Civilization at Last (Chicago)

Trip Start Sep 07, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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What I did
Willis Tower

Flag of United States  , Illinois
Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Chicago was the first large city we've run across on the trip, and I was excited to visit and check out its features -- although I was initially alone in feeling that way. Kat had no interest in going into big cities, and Wren was indifferent. But after our visit, I can safely say that we all had fun.

The campground we stayed at had a small lake stocked with all kinds of fish, as well as paddleboats and some games, like an air hockey table. We had some paddleboat races (which I won - LOL) and some epic air hockey battles. We stayed in Southeast Chicago for 5 nights, and we spent three full days at the campground, relaxing and getting some work done, while the other two days were spent sightseeing.

First on my agenda for the Windy City was seeing Wrigley Field. If you're a baseball fan, visiting Wrigley and Fenway should be on your bucket list, and they were on mine. I took a guided tour of Wrigley, and really enjoyed seeing the park and hearing stories of its somewhat colorful past.

If you're not a baseball fan, you likely don't know that Wrigley Field has a brick wall for its outfield wall, covered with a thin veil of ivy. The brick wall was chosen to make the park's aesthetic fit better with the neighborhood. Most ballparks have a padded wooden wall. Because of this brick wall, you won't see any outfielders willingly climbing or crashing into the wall to get fly balls. It's a brick wall, so all that would get them is a broken bone or two!

In the outfield at Wrigley are some famous bleachers, mostly famous for the "bleacher bums". You see, back when the bleachers were first added, in the 1930s, seats were 25 cents, and all games at Wrigley were day games back then, so anyone sitting at the ballpark in the middle of the workday had to be a bum, right? One of the great stories we heard was regarding the outfield area, before there was any wall...they used to have a rope as a marker, and the bums would move the rope up/down or several feet in/out, depending on whether the home team was batting or the visitors, thus making home runs easier to hit for the home team.

Needless to say, the visiting teams didn't appreciate that, so a wall was built...a wooden wall with a flat top. This led to a spontaneous sport where a woman would stand at the center of the outfield wall, offering a free beer. Two guys on either end of the outfield would race/balance along the outfield wall -- whichever guy got to her first got the free beer. Of course, with mucho haste and beer involved, eventually people started falling the 11 feet off the wall down to the field, sometimes breaking bones, etc. This led to a permanent brick wall with an angled cap on top to prevent balancing/walking, as well as a 'people catcher', which is an angled chain link fence that sprouts off the top of the wall, pointed inward. Real buzz kill, Wrigley.

Another thing that's unique about Wrigley (but only about 10 years old) is the existence of rooftop bleachers outside the park, on top of neighboring apartment buildings. It all started when the Cubs were in the playoffs in 2003 and a few ambitious (and thrifty) fans discovered that they could see the games from their apartment rooftops. Eventually, crowds of people were on top of these rooftops, and of course, some companies saw this as an opportunity to make money, and offered the owners of the buildings up to a million dollars each for leasing rights to their rooftops. They quickly installed bleachers and started selling tickets and selling food/drink.

The Cubs were not happy about this, naturally, so they installed some "wind screens", which just happened to be 30 feet tall and opaque green. These screens naturally killed the view from the rooftop bleachers. After some court battles, Wrigley agreed to let the rooftop bleachers operate in exchange for 17% of the proceeds from ticket sales, as well as food and beverage sales. If you want one of those seats today, expect to pay up to or over $100 - though that does include food/drinks.

I also thought a lot during the tour about the Steve Bartman incident. If you don't know what I'm referring to, it was an incident where a lifelong Cubs fan unintentionally interfered with an arguably catchable foul ball, denying Moises Alou and the Cubs an important out. The scapegoat parade occurred thereafter, where 40,000 usually friendly Cubs fans turned on this poor guy, some threatening to actually kill him. If you want to learn more about this, check out this documentary, which is on Netflix:

All in all, I came out of the tour of Wrigley with a great deal more knowledge of the park and a confirmation that this is a special, historic place indeed for all baseball fans, not just Cubs fans.

One of our other goals in Chicago was to try some Chicago deep dish pizza. We tried two places that were highly touted: Pequod's and Giordano's. Pequod's was a little too crusty for me...I wanted more sauce and toppings, although I did like the carmelized (burnt) cheese crust around the top. Giordano's was better overall, but still mostly cheese with a little sauce, not enough flavor for me. I guess Seattle's Atlantic Street Pizza has spoiled me for all other pizzas, as I've never found anything nearly as good anywhere else.

Our last day in Chicago was a lot of fun. It started off with a trip to the Skydeck at Willis Tower (formerly known as Sears Tower), the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. The views and pictures were amazing from up there, and they've added a couple of glass-bottomed sky boxes that you can step out onto, to look straight down 1350 feet to the street below. Freaky but fun. This was Kat's favorite part of our Chicago time. But it took a lot of cajoling to get Wren into the sky box for a picture.

We ended our Chicago experience by hanging out at Grant Park, watching the sunset, admiring the fountain, and getting some great pictures of downtown.

I have to admit that I fell in a little bit of love with Chicago. Wrigley, The "L", the brownstones in
the North end, the river flowing through downtown, the cool downtown parks...if it weren't for the long, cold winters, I'd probably seriously think about moving there.

Stay tuned for our next blog, where you'll hear about Cleveland and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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