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10:51 a.m. - March 19, 2007
Chicago Weekend
Nothing like a weekend in Chicago to prove to you how OLD you really are, and how much of an old married couple you are.

Actually, it also proved that we’re a young couple, too, in some aspects.

Ok, so it wasn’t totally optimal for us to go on a weekend in Chicago a day after I arrived back from a trip to DC, but you know, timing is the key to life.

And we grabbed the gusto when we could!

The plan was to haul the kidlets up to Nurse Niece and then embark on our journey to the Windy City. We were staying at the Palmer House, which is a nice hotel smack in the middle of downtown. It’s an old school hotel – it’s been there since the 1870’s and for years politicians and others have pontificated in its lobbies and meeting rooms.

Well, when Nurse Niece called Friday night, I said we’d probably be up there between 9:30 and 10.

Um, of course this is the Smed family we’re talking about. Make that…11:30!

And of course, I thought it’d be a simple trip without much luggage.

Well, for US, perhaps, just two overnight bags and a backpack that held Liz’s writing materials for her critique group. The kids had a suitcase, and the stroller, AND the pack-and-play. So our trunk was filled to the brim.

We made it though, and of course Kristin howled when she realized that we were on our way out the door without her. But we soon got a phone call saying that she only wailed for 30 seconds and then perked right up. I wonder if she just did that for show? “Mommy, I’m really going to miss you….waaaah! Are they gone? OK, where’s that kitty cat?”

Most of you haven’t experienced I-65 between Lafayette and Chicago. Well, you haven’t missed much at all. It’s one of the reasons I loathe interstates, but entering Chicago on US Highways would add a LONG time to your travel time, and we had an agenda.

No, not that kind of agenda. Geez, is your mind in the gutter?

Basically, I-65 in that stretch is a dreadfully flat, blah, boring, and aesthetically unpleasing. It’s not as bad as I-70 between Terre Haute and St. Louis, but it’s close.

One good thing is that it was St. Patrick’s Day, and I think all of the coppers were out on drunken idiot alert instead of patrolling the highways, because I saw NO policemen on our trip up there.

After a gas stop and some refreshing McNuggets (no, McNuggets and gas stop are not synonyms) we hit the region (Lake County, Indiana) and all of the various and sundry Indiana suburbs that are just stacked together. At one time, Crown Point, Merrillville, Schererville (home of the old US-30 Dragstrip, where they used to have races on SUNDAY! SUNDAY! SUNDAY!), Gary, Hammond, Whiting, East Chicago, Munster had separate identities, but to an outsider they ALL just blur and blend together. Well, you probably know when you’re in the bad part of Gary or Hammond, or by the steel mills and casinos, but other than that, it’s all the same to me.

We got on the Toll Road and the Chicago Skyway, which is the only real way to get into Chicago. Sure, there’s the Borman Expressway (I-80 and I-94) but that’s always under construction - no seriously – it’s ALWAYS under construction.

Then as the Skyway morphed into the Dan Ryan, there were a lot of orange cones afoot. The Dan Ryan was under mega-super construction and it was a bit slow on a Saturday afternoon. Also, Liz and I realized something.

We were headed to downtown Chicago, on St. Patrick’s Day, and they may have a parade. Oh, yes, they DO have a parade.

Fortunately, we missed the parade, but downtown was teeming with revelers. It was quite colorful, though, as all ethnicities wore the green, it seemed (except us, we stuck out).

We found a parking garage that didn’t charge us an arm AND a leg (just one appendage) and checked into the hotel. Liz and I loved looking at the lobby – because that’s what a real hotel lobby is supposed to be like. It’s HUGE, with ornate everything and about 100 people milling about or just sitting and relaxing.

The room secured, we went up the elevator, freshened up, and then hit the one stop on our agenda – the Art Institute. Now, I’m going to write my thoughts about art and all that tomorrow, so hold on for that – but it was a nice visit. It didn’t occur to us that it being smack downtown that it would be a place for people to visit AFTER the parade, but there was a long line waiting to get cultured, and they were orderly and well behaved.

