He was in town with his son on some car business, and then they had tickets to the OU-Notre Dame game. Court never had been to South Bend, so he asked me what it was like.
I was there in 1999, twice actually, and told him it was OK, but nothing special.
Boy was I wrong. Notre Dame was a fabulous experience, and Trish the Dish and I took a few days to spend in Chicago to make it quite a week. Here’s what we saw and did.
I stopped by the Notre Dame campus in 1999, on a baseball trip – yep, baseball trip; who would have thought — just long enough to go through the bookstore and look at the football stadium. It was late summer, and the campus was empty, and the grounds weren’t blooming, and truthfully, the stadium sits in the least attractive section of campus, on the north end of a big parking lot.
When I went back that October for the OU-Notre Dame game, for some reason I didn’t explore. Just went to the stadium, which was totally cool but is only a sliver of the Notre Dame experience.
Wow. Did I miss a lot.
This time, I took in most of the campus, and what I missed, my wife saw.
Back in ’99, how did I miss Notre Dame Avenue, the tree-lined gateway into campus that ends at the Main Building, which you know as the Golden Dome?
How did I miss the Basilica and the Grotto and Hesburgh Library, which you know as the building adorned with Touchdown Jesus?
How did I miss Cedar Grove Cemetery, which greets visitors with huge trees and grand tombstones and serves the Notre Dame community?
I don’t know that Notre Dame is the most beautiful campus I’ve ever seen, but it’s on the list. And the list of landmarks is long.
Trish the Dish had more time to tour campus. Here are her rankings of must-see attractions:
1. The Basilica: The Basilica of the Sacred Heart is a Gothic-inspired, cross-shaped place of worship. Daily and weekly masses are held there, along with other sacraments, including matrimony. The stain-glassed windows, first installed in 1873, gave Notre Dame the world’s largest collection of 19th-century French stained glass.
2. The Golden Dome: The Main Building is Notre Dame’s headquarters for administration. It was built in 1879. The Golden Dome was added to the building in 1882. Atop the dome is a 19-foot statue of Mary.
3. The Grotto: The Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes is one-seventh the size of the famed French shrine where the Virgin Mary appeared to Saint Bernadette on 18 occasions in 1858. Notre Dame founder Father Edward Sorin, visiting the original site, vowed to reproduce it on the campus of his new university. Boulders from surrounding farms, most weighing two tons or more, were used in its construction. A small piece of stone from the original grotto is located on the right side of the shrine, directly below the statue of Mary. The Grotto is a place to spend a few quiet moments and light a candle, though candles are in short supply during football weekends and Finals. The Rosary is prayed every day at 6:45 p.m., every day of the year, rain or shine.
4. Notre Dame Stadium. I assume you know a little about this one. If not, I blogged about it extensively, which you can read here.
5. The Hesburgh Library. Architecturally, probably the least impressive building on campus, despite its 14 stories. Looks almost out of place, the way the Physical Sciences Building looks out of place on OU’s campus. One big difference. Touchdown Jesus. The Word of Life mural is painted on the façade of the building, overlooking the stadium. The building opened in 1963 as the world’s largest college library. Students quickly named the mural Touchdown Jesus, and there is no mockery involved.
Interstate 80/90, which takes you from Chicago to South Bend, is the Indiana Turnpike. And our turnpikes rule compared to Indiana’s.
First, the tollbooths are a total hassle, even if you’ve got a pikepass. In Oklahoma and Texas, you just zip right through, don’t even have to slow down. In Indiana, you have to slow down and go through a gate with an arm. The backup of cars is constant. We got stuck behind a gate that wouldn’t work; some guy had his pass, but the reader wasn’t working.
That’s the kind of thing you expect to encounter 20 miles from Tupelo, not 20 miles from Chicago.
Lots of construction slowed us down, too, with maybe half the drive at 70 mph but the other half at lower speeds.
Of course, turnpikes are a bad idea around urban areas. There are two South Bend exits off the Indiana Turnpike. To contrast, there are seven exits for Norman off I-35. Just like driving through Wichita on the Kansas Turnpike, you don’t want to exit, because you don’t know where you can re-enter.
