Tuesday morning we got up in Grand Haven, ate a fruit breakfast, and hit the road to Chicago through Gary, Indiana. We got a later start than anticipated, but we gained an hour back as we reentered CST. Gary looked like a pretty smoggy industrial town as we drove through it, but we didn’t stop to investigate. We arrived in the Hyde Park neighborhood at about 11:30 and dropped our stuff in my friend Cecilia’s apartment. Her boyfriend Will was kind enough to come over and let us in, and Cecilia soon returned between work meetings. Her internship for a non-profit that helps other non-profits is running a contest where they talk to community centers and local organizations about their needs and then get online developers to write applications that can help meet those needs. So she gets to travel all over the city meeting people and building that bridge between people who understand a problem and people with tools that could help provide a solution. I think it’s super-cool work, and she loves it!
I should just say now that I was VERY excited to be back in Chicago, since I spent the whole summer of 2008 there (and loved it) but haven’t returned since. And getting to see some of my dearest friends there, including Cecilia, was pretty great too.
We went for lunch at the Medici, which is a very well-known UChicago spot that serves pizza, soups, salads, sandwiches, etc. There’s writing all over the walls and somewhat eclectic decor, which is fun. After lunch, we made the critical error of heading towards the Metra rather than the L to get into the city. The Metra is faster and more direct, but I didn’t realize how much less frequently it runs in the middle of the day, since I’d only ever taken it at commuter hours before. In the middle of the day, it turns out, they only run one train an hour! So 45 minutes later, we finally caught a ride into downtown Chicago. Once in the Loop, which boasts lots of cool architecture, we wandered down to the Harold Washington central library building and its gorgeous top-floor atrium. Then we walked down to the Sears Tower (now, as of 2009, the ‘Willis Tower’, but I can’t get used to that) and got a view of the city, though low-hanging clouds prevented us from seeing our across the lake.
The northern half of Chicago:
Once down from the tower, Bill got a text from his blockmate Shelley saying that she was free for a little while. She’s beginning Teach for America and is busy for the summer doing her training (‘Institute,’ where the new recruits teach kids in a summer school program) in Chicago. It doesn’t leave her with too much time, between teaching and lesson-planning and training, so Bill and Erin hopped the red line south to Bronzeville to meet up with her. They chatted with her for several hours, hearing her stories about the summer so far. Then they headed back towards the Hyde Park area, walked through Washington park, got dinner at a Thai place near the apartment, chatted with Cecilia’s roommate Mary Claire, and turned in for the evening.
I took the red line in the opposite direction, up north to the Loyola stop. It’s a good 35 minute ride, and until we passed Wrigley was packed with Cubs fans going to a night game. But much of the trip was aboveground, so I enjoyed looking out the window. At Loyola I met up with Cecilia and Sophie, another close friend of mine, both of whose work had brought them northward. Cecilia was having another of her meetings. Sophie actually works as a supervisor for SummerLinks, a UChicago program that places students (including Cecilia) in nonprofit summer internships around the city. Sophie, also a UChicago student, did the program two years ago, and now she helps run it, including lots of work on trainings for the participants. She also does internship site visits, which is what had brought her north. She’s been very involved in fantastic community-based work of all sorts over her four years in Chicago, and she says it’s really cool to get to know even more local organizations through these site visits.
I initially introduced Cecilia (whom I know from church activities) and Sophie (whom I know from high school), so I totally claim an undeserved amount of credit for the fact that they’re now friends. The three of us hopped on a bus and rode 15 minutes west to Devon, Chicago’s Indian district. There we met up with Reya, my friend from San Francisco (another friend from high school) who was visiting Sophie at the same time. Reya is interested in urban planning and loves buildings, so she’s spent much of her stay exploring Chicago’s various neighborhoods. She’d already scoped out Devon, so following her lead we popped into a huge Indian grocery store, where we spent an inordinate amount of time examining all the options in terms of snack mixes, curry powders, etc. It was lots of fun, and Sophie bought a large number of supplies! Next we wandered up and down the main street of Devon for a little while, contemplating all our restaurant options, before realizing we really weren’t hungry yet. So we sat down on a strip of grass on a side street and chatted. We also watched an adorable group of children walk past twice and debated whether a deafening sound above was being made by a bird or a cricket.