So was the line waiting to get into Miller’s Pub – they were nice an orderly. But I wonder why you waited in line to get in there after the parade. Just so you could say you were there? “Hey, guess where I’M calling from?”

After we got art, we walked to get coffee, and one other stark reality hit us in the face. We thought a Starbucks would be close by, and well, it wasn’t THAT far, and we found two, but they were closed.

Of course, normally there’s not much traffic in this area of Chicago during the weekend. Those Starbucks cater to the business crowd. Der.

But we found coffee and relaxed, and then went back to the hotel and relaxed a bit more before we wound our way to dinner.

When we were first dating, we took a trip to Chicago and ate at the Italian Village. So, we made a return trip.

This is a definite old school restaurant, with about 3.5 staff people per table, or so it seemed. It opened in 1927, and they had an old menu from the 30s, where the most expensive bottle of wine was $1.80 and most entrees were under $1.

I recognized the maitre d’, believe it or not. But it was hard not to remember his face. He looked like ‘family’, and was impeccably dressed in a tux and he had glasses on a chain and was very concerned that patrons were being served, and tables were being turned. We got there a little before 6 and we had a 20 minute wait. Of course, there was a huge party that they were setting up for and it was St. Patrick’s Day, so people were afoot., but I think Chicagoans eat a bit earlier than other big city denizens. It’s a working class town in a lot of ways.

I do think the maitre d’ was thinking to himself, “Oh, I remember back in the old days when people got dressed up to eat dinner. Now people are wearing jeans and those stupid green deely bobbers in our restaurant. Hmpf.”

There were two others in tuxes, that I surmised were right under the maitre d’ in the waitron pecking order. They looked like lifers – and one of them was a near dead ringer for Phil Leotardo, and let me tell you when I saw him I was on my best behavior.

Two others were in suits and ties, milling about, making sure everything was OK. I think they were the actual managers of the restaurant. The building actually had three restaurants that were all connected, so we had to remind ourselves this was just 1/3 of the operation, and it was mighty impressive. They crammed tables everywhere in the old building, but we all had enough room and didn’t feel cramped or crowded.

Although there was one young man that I thought was having dinner with the parents of his girlfriend or fiancé. He talked – a lot – and all about himself – it seemed. I was about ready to tell him “Do yourself a favor and ZIP IT!”

Our waiter wore a shirt and tie with a red vest, so he was down on the pecking order, for sure. But he was nice and polite, and prompt. The bussers all wore black uniforms, and they were very quick as well. Service was impeccable.

The food was great, too. It was definitely homemade pasta, and made the Olive Garden seem like Chef Boyardee. Liz had her usual – fettucine alfredo. I had cannelloni with red sauce. Mmmm….

Liz had a nice glass of wine and I had a bottle of Pellegrino – and then we shared a piece of cheesecake. While we were lingering a bit over coffee (they didn’t rush us out, even though the restaurant was busy and you knew they wanted to turn tables – they accomplished the table turning by being very prompt with service on all fronts!) I noticed how they were attacking that huge party of about 24 or so. They did not skimp on their service at all, and also didn’t skimp on anyone else’s service. It was definitely a class operation.

Liz and I waddled back to the hotel, sated and stuffed. I flipped on the basketball games while Liz read her submissions for the critique group. She soon went to bed and I soon followed her into slumberland.

Yes, that’s right. Two adults, without kids, went to SLEEP in a hotel room before 9:00. See, we’re old!

It was almost 11 hours later when we woke up, and we had to hustle to look presentable because our room service breakfast was being served at 8:30. I do want to tell you that our room service breakfast, counting service charges, etc. our breakfast was almost as much as our dinner.

We lingered, packed up, and headed home. The Dan Ryan was all messed up, and I would hate to imagine what it’s like during the perennial rush hour that is Chicago traffic.

After that jam up, I-65 seemed like a drag strip. Of course, it was, since I was doing 80 and I had to stay in the right lane for fear of being run over.

But we got home, picked up the kids, and got home in one piece, safe and sound.

What a great weekend! Too bad I had to go to work today.



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