With so few exits, you can imagine the bottleneck getting into South Bend for the ballgame. Nancy Sue told us to get off at the first South Bend exit, which is about seven miles from the second exit. The second exit drops you off right at Notre Dame. But the backup was severe. About 30 minutes to get through it. So I was glad we got off and wound our way through town, although I had no idea where we were going. I just knew the general direction and some majors streets, and eventually we got to Holy Cross College, which is virtually adjacent to Notre Dame. We paid $20 to park and were glad to do it.
The Indiana travel plazas were interesting. They have a McDonald’s literally right next to the westernmost toll booth. So close it’s hard to even turn in, if you don’t know it’s there. Why you would have a McDonald’s 50 feet into a turnpike, I have no idea.
The primary travel plaza is an interesting combination – a McDonald’s with a Dairy Queen. Sort like having a Taco Bell/Taco Mayo combination.
Anyway, we stopped twice – returning to Chicago on Wednesday at noon and again Saturday night. On Wednesday, Dairy Queen put ketchup instead of mustard on the Dish’s hot dog, proving that Dairy Queens are mismanaged even in a different part of the country. And Saturday, we tried for a late snack at McDonald’s, and their credit card machine wouldn’t take Visa. The guy said so much Notre Dame traffic had come through using Visas, it backed up the computer system. Never heard of such a thing.
The drive from Chicago to South Bend is one third urban and two thirds rural. The rural drive is not all that scenic. The urban part takes you through Hammond and Gary, old industrial cities that once thrived but are half a century past their prime.
The Norman Transcript’s John Shinn had a good description of Gary. The old, abandoned steel mill? It’s in the nice part of town.
Gary has a reputation for a high crime rate and large unemployment. But Gary has a cool-looking baseball stadium right off the freeway, home of the Gary SouthShore Railcats of the independent American Association.
South Bend, Ind., sits 90 miles east of Chicago, some 20 miles south of Lake Michigan. Its sister city is Mishawaka; they are Midwest City/Del City. Without signage, you’d never know you’re leaving one and entering another.
South Bend has a population of 101,168, which makes it a little smaller than Norman, but the metro population was 316,663 in 2010.
The population has been on a slow decline since 1960, though the 2000 census showed a slight increase.
South Bend gets its name from the St. Joseph River, which flows through town.
South Bend strikes me as a city that is less connected to its college football team than any other city that is home to a traditional national power. Norman, Tuscaloosa, Ann Arbor, take your pick. The difference is that Notre Dame is a national school. It draws most of its students from outside the area, sort of like an Ivy League school. That means much of its season-ticket base are not local-based, either.
Whereas OU, for example, draws probably 80 percent of its fans within a 150-mile radius and probably 95 percent of its fans within a 200-mile radius, Notre Dame fans come from all over.
And you know what that means. Jacked-up hotel rates on football weekends.
Back in ’99, when OU played at Notre Dame, we somehow got into a South Bend motel. Paid $200 a night at the Executive Inn (think TraveLodge). I have no idea what that place would cost today.
But I know what the Fairfield in Mishawaka cost. We stayed there Monday night and Tuesday night while I conducted Notre Dame interviews; the price was $99 a night. On the weekend, it was $349.
That’s one more reason we stayed in Chicago, at the downtown Fairfield, where the rate was a bit more manageable and my only two complaints were intermittent cell service and new key cards that you don’t insert, you just wave in front of the reader. They worked about as well as the Indiana toll booths.
I didn’t get to experience all of the game-day atmosphere, but I sleep with someone who did.
And The Dish had a great tour guide. Stephanie Kuzydym, who worked for The Oklahoman until taking a job with the Cleveland Plain Dealer about a month ago, grew up in nearby Laporte, Ind., and has attended Notre Dame games most of her life. Nancy Sue, I call her, and she met us before the game and gave the Dish and my nephew a great tour of pregame festivities.
They lined up to get a great view of the Walk – the Notre Dame football team marches from Mass at the Basilica to the stadium, led by the Irish Guard, kilt-wearing, bagpipe-playing students whose requirements include a height of 6-foot-2. Two women have made the Irish Guard. Bagpipes leading a football team. Hard to imagine a more impressive scene.
