Chicago Skyline and sunset.
© Huffygirl 2012
On this trip, we saw Chicago from two great vantage points: by water and pavement.
We started our water tour at Wendella’s Boats, a Chicago fixture since 1935. We chose the Chicago River Architecture tour for around $25 plus the usual exorbitant Chicago taxes. We bought our tickets ahead online, which spared us from standing in the confusing queue at the dock. Be sure to go to the Wendella site, and not a ticket broker, which adds at least $10 to the price, then tells you you’re getting a “discount” by buying online.We took the 4:30 PM tour, which seemed less crowded than the one that took off before us.
The tour guide gave an informative discourse of the surroundings and buildings, as well as some interesting Chicago history. Even if you don’t care one whit about architecture, you get a nice tour of the second city all the way up to the locks to Lake Michigan. (Who knew Chicago had locks?) This was a great way to see a lot of Chicago in a short time (about 70 minutes, plus queue time), and get a fun boat ride.
The next day we ventured out by bike shortly after 5 AM. The streets were deserted except for a few other bikers and police, as we biked the two miles or so to Grant Park. There we joined thousands of other cyclists to “Bike the Drive,” the once a year event when fifteen miles of Lake Shore Drive is closed to traffic and open to cyclists only. There are two 15-mile loops: north from Grant Park to Bryn Mawr and back, and south from Grant Park to 57th and back. The north loop has excellent views of Lake Michigan, Navy Pier, and the amazing LSD skyline, including the famed Drake Hotel. The south loop passes the picturesque museum campus, the formerly beautiful Soldier’s Field, now marred by the giant spaceship that landed in its center, and famous McCormick Place. The north loop has a few smallish hills, but nothing that an average biker couldn’t master; south loop is mostly flat.
Starting at 5:30 AM ensures a less-congested ride, and more room to stop and snap photos. Folks of all ages participate, including many who have no idea how to ride a bike safely. Watch out for hammerhead cyclists on your left, whizzing by at 20-25 mph, and little kids who’ve biked out of reach of their parents, and have no idea they shouldn’t be weaving back and forth right in front of you. You’ll get the best experience if you are fit enough for a long ride and stay alert for hapless riders around you. The north route tends to be the most crowded, but both routes get crowded after 7 AM.
This year we ventured south first and enjoyed seeing the Museum of Science and Industry grounds relatively crowd-free. We had great views of the lake and skyline on the north route, and for the first time ever stopped on the bridge to get some amazing shots of the river.
After finishing our 30 miles in record time, we added an extra half-loop going south again. This allowed us to snap some over the road shots of the cyclists below from the bridge turn-around.
We finished up at Grant Park to collect our T-shirts and enjoy music and pancakes among the thousands of others sprawled on the grass and benches in the near-90 degree heat.
© Huffygirl 2012
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A few years ago my husband and I took an indulgent get-away weekend in Chicago to celebrate a milestone birthday. Usually we are practical people who stay at Best Westerns, where we lug our bags ourselves up the back stairs from the parking garage, and eat breakfast from a cooler we brought from home. But this weekend was about celebration and indulgence. So we stayed at the Chicago Intercontinental Hotel, an exorbitantly lush historic building, restored to its original grandeur of when it was the luxurious Medinah Men’s Club, with opulent ballrooms, a four-story foyer and a famously appointed Olympic sized swimming pool.
We, the people who usually spend our vacations slogging around on bikes until we’re sweaty and dirty, exploring out of the way shops and beaches and eating at local taverns and diners, allowed ourselves to be indulged. We let doormen hail us cabs and ate all our meals in restaurants. We shopped at Ann Taylor, the real one, not the Loft. We watched “Wicked” from pretty good seats; we slept in and stayed out late.
