Saturday, February 16, 2013

How to: Visit Chicago Like a Chicagoan

Some friends posted this on FaceBook recently. It's long and contains a lot of profanity (which I have edited out) Some of the stuff is factual but a lot is just BS.

Since moving out of Chicago, I’m asked about every three months for advice about visiting Chicago: what to do, where to stay, what to eat, and so on. I’ve come to realize in these conversations that either (a) I’m a complete slug of a person or (b) everyone assumes I spent twenty-eight years in Chicago living as a tourist. While (a) is probably true, this article is about (b). People will ask me about a restaurant like Charlie Trotter’s or what I think about the Drake Hotel, and I have to remind people that I was living in Chicago on $40k a year. I make more now ($41k!) and I still don’t stay at the Drake when I fly back home. I guess I just know a bunch of obnoxious WASPs, but I don’t think you learn anything about Chicago by trying to hang around Streeterville and Gold Coast for a long weekend. So below I’m going to compile my true honest-to-god suggestions for visiting Chicago.
Where do I fly into? I don’t care. They’re both about the same distance from where you’re going to stay. Yes, I know where you’re going to stay.
How much is a cab from the airport? Will the cab driver rip me off? 
1. If you take a cab from the airport to downtown you’re a coward. Get on the El. Smell public transportation, you baby.
2. Yes, a cab driver will at some point rip you off. You’re a guest in the city, and you should be happy to overpay our cabbies.
OK, so I’m staying at the Drake…
Hahahahahhahahaha and you’re worried about getting ripped off by a cabbie? .
Stay at the Tremont. It’s $90 a night, two blocks from the Drake, and nobody worth a dime gives a xxxx that you roomed where some princess or Oprah or whoever stayed. You didn’t get treated like them anyway.
OK, I’m checked in. Now what do I do?
OK, so here are the things I think I would list as cool things to do in Chicago. No particular order:
1) River tour. If it’s warm out, a historical/architecture tour of Chicago is rad for both tourists and locals. Aside from a nice, breezy trip on the not overly smelly river, architectural tours in Chicago actually have significance. This isn’t your chumpsville city where you paid a bunch of dipxxxxs a cool million to design a glass xxxxx in the center of your three-block downtown. Buildings in Chicago actually mean something to the history of  the city, and you’ll learn something about the meat packing industry, health and sanitation, immigrant migration, and other cool stuff that you probably won’t appreciate because you’re a xxxxxxx uneducated hick.
2) Art Institute. Chicago museums are in general the types of museums you have to commit a day to, and I think the Art Institute probably does that experience the best. If you can figure out a way to get tickets in advance it will save you twenty minutes in a line. The “doll-houses” are downstairs, and you can skip the African and Asian art and go through the Greek/Roman section and hit up the American classics. That will kill two hours at least, more likely three. You’ve seen about 20 percent of the museum. Also please consider reading things about the art. Art has meaning kinda!
3) Get someone over the age of fifty to drive you to Pullman Town. I was lucky enough to tag along one weekend when my dad took a friend of his on a tour of the South Side. See, despite what thirty-something yuppies in Chicago think, the South Side actually wasn’t always just for black people! You should swing through Bridgeport, over to Bronzeville, down to Hyde Park, through Washington Park to Englewood, and then on to Pullman. Ideally this person giving the tour is Jewish, but I don’t have high hopes for you. Pullman is itself an interesting historic landmark, and there’s a nice little museum.
4) Cubs game. As a Sox fan, it makes me barf to say this, but you’ll get better photos and it’s more interesting to walk around Clark and Addison even though it’s just a bunch of frat guys.
That should eat up your weekend.
OK, but what I was thinking of doing…
1) Shopping on the Mag Mile. Ahahhahahahahahahah you xxxxxxx xxxxxxx. You don’t have an outlet store in your state? Believe me, I want your money flowing through the coffers of the city of Chicago as much as anyone.
2) Going up the Hancock/Sears Tower. Wow, you went up high. You were higher up when you flew in. Also, you’re going to spend too much on a drink in the Signature Room while sitting next to some screaming kid.
3) Seeing a show. Yeah, you aren’t going to see anything interesting, you’re going to see some musical prepping for Broadway or back touring. Wait for it to come to your state, maybe? You could go to iO or a million other great improv troupes or small theaters, but risking being in a theater where you might have to have a thought about what you just saw is likely for you pretty scary.
4) See the Bean without a local. Seeing “The Sky Bridge” seems like such a great idea too, right?! Millennium Park is like a park but without all that history and gravitas that real Chicago parks have. If you don’t have a fat half-Italian bitching about Daley as you try to take your stupid reflection shot, you’re incapable of raising children right. Ponder that.
5) The Taste.

