Day 7 – Friday, May 31
The weather guy on TV said the sky today would be “milky”. That’s not a description I recall hearing before. Turned out to be fairly apt.
When picking a hotel for my stay in Chicago my first consideration was to be roughly half way between downtown and Autobahn. That meant a western suburb. Next consideration was proximity to a train station. Without knowing anything about Chicago mass transit I had to ask around. Bob suggested the best way to go was on the Metra. This is an entirely different train system than the “L” operated by the Chicago Transit Authority. With this in mind, I picked a hotel just a few miles from the Naperville Metra station.
I didn’t want to have to get to the station early enough to find a parking spot, so I grabbed a Lyft. At the station, I was expecting to buy tickets from a machine. That’s how it works for the BART in San Francisco and the Metro in D.C. It works differently for Denver’s train system, at least the one I’ve ridden. There are no turnstiles but you still get your ticket from a machine. At the Metra station, you actually go to a ticket window and buy from a person. How quaint.
The train cars are tall double-decker affairs. The lower level is two seats on each side of the aisle. The upper level is one seat each side, with some seats facing forward and others that are jump seats that fold down, and you face the aisle. Up there, you’re on one side or the other as there’s no floor in the center. A conductor comes through and checks tickets, and from the lower level he can collect from the folks above.
The train deposits you in Union Station. The trains are below ground level and there are many platforms. Not knowing where to go I just let myself be carried along by the crowd, turning right and left, going up escalators, I finally was deposited on Adams St on the bank of the Chicago River. The general plan was to wander the public spaces by the Lake, then spend some time at the art museum and go to the observation deck at either the Willis Tower or the Hancock Tower. I could either find dinner downtown or head back to Naperville.
So finding myself on Adams St at the river was a good starting place. All I needed to do was walk a few blocks east and I’d be at the museum. It wouldn’t open for a while, so I’d have time to wander through the parks and gawp at the skyline.
I didn’t have a clear sense of how the place is laid out, so I just started at the northwest corner and went around clockwise. This meant I’d start in Millennium Park. The big attraction here is “the bean,” which is actually called Cloud Gate. When I arrived there were only a few people. Great luck, I thought. I can get some pictures without a huge crowd. I managed to take one or two photos before a busload of kids showed up. Ah, well, so it goes.
A few yards south of Cloud Gate is the Crown Fountain. I don’t think I’d heard of this before. I’m pretty sure I’d remember it. There are two sort of obelisks that face each other with water cascading down the sides. And I literally mean “face each other.” They have human faces on them. The faces are animated. That is, they slowly change their expressions. Periodically, they purse their lips and streams of water pour from their “mouths”.
Heading toward the lake you come across the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, an interesting open-air venue, obviously designed by Frank Gehry. From there you can take a pedestrian bridge across Columbus Drive to Maggie Daley Park. It has all sorts of little nooks and crannies for kids to explore: forts and pirate ships, hall-of-mirrors gardens, sculptures, and so on. Heading south along Lake Shore Drive eventually takes you to Buckingham Fountain.
From here I crossed Lake Shore Drive and walked along the water’s edge. To the north you can see Navy Pier, to the south the planetarium, aquarium, and the Field Museum. Heading back west takes you through the south end of Grant Park. Before you get to Michigan Avenue you’ll find the loop’s railroad tracks below grade, out of sight. I skipped some of these little parks and worked my way back to the art museum, the Art Institute of Chicago.
It’s a big museum. I didn’t make it through the entire place, but I got close. I’m not the biggest art fan. That is, I like art, but there are some types that don’t appeal to me. So I was perfectly willing to skip various exhibits. As it turned out, I don’t think I skipped much. I’m not an expert on art or art museums by any stretch of the imagination, but I’d suggest that this is one of the top art museums in the world. Perhaps not “top ten” material, but not far from it. I was surprised how many of the works I recognized, and how many works by artists I recognized.
