Our Trip To Chicago, June 2002

by Michelle Erica Green

We left home Wednesday and spent most of the afternoon driving to Ohio, where we stayed at a Days Inn with an outdoor pool and a Dairy Queen within walking distance. In the evening, the kids swam, we all got ice cream and I finished reading The Treasure of Montsegur which I had started in the car the day before. The next day we drove to the Amerisuites in Burr Ridge, putting up with an hour of terrible traffic on I-80, but this much nicer hotel had a suite and an indoor pool. We met up with my friend Deborah from Bloomington, who was staying at the same hotel, and went to Navy Pier for dinner. The amusement park that is now on the site hadn't been built when we lived in Chicago from 1990-94, so we had a great time seeing the indoor gardens, the ferris wheel, all the little shops and the miniature golf course where we played 18 holes (Deborah won). Then we went back to the hotel, where the kids went swimming as we had promised they could when we dragged them out of the Days Inn in the morning with no return to the pool.

On Friday, we were awoken ridiculously early by my father, who called to say that my sister was in labor and he couldn't keep watching our cats since they were headed to New York to ese the baby. After overindulging at the big breakfast buffet at the Amerisuites, we went to the Field Museum, which I haven't visited since before I had children. We went first to the Egyptian tomb, knowing the boys would be interested in the mummies -- particularly the cat mummies and Bastet statue. The museum has a full reproduction of a king's tomb, though his sarcophagus was empty when it was discovered; the different levels have all been recreated, and there's a big exhibit on life in ancient Egypt, including lots of displays on the process of mummification.

We then went to the traveling chocolate exhibit, which was very interesting. Paul was disappointed that the information on chocolate-making was so similar to the free exhibit at Hershey, but this one did a lot less whitewashing of the role of slaves and slave labor in the export and use of chocolate with sugar, not to mention the fate of the Aztecs and Mayans once the Europeans arrived. They were giving out samples and also had a chocolate store in the exhibit, following a movie about the process of mixing chocolate and sugar and a big display on the history of candy in the U.S. We had lunch in the Corner Bakery at the museum, walked through the wildlife exhibit, saw Sue the T-Rex, and were surprised when the kids wanted to ee the gemstones -- they were both anxious to find examples of their birthstones and Daniel was interested in the system by which diamonds are classified and sorted.

In the afternoon we drove to Hyde Park, where Paul and I lived while we were at the University of Chicago and where Daniel lived just after he was born. We walked to the lake via the underpass, circled Promontory Point which juts out so you can see the lake on all sides. The kids climbed down the big stone walls to look at the water, which had few fish at this time of year but we've seen it full of little silver fish and bigger smelt that fisherman actually catch on summer nights, apparently to eat. There weren't many gulls and the bunnies were in hiding, or perhaps chased away by the construction. We've seen the lake covered with ice and with waves more than ten feet high -- last time we were in Hyde Park with Deborah it looked like the ocean in the rain -- but this time it was very placid.

We briefly considered wandering down to the beach at 57th Street, which looked crowded and fun but required climbing past the Lake Shore Drive construction to access (which probably meant dirty and hot). But by then we had decided that we would be going to one of the north shore beaches the next morning, so we decided to head to the shaded playground instead. On the way we went to see the monk parrots that live wild in the trees at 53rd Street by South Shore Drive. The kids played at both little parks along South Shore, near where our synagogue used to be and right below Regents Park where we used to live on the 31st floor. Then we walked to Giordano's a few blocks west, discovering that lower Hyde Park had changed little, and gorged ourselves on stuffed pizza. I learned via pay phone that my sister had had her third daughter, Molly Rose. That evening the boys went swimming at the pool again and Deborah and I hung out watching an old TNG episode.

Saturday morning we drove to Belmont to meet my friend Ruth, with whom Paul and I had worked on the newspaper at Penn. We knew her husband Loren from when we lived in Chicago and they have since had two daughters who are exactly the same ages as my sister's two older daughters. Our boys responded to Emily and Maya as if they too were cousins, teaching them GameBoy tricks even before we left for Montrose Beach. They spent all afternoon building sandcastles and jumping in the shallow water. Lake Michigan has a lot of dark sand banks that go out many yards from shore, so there was little fear of them wading in too far. Still, the family next to us lost one of their kids as she wandered down the beach greeting people, and we all had a few panicked minutes of looking for her before someone tracked her down. We caught up with Loren and Ruth, who had to go to work in the afternoon, so we went back to their house without her and had some fruit and washed off the sand.