OK, now here’s where we get serious.
Eating like a Chicagoan means understanding you can get good to great food anywhere.
Chicago-Style Pizza
Yeah I know you went to Gino’s East or Giordano’s or whatever. You did it wrong. First off, you ate at the restaurant. Second, you were probably mostly sober. In no way is that how you approach eating a Chicago-style pizza.
1) Go out to a dive bar on the north side (anything west of Southport and north of Belmont will count, ) and begin drinking. If they have PBR you should have at least two. Same with Schlitz. If you want to do the beer snob thing, you’re welcome to it. Same with scotch. No wine. Vodka is OK.
2) Keep drinking.
3) Begin talking to locals. They will be the interesting people around you.
4) Become best friends with locals. It should be about 10:30 by now.
5) Keep drinking. Decide if you are going to try to sleep with any of these people.
6) At 12:30, begin talking about how you’re hungry. This will be true as you have not eaten.
7) Convince your new friends to take you to their apartment. It will look like this most likely:

Hello, I am a two-flat.
8) Order a deep dish from Chicago’s Pizza.
9) Fifty minutes later, make a major ordeal about how you are going to pay this delivery guy.
10) Eat a slice of the pizza that you have somehow paid for.
11) Fall asleep on couch, not having sex with locals.
12) Wake up four hours later. At this point the pizza should be sitting on the coffee table across from you. The cheese has congealed and the sauce gone cold. Think to yourself “There is a block of cheese inside of me. It has to get out…right?” Ponder your life failures as you sneak out of this person’s apartment and try to find a cab/el stop.

This is a picture of failure.
Chicago Meat
Oh you want to go to a steakhouse? Ohhhhhhh hmmmmmm yeah no. Half the places out there are chains, and you aren’t mafia enough to pull off being in the ones that aren’t. Chicago meat to you can be summed up as HogDogGyroItalianBeefSausageBurger. Also ribs.
The shortcut to all your Chicago meat needs is Portillo’s. I know what you’re thinking: did this guy who can’t stop being a xxxxx to me just tell me to go to a chain? First off, it’s no chain you ever heard. Second, go ask around about Portillo’s and see what kind of reaction you get. Portillo’s is like the only popular thing Chicagoans like that’s not named Derrick Rose.
But, if you want to live it real, avoid Portillo’s and find your own hole in the wall. To do this, first you look for a sign.

