Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Walking the Windy City - Part 7

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Part 7

Having a full belly is a blessing and a curse.  Most people, I’d argue, like to be somewhere between ravenous and stuffed, and I’m among them.  I was a bit closer to stuffed, but I still had a couple miles to walk off that full feeling.  Back to the street.

Lincoln Park was still pretty quiet.  Being inside a climate-controlled place, even for the fifteen minutes it took me to dominate my sandwich, made stepping outside into the mid-40s refreshing and bracing.  I wasn’t sure where I was in relation to Wrigley Field, as I’d planned to take Clark all the way till it intersected with Addison.  What I did know was that if I turned right, Lincoln would get me close, though how close was something I’d just need to find out.

As is the case these days, local groceries struggle with their big box competitors on everything from price and location to selection and distribution rights.  Lincoln Foods couldn’t keep up this complex equation, and it’s always sad to see places like these go under.  It is cute that they call carbonated beverages “pop,” which is generally assigned to Midwesterners and some northerners.  I call it “soda,” but lots of people in the south, and especially in Kentucky, call any form of soda “coke.”  So, they might ask, “what kind of coke do you all have?”  They’re not asking diet or regular, they’re wondering if you have some of that green coke called Mountain Dew.  Everyone’s got their own name, and I think it’s funny that these localizations still exist.

Sad about that grocery, though.

Assuming this was 106 years old, this building is in really good shape.  It didn’t appear to be a novelty company anymore; now it just looked like a warehouse, but I wonder what they used to make.  Novelties is pretty vague; it could have been anything from toys to tourist gifts to knick-knacks now consigned to antique stores and garage sales. 

With every block, things got newer and busier.  About a quarter mile from the sandwich shop, I passed DePaul University, another Chicago-based institution.  I remember seeing DePaul in my last visit to Chicago and for some reason, it stood out.  For years after that, I heard about people going to DePauw University, and I assumed they were saying the same thing, as the “L” isn’t well enunciated.  It wasn’t until a couple years ago that I discovered they were two different universities, the latter being about an hour west of Indianapolis. 

Another quarter mile passed, and I went under the L.  In my planning, I’d considered taking the L back to town before heading out to the airport, but I decided against it, instead voting for a bus that took me directly to the correct line to head to O’Hare.  However, the Red Line runs north-south and stops right near Wrigley Field.  Thus, I hooked the first right after walking under the currently still track onto Sheffield Avenue, planning to follow the Red Line to Wrigley Field.

This was a nice part of town, as its newer buildings and retail outlets indicated. Fancy furnishings, real estate offices, and trendy eateries all point to a neighborhood on the up and up. 

A dog park!  Just as relaxing for their owners as them, dog parks are becoming pretty popular around the country.  One of my favorite parks in Louisville, the Parklands, recently added a small, canine-friendly section appropriately named the Barklands.  Admittedly, I figure that right next to the track, the trains roaring by would spook the dogs, but after so long they might just be used to it.

If you haven’t seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you really should.  It’s a fun romantic comedy, and conveniently for today, it was shot and set in Chicago.  Having been here again, it’s easy to see the environs that appear throughout the movie are distinctly Chicagoan.  When we came fifteen years ago, there were still strong ethnically Greek communities throughout the city.  One we visited even had a Walgreens with a Greek-language sign!  There must be a significant Greek population here, too, as indicated by this newer-looking church.

I felt like I was getting closer.  Things started to look more like the area directly around Wrigley, and more restaurants were popping up.  More signs of life, more trash on the sidewalk, and more mailbox graffiti.

The area was nice enough that this vandalized mailbox looked strikingly out of place.  The fact that it hasn’t been replaced elicits a certain endearment.  I dunno; Chicago and particularly Cubs fans are superstitious, so I wouldn’t put it past them to mark this mailbox or touch this mailbox as they walk to the game.  Maybe Sammy Sosa dropped a line to his mom from this mailbox?

