The Chicago Experience: Part One

No, this isn't a post about a blues, jazz, fusion, or funk music group from Chicago. In fact, there actually IS a group of musicians that call themselves The Chicago Experience. They describe themselves as "rock with horns." Musical horns, not the hand sign metal heads give when communicating with each other or taking a cool picture. However, this post has nothing to do with them and was merely a title I came up with for it. After writing for a while, I decided to Google this string of words because it sounded like it should be a band name. Like, how could someone not think of it and use it? But, anyway...

Recently, in August (2016), my extended family took a vacation to Chicago, Il. And by extended I mean, my family unit along with my two sister's family units and my parents. My youngest sister and her husband have lived in Chicago for at least a few years now and make great tour guides of Chicago. They have an apartment inside the city limits, and my parents stayed there. My other sister's family unit plus mine would have made for way too many people living together for a weekend inside their dwelling. We stayed in a hotel in the 'burbs. Naperville, to be exact.

We all had bought City Passes prior to the trip and had wanted to get in as many of the attractions it offered. I strongly suggest getting this cost saving booklet. We saved a lot of money even though we didn't use and knew we wouldn't be able to use all of the coupons. Prior to our arrival, we all decided that Friday would be the day to conquer the Adler Planetarium and the Shedd Aquarium.

We drove straight to the Museum Campus parking as it was too early to stop at the hotel first. We parked in a ramp and made our way to the Adler Planetarium. The rest of our vacation companions were already there waiting for us. We walked as fast as we could and tried to keep a good pace walking from our parking spot to the building. It's a good thing we did since it started raining a minute after we walked in the door. No exaggerations. It was coming down hard, big drops, in sheets, nowhere to hide, sideways, for about ten minutes. There were a few people who walked in completely soaked. We were lucky. Also, we would have been cold due to the air conditioning. If it were up to my oldest son, we would have been putzing and shuffling our feet outside when it hit. It's a good thing we are able to carry him.

The Adler Planetarium was bigger and more involved than I thought it was. I'd love to make it a point to go back to it on a future trip. I think it could take up most of the day by itself. Plus, we only took in one of the two shows the City Pass afforded us, and there were three showing that day. Still, it was nice to experience the show, Planet Nine, with my daughter as we are both big fans of science and the vast space outside of Earth. We spent a good amount of time in the kids area and that caused us to miss our second show and gave us less time to take in the rest of the Adler. The shows and the non-kid parts were more interesting to me, but it was nice to see how much fun the kids were having. We ate lunch at the planetarium and finished up our visit there.

We then walked to the Shedd Aquarium. It's not a very long walk and the view of Lake Michigan was nice. Is there a bad view of Lake Michigan? Perhaps a Chicagoan could answer that. One nice thing about the City Pass is that you get to skip long lines. However, when a lot of people have City Passes, then you just wait in a different, long line. Either way, it's still pretty quick to get through, and I would hope it's still faster than the normal, pay line.

Once we got in, we started looking at all of the fish. I'm not terribly big on fish. I don't and won't eat them, and looking at them isn't something I find to be a highlight to any day. There is something inside of me that gets a little disgusted when I look at a fish. I don't quite understand it. Despite this, I don't have a problem looking at fish, and when in a situation like going to an aquarium, do. Sounds contradictory, I know, but we humans are a confusing and nonsensical bunch. Me more so than some.

The Shedd Aquarium has more aquatic life than fish to offer, and we did our best to see every tank and exhibit. Dolphins, sharks, baby belugas, spider crabs, frogs, toads, and more are available for viewing. I can't remember them all, nor does it matter for this post. And other than the animals, we took in a 4D movie called Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure. I could say it in a nicer way, but to portray it more accurately, it scared the shit out of my two-and-a-half-year-old nephew almost immediately. No actual excrement that I know of, but the phrase still stands for its punch. I guess that's what happens when your senses tell you a prehistoric, crocodile-like sea monster that is bigger than a bus is lunging at you to eat a smaller yet equally scary looking sea beast. Other than a break on a terrace for a snack while looking out at Lake Michigan, that was our experience at the Shedd.

We departed the building and my sister/tour guide advised we hang out by the water front for a short while to let rush hour die down a bit before we trek back out to the suburbs. There were quite a few people who were walking or biking along the trail that went by the water front. We saw some of the many water craft enjoying what seemed to me a calm body of water. Despite the ability to walk straight into the lake, we didn't lose any kids.

And then there was that guy standing off to the side wearing cut off jeans that were way too short. His shirt was cut, too, as if he thought "Why not?" after cutting his jeans. The sleeves were missing, and if that was all, it wouldn't be weird, but it was also cut so as to expose his mid-riff. On his stomach was a tattoo as clear as day. It was a boat's wheel and inscribed inside the ring it said, "fill ye with men of the sea." He looked like a pretty normal person other than his clothes and strange tattoo, but then he started cleaning his ears with his right pointer finger. After, he would promptly stick it in his mouth, making sure to clean it thoroughly before he went back to his ear again. He seemed to enjoy this a lot.

