Reading: Ulysses (James Joyce)
Listening: Lofi Hip Hop Radio (YouTube)
Now I’m sitting in a train car, the locomotive sputtering toward New York City along rough, icy stretches of track. My laptop keys vibrate beneath my fingertips as the train shivers on. It’s admittedly a tad difficult to concentrate. However, I can’t help but reflect over my last two days in “Chi-town” as the Midwest, with its familiar customs and voices, gives way to the Eastern United States with each passing mile (a place I haven’t known since infancy).
Saturday morning through the afternoon was spent diligently enough, with me writing and Sarah performing site maintenance and various photography tasks (downloading, uploading, editing, etc.) As Bowie said, we wanted to “stay in and get things done.” Until dusk, anyways. As the sun descended we climbed the metro stairs to meet an old friend (and to make a new one).
Early for our rendezvous, Sarah and I wandered into O’Leary’s Public House for a quick pint. Low-hanging Chandeliers and an oak interior suffused the pub with an innate feeling of warmth while the presence of Christmas wreathes and other seasonal knickknacks reminded us that the holiday season was still very much in effect. “Cheers!” Much to celebrate. The barkeep was even generous enough to wave $20 minimum on credit cart purchases (oops) as we departed. Good will still lingered here too, it seemed.
From O’Leary’s it was a quick jaunt to our rendezvous point: The Wildfire Restaurant. Visiting the States from Zurich, Switzerland, my mom’s good friend Melinda (and ours’, duh) received us with drinks, appetizers, and introductions. We had the fine opportunity to reconnect, or in Sarah’s case, meet Melinda’s friends and family. This only seemed appropriate, as Melinda had parlayed and partied with many of our close friends just this past New Year’s Eve. I remember admiring her tact in the face of such hooliganism… Though our gathering was bitterly brief, I have a feeling we’ll cross paths later this year. Especially if she jingles more of those heavenly Swiss chocolate coins our way (the currency of the gods, I swear).
Leaving Melinda to enjoy a family dinner, Sarah and I attempted to enter an establishment called The Blind Dragon. Locked. (Turns out we weren’t really at the entrance). Oh well, what’s next door? The appropriately named FOUND bar. Sleek marble bar-tops and a shimmering assortment of fine booze left us equal parts dazzled and dehydrated. Happy hour priced cocktails with upscale descriptions seemed a good bet. A few gilded barstools down, another patron chimed: “So where all are you going?” She’d overheard our chatter with the barkeep, and with earnest we elaborated. Adrienne, a transplant from Michigan, had nothing but kind words and encouragement regarding our excursion. Soon, we were discussing the real estate market, regional politics, and our shared awe at the religiosity of Big Ten Football. Adrienne was kind enough to buy us another round and we clinked glasses and cracked jokes until our growling stomachs inevitably intervened. Reinforcing our prior inclinations towards a corner shop called Al’s Italian Beef, Adrienne wished us luck on our journey (for full experiences and stomachs alike).
Al’s Italian Beef is a Chicago staple, and for good reason. A no nonsense sandwich and sausage joint, we tried one of each to great delight. Photographs of famous visitors crowned the walls, and a picture of the late Anthony Bourdain underscored our hunger for adventure and tasty food. Prioritizing a good night’s rest, we headed back to the Hostel International in preparation of the day ahead.
On Adrienne’s recommendation, we headed to Wicker Park the following morning. Hip, youthful, and aswarm with local charm, we settled in for some much needed caffeine at Bru, a neighborhood coffee shop flush with cozy couches and smooth tracks on the stereo. Sarah worked on the computer and I devoured a good chunk of Ulysses, awaiting our chauffeur. Yes, that’s right, a free ride from none other than my darling little sister Honor who made the trip to Chicago to see us off one final time. After a brief stop at her friend Sydney’s (thank you for the hospitality and the White Claws!) we again took to the streets, satisfied with cruising and drinking in the sights. By nightfall we found ourselves traveling South on Highway 41, great yawning Lake Michigan on our left, lush and lustrous Grant park on our right. Skyscrapers loomed in the distance, their soft lights filtering through the cool night, ghostly and enchanting.
Soon after, the three of us enjoyed an incredible seafood dinner at the Lowcountry restaurant in South Loop. The self-proclaimed “hottest spot for boil-in-a-bag seafood” in Chicago, Lowcountry isn’t bluffing. Stepping onto a motley of different colored planks, your senses are immediately met by the vibrant foliage bursting from the ceiling and the crisp scent of lemongrass and cajun seasoning wafting from the kitchen. Red and white checkered picnic tables line the dining area, some amidst a delicate bramble of artificial grass. The ambiance is simultaneously modern yet homey. Though Sarah, Honor, and I were plenty hungry, a quick scan of the menu revealed the “For 2” as the ideal portion for us (though I’m sure the “For 3” would satisfy big eaters). A pound of headless shrimp, another of snow crab legs, six pieces of corn, six supple lumps of cornbread, and two soft drinks sounded plenty to tide us over. After a fairly short wait, our order arrived. Behold: everything previously mentioned (sans cornbread) waiting to erupt from a durable plastic bag. All marinated in a marvelous blend of garlic, lemon-pepper, and cajun seasoning (the ‘EVERYTHANG’ mix, which I’d highly recommend) we hungrily sliced the bag open and began to feast. We took primeval glee in devouring the meal with our hands, with everything steamed and saturated in the delicious blend. “It’s finger-lickin’, finger-lickin’ good ya’ll” (Beastie Boys). Honor and Sarah looked super cute in their bibs. Will definitely return!
Now onto another feast… The Big Apple!