Illinois 2021

After being locked down for over a year and a half, finally I am getting out again. A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to San Francisco, and now, I’m going to Illinois, the state where I spend the first 35 years of my life, with the exception of a few months in California I was too young to remember, and a state that I still consider my home.

Most of my time growing up I spent in Downstate Illinois, first Champaign, then Rockford for High School. However upon graduating college, I moved to Chicago, which I consider my hometown.

This trip is a bit unusual for a couple of reasons. For one, my wife is not going with me, and this is going to be our first significant time apart since we were first married, and my first trip without her since I went to Ireland back in 2015. Also, for three days out of this trip, in Champaign, I will actually be working from a hotel room

Day 0 Seattle

I signed up for a flight at 5:30 am. Seattle’s public transit being somewhat primitive, trains don’t operate that early. Me being lazy, the best way to make that flight is for me to just stay at a hotel across the street from the airport, and catch the shuttle, which takes about 10 minutes to get there. Therefore, day 0 of this vacation is doing my job like I normally would, packing up all my stuff, and heading to the airport at around 9pm, only to wake up at 4 the following morning to catch the flight.

Day 1 – 5, Champaign

My flight is to Bloomington, where my Mom will meet me and drive me back to her place in Champaign. This is a bit unusual of a ‘vacation’ and perhaps the first five days of the trip aren’t actually a vacation at all, rather, I am just working from a hotel room, since my mom’s home internet is too slow to support my work stuff, I spend the work day and nights in the hotel, and go to her place after work.

Getting to Bloomington also involved a layover in Dallas, of about two hours, just enough time to hit up the airport TGI Fridays for a drink before continuing my trip on a small regional jet, I really hate those things. Once getting on the small regional jet, however, there was room for people to spread out and whatnot, since the flight wasn’t even close to being fully booked.

Airport whiskey

As I mentioned, I did need to do my normal work stuff during the first couple days of this trip, which requires decent internet, and hence, a hotel room. To be fair, I probably could have gotten away with working from my mom’s, the internet speed is bad, so I would have had to find a way to improvise with the zoom calls, but I probably could have made it work. The bigger issue is that I probably just needed space, space to be myself. I’m on quasi vacation, do I really want my Mom around the whole time.

Besides, its not like I’m working 24/7. During my times off, we did spend time with some of her friends, and went to a couple nativity events, this being the Christmas season and all. Somewhat more awkward, since I know about the story of the nativity, and after 10 years of Lutheran elementary and High School, I certainly know what it’s all about. However, I have pretty much turned away from all of that for my adult life.

In the process of visiting Champaign, I also handed my old personal computer over to my mother, since I had been eying getting a new one for a while, and her computer is ancient, circa 2007, still running Windows 7. This is also the reason for the weird format of this blog, where the first five days are clumped together, until day 6 when I finally get a new machine.

Work from hotel room setup
Day 6, Chicago

So finally this is the day that I return to civilization, taking a morning train from Champaign to Chicago, about a two and a half hour train ride. This is the first time riding the train since this whole pandemic thing began, and the train from Champaign is quite comfortable, offering a absolutely insane amount of leg room. I have been taking this train route since college, so I certainly know it well. The schedules from Champaign to Chicago aren’t the most convenient, and the trains are frequently delayed due to track work and freight train interference, but it is much more relaxing than flying, or trying to drive into the city.

Enough Leg room for me and my bag

After this two and a half hour train ride, I was back in the city, and checked into my hotel, the Palmer House Hilton. I then went off to get lunch, and then on to get my new computer. I had lunch at Logan 11, in the Logan Square neighborhood, near my neighborhood of Wicker Park.

After that, it was time to pick up my new machine from the Lincoln Park Apple store. The process of getting to the store and picking up the machine was simple enough. However, once I had the machine I headed next door to the North and Clyburn subway station, a station I used numerous times in my 20’s. When I got there, there was a train parked in the station, however, upon boarding, the operator mumbled something over the PA that the train was being delayed due to “Police Action”, and that he had no idea when we would be moving again. Considering I was carrying a thousand dollar machine, I decided I should probably try to figure out an alternate means of transport back to the hotel, so I got on a bus back to Wicker Park, the one neighborhood in the world where I have actually been mugged at gunpoint, and got on a different subway line back into downtown, and my hotel.

Finally, after making it back to the hotel, I dropped off my laptop, and headed to the Pony Inn in Lakeview, a favorite spot of mine from when I lived here previously, as, it was across the street from where I lived for a while when I was here. There I engaged in some more drinking and dinner before heading back to the hotel downtown.

The hotel bar at the Palmer House was one of the main reasons I chose that hotel, having an ornate 1920’s era lobby, painted ceiling and everything. The hotel as a whole had issues, crappy wifi, and my room being next to the elevator bank, so I could hear everyone’s coming and goings at all hours, however, check out the lobby below.

Back at the hotel, I had a couple more drinks at this bar before checking in for the night at around midnight.

Day 7

So, if you’re still reading this post at this point, I obviously did a lot of drinking of day 6, and I largely paid for it on day 7. My first mistake was probably getting up with my alarm at 7am. I had wanted to go to the Golden Nugget Pancake House, one of me and my ex’s favorite hangouts when we lived here previously.

I intended to take the CTA Red line up to Lawrence, then catch a bus the rest of the way to the restaurant in the Ravenswood neighborhood. Once I got to Lawrence, however, I realized that this station was closed for construction for the next year. Hence, I needed to get off at the following stop, Argyle, and walk down to Lawrence to catch the bus there. They had also rerouted the buses because of the station closure, but they did it to the station to the south of where I wanted to get off. As it was however, I was one stop north of where I needed to get off, which required an additional half mile or so of walking. Fortunately, I had lived in this neighborhood on and off for a few years, so I certainly knew my way around. Oh, did I mention I was still hung over from the night before.

