A Sunny Day

A nice, sunny day in Chicago. Wind chill was -20°C. But it was sunny. So we decided to stroll down Michigan Avenue.

Cold, but sunny

One of the major problems in going anywhere in Chicago in the winter is deciding how to dress. You can either dress for inside, and freeze when you’re outside, or dress for outside and roast when you are inside. So you must determine if your trip is going to be an outside one or inside one. Or resign yourself to significant discomfort. We chose to dress for outside and limit our time indoors.

We stopped in at The Drake, a Chicago landmark for 100 years. They have a nice gift shop; there were lots of rabbits (not real ones, of course).

We visited Hildt Galleries there at The Drake. They had rabbits, too, although they were not in our price range.

A rabbit at Hildt Galleries

Since we were getting warm in our coats, we went back outside to walk around. Soon we were at the old Water Tower/Pumping Station. My grandmother always pointed out the Water Tower to me when I was a tot, remarking that it was one of the few structures to survive the Great Fire of 1871. The Pumping Station still pumps water for the city (Chicago sucks a billion gallons of water out of the lake every day).

Pumping Station and Water Tower

Sixty years later, I finally got to go inside. Not much to see; the functioning parts aren’t open for public view. But finally I can say I was there, and check off another required-for-Chicagoans task item.

What we did not get to see

Nearby was the Lush store, always worth stopping in for a sniff.

We walked past the line of people waiting in the cold to get into the big (35,000 square feet) Starbucks. There is always a line outside.

I can’t imagine what is there that is worth freezing for, and I guess I will never find out.

Further on down was Garrett’s Popcorn. CVH informed me that this is a Chicago tradition. People were waiting outside for it, too, mostly tourists, I guess. We waited a little while ourselves (remember we were dressed for outside), and bought some Pecan Caramel Crisp.

I was leery about paying that much for popcorn, but after I tasted it I will allow that it is very good.

We ended our trip at the Wrigley Building, a favorite spot for wedding party photographs, and today was no exception. The men had on tuxes, which provided some protection from the cold, I suppose, but the women in their gowns must have been freezing. I can only imagine that the excitement of her big day was the only thing keeping the bride in her backless gown from succumbing to hypothermia.

Thirty years from now, he will still remember how cold it was

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Chicago Auto Show

Even though we don’t drive, we went to the Chicago Auto Show, billed as the largest in the nation.

There were a lot of very shiny vehicles there.

I was hoping to see real-life examples of electric car technology, but Toyota seemed to be the only company giving any significant attention to electric cars. The overwhelming emphasis at the show was on gasoline powered trucks. Of course, American manufacturers don’t make regular cars anymore, having ceded that market to overseas. But even Nissan was focussed on their trucks, and didn’t have an single Altima or Maxima there.

On the other hand, if you wanted to drive a truck over a crazy steep hill, this was the place to be.

This was very popular. Perhaps because there are no hills in Chicago.

There were a number of sports cars that you could sit in, but of course you could not turn on the engine. I sat in a Dodge Hellcat.

It’s not that impressive as a parked car. I looked in the car’s performance statistics using the dashboard computer and saw that it had never gone faster than ninety miles an hour. What a waste.

The ads said that there would be classic cars from local car clubs on display, but alas, there were no club booths. Ford did bring an electrified F-100, which I thought was cool.

The most spectacular display, though, was not an automobile at all, but Subaru’s National Park display. Beautiful aerial images of western parks (Denali, Arches, Yosemite) displayed on a wraparound screen and an imaging floor. It even snowed on you! (Not exactly enchanting for Chicagoans.)

The nicest car to sit in was this Lincoln.

I’m not kidding. You could sit in this vehicle for a week. It made everything else at the show feel like a city bus.

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Aren’t you cold in Chicago?

If you knew me in college, when I lived in the land of ice and snow, you would have heard me complain about the weather. And how I was cold all the time.

Boston, 1975

And you would have heard me say (many, many times) that, when I graduated, I was going to move to a place where it didn’t snow and I would never, ever, ever come back north.

And I did so, living in Houston for many years, and enjoying Houston weather.

Yet here I am, living more or less happily in Chicago. How could this be? There are some reasons.

  • The northern winters are not as bad here as they used to be. Taken together, the string of winters ’77, ’78, and ’79 were the coldest and snowiest string this part of the country had seen in decades. Thanks to global warming, that record will likely stand for the next two or three hundred thousand years.
  • Winter wear is now available in tall sizes. When I was in college, this was not so. One certainly could not get boots in size 15; they just weren’t made. I trudged through the snow in Converse All-Stars: canvas basketball shoes with a thin rubber sole.
  • I don’t wear glasses outside anymore. So they aren’t fogged up all the time.
  • For now at least, it’s perfectly all right to wear a mask. A mask on your face can make it feel ten to fifteen degrees warmer. Of course, that doesn’t work if you wear glasses.
  • I’m retired. If it’s too damn cold or snowy, I just don’t go out.
  • My wife didn’t like hot weather anymore and wanted to move north.