Among the exhibits that didn’t appeal to me are some of the works of modern art. This would include Jackson Pollack, who I suspect just sold his drop cloths. Another one was just a set of colored panels: a block of blue next to a block of red next to a block of green next to a block of white, or things to that effect. I don’t understand this stuff. Picasso may not be my cup of tea, but some effort obviously went into it. It’s a different view of reality, but there’s a viewpoint there, even if it doesn’t speak to me. A series of paint swatches seems like they’re just trying to pull one over on me.
The rest of the exhibits are amazing in one way or another. The miniature rooms were incredible. A woman did a series of rooms either based on real houses or her imagination that represented a place and time. Furnishings, art, lighting, rugs, views into adjoining rooms. I almost skipped that one and I’m glad I didn’t. I really liked the impressionists, too. The American art included quite a lot of furniture. “They don’t make them like that anymore” is an understatement. The level of craftsmanship is insane. The several rooms with armor and arms was great, too.
I did get a bit of a kick out of all the people taking pictures of the art. I’ve done this on occasion myself, to be honest. But these days I’m more interested in the room as a whole, or the people looking at the art. Because I can go on-line and find a much better picture than I can take of that Picasso.
The admission ticket that I bought for the art museum included a trip up to the Skydeck attraction at the Willis Tower. That’s the observation deck on the 103rd floor. I entered the building through the wrong entrance. A doorman there immediately asked if I was looking for the Skydeck. I jokingly asked him if he thought I looked like a tourist (because I obviously did: Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and a camera around my neck).
Other than the views, the attraction is The Ledge. They basically took out four windows and made bay windows with transparent floors. Groups of three or fewer people get sixty seconds, four or more get ninety. Everybody does it, so the line is long: maybe 20 minutes. I got to chatting with a group there where one of the guys wanted to do a handstand. He said he’s been doing handstands all over Chicago. Here, he was reluctant because he’s afraid of heights. I said, “Hey, don’t worry: nobody has fallen out the entire time I’ve been waiting here!”
By now I was done. I’d been walking all day and I was looking forward to sitting down on the train. I managed to find the correct train without looking too much like a rube. I sat on the upper level this time, thinking there might be a view. There wasn’t. After some time, my phone rang. It was Bob. After chatting for a couple minutes I couldn’t help but notice that several people were giving me the evil eye for talking on my phone. I told Bob I’d call him back. Once off the train, I got the phone out and started to call a Lyft. As soon as it asked where I wanted to go, it told me I was down to 3% charge and shut itself off. (I left the hotel with a fully charged phone. Most days, it’s down to 55-60% by the end of the day. Some days it gets happy and goes through 90% by bed time. This day, it must have been positively ecstatic, to use 100% in 10 hours. And I hardly even used it.)
That’s just great. Not only can’t I call a car, I can’t even bring up a map to tell me which way to hoof it. I didn’t even really know how far it was. I was hoping it was closer to four miles than seven. On the way to the station I didn’t really pay attention to where we were going, but I did have a general direction. So off I went, expecting that I’d be able to stop at any number of places to ask for directions. I passed a Little Caesar’s Pizza place and a DQ. I considered going to the pizza place and ordering a pizza for delivery to my hotel, then catching a ride with the driver. But the line was out the door, as was the line at DQ. After that, I was in a residential area whose few businesses were all closed.
There were no other pedestrians and when a hippyish bicyclist came by I stopped him to ask directions. He told me I was going in the right way and that if I got to the highway I’d gone too far. I found the street I was looking for and soon found my hotel. The last hurdle to jump was the lack of a crosswalk across a multi-lane road with a high speed limit. As you may have guessed, I managed to cross without getting run over. Back in my room, I plugged in to recharge. I checked how far it was: less than three miles.
I had dinner at a brew pub next to the hotel and had a large beer.
More photos here.
Today’s miles: 0 road Total miles: 1,729 road, 407 track