We had so much fun that we didn’t take time out to take photos, but did catch a few of the amazing swimming pool room. Considered an engineering feat when built in 1929, it is the only part that remains of the elaborate exercise facility once housed there. The pool room features Neptune’s fountain, hand-painted mosaic tiles, and stained glass windows. An elaborately tiled tiered seating area remains where spectators once gathered to watch the famous and not so famous in swimming competitions. The photos do not do it justice: you’ll just have to indulge yourself and visit there to experience the true beauty of the building. (Or at least visit the website here!)
© Huffygirl 2012
I feel like I have graduated. I just wrote the last check, licked the last envelope, finished the last meeting, and packed up all my mom’s papers. I will not look at theses things again, at least not for a long while. My mom died just about one year ago, on Christmas Day, 2010. I have finally finished settling her estate. It was a lot of work, but a labor of love. My husband toiled alongside of me for much of it, whether it was meeting with the lawyer, cleaning her house or tending her yard. We finished our last day at Mom’s home by burying a time capsule, and taking a nostalgic walk though her woods, now overgrown and almost unrecognizable from the woods I played in as a girl.
Today I’d like to share again the tribute I wrote to my mom which my husband read for me at her funeral, and also appeared on my blog on December 30, 2010. I know many of you have already read it, but today I post it again not for us, but for her.♥
My 85-year-old mother died this week. She had a long life, most of it healthy despite a robust smoking habit, some of it good, some not, but overall a life
that was varied and interesting. She was born of immigrant parents and grew up in a working class neighborhood of mostly Polish, Slovenian and others of eastern European descent. Her father worked in a factory, her mother stayed home raising kids, making chicken soup with homemade noodles, and poticca (poppy-seed bread) on special occasions, hanging her laundry on the line to dry while chatting over the fence to neighbors, and shopping at a neighborhood market, where you handed your list to the clerk behind the counter and they filled your order for you. My mother said they were “lucky” during the depression, because her father had a part-time job as a night watchman in a factory, while many other dads had nothing. Her growing up years are portrayed in pictures of her with her friends, sledding down a neighborhood hill, standing sweetly next to boyfriends, almost all dressed in army uniforms, and arm in arm with girlfriends, walking down the streets of Chicago or posing with the stone lions in front of the Art Institute. She quit high school in 11th grade to help support her family and worked in a factory making Karo syrup. Maybe that’s why her hearing became so bad in later years, as there was no OSHA to protect workers then. Later, as an adult, she proudly completed her GED, not because she had to, but because she felt incomplete without that diploma, even though she grew up in a time when many people, especially women, did not complete school past the eight grade.
She left her family in Chicago to move with her new husband to a farm in Michigan. Although she grew up a city girl, she traded it all for love, to pick pickles, gather eggs, and sell tomato seedlings from our little greenhouse. She raised three children without the benefit of disposable diapers, ready-made formula or an automatic clothes washer. She canned jam, hung clothes outside to dry and spent an entire day each week ironing. Her only phone was a black desk model on a party line. Her TV received two channels. She styled her hair with pin curls and gave her daughters hideous home perms.
She was the only mom who taught her daughters how to play hopscotch AND poker. She carried cigarettes in her purse next to pictures of her grandchildren. She could curse like a sailor and sweet-talk the priest, all on the very same day. One of her fondest memories was the day her grandchildren took her to…the casino.
People describe her as sometimes funny, sometimes fun, but always feisty. She was not afraid to speak her mind. I always heard about it if she didn’t like my clothes or hair or what I was doing, and not just as a teenager, but as an adult too. Her motto was “don’t go to any trouble,” yet she made sure you went to all kinds of trouble when she wanted you to. She was too impatient to ever wait in a line, but patient enough to comfort us through our childhood illnesses and boyfriend dramas. She deferred decision-making to her husband, but later as a widow, gained confidence to hire a roofer and plumber, get her car serviced and learn how to drive through the car wash.
She was determined to stay in her own home until she died and made sure we all felt miserable and abused when we “made her” move to our local hospice. But in the short time she was there, she was blessed and touched and basked under the loving care of the folks there, who were able to see past her sometime cantankerous exterior to the needs of a dying woman.
