Thursday, October 18, 2007

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: Part Two

I started writing the next installment of our trip and ended up losing it by not saving. So I’m a little behind sharing about our Midwest adventures.

The rest of our time in Chicago was quite fun. We spent Tuesday morning at the Art Institute. Josh has been there many times, but it was my first and I could have spent a week there. We used most of our time viewing Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings, and their collection is truly amazing. I always enjoy the benefit of having an art major as my personal tour guide.

We met up with Ben, another college friend of Josh’s along with a friend of his, and took off walking North through downtown. We ate at the famous Billy Goat Tavern (“Hamborger, hamborger, hamborger! No fries, chips! No Pepsi, Coke!”) which is home to the legend of the Cubs’ curse and which is frequented by journalists from the nearby Chicago Tribune. It also boasts being the lowest restaurant in town, located downstairs under the streets and buildings above. We went from lunch at the lowest restaurant to an afternoon snack and drink at the highest restaurant – the Signature Lounge atop the Hancock building. All of the views are breathtaking, but apparently the best view is from the women’s restroom. Go figure.

We stopped for a few minutes at the Apple store for the guys to fondle iPhones and check out the live band playing on the second floor. We took pictures of the famous water tower – the only building left standing after the historic Chicago Fire. For dinner we met up with Terry, yet another college friend of Josh’s and all of us squeezed into his car and trekked to Duffy’s for $1 burgers. After dinner Terry took Josh and I to a great coffee shop, and then for a brief but pleasant visit at his home. By this time it was getting late, and Terry dropped us off at the nearest el station.

At this point we were somewhere on the brown line north of downtown and it wasn’t early. We took the brown line back downtown, transferred to the green line and took that back to our temporary digs in Oak Park. We picked up our car there and drove all the way out to O’Hare to return it, and then we got on the blue line and took it all the way back downtown, transferred again to the green line and took it back to Oak Park again. All told, it took about 2 ½ hours before we were back to our Murphy bed at the Write Inn, rather exhausted and sick of the el.

Wednesday morning we were up early, rode the green line back downtown, transferred to the pink line, and got off near Union Station, just over the river from the Sears Tower. This was our first experience with rush hour in Chicago, and I think we must have looked pretty odd with our big packs walking upstream through the throngs of professionals streaming up the sidewalk toward their office destinations. We managed to find coffee and a small breakfast (bagel for me, yogurt oatmeal for Josh) and to retrieve our Amtrak tickets at a kiosk inside Union Station.

This was my first experience with Amtrak, and I must say that it was well worth the $23 ticket for travel from Chicago to St. Louis. We had a most amusing conductor – the kind of guy who understands that train to be his little kingdom and himself its benevolent dictator. His uniform enhanced his persona of jovial importance, as he prodded people to put the required ID tags on their luggage and made corny jokes with the passengers. We weren’t sure whether to find him irritating or just highly amusing, but in any case he kept the trip from ever seeming boring. We grew hungry partway through the 4 ½ hour trip and ventured to eat from the snack car. The greasy gut bomb held us over until we found some yummy teriyaki bowls in St Louis.

After the overwhelming hugeness of Chicago, St. Louis seemed rather small – which is saying something considering where we hail from. We found our way easily to the metro station and after a short wait got our ride downtown to the Arch stop. Our reason for being in St. Louis was to attend the Christian Community Development Association conference being held at the Adam’s Mark Hotel – conveniently located directly across the street from the Arch and the old courthouse where the Dred Scott case was tried. We were enthusiastically greeted at the front door by a CCDA volunteer, and as we got checked into the hotel and then the conference I felt myself swelling with excitement at the opportunity to participate in this conference.

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