Despite never being there, I know this is a reputable establishment.
Your keys to spotting this place are:
1) Vienna Beef logo on their hanging sign
2) Their name includes one or more of the following
a. Chicago
b. Windy City
c. Beef
d. Dog
e. Gyros
f. The name of the street you’re on
g. The name of a street you’re not on
h. Any ethnic sounding name followed by an “ ‘s ”
3) Their staff appears to all be related or from the same ethnicity
4) They have any of the following
a. Signed pictures of the old mayor
b. Railroad paraphernalia
c. A picture of a giant hotdog, possibly floating in Lake Michigan
d. A menu hanging above the counter that appears to have ~50 items
e. An elderly lady working the cash register
You should expect to eat here a few times. You will want to try a hot dog (plain), another hot dog (everything), Italian beef (hot peppers), Italian sausage (peppers), gyros (everything, pronounce it “euros” or someone will slap you in a just world).
Chicago Ethnic Food
Chicago is good at ethnicities and racism. It’s a good mix, as it means you end up with very particular neighborhoods and streets (ghettos?) to experience unique foods. Here in Texas, I’m not sure if most people can tell the difference between an African American and a Latino, but in Chicago my old barber (Uncle Joe!) once gave me a lecture on exactly when the neighborhood went to hell: when the Irish moved in.
So while in Chicago, you should at least try to get someplace weird. While I think Andersonville and Rogers Park are two great places to do it, I’m going to send you to Uptown. Uptown works for three reasons. First, it’s accessible, right off the Red Line. Second, it has an energetic corner at Lawrence and Broadway. Third, the Green Mill is there. And fourth, there’s a rad Ethiopian place called Demera. If you’ve never had Ethiopian food before, I expect you to go. Do not google anything. Do not be a coward. Do what they do and stop crying. If you’re lucky, you’ll also get to see a guy perform guitar there and drink some honey wine. Once you’re done, go across the street to the Green Mill. Pay the cover. Listen to whatever weird experimental Swedish jazz band has flown in to play there and just there. Shut your gaping mouth and just try to appreciate what is happening. Please. Try.
I get it. A pun.
OK, so this should get you through your weekend in Chicago such that I will give a xxxx about what you did there. Other things to consider may be:
  • getting into a fight with a homeless man at an el stop
  • having a terrible opinion about sports and sharing it with everyone
  • being involved in a gun crime
  • eating a plate of fries at Clarke’s and wondering how unsanitary the kitchen is
  • going to a Polish buffet on the far northwest side and getting threatened by a three-hundred-pound man in sweatpants
  • freezing your xxxxs off
  • becoming a fan of Rod Blagojevich
  • bitching about Oprah
  • growing a mustache

My reply!
Right off I want to say that Chicago is one of the greatest places to live or visit.
This guy knows a little and doesn't know much. If possible get someone who lives there to show you around. Or, stop at the Cultural Center, downtown and gather up information on places and things that interest you. There's bound to be something that rings your bell. See the neighborhoods (this is best done with someone from that neighborhood)  Do as many of the museums as possible/. Here again pick the ones that interest you most. They're all different. Do Michigan Avenue. It's one of the most beautiful streets in the world. Go from the Art Institute north to the Drake Hotel (Oak Street) Drive on Lakeshore Drive (I prefer going North) Stop in Lincoln Park and visit the zoo. One of the oldest zoos in America. And! It's free. If you dig steak, Chicago's the place to sink your teeth in some of the finest anywhere. There are great steak houses with no chains attached. The Chup House, Gene and Gorgettis, Mortons and on and on (again a local can point out their favorite) For pizza (Chicago style) you can't miss by hitting one of the "Big Three" Uno's (and its sister a block away, Due) Gino's East and Lou Malnati's. It's hard to go a block in any neighborhood without running into a pizza joint. And, usually, they're all good. Once again check with someone from that neighborhood. Italian beef sandwiches are a true Chicago favorite. Portillo's is really good as is Bueno's but for the absolute beef experience go to Al's or Mr. Beef. Anywhere with a sign saying Scala's beef is bound to be right up there with the best. If ethnic food's your thing, hit the ethnic areas. Chinatown, Greek town, Little Italy, Anderson villa (Scandinavian) and many more. Anything you think you want to try is available. Just ask! There a taste-town for every taste. Just a short note on entertainment. It's there! There are possibly more live theatrical productions in Chicago than anywhere in the US. I could go on and on but this is already way too long. If there are any questions I can answer or suggestions I can give you, give a yell!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Ahhhhhh! The Sweet Smell of . . . Chocolate!

One of the things that I really miss about Chicago or rather my early years in Chicago is being greeted, on my stop and go morning commute into downtown, by the sweet scent of chocolate. At that time Chicago was the mecca of candy making, especially chocolate candy.  In my last blog I ranted and raved about my favorite food, Italian Beef Sangwiches, but when I'm not eating (or yearning for) them my other food love takes over. The love of chocolate, and lots of it. Typically on our recent trip I would grab a chocolate snack whenever possible although I have had this thing lately for . . . CELERY? (But that's an entirely different story to be told at a later date.) An account of a few highlights of our recent trip can be found in my This Made Me Laugh blog so there's no need to go into that here. Except during our way home, after dashing through three or four states (at the speed limit of course) and the periodic pits stops necessitated by my daily dose of diuretics, my sixth, seventh or eighth sense started acting up. Something was in the air or at least in the area. Then, there lurking among the many signs strewn across the sea of strewn signs arose a sign from God himself . . .

