When I was a little kid, Chicago held a certain allure in my mind. I’m not sure why; maybe it was the Sears Tower, maybe it was the mystique of Wrigley Field, maybe it was just the sound of the name. But whatever it was, for several years, if anyone asked me where I would go if I could go anywhere in the world, I would have said “Chicago.”
Today, for the first time, on a warm fall day in October, I finally got to see it. After a white-knuckled approach that alternated between “oh my god this road is terrifying” and “oh my god another tollbooth?”, I arrived in the heart of downtown Chicago. Naturally, the first thing I did was walk to the Sears (now Willis) Tower and ride the elevator to the top of the observation deck.
After walking onto the glass-bottomed observation platform, being appropriately terrified, and snapping two dozen pictures of the Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan, I headed back down and did what I always do in strange cities: go for a walk.
My feet took me out to the shore of Lake Michigan and North, walking along the lake until I reached the Navy Pier, which appears to be Chicago’s upscale answer to Coney Island. After that, I walked back into the city with a goal of finding pizza. I mean, it’s Chicago, right? Gotta have pizza, right?
Thus I found myself eating chorizo-and-egg pizza at a little place called Pompei Bakery. It wasn’t quite the deep dish style that Chicago is famous for, but it was nevertheless delicious. After finishing I still wasn’t sure what “chorizo” was, except that it was some sort of meat. (Answer found out later: it’s Mexican pork sausage.)
After dinner, I took another meandering route back to the car, and headed out of town. I’m trying to avoid staying in any big cities, in order to keep down hotel costs. Last night I drove around 45 minutes out of Cincinnati to Batesville, Indiana; tonight I’m driving about 45 minutes to Waukegan, Illinois.
My evenings have become a routine of downloading photos from the camera, catching up on e-mail, and searching for Seattle apartments. Last night I didn’t even blog, although that was partly because there wasn’t much to blog about, except for raving how awesome Cincinnati-style chili is or doing a dissertation on the mining industry in West Virginia.
So I’ll leave it at this: if you ever get a chance to drive along the New River Gorge in West Virginia, do it. It takes you through the heart of the West Virginia coal industry, and the way of life that’s grown up around it. It also takes you through some of the most breathtaking natural scenery in Appalachia. It’s an odd yet fascinating mix of heavy industry and isolated nature.
And if you ever find yourself in or near Cincinnati, eat at Skyline chili. Wear a bib.