Finally, after essentially walking the distance between two train stops, I was able to catch the Lawrence Avenue bus, on Wilson avenue. About half way to the restaurant, I realized I was feeling way to sickly to actually enjoy breakfast at this point, so rather than getting off the bus at the restaurant as I intended, I stayed on it and took the bus to the CTA brown line, which would get me back downtown, and then I could get some rest and try to shake this hangover.

Once downtown, I grabbed some McDonalds, since hangover recovery is one of the few things their food is good for, and took a nap for a few hours. Finally, around 1:30 in the afternoon, I decided I had recovered enough that I could crawl out of my bed and face the world. I had tickets at the Art Institute today, since in the post COVID world, they only sell tickets in advance. I did not want those to go to waste, so I got out to that.

By the time I was done at the museum it was raining horizontally. A few hundred miles to the south, this was the same weather system that was causing tornados in Kentucky, killing dozens. Nothing like that was happening up here, and tornados are extremely rare around Chicago anyhow, but still, the weather was shit, so I was not about to go out in this. Thus, I decided to call it an evening early, and see if I can make another attempt at the Golden Nugget for breakfast tomorrow morning.

Day 8

After getting a decent nights sleep again, mostly from not drinking the day before and going to bed early, I decided to take another shot at the Golden Nugget. So, I took the train up to the north side again, this time recognizing that I needed to get off at Wilson to catch the Lawrence Ave Bus. After the train and bus trip, I finally got the the restaurant, and had a ham and cheese omelet with coffee.

Leaving the restaurant, I realized there wasn’t a bus for another 30 minutes. This being the weekend now, Saturday bus service is a lot less frequent than it is during the week. Back when I lived here previously, I would typically try to just stick to the trains if I could avoid busses, just because there is generally less wait time. Making it back to the Wilson train station, the lake effect flurries started.

For those who are not familiar with lake effect flurries, they are typically a light flurry that happens within a couple blocks of the lake for those of us in Chicago, which the Wilson station is. Typically, there is not any significant accumulation on this side of the lake. The heavy stuff is typically on the other side of the lake in Michigan, or other places along the lake, such as upstate New York.

Lake flurries if you look really close

I had a ticket for the Museum of Contemporary Art. Unlike the Art Institute, from the day before, this museum required a date and time reserved in advance to get in. My ticket was for 11am, so I took the train from Wilson back to downtown to get to the museum.

In all my years in Chicago, I had never visited the MCA, I didn’t go there actually until my most recent trip back there in 2017. The museum is a bit off the usual tourist path, but not too far, and doesn’t have the notoriety or the size of the Art Institute. However, I would consider both to be must see’s for people visiting the city.

After visiting the museum for a couple of hours, it was time to head back to the north side, so I took the Red line up to the Addison station, and began a walk back into downtown. At first, I wanted to grab lunch up there, however, upon ariving, the area was a complete clusterfuck, with some sort of Santa Con Holiday bar crawl going on. Given my general distain for crowds, even pre pandemic, this was something I wanted no part of. Hence, I walked down to Clark Street straight out of Wrigleyville, lunch was canceled.

A little bit outside of Wrigleyville, while walking down Clark Street, I found a smallish neighborhood pub, Jakes Pub. This place is not too far from where I used to take my beagle, Jacob when I lived here. Anyhow, behind the glasses at the bar I think was clearly a picture of a beagle. This can’t be coincidence, this bar is named in honor of my long lost beagle. Ok, probably not.

After having a whisky from Jake’s, I continued my walk down Clark Street. Back in my 20’s I would walk this route many weekends, to essentially get out of my own head and get some exercise as well. I got down to North Avenue, and then headed on a bus back west to Wicker Park, then took a blue line train to Logan Square.

Upon getting off the train in Logan Square, I realized that I had left my gloves at Jake’s, and it was now starting to get dark and cold outside. This is why I hate gloves, I’m always leaving them places. However, with Chicago winters, they’re kind of a necessity. Fortunately, I was just a few blocks form a Target, where I was able to pick up a cheep new pair for five dollars.

I then headed to Revolution Brewing company for dinner, then off to Pint in Wicker Park. At this point, I am now starting to realize that the neighborhood of my late 20’s which I loved, has now become a frat boy hell hole. The place reeked of the smell of bad cologne. Perhaps that’s just me getting old, but I think the gentrification of the area may have gotten out of control. Additionally, my former concert venue, The Double Door, is now a Yeti store. What the actual hell.

Former concert venue now Yeti Store

At this point, its just best for me to just go back to the hotel and go to bed.

Day 9

This is the day when I need to head back home. However, my flight wasn’t scheduled until 6 pm, which would get me home well after 9pm, and I have to work the next day. However, it did appear that there was an earlier flight, at 1, which would get me home several hours earlier, and I was kind of missing home and my Wife after 9 days.

Post pandemic switching flights same day is free, however, in the process, I had to go standby, without a guarantee of having a seat on the 1 pm flight. If I wasn’t able to get space on that flight, I would end up essentially spending the entire afternoon at the airport, not ideal, but worth the risk.

Once boarding for the 1 pm flight had begun, they made an announcement that all standby passengers had been placed. I was a bit confused as I was a standby passenger, yet I didn’t have a seat assignment. Asking the gate agent, it turned out I had been assigned a seat, just hadn’t been notified at that point. Hence, I was able to board the plane and make it back to Seattle that afternoon, instead of late evening.

And this is how my 9 day 2021 excursion back to Illinois went. I probably do need to visit more often, and hopefully it won’t be another 4 years before I go back again.

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