September 7th, 2003

wood cat

Vacation in Review, a.k.a. The Enormous Chicago Trip Report

We left for Chicago last Wednesday morning, and returned this Tuesday afternoon. We needed a vacation and were really looking forward to the trip, but I was not in the best shape for a trip, being badly sleep deprived. Sunday night, I was basically up since 3 a.m. because the dog was sick from the stress of meeting, and vehemently disliking, Chad's parents' dog, as well as all the new and varied treats she was given by Chad's parents. I didn't catch up on that sleep Monday or Tuesday nights, between work, laundry, packing, and playing with the dog so she'd go to the boarder's on a good note. (We dropped her at the boarder's Wednesday morning, and they took her right back with no fuss (she likes people)—it was traumatic for us, but doubtless it was for the best because if we had said goodbye, we probably would have just frightened her. I still felt incredibly guilty and sniffled most of the way to the airport. She's such a good dog.)

Public service announcement: I am probably the last person to discover this, but checking in over the Internet and printing out boarding passes: The Best Thing Ever. Especially if you do not trust your airline, as I do not trust United (it was the only direct flight we could get).

I dozed through an easy flight, and we took a van into town that was stuffed with chatty people. I spent about half the trip trying to work out their relationships to each other; turns out they were in town for a yearly convention of former Secret Service agents and their families, and so sort-of knew each other from prior conventions. Billboard that caught my eye: "Resurrection Health Care".

We stayed at the Lenox Suites Hotel on North Rush, between Ontario and Ohio, a block from the Mile, Collapse )

After we ooh'ed and aah'ed over the room, we had a tasty Cajun lunch at Heaven on Seven (the Rush location of a local mini-chain), a place across the street that I'd spotted on the way in. This was notable for the veritable forest of hot sauces on each table; about twenty-five, by my estimation. Then we strolled up the Mile, looked at the old Water Tower, and got various supplies at a drugstore. When we got back to the hotel, Chad crashed while I spent approximately six years on hold with Verizon, trying to get our dialup Internet access to work. I had been in a good mood, but that pretty well killed it.

We headed out to the Navy Pier afterwards for reasons that frankly escape me now, as it is obviously a tourist trap (probably because it was in walking distance and we were curious). My rotten mood took a small dent when we discovered the cool fountains in the Crystal Gardens: four arching sprays of water arranged in a square, so that one came down near where the next started. If you put your hand through the end of one, interrupting its flow, the next spray would have a visible gap in it. I have no idea how they did that, but it looked pretty cool.

And then we went into the Smith Museum of Stained Glass, Collapse )

After I'd finished exclaiming over the stained glass, we wandered the rest of Navy Pier (which, as I said, is basically just a tourist trap), admired the skyline, and then sat with drinks until the sun went behind a skyscraper and the wind picked up. Wandering around for someplace to eat, we landed in Rosebud, another place with several locations in the city, and had a bottle of wine and excellent Italian food: Chad had one of the house specials, chicken vesuvio, and I had a very simple but flavorful penne with vodka sauce (I think it was the mascarpone in the sauce that did it). Took my leftovers back to the hotel and called it a night.

It became brutally hot in our east-facing hotel room in the morning, as it slowly became clear that the fan on the air conditioner wasn't working. As this realization dawned, I was back on hold with Verizon; after another six ages, they told me that they knew what the problem was, they didn't need me to fix it, and they'd call me back. So we decamped and they called as we were on our way to the Field Museum, saying it was fixed. Oh goodie.

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It was late afternoon when we left and still brutally hot. We walked up Grant Park and found where they were setting up the Jazz Fest, which started the next day. It looked like it could be a very crowded space, so we mentally bumped it down the priority list a bit and eventually headed back to the hotel. Where the AC was not, as I was told on the phone, fixed. (Someone did come right up and fix it when I called again.) And, continuing a trend, the Verizon dialup was not, as I was told on the phone, fixed either. I gave up and called the next morning to cancel the service. We ate leftovers and then headed out to see The Second City.

We saw the Mainstage production of "No, Seriously, We're All Gonna Die." With a title like that, you know it's going to be topical, though there was a mix of non-topical humor too. Little of the scripted portion rose to the level of hysterically funny, but that's hard to do. There was an improv set after (free, so a few people came in) which had more moments that were incredibly funny in a very oh-that's-so-wrong way. It was generally quite good, and the tickets were only $17, so I'd definitely recommend it.