As we all whispered our goodbyes to her this Christmas day night, I think my youngest son said it best. He leaned into her ear and said “You had a good run Grandma, you had a good run.”
© Huffygirl 2011
It’s 5:30 AM. I turn onto Lake Shore Drive, which is shrouded in heavy mist. I can’t see even an eighth of a mile ahead of me. Lake Michigan to my right is still, silent, completely hidden in the midst. The cityscape to my left – also veiled. I’m barely aware of my bearings, with the landmark skyline cloaked.
I’m hemmed in by fellow travelers on both sides. Like typical voyagers, some are minding the rules, taking their turn to merge, while others skirt in and out of different lanes, cut people off, and pass too fast and close. So how is this different from any other day? My fellow travelers and I are all on bikes. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago’s main freeway-like artery, is completely closed to traffic, but just for now. At 9:30 AM or so, the orange cones will come down, police officers will wave their arms, blow their whistles, and the noisy mass of cars will take back the Drive. But for now, it belongs to us.
The crowd begins to thin as faster cyclists make their way ahead. Best husband Dave and I, always polite riders, are finally able to hit our stride and bike at a faster pace. We’re not beginners – this is the fourth time we’ve done this so we’ve figured out a routine. Biking on Lake Shore Drive among 20,000 others, can be just as treacherous as driving. I ride to Dave’s right, and he navigates so we can stay together. “Okay, move left” and we’re passing. Then back to the middle lane, so we’re safe from the hammerheads – the élite cyclists who whiz by at 20 mph, shouting “Left, left, left,” expecting everyone on their right to let them by.
The fog has not lifted at all when we reach the first turn-around. We feel cheated that we missed our favorite landmarks: crossing the river we couldn’t even see the bridge posts, nor the water below, and we slid silently past the Drake Hotel, unnoticed. Still, we feel like biking warriors. Our other three treks down the Drive were on balmy, sunny days, This one feels like an urban adventure. We congratulate ourselves for surviving the cold and damp thus far. We’re certainly dressed for it. Wearing what our children refer to as ”our ridiculous outfits” we’re swathed in Gortex and Spandex. I’m wearing knee warmers too, short Spandex ”sleeves” for my legs which work great, but add to the silly appearance of my ensemble, at least to non-cyclists that is. We decide to take off our glasses, useless now that they’re bathed in mist, and move on.
By the time we reach The Museum of Science and Industry, the fog has lifted a little. We still can’t see the lake, but we can feel the cooler air moving off the water. We pose with others for pictures on the museum steps, and fight the massive crowds for a chance to eat Oreos and over-ripe bananas. By this time, our skin is soaked. I’m starting to shiver and wonder if it’s possible to get hypothermia in the middle of the Second City on a spring day.
A little way out from the museum, we stop and help another cyclist with a
loose pedal. As Dave helps the fellow rider, I switch to my back up gloves which are now the only dry clothing I’m wearing. I’ve stopped drinking water as I don’t want to make myself any colder; with the heavy mist coating our skin, dehydration is the least of our problems.
We ride purposely the rest of the way, managing to warm up a little as we find clear lanes in which to hit our best speeds, and arrive at Grant Park happy and unscathed. Despite the gloomy weather, the Grant Park post-biking festivities are in full swing. Moms and dads towing muddy children stand in line for pancakes and sausage, while cyclists in full Spandex nab a free water bottle from the bank tent. Dave and I huddle on the edge of a muddy damp bench that we’ve managed to share with eight other people, scarfing pancakes and wishing we had something warm to drink. The music of the Blues Brothers tribute band (The Bluz Brothers), wafts from the stage, a pretty good imitation of Jake and Elwood. Usually we enjoy lingering among the crowd, sitting on the grass and watching everyone in their crazy outfits, marveling at the variety
of old and new bikes that somehow made the trip. But today Grant Park is a sea of mud. By the time we hop on our bikes for the short ride back to the hotel, my shoes are so caked with mud that I can’t clip into my pedals. We speed past other riders who are just finishing or just starting their rides. We’re cold, wet, and muddy, but still glad to have been part of that one magical day when cyclists take over Lake Shore Drive.