Not since a similar situation in a remote part of Kansas (most of Kansas is remote) have I seen such a welcome sign. (Although a few Rest Stop signs were really welcome as well). A quick cut across traffic lanes and up the exit ramp, a sharp left turn and there it stood. Chocolate Paradise at discount prices!

 A fast check the amount of space available in the Sebring and then into the Willy Wonkaish Wonderland.

Rows and rows, piles upon piles of boxes and bags, Easter eggs and Bunnies now out of date, even Valentine heart-shaped boxes, all beckoning to me. There was even a convenient washroom in the rear of the store I wouldn't be distracted by other urges. After calculating available space in the car, which packages allowed easy entry while driving and least potential of melting anywhere other than in a appropriately eager mouth, carts were filled, credit card swiped and two (one really) happy travelers were once again on their way. I could tell you more about the rest of the trip but my Mom always said not to talk with your mouth full . . . of chocolate!

There real find of the day were these little boxes of four candies, sold individually, but easier to carry if purchased by the case. They would have made great gifts to friends and neighbors but on the way home we were accosted by a vicious pack of Keebler Elves who threatened lock us in a hollow tree trunk unless we handed over all the candy. My intention was honorable but how do you reason with fudge covered elves.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


Life in Fennimore is good. Really comfortable, quiet and laid back. Although I must admit that time to time I miss the hustle and bustle of Chicago. In general, most of the "things" of Chicago are available in one form or another (without the hustle and bustle). Except . . . Italian Beef Sangwitches. As much as I have tried to find one of these juicy bundles of zesty beef I almost always come up disappointed. Of course being in Wisconsin, it is insisted that the sandwich is covered with mozzarella (I guess that is Wisconsin for Italian) Even places that come close beefwise usually completely miss on the bread which is an integral part of the unit. I could go on for paragraphs praising the "Joy of Beef" but I found this article that tells the story better than I can. If this whets your curiosity (and appetite) I'm always available for a road trip for a "sangwitch". Both my son (Derek) and I have tried various recipes and come fairly close but still not quite there. There is a Lukes restaurant on the outskirts of Elkhorn Wis. (near Lake Geneva) where, I think, they serve Scalas beef and import Gonnella bread. And I have recently found a place in Galena (with a branch in Dubuque) that has Italian Beef Sandwiches on their menu. I plan to give them a try . . . soon! Here's the whole story including a recipe that I'm going to try as soon as I can find acceptable bread.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Bye, Bye Bike Place