The tour included being on the ground floor of the Main Building and awaiting the mini-concert by trumpet members of the Notre Dame band, who lined the railings of the rotunda on the second and third floors of the building. Not a bad way to hear “Wake Up the Echoes.”
They ate a hamburger on the lawn in front of Touchdown Jesus.
Quite a day. And kickoff hadn’t even arrived.
Chicago is one of my favorite cities. And one of my favorite cities for food. Here’s a quick rundown on where we ate.
Greek Island: Our nephew lives in Chicago, so he met us for dinner on Monday night, before we drove over to South Bend. We went to Greektown, just west of downtown Chicago. It was fantastic, as always. We had some kind of family style platter, with gyros meat that was great and some kind of pork that was scrumptious. The Greek salad – which is always my favorite – was a little different, which was disappointing. But the meat was so good, I didn’t really care.
O’Rourke’s: We had lunch Tuesday at this Irish pub, across the street from Notre Dame. Brian Kelly does his weekly radio show from O’Rourke’s, and Al Eschbach did his Sports Animal pregame show from there on Saturday. I had the Guinness Stew Crock, which seemed to be some kind of Irish stew with braised tender sirloin. Very good.
Hacienda: Two things you really shouldn’t do. Go eat Mexican while in South Bend, Ind. And order seafood enchiladas if you. You’re a long way from the hotbed of Mexican food, and you’re a long way from the ocean. But Nancy Sue gave us a list of restaurant recommendations, Hacienda was on the list and the Dish felt like Mexican. And it was, in a word, fabulous. As good as the best Mexican I’ve had here or Dallas or San Antonio. Outstanding.
Fork: My only disappointing meal. My nephew lives in the Lincoln Square are of Chicago. When we got back to town Wednesday night, we had dinner with my nephew and his girlfriend, whom we had never met. Charming gal. We really liked her. The restaurant, not so much. At least not me. A placed called Fork. Seemed to be some kind of gourmet place that liked to cook normal foods. The Dish and my nephew had burgers. I had salmon with a bunch of stuff that I suppose was supposed to vegetables but I never did figure out what it was. All I could think of was, I’m in the land of deep-dish pizza, and I’m eating at Fork. I tried to put on a good front, but I got busted. On the radio the next day, Jim and Al asked me about my dinner, and I came clean. Even tossed my nephew under the bus, knowing The Sports Animal signal didn’t reach Lincoln Square. Alas, some of my brother-in-law’s co-workers heard the show, asked him where we ate and so he asked his son, my nephew. Busted.
Giordano’s: I got my pizza fix at noon Thursday. I love Chicago deep dish, and Giordano’s is my favorite. I have no idea how they cook such a stuffed pie, other than it takes 45 minutes, but big, thick pizza with not all that much crust. Almost two inches thick, of whatever you want on it (black olive and pepperoni for us). Unbelievably good. This is about the time we started seeing tons of OU fans filling the streets of Chicago. I’ll bet there were four tables of Sooner fans at the Giordano’s on North Rush, which is not any kind of landmark Giordano’s. They have dozens in the city.
Vivo: We had dinner Thursday night at this Italian place in the West Loop arts district. It was very good. I had salmon again. I rarely pass up seafood, as you can tell by my choice at the Mexican joint in South Bend. Chicago in September is the season of outside dining. Most of the restaurants have sliding windows or doors that turn inside dining into outside dining. So we sat inside, but with the September night air flowing all around us.
Portillo’s: We had lunch Friday at this Chicago institution, a bustling place of great sausage and beef, with all kinds of Chicago memorabilia. I had the beef-n-cheddar croissant, which is their signature Italian beef, with sweet peppers. It was fantastic. If I knew I wasn’t going to be eating pizza that night, I would have had a hot dog, too.
