On this journey we’ve utilized just about every form of transportation imaginable except for the space shuttle. Having been in buses, cars, vans, trains, and boats, we decided to use airplane to get from San Francisco to Chicago. Our three hour and thirty-seven minute flight (as we were repeatedly told) was a good chance to catch up on some much needed sleep. Personally, I used the time for journaling; however, I’m stuck way back in Little Rock. Upon a late arrival to Chicago Midway, a hungry Etgar 36 flocked to the only two eateries available for a midnight dinner. We hopped a bus to get to our hotel where Etgar would get a late night workout lugging our luggage a few city blocks to the Days Inn. This was quite an experience for me as we were initially greeted by Chicago’s flamboyantly dressed midnight city dwellers (if you catch my drift.) The weary travelers were relieved to be greeted by one of the nicest hotels we’ve had so far. My room had a little bit of an adventure when Jon accidentally knocked the air conditioner cover off of the machine.
Chicago is without a doubt one of the neatest cities one could ever travel to in the United States. Billy made an interesting point in discussing the attitude of Chicagoans (yes, that is what they are actually called.) In this he talked of the way both New York on the eastern extreme and Los Angeles on the western extreme are both filled; however, Chicago is right in the middle with room for opportunity. Our first day in Chicago was a well-needed and well-deserved perfect chill out day. We set out late for the Sears Tower – the tallest building in the United States. The point that the double towers in Kuala Lampur were taller was made often; however, the Sears Tower was quite protective of their status as tallest in the world and reluctant to let go of that superlative. We spent some quality time on the sky deck overlooking the city and about a fifty-mile radius. The view was positively breathtaking as many of us spotted familiar landmarks. Our flight simulator enthusiasts expressed specific rage over the demolition of the Meigs Airfield – a popular downtown airbase.
What trip to Chicago would be complete without authentic Chicago style deep-dish pizza? Gino’s East pizzeria – which is frequented by several celebrities – would fulfill this requirement. Most of us were filled after only two slices. Sorry to say, Mom, but I’ve been spoiled in the pizza department now. Stefano’s has nothing on Gino’s.
Shortly afterwards, Etgar took to the seas in an architectural tour of downtown Chicago. We were given a concise history of the buildings lining Chicago’s main river and a description of the mandatory city building ordinances that follow. Under the heat and some sleep deprivation from a late night of joking around with the guys, my head managed to find its way southward as I dozed off. Though all interested, the group eventually congregated toward the front of the boat to take in the scenery and enjoy the wind rushing by.
For the history buffs of the group, our next stop at the Chicago Historical Society was particularly fascinating. Though our visit was brief, we were able to see some important historical documents including a copy of the Constitution, naturalization documents, and a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation – which, despite what the text said, did not free all of the slaves, but rather only those in areas of rebellion as I learned in American history.
From the Chicago Historical Society, we went to Lincoln Park to hang out by Lake Michigan. I feel compelled to note that the term “Great Lakes” is an understatement! Looking out over Lake Michigan, there is water as far as the eye can see. Seeing sailboats and the Chicago skyline in the distance creates for quite picturesque scenery. From Lincoln Park, Etgar 36 went on to Wrigleyville – one of the most important places to baseball. Most of the boys had their fill of shopping at the store next door to Wrigley Field. Some of us quenched our thirst for All-Star Game memorabilia as the 2003 All-Star Game was held in South Chicago as Cellular One Park (formerly Comisky Park.)
A favorite primetime ritual of mine during the school year is to watch Whose Line is it Anyways with Mom and Dad while waiting for dinner to prepare. I’ve got to tell them, it is hysterical on television, but it is nothing like seeing an improvisational comedy show from a live audience. Etgar 36 took in one such show at the Improv Olympic near Wrigley Field where many prominent comedians got their start. It was here that we learned the Chinese and Romans are equal in worldly contributions as zero equals zero. You might have to ask more about that later. Just know that my side was hurting from laughing so much.
