I love cities, and there's a world class one just a few hours away, where you can visit for next to nothing.
Dianne and I went to Chicago over the weekend, endeavoring to spend as little as possible. We did okay.
For starters, here's a tip. Drive to Harvard, Illinois. No, nobody there says "paaaark" instead of "parrrrk." It's a farming town with no Kennedys in the vicinity and it's the very last stop on Metra's northwest line. About 75 miles and an hour and a half or so from Madison (take I-90 to Highway 14 East in Janesville) you can park for $1.50 a day in the train station lot (if you're staying overnight be sure to use Lot #2; Lot #1 is for day trips only).
Then hop on board the train for a pleasant, smooth ride right into downtown Chicago. It costs all of $7 for a round trip on weekends and it takes one hour and fifty-minutes. All told, including the car trip to Harvard, I figure the complete trip took us maybe twenty minutes more than driving. Less if we had caught a classic Chicago freeway traffic jam. And it costs about 40% less when you take into account gas, tolls, and the cost of parking at a hotel in Chicago.
We noticed that all the towns along the line had nice, new apartments, condos, and ground floor retail stores to serve the commuters. This is called "transit oriented development."
When we got to the city, we stayed at the Congress Hotel right across the street from Grant Park and a block down from Millennium Park (home of the giant reflecting bean). The Congress was the least expensive place I could find in the vicinity, and it lived up to its two star rating. Still, it was very quiet, the bed was comfortable, and water pressure is way overrated anyway in my opinion. Plus, we were on the eighth floor, so what else do you want? Not to raise a sore point, but the Congress reminded me of the Edgewater: iconic and in a great spot, but in need of several million dollars in TLC.
The ostensible purpose for the trip was to go to the Brewers-White Sox game at U.S. Cellular Field on Saturday night. (Ironically, I got much better reception on my iPhone with AT&T service at U.S. Cellular Field than I got earlier this year at AT&T Park in San Francisco. Of course, finding actual working AT&T service anywhere in America is always a nice surprise.)
We went to the game with our friends Jonathan and Lindsay Suttin, who got the tickets in a silent auction for the Boys & Girls Club. We also got a trip to the field before the game and some cash to spend at the stadium. Jonathan, especially, is a big White Sox fan. More on that predicament later.
Dianne and I blew our money on Chicago dogs (they were delicious) and nachos. If you go to a Sox game, get the nachos from the "Tex-Mex" cart, not the crummy chips with a cup of liquid Velveeta that you can pick up at the standard counters.
The Tex-Mex cart gives you a veritable paper bucket of nachos smothered in salsa, sour cream, cheese and guacamole for $8.50. For five bucks extra you can get it in a White Sox batting helmet. It wasn't worth it to me but you may feel differently. It also comes with your choice of shredded beef, pork or chicken.
I chose the chicken, to which the guy at the cart said: "Figures." "Sorry?" I replied. "You're a Brewer fan," he said, pointing to my yellow cap with the classic mitt and ball logo, "figures you'd pick chicken." So I got the big city attitude at no extra cost. (At lunch a waiter at a place on Michigan Avenue called my hat "cute.")
I have to admit that, while the aesthetics of U.S. Cellular don't match that of Miller Park (too much prefab concrete on the exterior), the food might be a little better. The bucket 'o nachos compared favorably to the cheesy fries at Miller, where I do in fact get them in a Brewers batting helmet. I have enough of them now to hold soup for the guests at a small dinner party.
If you don't like baseball, well, I'd say you're a communist, but then I'd remember that Fidel Castro loves the game. Anyway, if you don't like baseball there's other stuff to do in Chicago. They have shopping there, I guess. Also, there are many museums. Actually the architectural tour of the city by boat along the Chicago River is really great. I'd do that if I weren't watching a ballgame.
Anyway, the game had an unfortunate result, but the Saturday night fireworks at the ballpark afterwards were really entertaining.
Finally, an observation about Chicago White Sox fans. They are a surly bunch. They're generally kind of insecure and, I don't want anyone to take this personally, but they're a little bitter. They have a blue-collar chip on their shoulder, always complaining about all the attention showered on the team from the North Side. They are very sensitive. When in the company of one, be careful to compliment their nachos and their fireworks.