And what came next?
Well. Natalie returned home to Minneapolis with me for a week, which turned into two for reasons I’ll later reveal. I returned to the quotidian life. Office, gym - daily! But at slightly lower weights, because I’d been away for a fortnight. I’m sure I gained weight on the trip since I blew every one of my rules, for good reason. When groaning boards are put before you on vacation by your kind and generous hosts, you do not - I repeat DO. NOT say “actually I’m low carb? Don’t do bread so much?” You DO THE BREAD. And the big lunches. And the airplane desserts. I was Rabelasian on this trip, because it would be ridiculous to say mmm, no, just one absurdly flavored potato square laden with local sauce. It’s delicious. EAT.
It was cold upon returning, and it was cold for another week. Worst May in memory. The wretched May in which the flowering trees bud, and you’re wearing a sweater and a jacket.
And then we went to Chicago.
Hold on, what? Yes. Mother-in-law’s birthday. Convening of the wife’s clan. So. Short flight to Chicago while Natalie stayed home with Birch. The complete reversal of things for the dog - she’s there, we’re gone. Well, he will adjust in a trice and it will all be normal, and then we will return to great rejoicing.
But that’s a few days ahead. Yes, I am on the plane at the moment. Seems like I was just on a plane. In this case we’re heading back - at least that’s the plan. Bad weather has pinned us to the ground for and hour now, and if we don’t get up soon we may have to go back and refuel. The whole damned night and perhaps tomorrow tossed in to. . . . what? Why, that’s right. A cocked hat.
Ah, and we’re heading back to refuel. Dandy night all around.
This contrusion aside, it was a great trip. The occasion was a double birthday - sister-in-law and mother-in-law. We stayed at s-i-l’s house in a lovely leafy burb, Glen Ellen. Perfect place with a little downtown, punctuated regularly by a screeching commenter train. Housing stock mostly pre-war with more than a few post-war additions. It bled into other burbs with different characteristics, richer and poorer - an endless smear of suburban urbanity that seemed like one small town stitched seamlessly to the next. In-laws loved it here; they’d rehabbed a 1905 house and made a lovely home. Annnnd they were moving after just a few years, due to work.
My brother-in-law is a hospital exec, and had been sent home like everyone else during the lockdowns. The main office had never returned in force, and while some people came in now and then, the office routine was done. No more handshakes and watercolor chatter. Zoom! The company was canceling its leases on some nice modern office towers we passed on the freeway.
Mother-in-law is 90, and a typical American story. Born in rural poverty (no electricity growing up, no indoor plumbing), married a striving poor smarty kid who got a medical scholarship by dint of his sheer willpower, went on to raise four smart and accomplished kids who got what they got by hard work. (They paid their own way through college.) S-i-L and B-i-L’s kids are also smart and accomplished and hard-working. I mean, it’s just an amazing family, and I feel honored to be invited in and included. Plus! Uncle Gary and Auntie Jill! Uncle Gary is a real-estate guy who found all of our houses and sounds like a character from Fargo, and has a tendency to clap you on the back and punch you in the arm by way of greeting; Auntie Jill was a stew on Northwest Orient forever and ran the Asian routes, so she has stories.
Me and brother-in-law, we are the Odd Men Out, in a sense. On the way back from lunch the last day he was describing a conversation with his wife, and she corrected him to note that he was not accurate in his recap, and I said Tim, between the two of us we have over seven decades of dealing with women from this family and we are still wrong. There’s just no hope.
Saturday we went into Chicago proper. The out-of-towners would be given the hop-on-hop-off bus tour. I had no interest in this. S-I-L read off some of the attractions, and they were all things I knew from long ago. “We will pass by the Monadnock Building . . .”
“Last significant load-bearing wall tall building before the introduction of the steel frame, which would be used on its expansion. In fact -”
“. . . the Reliance building”
“Which was the first steel frame building characterized by the ‘Chicago Window” take on the Palladian window, and by the way the steel frame was patented by a Minnesotan, Leroy Buffington”
“. . . the Chicago Tribune Tower”
“Oh where do I begin? Stand outside and look across the street and you really should hear the first few notes of the ‘Bob Newhart Show’ theme.”
I know, I know, insufferable. At least I didn't say it out loud. Well, I did, but no one was listening.
What I wanted to do was go to the museum. So after we parked, I said to my wife “I am now separating from the group and going my own way, right? Okay?” And she bade me godspeed. I had two and a half hours in a city where I have always felt at home, a city full of old friends. Note: while the architecture of Chicago is fantastic, I do not believe that it is superior to New York. I’d rank them more or less equal but give the edge to Gotham. But, as I said, old friends. When I was growing up in Fargo I looked at old pictures of Chicago buildings and dreamed of visiting them some day. Giants from another age. And now here I was again, and the thought of going in the museum on a crowded day and dealing with Saturday crowds - well, no, that seemed the wrong choice. Instinct kicked in and hauled me north.
I said last week that I am never happier than when I’m walking in a city with my daughter, and that’s true. But walking a city by myself, free to pause and stare and study, that’s close.
This is not my city. It has been years since I’ve been here. But immediately a plan presents itself. Auditorium / Institute / Prudential / Standard / Carbon - Carbide / 333 / Accident Casualty / Wrigley / Tribune / The Tip-Top-Tap, loop back, Opera
So off we go.
For the rest of the week we will wander through these places, and see what we can learn. Below-the-folds resume tomorrow.
You can tell where I'm starting.
The Bean. But let's back up to something I saw coming in:
My favorite urban game: Telephone switching building, or Jail?
Jail. Wikipedia: "The cells were originally designed to feel as comfortable as possible, based on sailboat cabins, with built-in hardwood beds and desks. Most of these features have since been removed."
Also Wikipedia, on the escape-attempt section:
In October 2009, Matthew Nolan (28750-045), brother of film director Christopher Nolan, assembled bedsheets and other materials for a foiled window escape plan that was later called "impossible" by the judge who sentenced Nolan to 14 months for the attempt.
I did not know that.
Back to the Bean area.
The old "People's Gas" building on the left. The building on the right is a bit misheading - you're seeing the addition on top of a 1911 building that was once a temporary City Hall. If you peer at the lower levels you get a sense of the interior glory:
When you make a quarter turn you shift from the human-scaled stone structures of the early 20th century to the abstractions of modernism:
The Crown Fountain. When it's working, faces are displaced on the black object.
Google Street View:
I wonder if anyone featured on this thing just happened to be downtown and looked up and saw themselves.
At this point I thought "wait a minute, why go to the Museum? This is the museum." And so I began to walk.
That'll do! Some matchbooks await your perusal.