Sunday, April 18, 2004

Chicago, Vol. 1

On Friday morning, I flew out of LaGuardia with my brother for Chicago. Cousin John-O, the Assistant DA for IL, was getting married.

We ditched my family and his fiancée to save money and hassle. A two year boy at a wedding is a nightmare. Well, that’s how I rationalized my three day escape to Steve who watched the boys solo.

Chris is an ideal travel companion. On the drive from the airport we reviewed our goals – ethnic food, drinks in dive or fancy (nothing in between), drives around, and the Art Institute if time. No interest in Michigan Avenue or the fake blues bars on the North side.

On the way from the airport, we stopped along Cicero, a major North-South street for some damn good Mexican food. A modest place with large mirrors on wall, plastic flowers, blinding bright lights, and tacos served in red plastic baskets. All the ambiance of a cafeteria. Most people just zoom through this neighborhood of Mexicans called Pilsen on their way to the Loop where their Mexican food comes on less threatening streets. Fools.

$3.50 for mammoth burritos in fresh corn tortillas. We splurged for the main plates that came with rice and creamy black beans and enormous chunks of avocado over lettuce and cilantro. I got fajitas and my brother had chicken rolled into corn toritillas like cigars and then fried. Cervazas would have been great, but we had to pace ourselves for the many events.

New York never had the Mexican immigration like Chicago, so it’s hard to find good tacos around here. Fresca Tortillas is a chain of low priced tortillarias in Manhattan, but it’s gringo-land. In fact, the place seems to be entirely operated by a large staff of Koreans. Not the same thing.

Did a loop of the Loop. And then headed out to the hotel in Oak Brook in the western suburbs.

Our hotel, located off of Kroc Drive, was on the campus of Hamburger University, where young McDonald’s managers and franchise owners are trained in the ways of burgers and fries.

Chris wanted to stop into the Frank Lloyd Wright-esque building of HU to find out more about course offerings. Perhaps we would have time to audit a class: “Ozone Depletion from Cow Farts” or “Better Living with Heart Disease” or “Coffee is Hot or How to Avoid Civil Suits.”

The campus surrounding the hotel and university was meticulously maintained. Ponds were carefully carved out and imaginatively named “Lake Ed” and “Lake Fred.” The tableaux was made even more perfect by the inclusion of fake ducks in those satin blue pools of serenity. Every blade of grass was green and trimmed like the hair of a marine ready for war. Small group of trees and little winding paths were carefully orchestrated. Good setting for a murder mystery. “Yeah, Officer, we found the floater in the middle of Lake Ed.”

Rehersal at the church. First time we met the bride. We watched them practice their vows. Chris thought about his up coming wedding, and I thought about mine. Before I was married, weddings bored me. It's the same thing over and over. I found myself wishing that the couple could spice things up with a lively limerick or interpretive dance or something. Now, weddings just take me back to a giddy day seven years ago.

Dinner and drinks afterwards. Catching up with family that we hardly know. Pumped Eric and John-O for the names of cousins that we would meet at the main event on Saturday.

(Part Two Tomorrow)

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