(The Bike the Drive Event takes place the Sunday before Memorial Day every year. Huffygirl and Dave biked the full 30 miles, and plan to be back next year.)
© Huffygirl 2011
Related link: (see some great pictures of the fog)
I watched Oprah from the beginning – before she was famous. Oprah started out as a small Chicago syndicated talk show in 1986. Every morning I’d send the kids off to school, then retreat to the basement where my not very exciting exercise project awaited – an old-fashioned stationary bike, plopped down between the furnace and the workbench. I dragged out the old black and white rabbit ears, jumped on the bike and pedaled away for an hour, with The Oprah Winfrey Show helping me fend off the boredom of exercising in a dreary basement.
Oprah and Oprah’s show was different then. It was like having coffee with a good friend, while you tried to solve your own and the world’s problems. Often the show would feature an ordinary woman sharing about a particular problem or dilemma - depression, domestic violence, etc. Oprah would gently guide her through an interview, then bring in experts, often in panel discussion format, to discuss the problem and ways to solve the problem. Whether it was plump Oprah or thin Oprah, she was always beautiful, kind, gracious, tactful - like your best girlfriend.
Later, as the show became more popular and changed to the 4 PM time slot, I eventually stopped watching. I would occasionally tune in, but although I still admired Oprah, the show had less resonance for me as Oprah dabbled in celebrity gossip, self-help gurus and her favorite things, shown in snippets between way too many commercials. Even though I no longer watched Oprah, I still admired her for her accomplishments and her humanitarian work, and kept tabs on her comings and goings, and of course, her weight.
Oprah had the uncanny ability to span generations and race - to appeal as much to an 80-year-old as she did to a 30-year-old. After my father-in-law’s illness and death, my frail mother-in-law found comfort, solace and friendship as a new devotee to Oprah’s show. This little woman, who grew up during segregation and often had uncomplimentary things to say about other races, thought of Oprah as she thought of her sisters. When 83-year-old Mom expressed her wish to attend The Oprah Winfrey Show, my husband and I sprang into action. Even though we knew it would be a challenging task to transport an elderly woman on a six-hour drive to Chicago, my husband and I spent hours on the phone and web, trying to get tickets, but eventually to no avail. Mom never got her wish, but I know that if somehow Oprah had found out about it, she would have scooped up this frail lady into a plane or limo, and plopped her in the front row like a celebrity guest. Oprah did things like that for people because she could, but mostly because she cared.
I haven’t watched the last show yet. When I’m ready I’ll get a cup of tea and sit down in front of the TV, which is no longer a black and white model in the basement, and say goodbye to my dear old friend.
Emma and Rose ran to the corner to catch the State Street bus. Gary Cooper was coming to town and they didn’t want to miss it. They slipped onto the crowded bus, nearly falling in their best high-heels as the bus turned the corner. Once downtown, they pushed through the crowds lining State Street until they got near the curb. They craned their necks to see as Gary Cooper’s car drove by. Emma had her camera but couldn’t snap the picture in time.
As the parade continued, Emma and Rose threaded their way through the crowd, following Cooper’s car. Eventually, the parade ended and the crowd cleared. Emma and Rose followed until Cooper’s entourage stopped. Rose, always the bolder one, seized the opportunity. “Mr. Cooper, ” she called out, “may we get a picture please?” Gary Cooper paused obligingly, Emma snapped the picture and the girls went away giggling, as Chicago police shood them along.
I found this picture among a stack of my mom’s old photos. Mixed in among photos of Mom (Emma) and her friends, this one stood out as clearly not one of her crowd. But who was it? Astute readers Todd Pack, Mark, Linda King, and Samyak correctly identified the man as Gary Cooper. But the mystery remained as to how Mom took the picture.
