Saturday, July 11, 2009


“Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the big shoulders.”

--From the poem, “Chicago,” by Carl Sandburg

CHICAGO - Chicago may not be the brawling, mafia capital of Carl Sandburg’s youth and middle age, but it’s not hard to stumble into excitement there.

We were sitting on Chicago’s “L” train – the part that goes underground – when the boy across the aisle pulled a snake out of his backpack.

An off-duty transit cop thought it was funny. The rest of car quietly emptied. Not wanting to look wimpy, my son and I held our ground and smiled. After all, we’d just survived another Cubs loss at Wrigley Field, preceded by a free Kenny Rogers concert.

Snakes are actually hard to come by in Chicago. Food, not reptiles, is what makes the city. This is where deep dish pizza was invented, and don’t get in the middle of the fight over who was first. Go to Uno, Gino’s, Lou Malnati’s, Giordano’s, or any of 2,000 pizzerias in town and just enjoy.

Better yet, take in a late-night supper at a basement blues club or dine at Navy Pier with a view of the lakefront and skyline, followed by a nightcap 96 floors up in the Hancock Building’s Signature Lounge.

Between meals, sit in on an Oprah taping. Walk the Magnificent Mile (shopping!). Hang out at the Buckingham Fountain. Go sailing on Lake Michigan. Wherever you are, look up! The home of Frank Lloyd Wright, Chicago has many beautiful downtown buildings – take a tour guided by the Chicago Architecture Foundation.

On an anniversary trip, Kathleen and I hung out with Oprah (watched a taping), caught a Melissa Etheridge concert, overdosed on art galleries, spent a half-day at the aquarium, ate sushi and pizza and steak and heaven knows what else. Mostly, we walked out of our hotel just off of Michigan Avenue and went somewhere in River North, one of Chicago's great neighborhoods.

I attended my first major league baseball game at the old Comiskey Park in 1966 and saw Roger Maris hit one out. The new Comiskey, still on the South Side, is nicer but has less personality. Wrigley Field, of course, has enough personality for both ball parks.

Museums are inexpensive and plentiful, from the Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium to the Art Institute of Chicago and the justifiably famous Museum of Science and Industry. For those who have seen the movie version of the musical, “Chicago,” there is, indeed a Chicago Theater.

Chicago also is the original home of The Second City, where comedians from John Belushi to Mike Myers got their start. The theater offers nightly comedy shows. Before the show, have a “cheezborger” and chips at the Billy Goat Tavern, made famous by Belushi on Saturday Night Live.

For a truly unique experience, travel to and from Chicago on Amtrak (watch “Silver Streak” on DVD before you go). Yes, it’s more expensive than flying (if you book a sleeper), it takes forever to get there (a day and half from Salt Lake City), the train never runs on time and it can start feeling a little cramped. But the food on the train is terrific, the service is excellent and you’ll be forced to just sit back and relax. Union Station is right downtown, not 20 miles away like O’Hare.

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