I decided to go out to Chicago on the weekend of March 10th-11th.  I wanted to go for the entire weekend but I had a previous engagement for that Friday the 9th.  I had never been on a commuter train before so I decided to take the Amtrak from Ann Arbor to Chicago.  Round trip the ticket cost me about $70.  At first I was I thought it was pretty cool to be on a train.  The only trains I had been on before were subway cars in NYC, Washington DC, and Kaiserslautern Germany.  After a while it just became another form of boring transportation. 

When I arrived in Chicago there was a fire in the vicinity of Union Station.  I had planned on taking a public bus to the downtown area where I would be staying but all the fire trucks had diverted the routes.  I found my way to a subway station and hopped on a train to downtown Chicago.  For the remainder of my trip subway was my primary for of transportation.  The subway system in Chicago was rather easy to navigate.  They have several routes that are all labeled by color and street name.  Very easy system to figure out. 

During my stay I rested my head at The James hotel in downtown.  It was an excellent hotel, clean, modern, helpful staff.  The James is an excellent place to stay.  Any time I had a question about where to go or what route I should take the staff was incredibly knowledgeable. 

I was looking for something to do around my hotel when I found a comedy show a few blocks away.  Anytime I have been in a bustling city without making any advanced plans I have always been delighted by local comedy shows.  The comedy show was at 8pm and it was already 7pm.  I was kind of hungry but didn’t really have time to sit down and enjoy a meal before the show.  I walked the few blocks and found my way to the comedy show.  Looking at my watch I figured I had enough time to try out this little burger joint I saw a block away.  There was only a small sign and what appeared to be an even smaller dining area but that is what attracted me to “M Burger”.  I figured any place that had such a small dining room had to give quick service.  I ordered a double cheeseburger and a coke.  That cheeseburger was fantastic!  It returned my energy so I could carry on for the night.  I made my way back to the comedy place which was just the basement of a bar that they set up a comedy club in.  The show was called my funniest friends and appeared to be just a group of friends that designed this comedy club so they could get in front of the mic.  There were six performers total including the host.  The host was a jolly fat man who used self-deprecating humor.  The best thing about his set was an old man who was wearing a USMC hoodie near the front of the stage.  The old man didn’t seem to have it all together and was possibly intoxicated on drugs or alcohol which made the banter incredibly amusing.  The host looking for something to get anybody to laugh started talking to a Canadian couple in the front.  Once again amazing decision because these people just kept talking back not knowing that they were being made fun of.  The next performer was a 26 year old female, who had helped found Your Funniest Comics.  Her set could have been a lot better had the Canadians and the USMC old man not interrupted her before she could get rolling.  She discussed life in Indianapolis which only a few people in the club understood, she talked about bums hitting on you (which I’ve never had a problem with), and wanting to be a princess when she grew up.  All stuff I could not relate to.  The next performer was a nerdy black guy.  I wish I could remember his name because he was funny.  He reminded me of the guy from rottentortuga? Sketches on you tube.  He discussed life as a nerdy black man, being a black actor, and topics such as those.  I can’t relate to those but he got several laughs out of me.  The next guy was so unremarkable I don’t even remember his set.  I can’t even tell you what this man looked like.  The next guy was my favorite of the entire show.  He was a ginger haired Irishmen who apparently has a drinking problem.  He told stories of being 26 and being a bad adult, drinking problems, embarrassing experiences.  Awesome set.  This guy should have been the headliner for sure.  The last entertainer of the evening, the headliner, was relatively unremarkable.  He just seemed to be the standard issue white guy who was recently married and has a pregnant wife.  Over all I’m not sure if I would recommend this comedy show.  It was just simply too average in my opinion.  I hope the two funny guys make it out of that basement and on to a real stage sometime soon.  I would go see them again.  The rest, I wish them all the luck in the world but watch them perform standup at your own risk. 

That night I felt like going down to the hotel bar for a drink.  It was after their last call so the bar tender told me to go to J Bar.  All I had to do was step out the door from the side of the hotel walk 30 yards and I was there.  Before heading in that direction I pointed out to the bar tender that I was in a hoodie, jeans, and some flip flops.  He told me I wouldn’t have a problem and I continued on.  I walked out of the James and towards the J which is in the same building and was met by two overly groomed males who checked my idea and questioned if I was a hotel guest.  I told them I was and they informed me that they love to accommodate hotel guests but I should try to hide my flip flops once inside.  Ok?  I took several steps inside past the velvet rope and heard the overly loud house music that is associated with a club.  I am not a fan of clubs.  Too many people smashed into a small place bumping into each other, no thank you.  I turned around and left. I returned to the front desk of my hotel and asked them where I could go have a drink and a late night snack while still looking like a bum.  At first she couldn’t think of anything but then she remembered Timothy O’ Tooles.  It was only a few blocks from my hotel so I decided to give it a shot.  I was greeted by a friendly bouncer who checked my ID and sent me on my way. I arrived there at around 1am and the place was packed.  I found a small table and took a seat.  I wasn’t too hungry so I just ordered a beer and some nachos.  After two beers I decided to call it a night.

