Chicago, finally. Sort of.

Sunday (Jul 11th) night I flew to Chicago for a software/user conference for work. I’ve only been through O’hare and never to Chicago proper. I was ecstatic about being able to visit, even if my visit was restricted to 6pm-late on Monday and Tuesday nights. Anyway, I picked window seats all the way, and the view from PDX to somewhere over Idaho was great until we hit clouds, then darkness shortly after the connection in Denver. The flight out of DEN was very turbulent and there were a number of people who let out surprised gasps at the big dips. As we approached Chicago, there were massive thunderheads letting out orange flashes.

I didn’t arrive until 10:45, so the L ride in to the city was dark and uneventful. All but three people on the train were staring at their iPhones. One of them was on a different smart phone, one was reading a book of poetry (for real), and the third was a drunk man who threw garbage out the door on to the tracks at every stop. If you’re ever under the L and get showered with broken glass, it’s probably this guy.

It wasn’t until right downtown that I finally got a sense that I was in Chicago. The elevation of the city is pretty amazing, especially at night with the absence of bustle. I got off the L a little early so I could walk the remaining 3/4 of a mile to the hotel, though after 11pm on a Sunday, the place was pretty dead. I crossed the river and weaved my way to the hotel and checked in. A quick ride to the 34th floor and discovered that I had a pretty sweet view. I was hungry though, so I grabbed a quick bite in the lounge in the lobby then tried to fall asleep. The faint whir of the elevators going past was reminiscent of the MAX, so I drifted off.


Monday was largely spent in conference, which was great, but I won’t bore you with the details. There was learning, networking and such. I had big plans for the evening, so I somewhat carefully dodged doing anything with the folks from PSU and even with my friend and coworker. But it was my first time to Chicago and I wanted to be self-indulgant. So after the conference, I changed in to some walking clothes and headed north through downtown. I have to admit I got disoriented a few times and had to pull out my phone to recalibrate.

Downtown is cool, though about half the storefronts are the same as you’d find here. The streets and sidewalks are very different, and they’re made out of the same aggregate as those in Nebraska. After walking through town and blatantly staring up at the buildings (I love skyscrapers, and there are a century’s worth in Chicago), I drifted through Washington Park then on to Old Town, zig-zagging through neighborhoods. There were still a few giant elm trees throughout the city, and throw in some cicadas and brick, and again, it felt a lot like being in Hastings. Then I drifted northeast (hitting Goethe, of course) until I reached the Goose Island Brewery on Clybourn. I’ll write more details about the beer and beer establishements on Rooftop Brew, but suffice to say it was very homey what with the dark woods, good beer, and cycling club meetings.

After a lager, a pulled pork sandwich, and a cask pale, I wanted to catch the bus across the river to the fabled Map Room. When I got up to North Ave, I realized it wasn’t too much further (only a mile and a half) and the area was slightly industrial, so I decided to walk. The next thing I knew, I was looking at scrap yards and a huge steel smelter/fabricator. It was interesting and industrial, and someone had left all the doors open while they were on break. I’m sure it was because of the heat, but with the doors rolled up, I was able to peek in, step in, and even snap a few pics of this rather turn of the century looking foundry. The outside was meticulously decorated with flower boxes that all seemed in much better shape than anything in my yard.

After leaving the foundry, I crossed a river, wandered under some elevated train and freeways, and made my way in to the Bucktown neighborhood. It was charming – huge trees, cicadas, lightning bugs, bricks, and well taken care of neighborhoods. It was like being in my parents home town in Nebraska, but much denser and, well, Chicago. I finally ended up at the Map Room and grabbed a place by the bar after washing some of the sweat off. The place was really cool. Maps on the walls, excellent beer, and great music. I spoke with some locals about the neighborhood and area and they told me to just keep walking, as it’s the only way to really get Chicago. From there I wandered down to Wicker Park, which was much more alive than downtown had been. Probably a nightime effect thing where everyone goes back to their own stomping grounds for fun. In many ways, it reminded me of NE Portland, except with a flatiron building and humidity. From here, I caught a ride back downtown for the night. Did you know that the L also goes underground? I didn’t, so I was surprised when I had to take several flights of stairs up to the street.

Tuesday’s conference was great blah, blah no one cares. After work I grabbed a beer with a tech ninja from D2L and we talked some shop and life. It was good to get to talk some bigger picture things, but I realized that folks from that part of Canada say “resources” with a Z. When I first heard this, I thought it was just a fluke. But after several different people using the word, I decided it must be a localism. To say it properly, you pronouce the word “ReZources.”

Afterwards, I met up with Avery, a friend from Yakima who is living in Chicago. We grabbed dinner at a vegan cycle spot named Handlebar that made me feel at home. It was great to get her outside perspective and some great stories about Chicago, which really makes our city hall shenanigans sound amateurish. Afterwards, I walked on North Ave east towards the lake front, but eventually realized I wasn’t going to get to the Pier (the conference party was on the pier) in time, so I caught a bus. From the end of the line, I walked with the boathouse guard (who also got off the same bus) to the waterfront and got a local history of the Greek Orthodox church in Chicago, and how it was better than the Catholic church (we walked by the Archbishop’s residence on North Ave) and so on. We got heckled by some youth, which seemed to roll off his back. I then walked south along the waterfront, which I didn’t realize was a giant concrete sea wall, the rest of the way to the pier. It was warm and clear, and the city looked great from the water, but apparently you’re not allowed in the water after dark. Regardless, I got to the pier too late but ran in to my coworker as he was leaving. We wandered back to the hotel, chatted, and ducked out of going to a piano bar after midnight.

The last day of the conference was excellent and finished with a closing keynote from Joel H. Cohen, writer for Suddenly Susan the Simpsons. It was entertaining, to say the least, but then I had to scurry south to catch the L back to Midway for my flight home. This time it was daytime and I could see more of the city as I escaped south and west through was seemed to be working class neighborhoods. There’s a lot of brick, and some of the homes and blocks looked great, and some looked like dumps. I was glad to see both, because it showed how a city like Chicago can actually support such an immense population. Midway was pretty lame with the exception of the hubble telescope pictures and the cardinal art (someone else’s vid) in the ticketing area.

I’m rather bummed that the extent of my visit was about 5 hours over two evenings, and I somewhat intentionally avoided a number of touristy things (Damn you cubs for your out of town game!) because I can’t wait to get back and visit with more time.

Here are some of the photos shot while perambulating.