I’m back in the saddle after a week’s vacation, spent mostly in Chicago. My wife had a business conference, so my daughter, granddaughter and I went along, too. Planes, trains, taxis, boats, buses, carriages, we took them all on our adventure to one of my favorite towns. I generally use these wife-working-me-on-vacation trips to do a bunch of work myself. But when you’ve got a 21-month-old in tow, little work gets done. Little work, but a lot more fun.
Chicago ranks with New York and San Francisco as my favorite American cities to visit, and while I don’t make the outrageous claim that Chicago trumps New York, I will say this. Chicago has more personality. Manhattan Island is the world’s melting pot, but that doesn’t mesh into a singular identity. Chicago sort of does; hearty, Midwest toughness, city of broad shoulders. A few thoughts on Chicago.
America has few baseball cities left. Cities in which baseball rule, in which the daily rhythm of the baseball team(s) is the heartbeat of the city’s sporting landscape. The NFL has taken over most major American cities, and most cities without pro football don’t have a baseball franchise. Think about that. The only three cities with major-league baseball and no NFL are Los Angeles, Toronto and Milwaukee. Milwaukee is a Packer town, because the whole danged state of Wisconsin is eat up the Pack. Toronto is a hockey town. And LA is an NBA town, I suppose, although it’s really a Hollywood town.
The only real baseball cities left are New York, Boston, St. Louis and Chicago. Maybe Cincinnati; I don’t know enough about Cincinnati to pass judgment. But Chicago — though everyone lives and dies with the Bears, and everyone still looks back longingly on the glorious ’90s with Michael Jordan — most definitely is a baseball town, with the Cubs and White Sox providing maybe the best off-field rivalry in pro sports.
The Cubs and White Sox didn’t even play each other until interleague scheduling arrived 10 years ago, but they remained bitter rivals, because of the geographical boundaries in Chicago (Sox south side, Cubs north) and the sociological stereotypes (Cub yuppies, Sox blue collar) and their shared futility (Cubs no World Series title since 1908; Sox none since 1918, until breaking through in 2005).
This summer figures to be a fun time in Chicago. Both the Cubs and Sox are in first place. The city can dream about a Red Line World Series; the Red Line train — mostly elevated — runs just past Wrigley Field’s right field wall and also a short walk from the left-field wall of new Comiskey Park (OK, U.S. Cellular Field).
Not too many two-paper towns left. But Chicago has the stately Tribune and the hard-edged Sun-Times, and both are read on the trains and buses that criss-cross the city. Newspaper competition is a wondrous thing; we lost it in Oklahoma City a quarter century ago, about the time a lot of cities lost it, including metropolises like Houston and Phoenix and Atlanta.
Chicago gives you an option. I read both, of course, while I was in town, and the Sun-Times is my pick. The blazing-guns style of Jay Mariotti works well in a place like Chicago.
The best pizza on the planet is Giordano’s, which are dotted all over Chicago and feature stuffed pizza. Takes 35 minutes to bake and is well worth the wait. Sorry, New Yorkers. It’s not even close. Stuffed pizza is not the same as thick crust; Giordano’s crust is reasonably thick, but it’s the good stuff — the cheese, the ingredients — that is really thick.
I’m sure Chicago has all kinds of great restaurants, but I’d eat at Giordano’s every night if it was up to me. Alas, I only made it twice last week.
I did something on this trip — I’ve made four extended trips to Chicago — that I’ve always wanted to do. Hang out in Wrigleyville. My nephew now lives in Lakeview, which is adjacent to Wrigleyville, the neighborhood surrounding Wrigley Field, so Saturday we took the train, the Red Line, to Addison Street, the Wrigley Field stop, and my nephew met us. He gave us a walking tour of Wrigleyville and Lakeview. Must have walked a mile or three and really got a taste of what the neighborhood is like.
Wrigley Field, of course, is totally cool, and it starts with the neighborhood itself. Wrigley really does set right in the middle of a neighborhood. No parking lots. No planned economic development (discounting rooftops owned by enterprising landlords). Wrigley Field is surrounded by houses, Addison and Clark Street businesses (which cater, admittedly, to Cubs culture) a fire station, the El, stuff like that. Looks a whole lot like other Chicago neighborhoods, except one of America’s most revered sporting coliseums sits smack dab in the middle.
Traffic, by the way, was miserable. This was early afternoon on a Saturday, and cars were everywhere. I don’t know why anyone in Chicago owns a car, unless it’s to drive somewhere out of town. There are no places to park cars and no room on the streets to drive them. Saturday reminded me of a harrowing day; Mac Bentley and I flew to Chicago in September 1994 to cover Oklahoma State’s football game at Northern Illinois. We rented a car and decided to tour Chicago before heading out to DeKalb. We saw new Comiskey, got to Lakeshore Drive and headed for Wrigley. Traffic was miserable, so we punted and headed out for DeKalb on what the map said was a state highway. We encountered an ocean of stop-and-go traffic. We inched our way west through Chicago and into its suburbs, which were no better. We went 50 miles in four hours and 15 minutes and made it to the stadium with 15 minutes to spare before kickoff. My nephew sold his truck when he moved to Chicago; wise move.
But the Wrigleyville and Lakeview neighborhoods were thoroughly charming. The housing was very interesting, mostly Brownstones. The real-estate prices were steep — we guessed maybe $300 a square foot, but we might have been high — but you can see what attracts people. The businesses were both quaint and chain. A neighborhood pub might be next to a Gap Body. We found a place that sells nothing but cupcakes and each had a $3 cupcake, except for me. I’ve never been big on cupcakes; hard to eat and not evenly distributed. But that’s a different paragraph.
Anyway, a fun day, and a piece of Chicago not everyone gets to see just by going to a Cub game.
A few thoughts on tourist attractions you might consider if you go to Chicago.
Navy Pier: The No. 1 tourist stop in Illinois, jutting more than half a mile out into Lake Michigan, includes an excellent Children’s Museum, Chicago’s Shakespearean Theater, a huge Ferris Wheel, a stained-glass window exhibit, tall ships (in the summer), boat tours and all kinds of restaurants and pubs. A fun place to walk around.
Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile: Listen up, all you males. You want to get on your wife’s good side? Suck it up and take her to Chicago for a shopping trip. From the Chicago River going north to Lakeshore Drive (and the historic Drake Hotel), the shopping is spectacular, from what I’m told. Your wife will be so grateful, I’m betting she’ll even be willing to hit both Wrigley and U.S. Cellular on the trip.
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