I crossed Wellington Avenue and peeked east towards the Red Line.  A northbound train screeched to a halt, made its exchange of passengers, and roared back up again and rolled down the line.  Chicago’s transit system is kind of unique; normally you don’t get to see this when it comes to a city’s subway or any rapid transit, but as the L is often suspended above grade, you get to see the blood vessels of the city do their work.

This little bar on the corner of Sheffield and Barry Avenues has been there for at least six years according to Google Maps.  Like most people from my generation, Matilda is more than just a name; it’s a major childhood movie experience.  All I could picture when I saw this was a grown up Mara Wilson walking in to have a couple shots.
Matilda featured something kind of weird.

Twenty-three or older?  But you can drink at 21, right?  In Kentucky, and everywhere else I’ve been, you can go in a bar if you can drink, but maybe Illinois has a different rule about bar drinking as opposed to private drinking.  I suppose any business can do this if they want, or perhaps it’s a liability thing.  Still, never seen that before.

My phone buzzed; it was my wife, and my battery was strong enough that I could safely take the call.  We chatted for a second, and I passed under a another bit of the L which had peeled off from the main line.  I arrived at Clark Street a few minutes later and, down the street, I saw my mark.  I began power walking, my eye on the prize.  I passed by a number of pubs and souvenir stands on both sides of the street, and the roads were coursing with cars, but nothing was going to distract me.

I snapped my first picture and noted the time; I got there at exactly 2:56 PM!  Now I just had to take pictures until the #152 bus arrived to take me to the –
Oh, there it goes.

While waiting to cross Addison Street, the bus pulled up and, with no one at the stop, it crossed Clark Street heading westbound.  My schedule had the bus there at 2:54, so I just missed it.  The next one would come at 3:09, so I’d have about 15 minutes to take pictures of the stadium before my ride showed up.  Well, let’s cross and get to it!

Sixteen miles later, I’d made it!

Unfortunately for me, Wrigley Field was undergoing an unprecedented renovation.  I did know this was going on, but I didn’t know how limiting it’d be.  It’s possible that coming on a gameday, while being much busier, would have let me see more of the stadium.  I walked to the corner of each street, but there wasn’t a great way to get to the other side.  The trademark wall ivy would have been on this side, if I had my directions right, but I couldn’t find much evidence of the overgrown foliage.  My feet were sore, but taking that short break an hour or so ago helped a ton.  Nothing could rob me of this, though, so I just took a moment and relaxed. 

There was an active group of bicycling ladies that I’d intersected with at multiple instances throughout the day.  There were seven of them, and one particularly happy looking one wore a veil underneath her helmet.  What a fun way to hang out with your bridal party!  I’d passed them a couple times, but we’d finally caught up at this destination. 
They were being led by a guide, who offered to take a picture of them in front of Wrigley Field.  They wanted to do the Anchorman jump, i.e. jumping at the moment the picture is taken, much like my own wife did for our own wedding pictures, to which our party obliged.  Even her very pregnant bridesmaid Erin gave a little bunny hop in compliance. 

Pretty close.

With all my pictures taken and the bus set to arrive any minute, I squatted down, popping my knees.  I stood up to stretch my arms and began counting out the $2.25 I’d need for the bus.

“Are you a radio personality?”

I turned to my right and found a man standing next to me, looking at me intently with a big smile on his face.  He was around fifty, with a sharp eye, a heavy coat and thick, mismatched, fingerless gloves.  One gloved hand held a mostly empty McDonalds cup, likely obtained down the street at the Golden Arches I could see past him.

“What?” I asked.

“You look like a radio personality to me.” 

“What makes you say that?”

He took a step back and looked at me.  “You’re here at Wrigley Field!”  He laughed.  I’m not sure how to take this, as he hadn’t heard me speak and people on the radio often look, shall we say, much different than you expect.  My mom did radio for ten years, but I still think that way, and she still has people come up to her and tell her how surprised they were to hear her voice come out of her.  “This is where everyone comes.”