After the Improv Olympic, we crossed the street to see a site familiar to me even though I had never been there. Walking past Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, I felt chills while recounting the baseball greats that played behind those walls, all of those Cubs games from television that I watched on television with Dad and my friend Chris, and the extreme importance of the site to America’s favorite pastime. Seeing the lights, the ivy, the flags, the famous sign, the scoreboard, and especially those neighborhood rooftops in the outfield was quite poetic. After some unsuccessful attempts to gain entrance to the field, we went back to our hotel. I still felt satisfied, nonetheless, just being able to see the field from the outside.
Day Two in Chicago brought out the essence of a cross-country road trip where one must embrace adversity to plans and the need to be flexible. We woke up expecting to discuss the press and First Amendment rights at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism – one of the most prominent journalism schools in the country. Billy had been frequently referred to a tenured professor at Medill and was anxious to meet up from the time the meeting was confirmed days before our voyage began. As he introduced us to the school’s office and notified them of our appointment, we learned that this professor had unfortunately passed away just days after that confirmation. The complete and utter surreal shock of the situation reminded me of Eric Saperstein’s intended meeting with Jerry Garcia shortly before his death from the movie “The Journey” that we saw on the first day. Northwestern was incredible in finding a last minute replacement for the late professor. I apologize for not being able to recall the names of these professors. I would ask Billy, but everyone on the bus right now is catching flies in their sleep. Our replacement speaker gave me special respect for the teaching profession. The volume of knowledge he was able to pass on to us about journalism and the passion for the subject was incredible. Here we learned that Americans do not necessarily have freedom of speech guaranteed by the Constitution, but that Congress can make no law forbidding this freedom. Our group was also engaged in an intense discussion of journalism scenarios and the ethics of responsible reporting. I personally found this to be one the most fulfilling meetings we’ve had thus far.
After lunch and free time in Evanston, we took our bus that we were reunited with that morning to the Chicago Art Institute. For visual art fanatics, the Chicago Art Institute is at the vanguard of art museums worldwide. While some were not into this experience as much as others, Ashley and I ran off like kids in a candy store. Unfortunately, we were on a tight schedule where an hour and a half barely did any kind of service to this museum. We were still able to see works from the most prominent artists in history including Picasso, Van Gogh, Bacon, Magritte, Davis, and many more who definitely deserve mention. All of those groans from studio days taken away to discuss art history in Ms. G’s art class were finally met with excitement over the recognition of and knowledge of stories behind such works a Rodin’s Burghers of Calais. When Mom asks me in a week what the top ten events from the entire trip were, the Chicago Art Institute has a definite place right up at the top. It is nearly impossible to express the volume of art contained within the walls of the Chicago Art Institute. Art enthusiasts, such as Jon, found it difficult to part with the museum after rushing through just one room in forty-five minutes.
Just down the street was our last stop in Chicago at the Buckingham Fountains. This is one place I would have especially wanted to share with my mom and dad in that it would have particular significance to their lives. The events of the 1968 Democratic Convention and the chaos centered around the fountains represented much of the most climatic events of such a turbulent era. Billy spoke about the events leading up to and during the 1968 Democratic convention and ensuing riots. Bob Dylan’s “Times They Are a Changing” never had as much significance as it did listening to it in the grass at the park. This was one of those places where one could close his eyes and picture the hoards of people and the emotion of their protests. To say the least, it was chilling.
Our schedule was altered upon leaving Chicago in order to prevent an overnight ride to Akron, Ohio. Rather than shopping along upscale Michigan Avenue, which I personally had no interest in, and a movie on the green, we boarded the bus and set out for Akron where we would then get in before midnight. I now have two new favorite cities, which include San Francisco and Chicago. My personal experiences in Chicago were completely positive. It is a humongous city, which houses people of all nationalities and ethnicities with so much to explore while retaining a distinct personality.