Usually around this time of year we are reminded of the passings of memorable people, places and events. Many of the deaths were given mucho news space. We had the likes of Harry Morgan, Joe Frazier, good old Kim Jong-il, inquisitive Andy Rooney, visionary, Steve Jobs, even the creator of Doritos, Arch West, Spiderman's uncle, Cliff Robertson, giant sized Police Academy graduate, Bubba Smith, two sides of the alcohol scene, Betty Ford and Amy Winehouse, "Just one more thing" Peter "Columbo" Falk, "Mister Mirth" Jack Kevorkian, "Macho Man” Randy Savage. Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew, "Our Gang" child star Jackie Cooper, diamonds best friend, Liz Taylor, beauties like "The Outlaw" Jane Russell and Anne Francis (Honey West), Fitness guru, Jack LaLanne and every body's favorite terrorist, Osama Bin Laden. Sport celebrities disappeared from the spotlight while others retired to rehab or jail time. All of these events received more than their fair share of notoriety and in some cases, rightly so. But, this past year a piece of Wisconsin hystory has quietly disappeared from our midst unnoticed. During my many backroad journeys I have tried to document unusual and significant landmarks and hystorical oddities. One such place is (or was) "The Goofy Bike Graveyard". Interestingly this little piece of Americana happens to be on the same road as a number of other "oddities". One of which recently "made me laugh" on my other blog, I've passed this spot many times and even stopped and photographed it planning on doing a "Wisconsin Hystorical Site" story about it. I never did get around to writing that story and now . . . alas! It's gone. I don't really know the whats, whys and hows of the place but my best guess is . . . once upon a time in a land far away. (sorry wrong story) to continue, my guess is that on a dark and deary night many years ago a lone rider cruised along highway 133 hoping to find shelter from the harsh Wisconsin winter. As the weather worsened the visibility became, well you just could see anything. (although along this stretch of road there's nothing to see anyway) In short, he missed a slight curve in the road and slammed into a scrawny barbed wire fence. The impact knocked his helmet clean off his head and deposited it right on top of one of the fence posts. He flew in another direction while his bike came to rest along the fence line. In short time the night creatures dragged off and devoured his remains but the remains of the bike and helmet remained. (I think that's my record use of "remain)" For some strange reason this incident reoccurred many more times through the years. Witnesses say that the headlights of the "fence" bikes still glow a reassuring lure to unsuspecting riders. (Kinda like the Lorelei's of Blue River) Each time the helmet nestles upon a post as if placed there by some leather clad spectre and the bike finds a final resting place on the fence line. It's said that on a quiet night you can still hear the lowly growl of a Harley grumbling through the the darkness. The yard which is guarded by the ghostly troop is filled with such an assortment of wierdities that I haven't even come close to making up (I mean finding) the meaning. I'm sure it had some sort of ritualistic significance but it beats me. Now, the sad ending to this tale of wonder. It's gone! Everything is gone! Not an eerie trace. If I hadn't taken photos you would never have believed that such a place ever existed. Honest it was really there and I have pictures to prove. (I also know at least two other people that saw the place in its glory days - right Hollister?)

Maybe the cows in the background can explain this. I can't.

May best guess . . . some sort of totem?

Black Flag! Quick pass the Black Flag!

The wonders just go on and on.
A snowmachine and some sort of half ATV, half John Boat???

My guess is that this guy was only going "Half Fast"!

The canon must be for warding off those big bugs.

It had to start somewhere. (Note the blocks on the pedals.
Must have been a little guy)

This could be the bike Arte Johnson rode on "Laugh In".

(for those of you old enough to remember "Laugh In".)

The only more ominous than the bikes and helmets
were all the black caldrons everywhere.

The "Bike Yard" today! (Actually yesterday)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


On one of my recent jaunts to Dodgeville I noticed a rather large bird perched atop one of the utility poles. (We used to call them telephone poles but, that's not necessarily true anymore.) As I got closer I still couldn't make out exactly what it was and being on a errand of mercy I didn't want to take time to stop and check it out. Suprisingly, on my way home, about an hour or so later, I noticed that the creature was still sitting up on it's lofty perch. Now I had time . . . and a camera. I pulled onto the shoulder across from it and just started shooting, The lighting conditions were so poor that even with my zoom lens I couldn't clearly make out exactly what it was that I was photographing. It wasn't until I got home and dumped my pictures into iPhoto that I realized that I had run upon a wayward Snowy Owl. With a little computer magic I was able to extract a suitable image or two. A few days later our newspaper ran an article about these owls being spotted in our area. Seems that the Lemming supply in the far north is low and they're looking to Wisconsin for vitals. (Not sure if they're into fishfrys) At any rate, about a hundred have been seen which, I guess, makes me one of the lucky few who got to see one up close. This just adds another thing on my list of stuff to watch for as I roam the back roads of the area. I've taken a couple of trips up along The Mississippi to check out the migrating Tundra Swans and have observed quite a few Bald Eagles on those rides. (I counted forty-one on the last trip) And, I'm always on the lookout for deer but, now another critter not native to the area has been spotted. Quite a few people (most of them sober) have seen Black Bears stomping around down here well south of where they normally stomp. This, along with several sightings of Pumas, kinda makes wildlife watching a little more adventurous than normal.

Here's our fine feathered friend on a lookout for a lemming lunch.

Some Tundras working on their more vegetarian diet.

About a half mile closer than I want to be when I spot one of these guys!