the punches.

We returned home and caught the second half of the Mad Men premiere and were delighted that such a consistently good thing can exist.


~ by Jonathan Forisha on April 3, 2012.

One Response to “Road Tripping in Chicago, Part III”

  1. Foundations…

    […]Road Tripping in Chicago, Part III « The Loquacious and Lyrical Liltings of Jon C. Forisha[…]…

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