The following day was my most exciting day in Chicago.  I got that morning and made my way to the Red Line train from downtown Chicago.  I was taking it to Wrigleyville.  As the train pulled into the platform at Addison Street, I could see Wrigley Field to my left.  I exited down the platform stairs onto the street and made my way to the second oldest stadium in the Major Leagues.  I bought my ticket from will call then went across the street to grab a burger from McDonalds.  I came back and met my tour guide Evan Hill.  Evan gave us a wonderful tour.  He was entertaining and incredibly knowledgeable when people asked him questions.  Our first stop was a section of seats along the third base line just off of home plate.  Evan sat us all down and told us the history of Wrigley field and the Chicago Cubs, along with the other teams that have played there in its 98 year history.  One fact that I enjoyed is that it only cost $250,000 to build Wrigley Field in 1914.  That’s amazing!  The return on investment has to be an insane number.  Evan pointed out that just behind where we were sitting was the first ever Major League Concession stand and that it was still in use.  He also let us know that the prices of items have gone up slightly since the inception of the concession stand.  After Evan went through his lesson and questions were promptly answered we made our way up towards the press boxes.  Once we made it to the press level we made a slight detour just outside of the press box.  Evan showed us an amazing view of the Chicago skyline and he also made sure to point out to us that Wrigley Field is in a predominately residential area.  After everybody took their pictures we headed to the press box.  It was exactly how I imagined it and had a spectacular view of the field and the surrounding skyline of Wrigley Field.  The part I enjoyed about the skyline was that I could see Lake Michigan.  I grew up on the east side of Michigan on Lake Erie and the closest I’ve ever been to Lake Michigan has been flying over it coming in and out of Chicago.  Another interesting part of the skyline was all of the bleachers on the building surrounding buildings.  Evan explained to us how much the owners of the buildings charge for seating and the struggle that the Cubs had in obtaining revenue from the owners.  In the corner of right field there was construction going on and Evan told us that they are building a Budweiser porch.  The thing that amused me by that is directly above that there is a billboard for Miller Light.  Evan said unofficially that he had heard the lady that owns that building makes $700,000 a year for allowing Miller to advertise there.  After we were done in the press box we made our way down to the visiting locker room.  We all took pictures inside the tiny locker room and Evan told us tiny tidbits about it.  After that we headed to the Chicago Cubs locker room.  We were then split into two groups.  Because space was limited in the Cubs locker room not everybody would fit since we had such a large group.  I chose to stay in Evans group because he was entertaining and I had only heard the other tour guide speak once.  We went into the Cubs locker room but could only stand near the front.  Cubs players had personal effects in their lockers so they didn’t want the public messing with them.  Evan pointed out that to warm up cubs player put a net down and in the locker room and hit a ball off the tee into the net.  It was so awesome to see where so many amazing players have hung out.  The next and final stop on my tour was the Chicago Cubs dugout.  I sat on their bench and quickly realized that it wasn’t that comfortable.  I felt like a little kid again.  I took a surplus of pictures in the dugout and just outside of it.  They had caution tape set out but I did step on the grass.  I’m just not going to be at Wrigley field and not step on the grass if I get the opportunity.  You would have done the same!

After leaving Wrigley Field I visited the memorabilia shop across the street.  It was an amazing store and had an incredible selection of Cubs gear.  Something I found a little odd is that in the middle of the cubs gear there were a few Michigan State University hats for sale.  I’m a Michigan State fan so I found that to be awesome.  I left and I was in search of a real Chicago hot dog.  One of my good friends, Melissa, told me that I had to seek out a Chicago dog while I was there.  I found an American Dog restaurant and ordered the Chicago Dog.  This hot dog was fantastic.  I’ve never had such an abundant hot dog.  It had a poppy seed bun, all beef hot dog, chopped onions, tomato, mustard, and some sort of pepper.  All of those flavors on a hot dog were a bit overwhelming but absolutely worth it.

I went back to my hotel to regroup and figure out what I was going to do next.  I decided to walk down to Navy Pier.  I was excited to get an opportunity to ride the giant Ferris wheel but I arrived on a Sunday after six o’clock and it wasn’t running.  I walked around Navy Pier and eventually made my way inside.  I stumbled upon Harry Caray’s Tavern.  I was a little hungry so I decided to go in for a bite and I am glad that I did.  I read the menu as my waiter grabbed me a beer and I learned that they had a museum in the middle of the restaurant.  I ordered a bbq chicken salad.  I wolfed it down finished my beer and headed towards the museum.  I was instantly taken back by how many awesome things they had in there.  Not only was it Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs memorabilia but all Chicago sports and celebrity memorabilia.   They had two giant cases filled with signed baseballs and baseball bats.  They had Sammy Sosa’s corked bat as well as the infamous Chicago Cubs foul ball.  The Harry Caray group paid over $100,000 for the infamous ball and then they exploded it.  The remnants of the ball are in the museum.  I made my way around the museum and before I left had my picture taken with the bust of Harry Caray.  One of the cool features about the restaurant is all the pictures of celebrities who have taken their picture with the same bust.  Some of the celebs that stood out to me were President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, Vince Vaughn, Oprah Winfrey, just to name a few. 

Before I left Chicago I had to try some real Chicago pizza.  Right next to my hotel there was a Pizza joint called Pizzeria Due.  I walked in and the hostess was dealing with an unruly customer who did not want to wait 45 minutes to get his pizza.  After he left the hostess told me I would have to wait 10-15 minutes for a table but I could order my pizza while I wait.  I sat down and was reading over the menu when two guys walked in and the manager gave them the first available table.  I informed the manager that I was next in line and he apologized and sat me at the bar while I waited.  I ordered a personal sized pepperoni and some cheesy bread.  I got to my table and my food was quickly brought to me.  I enjoyed the authentic Chicago pizza but it had too much of a tomato taste for my personal liking. 

The next morning I woke up grabbed a cab hopped on my train and returned to Ohio.  I had an amazing time in Chicago and can’t wait to go back.  This trip gave me an added excitement for my trip.  I’m ready to get this journey under way!!!

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Comment by Tim Choiniere on March 13, 2012 at 10:16am

Sounds like a great trip.  I really enjoyed my trip to Chicago a  couple of years ago.  Wait until you go to a game at Wrigley.  I was there for a Saturday afternoon game against the Cardinals in August.  Great time.  Left there  and then went and watched the Red Sox at the White Sox (at the bar - had gone to the game the night before)


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