He was probably right.  Though clearly homeless, or financially struggling at least, this man was humorous, lively, and attendant.  I told him I’d walked here from the University in the southern part of the city, and he smiled and clapped.  He asked me for a dollar, and I put a bill in his cup, which he removed and slid in his coat pocket.  I looked down Addison and saw my bus approaching a few blocks down.

“You know, I’m a celebrity, too.”

I crooked an eyebrow.  “Really?”

“You ever go on YouTube?”  I nodded.  “My cousin has a channel on there; try and look me up there.”

The bus rolled to a stop, and I told him I had to get on the bus and we parted.  As I got on the bus, he called after me.  “Look me up on there!  Horace Howard!  Horace…Howard!”  The door closed, I deposited my change and thanked the bus driver. 

I sat about halfway back in the bus.  I checked my phone: 3:12.  Now I just had to get to Addison Blue, a Blue Line station that would take me directly to O’Hare.  It’d be about a 20-minute ride, so I stowed my camera and grabbed my travel notebook, settling in for a long ride. 

There were a large number of high schoolers sitting on the bus behind me, and they were chatting noisily.  In the front row, one high schooler was facing away from them, having a coughing fit into her sleeve.  She and the whole crew got off about ten minutes later.  Out the window, the city sprawled out endlessly.  As we got farther out of town, we saw more chain drugstores, some franchise restaurants, and even a mall.  In front of me, an elderly Hispanic woman and presumably her daughter talked quietly to one another in Spanish.  After another stop, my seat neighbor alighted, so I took the extra seat with my camera case.  I closed my eyes and listened intently for the cross street before my stop: Kimball Avenue. 

It came sooner than I expected, and I stood, slinging my camera case carelessly over my shoulder.  About half the bus was hopping off, and I stepped down with the pack into the chilly afternoon through the side door, stepped up onto the curb and walked to the ticketing machines, which were housed under a small overhang.  Beside these automated dispensers, a turnstile led to the stairs that descended to the platform.

I’d planned to use cash to buy my fare, but the only machines available here involved buying a Ventra card, which is what the CTA uses to store fares.  I heard the rumble of the track beneath me, so I knew a train was just around the corner.  I bought a three-dollar ticket using my credit card, slid through the turnstile and hustled down the stairs right as the northbound train rolled into the station.  I lunged in when the doors opened and grabbed a seat on a moderately populated car.  The doors slid closed and we were off in a hot second.

We were riding alongside a highway, I-94, as the signs would indicate, and we were moving along at the same speed or faster than they were.  One stop at Montrose, then another at Gladstone Park.  I sat across from an ethnically West Asian couple, who were talking lovingly to each other in Arabic.  They each had a suitcase, so I was hoping they were heading off on a fun trip together.  The mystery of a stranger’s trip and their motivation for travel is one of the things that make airports great, but I trust theirs was a happy reason.  I couldn’t understand a word they were saying, but it didn’t matter.  They did, and they were pretty cute.

After leaving Rosemont (not to be confused with the earlier Montrose, apparently,) the last stop was a longer journey.  Passengers started to gather their belongings and their young ones, and the couple across from me did the same, slinging their backpacks and purses over their shoulder.  The landscape changed to one of car rental lots and flat, low-lying buildings.  I saw a taxiway before we swooped underground and began to slow down.  I’d been texting my wife, and I watched as my cell phone signal vanished.  The automated announcement asked everyone to disembark, and once we came to a stop, we all emptied onto a central platform, where escalators at the far end would take us up to O’Hare and one of the largest airports I’d ever walked.

Next week, I’ll be walking O’Hare and bringing you along; if you’ve never thought of an airport as a destination, I encourage you to join me next week to see how fun something you might consider mundane can be!

Until then, keep going!

- Matt

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