Candid of Cecilia, Reya, & Sophie in the grocery store:
Once our hunger picked up a bit, we chose a vegetarian South Indian restaurant (Reya eats North Indian food at home, and that’s also mostly what you get at a standard Indian restaurant in the US), where we shared a delicious feast and only spent $10 each. We wrapped up the night by meeting Noah, another friend of theirs, at an Uptown sports bar, where we all made conversation while Reya ignored us and watched her beloved Giants play the Dodgers. Then we took the red line to a bus back to Hyde Park and parted ways for the night.
I got up early the next morning to walk over to Sophie’s apartment, print out some Cubs e-tickets, and eat breakfast with her and Reya before Reya left for San Francisco. Then Bill and Erin and I headed for Pilsen, the heart of Chicago’s Mexican community. Wandering down 18th St, we admired the murals, read signs in Spanish, stopped in at a tortilla factory, and then had a delicious lunch at Nuevo Leon restaurant. I’d really wanted to show Bill and Erin a distinctive neighborhood in Chicago, since the city is really a patchwork of such communities, so I was happy we’d made it to Pilsen.
Murals of Pilsen:
The tortilla factory:
After Pilsen, we took the L (short for ‘elevated train’) back into the Loop and switched to the red line, where we met Daniel on the platform. Dan is a fellow Harvard student whom Bill and I both know from freshman year, since he was in my entryway and Bill’s math class. He’s working in Chicago this summer, but he managed to get off long enough to join us for a daytime Cubs game!
Wrigley was great…we were surprised at how full the park was, given the daytime hour and the excessive heat warning posted for the day. And we were pleased to discover that our tickets, purchased on StubHub for $30 each, were really quite good! And, crucially, under the shady overhang. The houses surrounding Wrigley in the outfield all have makeshift bleachers atop them, a sight I find quite funny, but they were all pretty empty for this game, since the sun was beating down on them.
The game itself was a rout. The Phillies, Bill’s team, beat the Cubs 9 to 1. Nothing unexpected, since the Cubs are terrible this year and the Phillies are atop the league, but there really wasn’t much for me (rooting for the home team, of course) to cheer for. Dan at least was great company. And the Phillies pitcher, Worley, had a no-hitter going into the 4th, so that was exciting.
After the game, Dan headed back to work and we walked down to the Pick-Me-Up Cafe, recommended by Sophie and Cecilia. Originally we were only going to get shakes — delicious, and they have vegan ones too — but after looking at the menu we decided to eat an early dinner.
Post dinner, we caught the red line again (definitely our go-to this trip) and got off in time to walk up to N Michigan Ave and see the historic water tower, the one building that survived the Great Chicago Fire. We bused down the ‘Magnificent Mile’, getting off in time to see the Tribune Tower and walk across the bridge down to Millennium Park. It’s a park that was pretty central to the downtown redevelopment, with lots of public art. We checked out ‘the Bean’, a sculpture officially titled ‘Cloud Gate’ that some people think is silly but has become an iconic Chicago landmark.
Also in Millennium Park is the Pritzker Pavilion, a large outdoor concert venue that hosts free music performances throughout the summer. Many other folks had come out with elaborate picnics, but we just grabbed a spot of grass and sat down. We were joined by Bill’s friend Liana, also our class at Harvard, and settled in to hear the Grant Park Orchestra play a symphony by Schumann, Le Tombeau de Couperin by Ravel, and a short piece by a contemporary composer. When the music had finished it was dusk, and we went with Liana to see the Faces, a neat (if somewhat creepy) public art/fountain combination also in the park, before taking the train back to Hyde Park.
I love the crazy (acoustically-designed!) shape of the pavilion:
We’d had a long, hot day, so Bill and Erin were ready to sleep. I headed back out to join my friends, who were jumping in the lake. Alas, the park closed and they got kicked out before I got there, so we headed back to Sophie’s building, where we dangled our feet in a large courtyard fountain. Cecilia headed home and I stayed over at Sophie’s, where we chatted late into the night until we dozed off.
We made our way to Cecilia’s in the morning by way of the bakery-cafe where Sophie used to work. Picked up fresh-baked French bread, some fruit, and our respective caffeine sources. When we arrived, Cecilia had already started making pancakes, so we cut up the fruit and sat down to a big group breakfast — me, Erin, Bill, Sophie, Cecilia, and Mary Claire. The food was delicious, and it was great to share a meal before they all headed to work and we headed to Ann Arbor!