Lou Malnati’s: Friday night, we ended up at Lou Malnati’s, another Chicago deep-dish tradition. My nephew has tried to convert me to Lou Malnati’s from the time he’s been in Chicago. I prefer Giordano’s. But both are very good. The Dish votes for Lou Malnati’s. I guess the biggest difference is thinner crust at Lou Malnati’s, but more cheese at Giordano’s. That would be my best guess. But again, we had a great experience, sitting inside/outside in the lovely Chicago night.
Chicago is a very social place, whether you’re downtown or in one of the approximately 200 neighborhoods that make up the city. Lots of people outside all the time, going to and fro. I asked someone if the pedestrians thin out in the cold winter months. No, I was told by multiple people. They just bundle up.
HOG BUTCHER OF THE WORLD
I spent three days in Chicago, one of my favorite cities in America, but truth is, I worked so much, I didn’t get to enjoy it nearly as much as I usually do. But here’s a little bit about the trip:
* We stayed on Illinois Street, between Clark and LaSalle, just north of the Chicago River. We stayed across the street from a fire station, and I’ve stayed on the same block at a Hampton Inn. For some reason, the fire trucks weren’t nearly as busy this trip. At the Hampton, the fire station seemed to send out a truck, complete with sirens, about every two hours through the middle of the night.
* We were a block off Dearborn Street. I love Dearborn because of the M*A*S*H reference. Hawkeye goes stir crazy in one episode and craves ribs from a place next to “the Dearborn Street station.” I assume that’s down in the Loop, a little south of the river. He calls around and remembers the name and orders a whole slew of ribs. Hawkeye gives a great speech about Chicago, reciting Carl Sandberg’s line that the city is “Hog butcher for the world.”
Modern Chicagoans I’m sure have the same cravings for Portilla’s or deep dish. Lou Malnati’s and Giordano’s will mail you their pizzas.
* On Wednesday, I drove up to Glenview, a suburb just north of Chicago, to interview Terry Brennan, the Notre Dame coach of 1957 who engineered the great upset of OU. You can read that column here. I had no idea Brennan was still alive until just a few weeks ago. He’s not only alive, but doing well at 85. We had a great chat. I even saw him Saturday at the game.
Glenview was fairly easy to get to. Traffic was heavy near his house, but the freeway traffic wasn’t bad. Once you get away from downtown on the Dan Ryan Expressway, things open up. The Dan Ryan bottlenecks at any time of the day.
I’ve found that Chicago suburban traffic is worse than Chicago city traffic. I drove from Glenview to Midway Airport to drop off the rental car. Mapquest says it’s 29 miles and takes 43 minutes. Nope. Took me 90 minutes, and I wasn’t going at rush hour.
* We attended an OU reception on Thursday night at the Carrie Secrist Art Gallery just off downtown Chicago. Secrist is married to Bill Beach, an OU graduate who grew up in Clinton. They opened their gallery for the reception, which was attended by OU alums living in the Chicago area and OU alums visiting for the game. OU deans Daniel Pullin (business) and Joe Harroz (law) spoke. Met a bunch of nice people who sure were hoping the Sooners could win in South Bend.
* Friday, we stopped by the Boomer Bash at the House of Blues.
I never had been to a House of Blues. Unbelievably cool place. I can only imagine the atmosphere at a good concert there.
Dusty Dvoracek, Teddy Lehman, Joe Washington and Barry Switzer spoke at the virtual pep rally. Again, met a bunch of great people. All of whom were sure hoping for a Sooner victory in South Bend.
* Thursday, I broke away from work long enough to go with the Dish down to Navy Pier, where we met newsok videographer Damon Fontenot. We took a ride on the tall ship Windy, which takes 75-minute sails along Lake Michigan. A tour guide offers stories of the Chicago skyscrapers, some of which might even be true.
* Friday, I broke away long enough to take an architectural tour on the Chicago River, along with Damon and photographer Nate Billings.
Even those unfamiliar with Chicago know about Lake Michigan. But who knew that the Chicago River was such a major influence on the city’s history.
On the tour, you troll through the city and learn about many of the skyscrapers and the history of Chicago. Great way to learn about a great city. But I knew what a great city Chicago was before the boat ride and before this trip. It took this week to learn the same about Notre Dame.