I had plans to meet my friend Beth that evening. We decided that the mall in Oak Brook would be the easiest place for both of us, since the country music festival and Taste of Chicago downtown were likely to make parking and conversation very difficult even though it would have been fun for nostalgia's sake to go. Since we had a bit of time between leaving Belmont and arriving at Oak Brook, we drove to a couple of occult bookstores, one right in the near north and the other in the Flatiron Building in Wicker Park, one of my favorite non-lake neighborhoods in the city -- a wonderful mixture of Yuppie, Mexican, urban grunge and high art, where my friend Carol used to live in a house where Persian cats were bred and we used to get fantastic cheap tacos and browse bookstores. I bought a small statue of Bastet (a nickname we often give our kitten Cinnamon) since I had been unable to find one in the Egyptian section of the gift shop at the Field Museum. Deborah had brought me Motherpeace Tarot cards from a goddess shop in Bloomington, so although I was tempted by some of the more esoteric decks, I restrained myself.

We met Beth in Oak Brook and went to Houlihan's, since it was the restaurant in which the boys seemed most interested, having vetoed Thai and Indian food. Adam had a corn dog as he had at Navy Pier, Daniel had macaroni and cheese which is a staple of his diet (though this trip he twice demanded roast beef sandwiches) and I had some sort of Cajun chicken. I hadn't seen Beth since 1996 though we've been in regular e-mail communication and neither of us could believe how many years we'd known each other, all told. She has a part-time job at the symphony, which is her passion. After dinner we went into a couple of stores looking for a gift for my friend Mark and his wife Mary, who had a baby a couple of weeks earlier. Back at the hotel I finished my review of The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon for the Green Man Review.

I hadn't seen Mark in even longer than Beth, and had never even met Mary, but I'd known Mark the longest of any of our friends in Chicago; he was the executive editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian when Paul and I were first working for the editorial and feature sections. . When we lived in Chicago in the 1990s, Mark had formed a book group consisting in part of his roommate Alec, his friend Carollina, a colleague from The Chicago Tribune named Steve who later became the television critic, a friend named Nancy, plus Ruth, Paul and myself, and a few others. In the following years, Alec and Carollina fell in love and got married; Steve met a woman named Louise who hosted the last book group we attended before moving to Maryland (they have since gotten married); Ruth married Loren and got him to join book group; and all of the above produced offspring. Carollina and Alec were hosting book group this Sunday and had hired babysitters so that everyone could bring their children. Unfortunately a couple of people couldn't come -- we never got to meet Nancy's husband, and a couple of the others had moved away. But most of the original book group remained.

We arrived and promptly ran into Steve, whom neither of us had seen since we left Chicago; he was trying valiantly to finish the last 50 pages of the book (A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry). Apparently only Carollina, Louise and Ruth had actually finished. While he and Carollina were chopping strawberries, Alec and I got into a discussion of Minority Report and A.I. (he'd ordered me to rent the latter before coming to Chicago when he discovered that I hadn't seen it. They had a big deli spread -- bagels with various spreads and lox, sausages, vegetables, fruit and I don't even remember what else, plus strawberry shortcake with whipped cream for dessert. Their home, a gorgeous old house in Oak Park near all the Frank Lloyd Wright historical houses, has three floors plus a finished basement and enclosed backyard, so the adults actually got to talk while the kids were busy upstairs in the playroom and out back.

Mark and Mary had brought their baby girl, whom everyone wanted to hold, and our kids (the oldest of the bunch) built towers and played basketball with Steve and Louise's two boys, Ruth and Loren's two girls and Alec and Carollina's son and daughter. We all talked for several hours. Then when everyone left late in the afternoon, we went out with Alec and Carollina and their kids to the Giordano's in Oak Park (Daniel's request). Afterwards we went across the street to an old-fashioned ice cream parlor, where Paul and I split an enormous chocolate fudge turtle and the kids got merry-go-round sundaes with animal crackers. We finally said goodbye and went back to the hotel late in the evening and went swimming one last time in the indoor pool. I had asked to become a correspondence member of book group (unfortunately I don't have a Palm Pilot which the rest of them have adopted), but I will read the next book -- John Henry Days).

On Monday, our anniversary, we spent most of the day driving to Ohio, where we ended up in the same room at the Days Inn as we had when we drove out. After a swim, the kids insisted on dinner at Dairy Queen so they could get Scooby Doo toys (they had been deprived at lunch because we'd packed sandwiches). Then we wandered through an excellent local farmer's market and stopped at a drugstore to get a flashlight, since the room wasn't a suite and Paul and I wanted to be able to read at night after the boys were (theoretically) asleep. In the morning I walked back to the farmer's market to get a muffin for breakfast and ended up gorging on cheese samples. We had considered stopping at the aviary outside Pittsburgh on the way home as we did several years earlier, but we wanted to get back in time to get the cats, which had been unceremoniously dumped by my parents at the kennel when my sister went into labor. So we stopped quickly for lunch and got home late in the afternoon, running in to throw in a large laundry before going to get our pets, who had apparently been spoiled by the kennel staff -- they whined the whole way home in the car!