I made a number of road trips back to the Midwest this summer and I can assure you that most of those trips weren’t much fun at all. I am very familiar with I-80 between the east coast and Colorado. This particular venture westward was going to be different come hell or high water because it was finally a fun family occasion – the Chicago wedding of my cousin Katy to a very nice guy named Jon. My family went through a trying summer with the death of my mother and this was going to be the fist time that we could all get together to relax and enjoy each other’s company without the specter of a medical disaster hanging over our heads.
When I veered north from I-80 onto I-90 I got my first view of the working class suburbs and billowing smokestacks of Gary and East Chicago and I was struck by the vastness of the three-story towns with their multi-denominational steeples that stretched high above all of the other roof peaks. This was my first visit to Chicago even though I was raised just a state away. When I exited off of the Chicago Skyway onto the Dan Ryan Expressway I let out a war-whoop that shook the mirrors. A lot of times when I am making long solo road trips I will yell and scream like that in order to keep myself awake but this time it was because I had just gotten my first real view of downtown Chicago looming large up ahead. I was elated and I could not wait to explore this Global City that was always close but that I had never ventured into.
My destination on that first day was the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel on Columbus Avenue and according to my GPS it was right ahead but Chicago was built and rebuilt many times and they used a multi-level roadway system that confounds any newcomers because when you go into those lower levels the bitchy voice from the Garmin will undoubtedly say there is no longer any satellite reception – I was on my own in the underworld. Luckily there was enough signage so I was able to limp my way to the underground garage of the hotel. After I checked in I strolled through the impressive lobby with my huge suitcase past the two-level bar and Italian restaurant to the shimmering gold elevators that took me to the nicest hotel room that I had ever been in. The place was far nicer than any apartment I’ve lived in and I instantly thanked my wife for making the reservations both in my head and publicly on Facebook. I don’t have any pictures of the inside but you can take my word that it was pretty sweet – I felt like I should pour a bucket of money on the bed and roll around in it – I felt rich. I did get a panorama picture of the view from our balcony though but my little blog here cannot handle a photo that is so large but you can see it here if you are my friend – be my friend.
My wife flew in from Dallas soon after my arrival and once we got her luggage settled in the room we made for the hotel bar to plan our night on the town. When I say plan I mean have a few drinks to get the cheeks rosy and then wander out the door to see what kind of trouble we can get into. Chicago is one of the most beautiful cities at night. The building are lit up and the signs for the theatres are vivid and sparkling and you can see the awe in the visitors faces (there were a lot of visitors) as they craned their necks skyward to take everything in – it’s damn near overwhelming. Our wandering only took us as far as a place called Sweetwater Tavern and Grille on Michigan Avenue – little did we know that not far away an idiot want-to-be terrorist was about to set off a fake FBI-provided car bomb– I am so very pleased that it was a fake – nothing ruins a vacation like a car bomb. Our first night was pretty low-key and after a few drinks and some fried cheese curds we headed back to our room to get rested up for the wedding the next day.
The day of the wedding was beautiful and my wife and I awoke early so that we could drive the car out to my cousins so as to avoid paying $50 per night parking in the city. Katy only lives a few miles from downtown so we donned our running gear so we could run back and get a little exercise before the wedding day gluttony kicked in. Chicago is exactly what I like in a western city – there is a lot of modern architecture but what I like most are the buildings and structures that are still around that reflect the rurally connected industrial past of the city. The run back gave us the opportunity to see the gritty parts of the city at a slower pace than driving. I said it then and I will say it now, I would move to Chicago in a heartbeat. I wonder if I would change my mind in the winter – something in my head says yes.
The wedding was held at St. James Cathedral near downtown. The church was gorgeous and it gave me the same feeling that I often get when I walk into the old world European cathedrals – the eye first goes to the golden brightly lit altar then to the buttressed ceilings that seem to go up forever – even the rowdiest of the young kids was respectful of the vast space. The ceremony was upbeat and the bride and groom looked beautiful and truly in love, something that cannot be faked. Even this old hard-hearted man had a tear in his eye. The service was over in about 45 minutes and of course we had to take a thousand family pictures, which is par for this family’s course. Afterwards we had some time to ourselves to gird our loins for the reception which was being held at the Swissotel, conveniently located right around the corner from our hotel. Naturally we all went to the hotel bar to lubricate.
I absolutely love wedding receptions and this one did not disappoint in the least. The booze was free-flowing and my wife and I were seated at the kids table with the young cousins, which was perfect because we rarely get to see any of these kids anymore. The speeches were given by the best man and the maiden of honor as well as one by my uncle Steve where he addressed the fact that my Ma recently passed and was surely watching the festivities from on high – my sister and I were choked up by the sentiment but we soon recovered and got the party started. I contemplated posting an embarrassing video of all of us dancing but realized that my new blog cannot show video without an upgrade – there is a lot of people who should thank me for this. Speaking of thanks I must convey my deepest appreciation to the bride and groom as well as their families for inviting us to such a fun occasion – it was one of the best times I can remember having in a long time.
I cannot remember how many gin and tonics or glasses of wine that I drank during the evening but my guess is that it was a lot – a whole bunch if you will – but I am proud of myself for not going out afterwards because I would have missed seeing everyone off at breakfast the next day. Most folks were leaving on a chartered bus the next morning at 10 so once they were safely aboard and medicated with anti-nausea medicine (looking at you Oscar) they were off to Iowa while we were heading back to bed until it was time to get up and seek out some Chicago deep dish pizza.