This is Part II of my time in Chicago last weekend. If you missed Part I, check it out here.
After leaving the lobby hallway of the Monadnock Building, we continued east on Jackson towards my second must-see destination after Lou Mitchell’s: Central Camera Company. I’d seen the neon sign on a friend’s Instagram feed ages ago and almost squealed with delight when I saw it for myself. It’s a beautiful old storefront right next to the L tracks on Wabash. It’s been in business since 1899 and is operated by the third generation of the same family that opened it. They describe themselves as a ‘photographic emporium’ and that’s accurate. When I walked inside, I was greeted with a deep shoebox-shaped store with shelves full of old cameras, accessories, printing materials, darkroom equipment, and just about anything else you can think of relating to photography. It was absolutely worth seeking out and I recommend a stop for anyone that has even a passing interest in picture taking.
We continued north. The wind was continuing to cut through our bundled clothing, so Andy took another opportunity to duck indoors about a block away. We found ourselves walking past a collection of shops in an ornate hallway, only to turn a corner and find ourselves in an elaborate lobby for the Palmer House Hotel. My mouth literally hung open as I looked at the vibrant fresco on the ceiling & the gilded candelabras on the wall. It was as if I’d walked back in time. Andy and I wandered up a spiral staircase and settled at a table next to the railing on the second floor and looked down at the lobby as we chat about movies and life in general. I later learned that the Palmer House is the second-largest hotel in the city and claims to be the longest continually-operating hotel in the country. The original hotel burned down in the Great Chicago Fire after only 13 days of operation, but was rebuilt quickly. The ceiling was painted by French painter Louis Pierre Rigal; the wife of the original owner was very proud of her French heritage and was responsible for most of the decor. Over the years, the hotel has hosted Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Liberace, and a host of US Presidents. It was even the first building in the city to have elevators, with advertisements at the time stating, “a perpendicular railroad connects floor to floor, rendering passage by the stairs unnecessary.” I felt so under-dressed!
When we finally ventured back outside, most of the downtown streets were draped in shadow. We were getting pretty tired, but decided to walk to one more location: the Tribune Building just across the Chicago river. On the way, we passed the Chicago Theatre and Marina City, two of my favorite sights in town. Marina City you may recognize from a 2002 Wilco album cover; they look like giant corncobs. We approached the front of the Tribune Building and I started scanning the exterior. The building was designed via contest, offering $50,000 to the architect that presented, “the most beautiful and distinctive office building in the world.” There are a lot of neat little architectural touches to the building, but my favorite is the fact that fragments of other famous or significant buildings from around the world are embedded in the base of the tower. I recently learned that Tulsa’s own Boston Avenue Methodist Church is represented, and I had to find it for myself. I walked around the south side of the building, all the way to the back, and didn’t see it. I returned to the front and walked around the north side, convinced I’d missed it somewhere. Andy said, “It’s probably the very last one, haha” and it WAS! Right on the northeast corner. By the time I found it and captured it, it was full dark and the temperature was dropping fast. Time to warm up with some drinks!
Andy and I took the train to the Andersonville neighborhood to meet Scott for drinks at Simon’s Tavern. Andersonville has a large Swedish immigrant population and boasts several Swedish businesses, including a museum! The tavern we went to was a basement speakeasy back in the day, and the interior (which was modeled after a steamship) didn’t look like it had been updated at all since the days of Prohibition. Our bartender sported a set of chops that were straight out of a Dickens novel and rang up our libations on a vintage cash register. Although they are known for their glögg, I stuck with beer. Scott was waiting for us when we arrived, and shortly after we sat down another one of Scott’s friends came by, too. The four of us sat and drank for a spell, telling tales and reveling in one another’s company. When we realized we had entirely skipped dinner, we went down a few doors to Lady Gregory’s where I ended up sitting next to a large picture of the late David Bowie. It inspired a lively conversation about concerts, principles, and inspirations that lasted well into the night.
If I thought Saturday was cold, I had another thing coming. I woke up on Sunday morning to a temperature reading of 1 degree. One! A friend of mine described the winter chill in Chicago as ‘not just cold, but angry‘ and that’s accurate. Scott and I decided a quiet day with very little time outdoors was the best idea ever. Breakfast consisted of the best Chicken & Waffles I’ve ever eaten at a place called Scratch Kitchen & Lounge in Forest Park; afterwards, we decided to go see Frank Lloyd Wright’s house and studio, just five minutes away. They had a small tour of the property available, which I enjoyed immensely. Soon enough, though, it was time to head to O’Hare. Scott and I parted ways and I asked him to visit Tulsa soon so I could return the favor of his kindness.
I printed my boarding pass and headed towards the only visible security checkpoint. As I approached, I noticed it was some kind of special member checkpoint and asked the TSA official where I could find the Average Joe security area. She told me to go on through as there was nobody in line, which was a nice surprise. I went right up, disrobed appropriately, and placed both of my laptops in bins. When I was on the other side of the body scanner, I noticed my carry-on suitcase had been placed on a secondary conveyor belt. As I put my shoes and belt back on, I was told that my suitcase warranted a search. I patiently waited and was eventually told that my half-full tube of toothpaste was out of compliance. It hadn’t occurred to me that it would be a problem, as it had passed through Tulsa just fine. No matter; I surrendered it without complaint. As my bag was being re-assembled, the agent swabbed my bag with some kind of wipe and tested it. After a lot of beeping, I was told that my bag tested positive for explosive material! I was dumbfounded, but relented to the full pat-down service, further examination, and testing. They found nothing else, and a second swab came up negative…so I was free to go.
Tired and anxious, I took my disheveled luggage and headed towards my gate. As I continued through the concourse, the shops became sparse and less recognizable. The public computer terminals and charging stations devolved into forlorn banks of payphones. At the very end of concourse B, I arrived at my gate. It was literally the last gate in the concourse and was actually a combination of three gates, which confused me until I boarded; the gate entry door lead to the longest walkway ever, branching off several times until I arrived at the very end. I boarded, seated myself, popped in my headphones, and looked out my window as we began the journey home. I watched the constellation of incoming aircraft as we taxied for what seemed like forever. When we did finally take off, I observed the sea of sodium lights, Chicago’s distant skyline, and the blackness of Lake Michigan beyond. It was a good visit. Even though my time was limited, I was able to see a lot of cool places and have a great time with my friends. I was happiest, though, when I wearily walked through the terminal at Tulsa International Airport and into the waiting arms of my loving wife. I love to travel, but boy it’s good to be home.