From Minneapolis it was a five-and-a-half hour drive to Chicago, the longest drive we’re going to do on this road trip. There were two interesting things about the drive. One, Wisconsin is really boring. I should qualify that and say that southern Wisconsin is really boring. Most of my childhood was spent in northern Wisconsin and that is beautiful but the southern part of the state is just flat and dull and ugly. On the other hand the second thing of note was that at one point while traveling through Wisconsin I realized that there was no more snow on the ground. It was only nine days in Minnesota’s snow but it felt like nine weeks. Free at last!
Oh, and one other observation about the drive. We stopped for lunch in Janesville (home of House Speaker Paul Ryan, but we didn’t see him). Mark had found a place just a little off the highway with good reviews so that made sense. It was early afternoon on Sunday and the place – a big bar with good salads and nice-looking burgers – was packed. At some point it occurred to me that pretty much everyone there had driven; there was really no neighborhood around it. And yet pretty much everyone, or certainly most people, had beers or Bloody Marys in front of them. For years now, long before we started this adventure, Mark & I walked when we were going out or took public transportation or a cab. Here, though, the parking lot was full and lots and lots of people were drinking.
I supposed that is far more the norm than the exception in the U.S. but it gives me pause when I’m driving. In much of Europe authorities are utterly hard-nosed about drinking and driving and, of course, cities and towns tend to be much denser so people can walk to their favorite watering hole. I like that system a lot better.
OK, now on to Chicago. It’s a city we love, in part because of the city itself – the size, the density, the architecture … all that. And it part we love it because we can visit Chris & Todd. They own a building in the Uptown neighborhood where they’ve turned the lower level into an Airbnb, so that’s where they stayed. Chris & Todd, of course, were traveling with us in Tuscany last fall when we had an awful experience with an Airbnb host who was nasty because we were using her washing machine too much (though she listed it as an amenity on the Airbnb website). We were glad to observe that Chris & Todd were much better hosts and didn’t complain one bit about how much laundry we had. (And, if you’re ever staying in Chicago, their unit is honestly great – big space, two bedrooms, beautiful kitchen, and a quick ride to the train into downtown. You won’t be unhappy!)
One thing that was interesting about seeing Chris & Todd a few months after our Tuscan adventure was that on the one hand Todd says he’s a little weaker, that his ALS is getting in the way more and more. On the other hand, to me certainly, it looked as though he was doing measurably better. Now I know that ALS doesn’t typically move in that direction but I just thought he was moving up and down stairs a lot more quickly. All we could guess was that by the end of our two weeks in Italy he was getting pretty tired and that was my more recent memory. At any rate, Chris and Todd are still hanging in there and great fun to visit with.
Our first night in was quite an extravaganza: Chris & Todd hosted a dinner party for us and eight other of their friends at a nearby restaurant. We had met a few of the others before and then had a chance to meet several newbies, always fun. I sat next to Coco, a woman you may have seen on Fox News. (But then if you watch Fox News what the hell are you doing reading this? She acknowledges that none of her friends ever see her there.) She was apparently their go-to woman to defend Hillary Clinton during the 2016 race and yes, she had some fun stories!
Two other meals of note in Chicago. On our second night we took Mark’s niece Jasmine and her boyfriend Charlie out to dinner at The Gage, a swank steakhouse right near the Chicago Institute of Art where they both study. It was a fun night: Charlie is a charming guy, not at all the scary guy you might expect studying art. And Jasmine, what can you say? When you live far away you see her growing up in fits and starts and then all of a sudden *Bam!* she’s a beautiful and interesting young adult. She reminds me of my little sister who, when she grew up, I discovered was a fascinating person. Mark & I are already looking forward to spending more time with her this summer in Italy where the whole Sullivan clan will be spending a week.
And then there was a final dinner at Girl & The Goat with Chris & Todd, and oddly named but excellent restaurant they took us to once before. Hard to get reservations there but totally worth it if you can manage it.
Otherwise Mark & I did a lot of walking in Chicago and a frustrating experience with Chicago Institute of Art. It’s a bit over six miles from Chris & Todd’s Airbnb to the museum, so on our first full day we set off for the long walk. Because of a modestly late start by the time we got there it was lunch time so we ate first and then went to the museum. When we got there, though, the line was long and slow so we just bagged it, figuring we’d go back the next morning when it opened. So we walked back, making a 13-mile walk to and from lunch.
The next morning, then, we took the train in, got there just after it opened at 10:30, and the line was super long, like crazy long. I’m sure it would have taken an hour to get in, so we just bagged it again. I wanted to see the museum but not that badly. So we walked away, toward the lake, and discovered a second entrance, this one with a much shorter line. We got in line and it was just inching along, barely moving. I went to look and, notwithstanding the $25 entrance fee – higher than any museum we’ve ever seen anywhere in the world – they were staffing two of the eight sales booths.
So let’s see if I have this right. You open later than most museums and close earlier than many so the time to see the place is pretty restricted. You have higher prices than anyone, AND you won’t hire enough people selling tickets to keep the ticket lines reasonable. As Mark points out, there is just no reason in the 21st century to have lines like that. You can make tickets available online and, if you need to restrict entry due to crowding, the tickets can be time-specific. So we just said to hell with them. I’ll enjoy other museums.
That’ll teach them!
So that was Chicago: old friends that we love, some new friends, and even a bit of family time. Nice architecture but no art worth seeing. Great food. Oh, and one more thing to love about Chicago. We walked by some Banana Republic outlet store and stopped to buy some basics. When we checked out we saw a sign that a 2017 ordinance requires every store to charge seven cents for every bag you get. Since I didn’t have anything to carry our new clothes in we paid the seven cents, but I loved it. When I mentioned it to Chris he said that yes, he and everyone he knows now carries around one or more bags just in case they buy something. A brilliant way to reduce both trash and pollution.
From here we’re continuing south into Kentucky. Next stop, Louisville.
I enjoy reading your perspectives on travel Jim. Nice to see your view on Chicago. I totally agree with your comments on the 7 cents bag! For the Art Institute, its such a shame. Sorry Chicago let you down. If you joined as a museum member that day, you would have entered a fast line, not any wait time at all, per my experience. is $105 for one member for a year, but both of you would have gotten in as it includes a guest. That pass also allows you to go to pretty much all major museums in all cities in the U.S. So I think is not a bad deal. Plus you support Art. In the meantime, The Art Institute got to work on marketing:) A walk from uptown (where Lincoln park begins) is really brave, I planned on biking it but even that, I could not do it in this cold weather.
Thanks Sharon for the insights on museum membership. Not sure it would make sense for us given how little time we spend in the States but it’s definitely something to keep in mind!