Friday, April 24, 2015 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Day 34.  Chicago, IL

Though Willis Tower was less than two miles from our hotel, we decided to humor my foot and take a taxi when we left the hotel this morning.  We were also hoping that an earlier arrival would mean shorter lines at this popular Chicago attraction.

Sure enough, when we entered the building at 9:45, there was no line for purchasing tickets ($19.50 each), no line to watch the film, and no waiting for the 60-second elevator ride to the observation deck on the 103rd floor.

View from Willis Tower to the northeast
Of course, the views were spectacular from 1,353 feet (100 feet higher than the top of the Empire State Building), but the most excitement was reserved for the 3 glass-bottom retractable skyboxes attached to the west side of the building.  Visitors were queued up for the opportunity to step into one of these glass cubes overlooking Wacker Street below—the first line we had seen at Willis Tower.  Ignoring our trepidation, we both stepped boldly into the box when our turn came.

Only a sheet of glass between you and gravity
When we left Willis just before 11, our intention was to check out the Chicago Riverwalk.  By the time we realized we had walked in the wrong direction, we were well off track, so we paused at a neighborhood McDonald’s for a respite and then caught a taxi to Buddy Guy’s Legends blues club.

Fruteland Jackson was holding down the noon acoustic performance.  A Chicago native, Jackson is a storyteller and an oral historian in addition to being a musician.  He is passionate about music education and has developed award-winning instructional materials about the blues.  His performance today was enhanced with a bit of teaching also.

Fruteland Jackson sings and teaches at Buddy Guy's Legends.
Shortly after the music began, a group conducting a fundraiser for firefighters killed in the line of duty arrived.  Numbering about 60, they were far more interested in talking than listening to the music and were so loud, no one else could hear the music either.  We finally moved away from them, and things were better for a time, but as their numbers grew and they inched closer to our new position, we eventually gave up and left.

Chicago Riverwalk
Heading north on Michigan, we strolled toward the river and ambled down the steps to the Chicago Riverwalk, a pedestrian walkway on the south bank of the Chicago River.  Careful to pay more attention to the direction we were walking, we aimed our steps west and at Wabash returned to street level.  Past Trump Tower and up another block led us to our hotel, where we relaxed and ate dinner.

At 6:30, we walked down Wabash to Hubbard and over to State, which took us to the House of Blues.  Napoleon Tabion, a Filipino-American who grew up in Indiana, was playing solo in the Crossroads, the House of Blue's full-menu restaurant and blues club.  His interest in blues music was sparked by visits to Chicago blues clubs when he was a student at DePaw University.  Like all the blues musicians we’ve encountered, Napoleon was very personable.

Sitting and listening to the music, we occasionally felt the room and objects around us shaking rather violently.  We thought a train might be rolling through above or below us, but we learned from a server that the enthusiasm of the fans in the concert venue upstairs was the source of the vibrations.

Crossroads at the House of Blues
After Napoleon wound up at 8:30, Dave Specter’s band set up and began playing just after 9.  Jimmy Burns joined them on vocals after a few songs.  Like so many of the elder bluesmen we’ve encountered, Burns was born in Mississippi and first learned to play guitar there.  His 50+ years of making blues music were evident in his expressive voice and soulful guitar.

Twenty years younger than Burns, Dave Specter is a Chicago native who learned guitar at the ripe old age of 18.  Specter does not sing, and has enlisted various Chicago bluesmen to perform with his band.  We thought tonight’s combination worked particularly well together.

As we enjoyed the music, we periodically checked our phones for the latest weather radar.  A solid front of rain was in the area and forecast to last several hours.  When the band took a break about 10:15, we took that as our cue to walk back to the Homewood, getting lucky and traveling during a break in the system.

It was a great day in Chicago, and we have one more day on our agenda before leaving town.  Rain is in tomorrow’s forecast also, so we’ll be seeking out some indoor activities.


A great view of the Circle Interchange from Willis Tower.  Near downtown, this interchange is used by more than 300,000 cars daily and is notorious for massive snarls.  It is usually near the top of the list when the worst traffic bottlenecks in the U.S. are ranked.

The restrooms at the House of Blues' Crossroads have been given elaborate hand painting treatments. Each was served by an attendant, perhaps to ensure that patrons don't decide to add a bit of graffiti to this meticulous work of folk art.

A Sampling of Chicago Blues

Fruteland Jackson

Napoleon Tabion

Jimmy Burns with the Dave Specter Band