The Chicago Experience: Part Two

Welcome back! As promised, here's Part Two. If you haven't read or want to read again, here's Part One.

After we met back up with our group, we headed towards Millennium Park. I enjoyed walking downtown partly because I've never done that in Chicago. I've been there many times, but have never walked around like that. There was always a place or a couple of places to drive to. Plenty of things to see to keep the eyes interested in the downtown area.

Before we got to Millennium Park, we grabbed lunch. My family unit went to Subway because our kids don't do well eating Potbelly. My wife and I would have preferred Potbelly, where the rest of our group went. We all met up and went to eat at a small park next to the Art Institute of Chicago. We witnessed a "reveal" while we were there. The poor groom stood waiting pretty close to the entire time we were there. And that was even before the bride arrived, and he had to wait even longer while they took many pre-reveal photos. It drew some attention, but everyone was respectful.

After lunch, we continued our walk. My wife almost signed up to be a Tibetan Monk along the way. There was an overzealous monk trying to get people to sign up on his sheet. Maybe, he just wanted money. I don't think he was very successful since he was resorting to handing people things and trying to get them to sign his little book, like you had to because you took his thing. That was really the only strange thing that happened on the walk.

We got to Millennium Park and walked around, saw the sites. We took plenty of pictures with The Bean. We saw the concert area—the Jay Pritzker Pavilion—and that was interesting. There are metal pipes that cover where the audience stand, making it look a little like an upside down nest. We crossed a long and winding bridge that was covered in shiny sheets of metal that went over a road. And when we got to the end of the main trail that winds through the park, the kids enjoyed some lemon flavored ice treats. We then got back on the street and headed towards the John Hancock Center. There was more to see at the park, but we were on a schedule, and we had seen enough to get the idea of what it offered.

No one in my family unit has ever been up the John Hancock Center. Unlike last time, my dad joined us to the top and my youngest sister stayed with the group. The group decided to hang out in the large Disney costume and toy store on North Michigan Avenue. The views at Hancock were also pretty awesome. Though not as tall as the Willis Tower, it's close enough, really. Seriously, once you're that high up, it's all impressive. Unlike Willis, you could hang outside of the building in a contraption. Also unlike Willis, next to the ride was a screened-in, open air area where you could look out and feel the breeze ninety-four floors high in the sky.

We all met up at a location called The Water Tower after our separate activities. It is located between the Disney store and Hancock. The Water Tower is pretty small compared to the buildings surrounding it, but it is unique. Our tour guides—my sister and her husband—explained that there are games that are held inside, and the public is welcome to come and play as they like. Of course, there may be a line you are waiting in, but the idea is that people play these games with whoever is there. That day, they were playing Cards Against Humanity. It was posted on a sign outside the door.

By this time, we were ready to head back to base. So walk we did back to Navy Pier. Yes, the last part of the walk was the hardest and my kids were certainly feeling it. I had carried them both separately at different times, so I was getting tired, too. Everyone was. But, when all you are thinking about is being done walking and being able to sit, every step doesn't seem to get you closer. It seems so far away.

We finally left Navy Pier with the intent that we would meet up at the hotel and then order Giordano's pizza. Apparently, it's one of the two most popular pie shops in Chicago. (We found out after coming home that there's a location in the Twin Cities, MN.) Just as we were leaving downtown, my wife started giving me the run down of what traffic we could expect coming up. Between that and getting turned around a few times before making it onto a highway to get out to the suburbs, we figured we were already a decent click behind the rest of the group, and this next part didn't help us catch up.

Remember how I said we were going to get gas Friday night but decided to wait until Saturday morning? Do you remember me mentioning the actual getting of gas Saturday morning? If you do, you're delirious. I looked down at the gas gauge and saw we were under the quarter tank mark. Our van has the option to see how many miles until empty. Thirty-two miles. Crap.

In hindsight, we could've made it farther than where we pulled off, but all I was thinking about was that I didn't want to be out of gas on the side of the road. My wife did her best to find a gas station using her phone. By the time I saw a gas station from the highway, we were too far past the off ramp. My wife directed me to pull off onto a ramp. I knew immediately we were in a bad part of town. That is not a good feeling to have, ever, especially when you're rolling with your wife and kids in a 2014 Sienna with Minnesota license plates.

I pulled into the Citgo station my wife found, just enough to get off the road. The lot had many young men standing and sitting around, hanging out. Between them and the cars hanging out with the young men, I really didn't have any chance of pulling in to get gas. The van wasn't in a position to get to the pump properly without extra maneuvering. And even if I did that, some people would have to move for me to pull up to the pump. I sat there, waiting to see if anyone would move. Nothing. I drove through the lot and made my way to the other street the gas station was along. Before we pulled out into the road, I said to my wife, "Find another one, I'm NOT getting gas here."

