So here we were, making a northward ascent from New Orleans all the way to Michigan with very little time to spare – so little, in fact, that by now we’d fallen behind somewhat, even though we'd stolen a day from Mobile and tacked it onto this leg of the trip. We’d noshed on some simple but sensational dinner the night before at Yesterdog in Grand Rapids, which features plump hot dogs beneath layer upon layer of condiments like lettuce, onions, relish, cheese and chili. But after our dinner, we’d missed any traces of daylight, and had to leave first thing the next morning. Still, even spending a night in town was more than we’ve done in a few other places (Rhode Island comes to mind), so let’s not shed any tears over it.
Day 48 saw us up and on the road at a fairly early hour – 8:30 or so – to tackle the drive west to Chicago. The route sent us right by Gary, Ind., the boyhood home of one mister Michael Jackson, who had passed away just weeks before. We felt obligated to swing through, since it added a mere ten minutes to our travel time.
Apparently we weren’t the only ones with such an inclination, as a fairly sizeable collection of bouquets and well-wishes had accumulated in front of the house – which, I might add, is still a private residence, occupied by Michael’s uncle or something. I can’t imagine that occupant was very pleased about all the commotion, or about the five or six t-shirt vendors who’d set up shop across the street.
Back in the car, our first stop in Chicago was the massive O’Hare International Airport, something we’d have avoided at all costs if not for one special reason: my lovely Bernadette. My ginger-haired sweetheart from back home in Philly was joining us today for an extended visit, ending eleven days later in faraway Omaha, Neb. For those of you who have never known the feeling of being a thousand miles and more from the one you love, let me tell you, it’s not easy. So I was quite thrilled to have her with us again for a good long time.
She arrived with an appetite, and we had just the place in mind, a snazzy pizza joint called Lou Malnati’s. We’d had pizza on our minds for Chicago the whole time, as the city is famous for its own style of pizza. Very much unlike the thin-crust, fold-me-in-half pizza slices we’d devoured back in Brooklyn, Chicagoans prefer their pizza deep-dish style. These pies are slightly smaller than thin-crust in diameter but about quadruple the thickness, thanks to layer upon layer of cheese and toppings.
As such, they take a solid half hour to cook, but were worth waiting twice as long. Ours was buried beneath sausage, peppers, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms and a thick, hearty sauce. Bern wouldn’t eat half of the condiments we got on our own pizza so she got herself a little personal guy with sausage and pepperoni. For all the hype I’ve heard about Chicago’s pizza, this proved it all correct and possibly an understatement.
In our minds, hand-in-hand with the word Chicago goes the name Adrienne. Adrienne is a good friend of ours from these parts, whom we befriended at college and have been eager to employ as our tour guide for a visit to this vast city. We got in touch with her a while in advance, and she was more than happy to have us crash at her place. But before we could meet up, she had to get off work – an utterly foreign concept to us at his point. To kill some time, we got a round of overpriced drinks at a place called El Mariachi a few blocks from her house. Before long she was home, and we bounded over immediately.
We enjoyed a beverage or two at her house before we walked a few blocks from her house in the other direction, to a nice bar called Bar on Buena (B.O.B.) with an outdoor seating area. An impressive beer menu sent me tasting and giggling my way through a number of different brews, and into a handful of appetizers for the five of us. Fun like this can only last so long, especially given the exciting and eventful day we’d had. We called it a night before it got too late, to save some energy for another adventure in Chicago the following day. More on that from Sarah, coming very soon.