And now I will tell you about my weekend trip to Chicago.
First of all, a massive thanks to Greg for being a fearless and excellent host. The excellent is inherent. We’ll get to the fearless in a minute.
Greg had me call him when I got on his street, so that he could wait outside and hop in my car and drive around with me until we found a decent parking space. I missed him the first time and had to loop around again, causing Greg to walk about a block. (Sorry, buddy.) We found a sweet space not even half a block from his building.
Since it was too late to really do anything, Greg dialed up the good folks at Giordano’s and ordered one of their finest deep-dish pizzas. We hopped in Greg’s truck and were off to pick up our sausage and pepperoni pie. I was impressed by the considerable heft of its weight in the box. When we got back to Greg’s place we had a 2006 Magician Movie Double Feature of The Prestige and The Illusionist and then watched a bit of The Godfather before I got too sleepy to continue.
The pizza was amazing. Thick, tasty crust buried under a heaping mound of sausage and pepperoni, buried under a heaping pile of melted cheese, buried under a hearty sauce. We ate on it for the next two days.
On Saturday we took the train to a play called Fat Pig, by a writer I like named Neil LaBute. At his worst he’s pretty terrible, but at his best he’s mean-spirited in the “teach your characters a lesson” kind of way that Flannery O’Connor is. Anyway, the play is about an image-obsessed businessman who works with lots of other image-obsessed people but starts dating a woman who’s overweight, and has trouble coming to terms with how he’s afraid his co-workers will react. The acting was amazing, even though the play itself ended a little too ambiguously. Some of you might be familiar with LaBute’s film In the Company of Men, which is difficult to watch but recommended. (It stars Aaron Eckhart, who’s been discussed a lot on this very site because of his recent casting as Two Face in the next Batman movie.)
By the time we got out of the theater, the blizzard had begun. Sharp, painful little shards of ice were mixed in with the biggest snowflakes I’d seen since Denver all those years ago, when my airplane was the last one allowed to leave the Denver airport before it was shut down for days. Greg and I had to walk several blocks in this dastardly downpour, giving me my first true taste of harsh Chicago winter. Greg, an old pro by now, didn’t even notice. (Except when the falling ice felt like it was cutting into our faces, of course.) Note to self: never go to Chicago without a warm hat.
More walking happened on the way back from the train, and by the time we got back to Greg’s apartment the streets were lost under a dangerous layer of ice and slush and rapidly drifting snow. And yet, we battled on. Hopping into Greg’s truck, we drove to Cafe Bolero, an amazing little Cuban restaurant in Greg’s neighborhood. I got the chicken milanesa, which is kind of like a Cuban chicken parmesan. It was the largest piece of breaded chicken I’d ever seen, with two giant slices of ham on top of that, with cheese melted on top of the ham. Top it off with a tomato-based sauce on top, throw two big mounds of white rice and some roasted plantains on the side, and you’ve got one of the best and biggest meals your belly will ever need. Truly excellent.
By the time we’d finished dinner and headed back to Greg’s apartment, the blizzard was getting ever worse. (In fact, I didn’t know if I’d even be able to leave by weekend’s end.) We wanted to check out the Cupid Players at Improv Olympic, but the show was at 10:30. Greg called several cab companies to no avail, so we ended up walking in more blizzard to get to a spot where we could hopefully grab a cab. (By this time I’d added another layer of clothing which included a hooded sweatshirt. Take that, blizzard!) We waited for about 15 minutes. Our pants were soaking wet and it was freezing. We watched cars slip and slide, especially a van that almost creamed some parked cars. I was honestly ready to give up. Greg said we’d head back if a cab didn’t arrive within another couple of minutes, and lo and behold, here came a cab. We got to Improv Olympic just in time, which was especially impressive considering that the cabbie dropped us off a couple of blocks (and on the wrong side of the street) too early. Despite agility that would make ninjas jealous, Greg’s foot and leg got more than a little ice puddled as we made our way.
It was a musical show, packed with hilarious songs and superbly silly performances by the cast. I was way impressed. After the show we caught another cab back to Greg’s neighborhood. I didn’t have enough cash to help Greg make change, so the cabbie left us in the car while he went into a gas station to get some cigarettes and bring Greg his change. That’s probably not legal, but nobody tried to steal us, so, that’s good.
When we got back to Greg’s place we watched more Godfather while snacking on tiny microwave tacos. (Greg’s formula was eight on a plate for a minute forty-five. Works every time.) And we still didn’t make it all the way through the movie because yet again I was too sleepy. (I’m getting old. I know. I know.)
On Sunday we went to the Museum of Science and Industry, and after figuring out which line we needed to be in for tickets (which we found out by spending a long time in the wrong line) we were off to discover the world of science … and industry. Greg’s description of his friend Ghost Rider’s train set was more impressive than the museum’s train set built around a replica of Chicago, but we both enjoyed our tour of the U-505, a German submarine captured by the Allies in World War II.
After the museum we had dinner at The Smoke Daddy, one of the best BBQ places I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating at. (I got a combo of ribs, chicken and brisket, with baked mac and cheese and tasty fries.) It was still snowing on and off, and I’d already decided to leave earlier than I’d planned to beat the weather. I missed the Indiana Toll Road exit the first time because of confusing construction, and missed it again because I wrongly chose which side of the interstate I needed to be on to get to the exit. I left Chicago at about 7 and got home about half past midnight. It was slow going on the way home because of rainy conditions north of Indianapolis. And because I stopped for gas and Steak ‘n Shake. (As for the toll road, Bob, you’ll be glad to know that I beat the bottleneck every time. First one out of the gate! I kept a coffee mug filled with quarters and another filled with nickels in my cup holders to maintain the elements of surprise, exact change and efficiency.)
Thanks again to Greg for being a generous, enthusiastic host and for introducing me to some of his favorite Chicago places and eats. He’s doing well. Particularly in the dating arena, which is excellent because I saw lots of beautiful women up there in the windiest of cities. And he’s getting ready to go to Japan!
There’s lots of good stuff I’d like to go to in Chicago this year, so hopefully I’ll see him again soon.
More to come.