We didn't stray too far away from the highway, and we did keep going in the direction we ultimately wanted to. My wife found a BP station and I pulled in. There were people hanging out just outside the store but not all over the lot. The pumps were by the road and easy to get in and out of, and the street was a considerably busier street. Those things helped put me a little more at ease. The gas was really expensive, though.

I was happy we had gas, and we drove away looking to get back on the highway. Before we got there, we passed another gas station that didn't appear to have many people hanging out in front of it and was SIXTY-FOUR CENTS CHEAPER PER GALLON. And, it was the closest to the highway. Sigh. Oh well. We got back onto the highway and everyone was safe and in one piece.

By this time, we figured we were way behind everyone else. Also, even though we were going to order pizza together, we were going to get separate orders. So, we figured we'd order on the way and pick it up before we got to the hotel since they were at the hotel waiting. They could order their pizza and hopefully we'd all eat at the same time. Considering the pizza would take forty-five minutes to be ready, this made the most sense to us. Apparently, all of this got lost in translation or something and the group back at the hotel ended up deciding to order Buffalo Wild Wings instead of pizza. It was closer to the hotel and faster.

We finished up dinner with a little bit of time left to go swim in the hotel pool. My whole family unit partook in the swimming along with a brother-in-law and nephew. I spent the time pushing my youngest son around in a flotation device shaped like a starfish. He was able to sit with his legs in the water and lean over the side to splash. He loves taking baths, so why wouldn't he love being in a huge bathtub? He had a lot of fun, as did the other kids. That was evident in the attitude we got when we told the older kids it was time to get out at nine pm. We did give them forewarning but that never makes it better. Showers and bedtime activities were completed afterwards and we were off to sleep. Except my wife and infant son. He wanted to party.

We didn't go to bed terribly late, but we did seem to sleep well. The days of activities prior were catching up with us. We woke up at about eight o'clock. My sister's family unit had already left the hotel for my other sister's apartment. The plan was we were going to go there and see their place since my family unit has never been. We didn't do too bad considering we were checked out an hour and a half later.

I had already ate a piece of pizza left over from the night before, so I didn't need anything else to eat that morning. No one else except me and my infant son had eaten yet. We first stopped by a bakery that was close to the Mc Donald's we ate from the day before, but it is closed on Sundays. My wife found a bakery on her phone that was across the street from where we were at, and that is where I went in to get them some muffins and orange juice to have on the ride into Chicago—our last for the weekend.

My sister and her husband live just inside the Chicago city limits in the Ukrainian Village area. Parking was easy to find on their street, and after we figured out which door to go to since there was no number to indicate, we went inside. My sister gave us the grand tour, and afterwards, we all visited while the kids played.

Some time after this, I have no idea how long, we all went to a park that was somewhat near their apartment. It was nice to get out and walk their neighborhood and nice for the kids to burn off some energy. My two oldest kids needed to go to the bathroom in the middle of playing, so it was a good thing there was a grocery store nearby. I took that opportunity as well.

Not terribly long after that, we all headed towards a famous neighborhood establishment for lunch. Before we got there, we passed by a Ukrainian church. The street was filled with Ukrainian protestors chanting, "Give back Crimea or we fill face with diarrhea!" And then that guy showed up, the one with the cut off clothes and tattoo... Wait, no. I remembered that wrong. It looked like a wedding had gotten over or was going to start. There weren't a lot of people outside, but they were dressed nicely, and there were a few women or so that looked like they were bridesmaids.

We made it to Fatso's Last Stand, our lunch destination. It's only down the street from my sister's apartment and is a place that she and my brother-in-law frequent too frequently, according to them. It's a small building in a corner lot with an outside eating space about the size of the building itself. It seems to me that they're famous for their char dogs. Being a big burger lover, and the fact that I hadn't had one for a while, I decided to go with the Fatso Burger. It was totes delish! However, I caution anyone who orders the cheese fries. The cheese is just weird. We won't be ordering that again. All in all, everyone was happy with their food choices, and it was a nice day to sit out in the shade and eat. The perfect event to end the weekend.

Side note: My brother-in-law told me that Fatso's Last Stand was started (co-founded) by an extremely large man who would sit at the cash register and take people's orders. He would then shout them out to the people preparing the food and talk with the customers. This man, Phil, is no longer alive. I think I would have really liked talking with him.

Well, we weren't quite done yet. We headed back to our vehicles parked down the street and said our goodbyes to our Quad City people. My family unit went back into the apartment to lose some weight before we headed off ourselves. Fatso's certainly helped that along. And off we went, driving into the 'not sunset for many hours' sunset, headed back to normalcy with a set of new memories and experiences.

And that, readers, is the official but not conclusive rendering of our Chicago Experience.

Click pics to see them bigger!

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