A little Google digging turned up that Gary Cooper came to Chicago for the movie premier of North West Mounted Police on October 23, 1940. Mom and her friend Rose would have been about fifteen. I knew from Mom’s stories that as a teen she frequently took the bus or streetcar from her home in Summit, Illinois to downtown Chicago for trips to Navy Pier, movie theaters and the like. I also knew that she was an avid movie fan and followed all the latest stars. By putting all this together, this is my best guess of how fifteen-year-old Emma managed to take a photo of the actor Gary Cooper.
The mystery remains as to the identity of the building in the background of the photo. It appears to be a residential building, and Gary Cooper seems to be standing in a driveway. The architecture bears a resemblance to that of Frank Lloyd Wright’s, although a search of photos of FLW Chicago buildings did not turn up anything that resembled this one. Chicago Now reports that Gary Cooper met Mayor Kelly at City Hall and attended a dinner at the Palmer House Hotel, but who knows where else he went while there? Maybe the mayor’s residence? A local celebrity’s home? Maybe there’s a reader out there who can identify this building in Chicago, 1940.
Here in the midwest everyone is acting like a bunch of pansies over a predicted snowstorm that has not yet materialized. Maybe it will turn out to be the mother of all blizzards, but at the moment, it’s maybe an inch of accumulation and a pretty respectable wind, but nothing we Midwesterners shouldn’t be able to handle. After all, it’s winter; it’s SUPPOSED to snow here, and frankly recent weather has not been helping us uphold our winter reputation.
Midwesterners used to take a good old-fashioned blizzard in stride. Even as recently as the blizzard of 1978 (three feet of snow, we couldn’t get out of our driveway for a week) folks just did not carry on and over-react like they do now. The weather folks have been circling the wagons for days. Before even one flake of snow had fallen today, schools, churches and the like were posting cancellations for the next day. By 3 o’clock today (before any snow had fallen) my director called to tell me we were taking a snow day – for tomorrow.
What is wrong with we Midwesterners? We used to be tough. We used to take a little snow in stride. We used to get out our shovels and dig, even if it did take a week to clear the driveway. We pulled our sleds down the one clear lane of the street and walked to the store, for what might be the last gallon of milk in town, but we did not panic. We did not over-hype. We just soldiered on.
Well, no longer. Now we have 24-hour weather channels with attractive weather persons, five meteorologists on every local station, and Doppler radar. We predict, analyze and over-analyze. We whip ourselves into a panic over the impending big blizzard, which 95% of the time does not materialize as hyphed.
I’ll tell you what my weather channel is – the back window. I shovel a path to the bird feeder and glance out the window each morning. If the path is still clear, I figure “good to go.” (My husband however, has a whole different take on weather, which deserves its own post someday.)
Midwesterners, it’s time to buck up I say. Stop being sissies. Take the weather as it comes, because, after all, it’s not like we can do anything to stop it. Man up. Woman up. Be, for a god’s sake, a REAL Midwesterner!
PS: If this does turn out to be the big one, I’ll post pictures of myself shoveling tomorrow. Early reports from the Weather Panic Channel, er Weather Channel, are proving me wrong! I guess if Chicago closes Lake Shore Drive, it probably really IS bad weather.
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We’re on the #66 bus to downtown Chicago. We’re trying to be cool and pretend that we do this all the time, but we’re still pretty new at it. We have a borrowed bus pass – we know we have to run it under the scanner when we get on the bus, but we’re not sure how. “You go first”, “No, YOU go first.” We don’t want the driver to yell at us if we do it wrong. Finally my excellent husband takes one for the team and gets on first.