However, I am still cold all the time.

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Happy New Year

The Lunar New Year parade in our neighborhood today.

Dragon People
China (PRC) Float

Sixty-fifth anniversary of the Bezazian branch of the Public Library. Bezazian was a WW II hero.

Wind chill was -15°C. Everyone had a good time. Although I imagine those drummers’ fingers were rather stiff by the end of the parade.

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I frequently ride the Chicago Transit Authority bus. The most common bus in our part of town is the sixty-foot 4000 series New Flyer. It bends in the middle.

I’ve always been impressed at how the drivers maneuver these big critters through traffic and around corners.

Recently, drivers were practicing parallel parking these buses on our street. I was very impressed.

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Xmas in the City

We went downtown this evening to see the lights. Billions and billions of little twinkly lights.

“I don’t remember all these lights when I was a little kid,” I told CVH.

“That’s because they didn’t have all these lights when you were little. They didn’t have little white lights back then. All they had were the big ones that didn’t work very well.”

“That would explain it.”

We saw the big blue tree down by The Bean.

We stopped at the Palmer House. It’s the 150th anniversary for the hotel (and the hotel burning to the ground in The Great Fire); they had a nice selection of historical ephemera and memorabilia on display. There were photos of celebrities who played the Empire Room, and menus from Trader Vic’s, where I ate once as a small kid. It was a fabulous place for a little kid; not sure why such kitschy excess appealed to adults.

The hotel had a nice tree, complete with “150th Anniversary” ornaments:

All this holiday folderol put me in a generous mood, and I took CVH over to one of her favorite restaurants, Russian Tea Time.

The piroshkies! The blinchikis! It’s delicious.

On the way home we saw more twinkly lights, and the horns on Macy’s.

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World Premiere!

Yes, there are still movie world premieres. We went to one tonight: Love, Charlie: The Rise and Fall of Chef Charlie Trotter

Charlie Trotter

This film is a sympathetic profile of a man who is usually portrayed as a rather unsympathetic person. A little heavy on documentary clichés, perhaps, but still entertaining and worthwhile.

Being a world premiere of a movie about a world famous chef, the audience was a Who’s Who of the Chicago haute cuisine crowd. Most were rather well-dressed; I was not, but I did look like I might be one of the film crew: plaid flannel shirt, blue jeans, Merrells. Grant Achatz sat in front of us.

Chef Grant is known for his creative dishes.

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Remembering Boca Chica

This afternoon, CVH told me that William Shatner had returned from his short space trip.

“Yes, I saw that in the news,” I replied.

“In Van Horn,” she said. “They could see the Guadalupe Mountains on the way down.”

“Everyone should see Van Horn at least once in their life. We had a good time there.” We had visited Van Horn when we went to the fiftieth anniversary of the UFO crash in Roswell.

“There wasn’t much there twenty-five years ago; I can’t imagine what it looks like now,” she added.

“Probably like Boca Chica,” I guessed. “A lot of highly paid rocket scientists walking around.

“I remember going on vacation in Boca Chica when I was little. The adults rented these beach things called ‘cabañas’, which were completely unadorned concrete block boxes with concrete shelves on the walls holding thin mattresses where you slept. I’m not even sure they had doors. There was a bathroom area in the back, and that was all.”

“After playing in the sand and waves all day, they would put us kids to bed and then go back out to…to…”

“Do God knows what.”

“Yes. We were right on the Mexican border. Heck, we might even have been on the Mexican side. I’m sure they were dirt cheap to rent. Uncle Willis probably hopped in the big Chrysler and got a bunch of cheap tequila.” I paused. “You know, the more I think about this, the better it sounds.”

“They knew how to live, Conrad. They knew how to live.”

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How old do I look, anyway?

I know I’m getting old, but it still surprises me how many other people notice this, too.

I passed a panhandler on the street this week, and he called out to me “Hey, Clint Eastwood!”

The grandkids called my wife for her birthday, and reassured her that “You’re not old. Grandpa’s old.”

This morning I walked up the stairs to the top of our building (twenty floors). I was waiting to take the elevator down (save the knees) when the roof inspectors came by.

“You live on twenty?” one asked.

“No, I just walk up the stairs for exercise,” I replied.

“Twenty floors?! You’re kidding!”

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The Worst Restaurant in Chicago

In the 1999 movie The Watcher, James Spader’s character, Campbell, lives not far from our house on Argyle Street. Every night Campbell walks across the street from his apartment and has dinner at Phở Xe Lửa.

One evening Campbell is having dinner with his colleague Hollis. Hollis is frustrated by the mechanics of eating a bowl of phở, and declares the venue “the worst restaurant in Chicago”. (Campbell counters that it’s a fine restaurant.)

We’d been by the restaurant many times since seeing the movie, but we never ate there. Tonight we decided to give it a try.

Alas, after twenty-two-plus years, the Health Department closed them down a few weeks ago.

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