Thursday, April 23, 2015 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Day 33.  Chicago, IL

Before exploring more of Chicago today, we took care of laundry and a couple of other chores at the hotel this morning.  At noon, we walked about 50 yards from the Homewood Suites entrance to P.F. Chang’s for lunch.  In our travels, we have visited units of this chain in many cities, but none quite as good as this one.  Portions were generous, flavor was perfectly savory, and Rachel was the essence of the attentive and congenial server. 

When we dropped back by our room to stash leftovers in the refrigerator, I took a few minutes to deal with my right foot.  The Morton’s neuroma (a fibrous growth on a nerve) on that foot normally begins bothering me after walking 4 to 5 miles.  For some reason, it got an early start today.  Soaking in hot water seemed to help, so we were on our way again in short order.

Buddy Guy’s Legends, a classic Chicago blues club featuring both famous and up-and-coming performers, offers a noon acoustic show with a solo performer.  Today it was hosted by Eddie Taylor, Jr., brother of Demetria Taylor, whom we had seen last night at Blue Chicago.  It would be interesting to hear if he had inherited as much talent from his legendary father as his sister had.

Majestic early 20th century skyscrapers (Wrigley with clock tower, Tribune on R)
It was 1:15 by the time we left the hotel and walked east on Grand Avenue to Michigan Avenue, a level above Grand.  Up the stairs to Michigan, we found ourselves on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, an upscale commercial stretch with residential properties intermixed in the high rise buildings.  At the southern end of this famed stretch of real estate, just before Michigan Avenue crosses the Chicago River, sit some of Chicago’s spectacular early twentieth century skyscrapers, most notably the Wrigley Building (1920) and the Chicago Tribune Tower (1925).

No fries!  Chips!
Before crossing the river, we popped down below Michigan Avenue again to catch a glimpse of the iconic Billy Goat Tavern.  Founded in 1934 by a Greek immigrant, the tavern gained local fame through newspaper columns by Mike Royko.  It achieved national recognition in the 1970s by way of one of our favorite Saturday Night Live skits—the Olympia Cafe, where the only foods available were cheeseburgers and chips, the only drink Pepsi. 

Crossing the river on Michigan Avenue
Skies were a beautiful blue, and the sun a welcome companion as we walked down Michigan Avenue and west on Wabash to Buddy Guy’s.  Along the way, we stopped occasionally and took photos.  At a mile and a half, the distance was a bit farther than we had anticipated, and we finally made it to Buddy’s at 2:30—just after Eddie finished his set.  Lessons learned:  Plan better.  Take a taxi.

We considered taking a taxi to the hotel from Buddy’s but decided to walk back up Michigan and visit the Art Institute of Chicago, whose comprehensive collection includes more than 260,000 works of art.  With one million square feet, the Art Institute is the second largest art museum in the U.S.  Only New York’s Metropolitan is more expansive.    

One of the famed lions guarding the Art Institute main entrance
The Art Institute was the focus of our last visit to Chicago—on a frigid winter’s day 20 years ago when we came for a major retrospective exhibit of the work of Claude Monet.  But today we didn’t have to stand in a snowy line waiting for our 10:30 ticket to become valid.   The institute holds some 30 Monet paintings in its permanent collection as well as important works by Van Gogh, Renoir, Seurat, and other European Impressionists.  Grant Wood’s American Gothic resides there as well as other famous works of American and European art. 

Ken checks out the monumental Paris Street: Rainy Day by Gustave Caillebotte
After a couple of hours wandering the galleries of the Art Institute, we continued on foot up Michigan Avenue to Millennium Park, a brilliantly designed sumptuous green space situated on a former rail yard.  Covering 25 acres in the northwest corner of the much larger Grant Park, the feature-rich park invites enjoyment of the outdoors.  As befits a park built in celebration of the new millennium, innovation was the touchstone for the major installations. 
Great Lawn of Pritzker Pavillion
Named for the owner of the Hyatt hotels, whose family donated $15 million toward its construction, the Pritzker Pavillion was designed by famed architect Frank Gehry.  A popular concert venue, it encompasses 4,000 fixed seats and a great lawn that will accommodate 7,000 more.  Speakers are mounted on the massive trellis, giving the pavilion a sound system that rivals an indoor concert hall.

Cloud Gate, a.k.a. the Bean
Perhaps the most popular and best known feature of Millennium Park is a 33 by 66 by 42 ft stainless steel sculpture named Cloud Gate.  Affectionately called “the Bean” because of its shape, it is the quintessential expression of the selfie generation.  People—especially young adults—were swarming to this sculpture like iron filings to a magnet.  Its highly reflective surface with no visible seams offers the ultimate selfie photo op with the Chicago skyline in the background.

Crown Fountain with the face of a real Chicagoan
As we wandered over to Crown Fountain, we were disappointed to see that the oral spouts were not operating.  May to October, we learned, is the time to see these 50-ft. faces spitting water into the black granite reflecting pool.  In summer, when the weather is much warmer than today, Crown Fountain is a popular place for kids of all ages to splash and play.

When the fountain was under development in 2001, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago recruited and randomly selected 1,000 Chicagoans to represent the city in all its diversity—ethnicity, age, gender, and race.  The faces of each of the thousand were videotaped for 80 seconds with their head in a brace to keep it still.   They blink, they smile, and they pucker the mouth for the segment when the water spouts.  A bit of editing stretched the videos into five-minute segments, which play on the 50-ft. glass block towers in random sequence.

Millennium Monument in Wrigley Square (northwest corner of Millennium Park)
Though enthralled with all the creative features Millennium Park had to offer, we were pretty tired.  From the park, we trudged north on Michigan Avenue, almost missing the stairs that would allow us to go down a level to reach Grand Avenue and our hotel.  Again the Homewood was feeding its guests a complimentary evening meal.  We combined their offerings with our own supplies to put dinner together in our room. 

Our wanderings had taken us 5.5 miles today, and my foot had not become any more cooperative than it was in the morning.  By the time we returned to our room, I could hardly walk.  While waiting for 8:30 to go back to Blue Chicago, we both fell into a long nap.  By the time we awoke a couple of hours later, we decided to skip the club tonight.

We’ll make up for it tomorrow as we catch the noon show at Buddy Guy’s and some night music at House of Blues.


Rail yard near Art Institute
Griffin Court, Art Institute

Cloud Gate, Millennium Park
Ken liked the Bean so much he thought of taking it to Atlanta.
Interacting with the Bean
Millennium Monument honors 115 benefactors who donated $1 million or more for the park.
Nice night view from our window