We make it through the scanner and find seats. At the next stop the driver lowers the handicap ramp, and a lady drives on the bus in her Amigo cart. Without prompting, two riders jump up, flip up their seats and suddenly there’s room. She backs her cart into the spot like a pro. She chats on her cell phone and tells her friends to order her breakfast, then gets off a few stops later. We silently marvel at how 10 years ago this woman would have been out of luck – most buses did not have handicap ramps then. A group of 60-something women get on at the next stop. A couple riders get up to offer their seats – the women defer to each until finally the two with the most gray hair take the seats. They all look pretty spry – I think today’s 60 and older group don’t like to be singled out as “old” by having someone offer them a seat.
We’re getting off the bus now. We walk by the old water tower. Usually you can count on seeing some performance artists there – a guy dressed as the tin man standing on an overturned plastic bucket or “Marcel Marceau” doing the moon walk, but it’s a blustery day so no one’s out yet. We’re seeing lots of groups of 20-somethings wearing green T-shirts and no coats, despite the rainy, cold weather. It’s St. Patty’s day here, and Chicagoans take it pretty seriously. A girl with leggings, a sweater cape and no socks saunters by – again seemingly impervious to the cold. A man stops every passerby and asks for $2 for the train, but everyone knows the train costs $2.25, so he’s not getting any takers. The water tower is not open yet – there’s usually a photo exhibit inside and a chance to peek through the grate up the stairs where the alleged ghost lives. Last time we saw photos of downtown carriage horses; before that, pictures of the abandoned Michael Reese Hospital.
We stop at the American Girl store because I’ve always wanted to see what these dolls are about. It’s a veritable doll Disneyland inside – at least 20 different dolls (although if you look closely you can see they all have the same body and pretty much the same face – only the hair and clothes are different.) Each doll has a name, a book with her story, a wardrobe and accessories. You can buy an outfit for your child that matches the doll’s outfit. You can take your doll to tea, or to the doll hair salon. “Who are these people,” I wonder, “who buy $100 dolls that need wardrobes and accessories?” Shoppers here are well-dressed, moms and grandmas with little girls, mostly white folks I’m sorry to say, although the doll selection represents all ethnic groups.
We’ve seen enough of the doll store for a lifetime. Back outside we pass a street musician wailing on a bright yellow clarinet. A homeless man sits motionless with his back against the Newberry Library fence, holding the inevitable cardboard sign. In front of the Cartier store, a Greenpeace activist muscles his way into our space, trying to convince us to sign a petition.
We clatter down the steps of the Red Line station to buy a fare card for the bus ride home. While my husband ponders the directions on the machine, I throw caution to the winds and just insert our card. Turns out our card is expired and a helpful transit guard appears out of nowhere to tell us to buy a new card. Very patient Chicagoans wait in line while we figure out which slot for the money, which buttons to push. Probably Chicago children have mastered this by the age of three, but we live where we never need to navigate public transportation.
Back on the street we wait for the bus. Many groups of St. Patty’s day revelers pass, none of them dressed for the weather, and all seem to be feeling no pain. When the bus arrives we step on and are immediately hit with an overwhelming stench of urine. Drunken revelry aside, what kind of person does that? We pass by seated passengers holding their noses and covering their faces (this odor really IS bad). There’s a seat open next to a black gentleman, but after smelling the urine, I’m wary of sitting on anything. But I’m afraid of giving the impression that I don’t want to sit with him, so after cautiously feeling the seat for wetness, I take it. Others on the bus are having a rousing and gross discussion about the urine stench, which escalates into a treatise of other disgusting bodily smells. I’m thinking that this is worse than putting up with the odor; finally after several blocks this talk becomes old news.
A woman wearing what seems to be men’s clothing, although looking very dapper I must say, gets on the bus. She seems to know the group talking about the smell and starts up a new topic of conversation. The man next to me asks to get off so I stand up to let him out. Now my husband thinks that I’m trying to get off at the wrong stop. Momentary confusion ensues. We start talking about the movie “The Fugitive” and the great line that Harrison Ford says after he knocks out the bad guy – “You missed your stop” and everyone’s favorite “You find this man!”
Finally, we make it back to our stop, gladly exit the stench-laden bus, and end our day of people-watching on the # 66.