Truman's Chicago Adventure

Save Ferris!

My knowledge of Chicago prior to this trip was limited to the film Chicago, which I saw in theaters with my parents when I was 12, and a few John Hughes movies. The good news is that nobody burst into song and dance routines about murder; the bad news is that I didn’t spend my time in the Windy City tearassing around unsupervised in a sports car with my hot girlfriend of indeterminate ethnicity, either. Mixed bag, there.

Hispanic? Italian? Mia Sara - a foxy mystery for the ages.

Chicago is a very dark city, even during the daytime. It’s a city with a lot of tall buildings – really obnoxiously tall, all lined up next to each other, like the city is trying to compensate for being so far away from an ocean by extending as far as possible into the sky. The result of this is that you only get direct sunlight downtown for maybe half an hour a day, when the sun is directly overhead. Add into that the fact that the city’s most prominent form of public transportation is a railroad built over, as opposed to under, the streets, and you start to get the impression that Chicagoans just really have some sort of dispute with the sun.

I had to use a flash for this picture.

They also seem to be really angry at their hearts, arteries, and colons, because I would say that there are more steakhouses in Chicago than there are Starbucks in Portland, and all of them are doing a robust business. On my first night in town I had a ribeye steak so huge that I still feel full, and yet on every corner there was yet another similarly classy establishment offering a similarly huge chunk of beef to anybody with $45 burning a hole in his pocket. I think the city’s official motto is ‘Oh Jesus I’ve got the meat sweats and I haven’t pooped since Thursday.’

Essentially, Chicago is a city built on the concept of sitting in the shadows and eating red meat. Needless to say, it’s my kind of town.

I didn't get a picture of the steak, but I did get a picture of what is without question the finest pizza I have ever consumed.

On our first full day in Chicago, we went to the Chicago Art Institute to see their collection – some of the more famous stuff in particular, such as American Gothic, or Nighthawks, my favorite painting, by my favorite artist, Edward Hopper.

Before Mad Men, people just looked at this painting to see classy people being sad.

Edward Hopper, fresh from getting drunk and beating his wife, enjoys a cigarette before painting Nighthawks.

Yeah, that’s right, I’ve got a favorite painting and artist. Doesn’t everyone? Oh, you don’t? Hm. How quaint. Well, keep this in mind next time you want to criticize me for drinking at Taylor’s, you cretins.

We spent the evening at a taping of Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me, the NPR news quiz, before going to bed early so we could get up in time for our tour of the old Chicago Public Library building the next day. It was really fascinating to-

Jesus Christ, this was my last fucking spring break and I went to an art museum, a public radio taping, and then toured a fucking library? Holy shit, Peter Parker* is officially cooler than I am! I had friends getting drunk in Hawaii while my parents and I were in a theater cracking up as Paula Poundstone interviewed Judy Collins. Is anybody still listening, or have you all dozed off already?

*Pre-radioactive spider bite, of course. Post bite he’s a really bland nerdy guy who moonlights as Spider-Man, and being Spider-Man half the time is still way cooler than whatever I am 24/7.

Well, at some point we went up the Sears Tower! That’s cool, right? Tall buildings?

Is that the tallest building in America, or are you just happy to see me?

Actually, it was one of the low points of our time in Chicago. To go up 108 stories to the observation deck we had to pay $51 for our tickets. Yes, tickets. They’re selling tickets to ride in an elevator and look out a window. I would understand this business model if we were Amish or something, but I ride in elevators a lot. It’s not Avatar or anything, folks.

Of course, I can criticize it all I want, but still, there we were in a long line winding through the visitor’s center of Sears Tower, sandwiched in between a big fat Minnesotan family with no less than two screaming infants and a group of rowdy Middle Eastern students whose interests included jostling into us and speaking Farsi very loudly and then laughing in my ear.

The elevators they sent us up in were large freight-style models that would’ve been quite spacious if not for the fact that the surly tour guides shoehorned us in there as tightly as humanly possible. When we were at the head of the line and the doors opened, we were all but shoved into the elevator until everyone was either pressed face first against the wall or face first into some overweight German tourist’s flabby, sweaty backside.

There I was, sandwiched in between my mother and some Sarah Palin sounding housewife from Duluth, when the tour guide peeped in at the sardine-style conditions and yelled over her shoulder, “We’ve got room for three more!”

The entire elevator groaned. “No!” Dad yelled. “We don’t have room for three more!”

The tour guide shoved three of the Middle Eastern students into the elevator and sighed. “It’s only a 60 second ride.” She said, her exasperated tone suggesting that we were being major pussies about this whole thing.

When, 60 seconds later, we reached the top and were able to quit breathing the body odor of several other nationalities*, we found ourselves on the observation deck – a floor with glass walls allowing a fairly impressive 360 degree panorama of the city.

$51, and they don't even clean the window. JERKS.

*This wasn’t all bad, because one of the guys on our elevator was Johnny Depp. He just was. My parents insist it was just a guy wearing a trendy jacket, shades, and fedora, but take one look at this discreet picture I took in the reflection off the doors and tell me I’m wrong:

"We can't stop here! This is... Bat Country!"

And yeah, it was great to get up above all the shade and darkness and into the light and look down at all that urban sprawl we’d ascended out of, but then we saw an intimidating line extending all the way around the corner of the observation deck.

“What’s that for?” I asked a guide, gesturing to the line.

“The line for the elevator back down.” He grunted.

“Oh.” I muttered, watching three more grotesquely obese people join the line. “Well… I guess we should probably jump back in line, then, before it gets much longer.”

So, after another 20 minutes in line, they crammed us back into the elevator for the return trip. I had been shoved up so close to the wall that I could see my breath condensating on it when I heard the tour guide yell, “We’ve got room for three more!”

“We don’t!” I yelled. “It’s not possible! We’d have to take turns breathing!”

“It’s only 60 seconds, folks.” The tour guide grunted, shoving three terrified looking Japanese tourists in and shutting the doors.

Try this: Go up to somebody and ask them if they want to head on down to the city morgue and have sex with one of the corpses. When they (hopefully) refuse, point out that they’ll only have to do it for exactly 60 seconds. Chances are, they’re still not going to want to do it, because their qualm isn’t with the duration of the unpleasant task, but the task that they have to do it in the first place.

This seems like fairly simple logic to me. However, they clearly don’t hire the brightest bulbs to work in the visitor’s center at Sears Tower. I bet they don’t even have favorite paintings, let alone artists.

That being said, they DO have the ability to eat falafel sandwiches at Subway, which, as this picture confirms, are real things that exist in this world.

Truman Capps will be back soon with more tales of vague Midwestern interest.