Wednesday, April 22, 2015 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Day 32.  Green Bay, WI to Chicago, IL

An icy wind was blowing as we left Green Bay, dropping the 33° temp to a wind chill of 25°, but the snow flurries we had seen out our hotel window had dissipated.  Layers of thick gray clouds hung low with sun peeking between the strata.  Looking for efficiency in getting to Chicago, we finally relented and drove on interstate highways today on a route through some heavily urban areas.

Passing through Sheboygan, we couldn’t miss seeing the tallest flagpole in the U.S.  At 400 feet, the concrete leviathan is 11 feet in diameter at its base, tapering to 5.5 feet at the top.  Its flag is 60 x 120 ft. with 3 ½ ft. stars and 4 ½ ft. stripes, the whole weighing in at a hefty 220 pounds.  The “pole” is 100 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty, and today the flag was flying at half-mast in honor of a Wisconsin soldier lost in combat.  A project of Acuity Insurance Company at their Sheboygan headquarters, the flagstaff was designed and built by a company that erects wind turbine towers.  
About 10:00, we stopped at Port Washington (pop. 11,250), our last chance to get close to the Lake Michigan shore before entering the mega metropolitan areas.  Once a center of commercial shipping, the natural harbour now services mostly recreational boats.  When we checked our Clue Tracker app for letterboxes in the area, we were delighted to see that Cheekee Monkey had planted some boxes in town.  We found two, and as always the stamps were intricately detailed and expertly carved—including one of a local 1860 era lighthouse.  The windchill coming off the lake was 23° (temp at 34°), but the high was forecast for 80° in Georgia today, so we were glad to be far to the north.

On a street corner in Port Washington, we noticed a cylinder of neon orange flags strapped to a utility pole.  In the absence of a traffic-light controlled crosswalk system, these crossing flags are intended to enable pedestrians to cross the street safely.  The idea is simple.  You remove a flag from the cylinder and wave it from the street corner to alert approaching motorists that you would like to cross the street.  To improve visibility, you carry the flag as you walk across and deposit it in another flag receptacle on the opposite corner.  Low tech, inexpensive, and—in areas where they’ve been implemented—apparently quite effective in increasing pedestrian safety.

Back on I-43, we made it through Milwaukee with only one minor slowdown.  The interstate was elevated over surface streets through much of the city.  South of Milwaukee, we left 43 and continued south on I-94 toward Chicago, with the freeway running five to ten miles west of Lake Michigan.  The temp continued to hover in the mid-30s under a gray cloud cover with occasional flurries.

As we entered Illinois and neared Chicago, it was only a matter of time before we encountered our first toll booth.  Near Wadsworth, the initial ransom demand came, in the amount of $2.80.  We were surprised when it took another 20+ minutes to reach the next toll taker in Northbrook, who demanded only $1.90.

Yep, we're close to Chicago.
Shortly after the second toll plaza, we exited I-94 in north Chicago, where we found lunch at a rogue Whole Foods store.  Unlike any other WF we have patronized, this one had very few vegetarian items on the hot bar, no cooked tofu, no listing of ingredients in each dish, no plates, and—most shocking—no containers to sort trash from recycling and compost.  Despite the oddities, we found enough food for lunch, and the location was ideal—just a few blocks from Rosehill Cemetery, where Ken’s aunt is buried.

With almost 40 years elapsed since we last visited Aunt Hansi’s grave, we were definitely unclear about its exact location.  However, a friendly representative at the cemetery office advised us to look in section W and gave us a couple of maps—essential since there are almost 30,000 graves in Rosehill.

Family visit
After paying our respects, we found a nearby Jewel Osco supermarket and stocked up on groceries since our room at Homewood Suites has a full kitchen.  Then we followed North Lakeshore Drive to downtown Chicago.  As we neared our turn onto Grand Avenue, traffic grew thicker, though there were four lanes in each direction.  About 4 p.m., we reached the hotel, checked in and settled into our room.  Conveniently, Homewood was offering a complimentary meal this evening.  We supplemented that with our supermarket haul and enjoyed a relaxing dinner in our room.

Blue Chicago
We had time to kick back a couple of hours before walking west on Grand Avenue three blocks to Blue Chicago to hear some local blues music.  J. W. Williams and his Chi Town Hustlers were playing tonight.  Williams learned to play as a kid in Magnolia, MS, and came to Chicago in 1962, where he’s been offering up his own brand of blues for the last 50+ years.  
Tonight young blues phenom Will Jacobs was playing guitar with the elder bluesman’s band.  A native of the Chicago area, Will plays with a passion and talent one would expect from someone much older than a 2011 high school graduate.  And he can sing.  Rounding out the performance was Demetria Taylor, daughter of the late Chicago blues legend Eddie Taylor, Sr.
These talented musicians packed the house at Blue Chicago.  We enjoyed a great three hours of music and we felt very safe walking on the Chicago streets back to our hotel at 11:30.  With our first dose of the local music scene, we’re looking forward to more blues in the next couple of days, as well as visiting some Chicago landmark attractions.

Daily Stats
  • Miles driven:  213
  • Weather: cloudy, snow, 33° to 43°
  • Letterboxes found:  2
  • Chicago blues music:  yes, please

A Little Chicago Blues

J. W. Williams & the Chi Town Hustlers

Nightfall from Our Window

It takes a team to raise a 220-lb flag.
DIY crosswalk
Lakeshore Drive into Chicago
Great music just down the street
Will Jacobs, Demetria Taylor & J.W. Williams--a great combination