Wait... No one else saw that? Believable? Yes. There's something about a large city that just cries, "You're going to see some strange shit." But, maybe I just imagined him. I hope not. A little strange is good, but maybe not that guy. All in all, I wouldn't say I saw anything I thought to be strange. I guess we were in the wrong parts of town for that. Darn.

So, after a twenty-minute sit at the water front next to the Shedd, we headed to our vehicles for the thirty to sixty-minute drive to Naperville. We weren't free of traffic, but we did make it back to the hotel closer to around the sixty-minute mark. After a short stop there, we then drove to Portillo's, also in Naperville, for dinner. This was one of our "authentic Chicago" meals we asked for.

I like to eat as much local food as possible when I go somewhere. Why eat food you can have when you're at home the rest of the year? It can be a little disruptive to the soul, but that in itself can be a very healthy thing for a person to put their brain through. One must force one's self to branch out! Besides, it's not like we were eating baby squid. It's still very much an American fare: hotdogs, burgers, fries, etc.

By the time we got back to the hotel, it was time for bed. We were going to stop for gas since we had a quarter tank, but my 10-month-old son was tired and not happy, so we decided to go straight back to the hotel and get gas in the morning. After a flurry of activity, the kids and I were in bed, and my wife was getting the baby to sleep. He was going through an "I don't like sleep and neither should you, mom" phase around that time. Sad face. And until the morning greeted us all, I had a pair of knees poking into my back. Apparently, my oldest son likes to sleep in the middle of the bed. Despite my best efforts to repeatedly push him back to his side of the bed throughout the night, I consistently woke up to those same knees poking into my back. I think he likes me.

We had planned on taking advantage of free hotel breakfast while we were there. This is not a thing at this hotel or in Chicago in general, we found out. This hotel, and most in the area, have a "restaurant" in them. Emphasis on the quotes in "restaurant." It would have been nice knowing this ahead of time, but I guess we technically never asked. So while the rest of my family got ready, I drove to a McDonald's that was maybe a quarter mile away and got some drive-thru. (Yes, I know it's not authentic Chicago, but it was close and easy. Plus, I couldn't screw up the order going by myself.) We ate in our room at the hotel, and I must say, it was a good breakfast. I rarely ever eat fast-food breakfast, but it hit the spot. I also spent half as much money as I would have at the "restaurant."

We got on the road as quickly as we could. We were going to do some downtown city walking that day and visit Navy Pier, take a water taxi to the Willis Tower, and then walk to Millennium Park and the John Hancock Center, and then walk back to our starting place, Navy Pier. Another full-slate day and in that order. We arrived at Navy Pier and parked.

There had been rain in the forecast for our Chicago weekend for a few weeks. My wife was insistent that we purchase some rain gear, so she bought us all rain ponchos and a rain cover for the stroller. Don't worry, the stroller cover is clear and has vents. We lucked out Friday, even with its flash downpour of epic proportions. We spent a lot of time indoors, but it was a pretty nice day all in all. Saturday morning was different. We were prepared for the rain, but fortunately, we only had to deal with some sprinkling at Navy Pier while we walked up and then back down its lakeside promenade.

After our walk, we bought tickets for our water taxi ride into downtown. Our tour guides told us about the buildings we passed, shared their myths and truths, and how the first floor retail space at the Chicago Trump Tower has been sitting empty for years. I bet that retail space was gonna be yuge! (Until it wasn't and the person responsible was fired.)

One thing that's hard to miss about downtown Chicago is that they use as much of the space available as possible. They pack it in. That's why they have giant buildings over roadways, for example. It was even more so apparent when taking the water taxi on the Chicago River. You could see restaurants built underneath the road at the riverfront, and new commercial spaces being created under other roads. So, to see a LARGE block of commercial space vacant on the first floor of Trump Tower speaks volumes.

We arrived at our destination, disembarked from the boat, and walked up and over to the street. We still had a few blocks to get to the Willis Tower. For those who aren't up to date on the lucrative world of building naming, this is what was formerly known and is still referred to as the Sears Tower. The kids and I have never been up to the Skydeck, but my wife has. The only other person to join us in our group was my youngest sister. She was glad to have the opportunity because she never seems to find anyone who wants to go up that high.

The elevator gets to the Skydeck in sixty seconds. It also descends in sixty seconds, so the ears do feel the pressure change. As you may recall, it had been sprinkling that morning before we boarded our water taxi. Even though the rain stopped, it was still cloudy. Regardless, it was a fun experience and the views were still pretty awesome. I wasn't eager to stand on The Ledge, but I did eventually do it. We also took pictures of us standing in as Ferris Bueller. They already have mannequins of Cameron and Sloane set up to take a picture with. If you don't know what I'm talking about, refresh or create a memory.

I think here's a good place to end Part One. If you would like, continue on to Part Two

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