Monday, March 14, 2011

Chicago 2011, Day 2: Let Us Go Then, You and I

WEDNESDAY, DAY 2

Robin and Sarah were on a time table, thus at 9:05 they were both sliding out the door to meet fellow conference-goers in the lobby. They were, both of them, dressed nicely and looking shiny as new pennies.

I, on the other hand, who had no real schedule to keep for the day, took my time getting my morning started. A leisurely shower and two mugs of tea later, I shrugged on my long gray coat, flipped up the hood, and stalked off into the thick Chicago fog.

Navy Pier

As Wednesday’s weather seemed unlikely to cooperate for outdoor sightseeing, I contented myself with spending most of the day at the Field Museum of Natural History.

Chicago Field Museum

After saying hello to T-rex skeleton ("Sue") just inside the entrance, I ambled through the rambling exhibits, enjoying the design of the fine old building just as much as the exhibits themselves.

Chicago Field Museum

Chicago Field Museum

Brilliance

The featured exhibit on horses, which would have had my sister enthralled, was less interesting to me than it would have been to her; nevertheless, I took these pictures and sent them to her in further effort to make her wild with envy.

It worked.

My intention had been to hit the Art Institute of Chicago next, but I had learned from experience what happens when one visits more than one museum per day: the brain begins to suffer from Museum Overload and partially shuts down. To circumvent this, I decided to keep the art gallery for the next day, contenting myself with lunch at a Corner Street Bakery (where my dream of soup-in-a-bread-bowl finally came true!), a walk down Roosevelt, and a trip on the El to the financial district. It was there that I viewed the facade and lobby of the Rookery, a 19th century survivor of the Chicago fire, redesigned by Frank Lloyd Wright.

The Rookery

Realizing that the Rookery was within close proximity to where I planned to meet my friends James and Wendy later in the afternoon, I wondered absently if James had the Rookery on the evening agenda, and if I should have saved it for later... but in the end, it turned out to be all for the best, since our plans changed at the last minute anyway.

Although I hadn’t really done much walking on the cold, blustery streets, I found myself chilled to the bone. My (insulation-impaired) Florida clothing--combined with my delicate, warmblooded wimpishness--had really taken its toll on my skinny bones. I decided that a quick bus ride back to the hotel and a huddle under the thick duvet sounded like the perfect way to refresh and recover before Round 2 of Wednesday’s sightseeing plans.

The original plan for the evening had been to meet James and his lovely wife Wendy at the Sears (Willis) Tower to watch the sunset from the observation deck. James had been excited about this plan, because like a true native of any oft-visited city, he had as yet to hit this tourist landmark. This plan had to be scrapped, of course, as the fog choking the city would have made such a trip extremely unproductive. Instead, we met at the Chicago Cultural Center to view the Vivian Maier photography exhibit.

Chicago Cultural Center

From there, we hopped in a cab and headed across the river to have dinner in the near north side at a little place called Frontera Grill. So what if the wait for a table was long when there were books to be discussed and travel adventures to rehash! While James went jogging around the downtown area, Wendy and I settled down in two comfortable chairs for a nice heart-to-heart about books. Finished with his evening exercise, James returned to the lobby of Frontera Grill to keep us company while we waited.

In case you've been living under a rock somewhere and are unaware of how things work, a long wait for a table generally indicates excellent food, and this was no exception. We dined on fancy Mexican food, chatted about everything but politics, and spent a leisurely time enjoying the brisk atmosphere of the popular (surprisingly crowded for a Wednesday night) restaurant.

Of course, as one would expect, there were a few awkward moments, such as 1) when James intimated that our mutual friends had led him to believe that I was insane, or 2) any of the various times our waiter was talking to us and we were all nodding and smiling vacantly while pretending to be able to understand and hear him. (Although that second one might just have been me.)

In no time at all, the evening wound itself to a close. In true Ruthette fashion, I found myself taking my rather abrupt leave, abandoning James and Wendy on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, leaving them both to bask in the fading glory of having been in my presence.1 As my hosts for the evening, being the thoughtful souls that they are, had chosen a dinner location within easy walking distance from the hotel, all it took was for me to orient myself along the space/time continuum and quick-walk through the crisp, chilly air back to the hotel.

NOTE: At no point in this trip did I manage to take any pictures (jumping or otherwise) with any of the kind folks with whom I had so much fun meeting up, hanging out, and seeing the city. Various theories as to how/why this happened abound, however, I will admit right now that this is one of my great regrets from the trip.

See more pictures from the trip HERE.
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1 - I do apologize for anyone who has ever experienced one of these. My admittedly abrupt personality--combined with the after-effects of a year spent in China, where social functions often end by a guest saying, "I will go," and leaving instantaneously--can have a startling effect, I am told.

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