The next morning we stopped in at an Internet "cafe" (it had a cooler of drinks for sale, hence the scare quotes) to check e-mail. Since the weather was still very soupy, we headed back down to Museum Campus to the Shedd Aquarium. Again, quite good. The reef downstairs gets hyped for its sharks, which I don't understand, because there weren't that many sharks and they weren't the focus. The reef exhibit itself is excellent, though, as is the Amazon Rising exhibit. The dolphin show is far too preachy for adults; we should have skipped it and spent more time watching the sea otters play—they're much bigger than I expected and really absurdly cute. (ajhalluk, I'm definitely jealous that you have an otter now. We actually stooped to buying a small plush otter because they were just so flippin' cute.)

We took our time with the Aquarium because of the weather, and of course when we left it had broken and was nice and cool. We heard one song at the Jazz Fest (someone and the Well-Oiled Jazz Machine) and then headed to Pizzeria Due's to meet prince_corwin and publius1. The second location of the original Uno's, the pizza was quite good, obviously hand-made and not stamped out in a factory. We stopped in at Borders, where I forced books upon people per my usual procedure, and then adjourned to publius1's apartment, which is literally a storefront, for talk and petting of the roommate's neurotic Lab/Border Collie. We had an early morning coming up and were very tired, so we didn't stay too long. On the way back I saw my first Segways in use; two, actually, on the Mile.

In the morning we were off to a friends' lake house in Michigan, which turns out to be enormous: you could fit at least three of our house in it, without exaggeration. The guys went to play golf and I had a deliberately, gloriously antisocial afternoon: I took a long nap, read a trashy novel, and reveled in being alone for the first time in days. We had a quiet dinner in, then lunch, ice cream, and arty purchases the next day in the town of Saugatuck. Headed back in late afternoon through much rain. I have to say, I'm sure that Gary, Indiana is a wonderful place, but from the highway, it looks and smells like industrial Mordor. When we got back, we had dinner at a Big Bowl location (another local chain), which was extremely slow but had competent Asian food.

Monday, it was pouring rain so Collapse )

On the way back to the hotel, my bad computer karma continued, as we had an absolutely dreadful fucking experience at the Internet cafe. You'd think that a place like that would have printing already set up on all the machines, wouldn't you? Well, I did, and was I ever wrong. It took over half an hour to get our boarding passes to print, and I was convinced all the time that it wouldn't work and we'd have to try to check in again at the airport. I was not impressed. Fortunately, it did eventually work, and we stumbled upon Le Colonial, a very nice Vietnamese restaurant that a friend had recommended. We were entirely underdressed, but they didn't turn us away because of my jeans, and we had a lovely and relaxing meal.

Tuesday morning we got up too early, packed, checked out, and had breakfast at a Corner Bakery; alas, my bagel had the dinner-roll nature, but Chad liked his baked French toast. We killed a little time at Borders (we were up way too early) and then went to the Terra Museum of American Art when it opened at 10, because it was free and small and we'd walked past it a dozen times. This was a good way to kill 45 minutes. The folk art and Modernism exhibits weren't my kind of thing, though I did like a series of photographs by Stieglitz called "Equivalent" (one example on this page) and a lively sketch of the Woolworth building by John Marin. More interesting was the exhibit on Edward S. Curtis's print portraits of Native America; there was also a Whistler exhibit with really neat etchings of Venice. Apparently the Terra is closing in late 2004, though it will be rotating works through the Art Institute.

The flight home was uneventful, and we got in early, though not quite early enough to pick up the dog. It was good to be home—there's really nothing like sleeping in your own bed.

Overall, a really good trip. I wish we'd been able to see more of the city outside museums, do the Jazz Fest, that kind of thing, but the weather just didn't cooperate. I'm sure we'll go back at some point.

wood cat

Week in Review

Wednesday, our first full day back from vacation, we had the exterior house painting finished and more bookcases (the last, we don't have any more room) delivered. Work had been pretty quiet while I was away. Other than that, mostly everything else notable about the week was Collapse )

Oh, by the way: if a recipe for sauce calls for an egg yolk, do not use an whole egg because you misremembered the recipe. They're really not equivalent. This hard-won lesson is brought to you by our overly-sticky alfredo from Saturday night.

Entertainment this week: the DVD of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Collapse )