Where most cities decide to use their islands for special purposes, say an historic prison or superb park, Chicago decided to go a different route and make an island of industry. This is no natural island though. It came into being by the city dredging a canal in the beautiful Chicago river to break off the east side.
On the south side sits a college that once housed the headquarters of Sara Lee. Across the muddy river from it runs a large concrete plant where gravel is still brought in by barge.
Covering the east of the island are a Greyhound bus maintenance terminal, large mini-storage building, and solid waste transfer station.
The west side has a very sad boat dock and a Lexus car maintenance building(with the dealer being just the other side of the river), and a hazardous waste recycling building.
The center of the island houses an assortmant of industry and many small startup companies. Automotive mechanic shops abound as well as grocery store distributors, a huge CTA materials warehouse, and a Fedex distribution center. To top it off there is a dog hotel on the island.
The north side is the only section pleasing to the eye as the Mars(Wrigley) company has a few modern and attractive buildings with well mainicured, and well fenced, landscaping.
There is no reason for a tourist or even a local that is not employed on the island to visit it, unless you are one of the poor souls that must commute across Division Street. That lone street being the only way to cross the island, where walking is usually faster than driving.
It is a shame this island has not been turned into a city park. It is made for it. A short walk from the beautiful neighborhoods of Wicker Park(Noble Square) to the west, Lincoln Park(Old Town or Cabrini-Green) to the east, River west to the south, and just across a bridge to the north for Lincoln Park(Ranch Triangle).
Come on Chicago and turn this dump of brick buildings and concrete into a fantastic park worthy of this great city where geese actually roam and grass and trees grow.
The Chicago Skyline
A Mars Building
A Few Startups plus Dog Hotel
A Grocery Chain watches over Division Street
East Side with a Modern High-Rise
Another Fancy Mars Building
The FedEx Building with Chicago in the Background
A Concrete Plant with Empty Gravel Barge(Not on the island)
The Second City has given us Second City, an improvisational theater that has left its mark on the world by being the launching pad of many a famous comedians. Those familiar with “Whose Line is it Anyway” will understand what Second City is about, especially since most of those people came up through Second City. I had two goals on my visit to Chicago. Watch a Second City show and try a deep dish pizza. One was good and one was terrible, but which would let me down?
I do not find pizza to be a breakfast food and all shows are in the evening so that left a full day for exploring the city. Only taking three hours to make myself beautiful, the misses and I headed out in search of a Starbucks. Our hometown doesn’t have a Starbucks if you can believe that. We are a bunch of savages, so a sugary coffee on vacation is a special treat. It was not a very involved search. Stepping out of the hotel we found one, and one more on the next block, and the next, and two more after that. I can assuredly say no one will suffer from caffeine withdrawls in this city.
After our sugar rush we roamed the streets towards Magnificent Mile. Braving the cold for all of ten minutes we decided to try some local cuisine for lunch. A cozy little restaurant called Chipotle sounded interesting so we favored them with our business. All was well and good. People must be familiar with this Chicago eatery as we are always asked if we got ill from eating there. It is an odd question and no, we did not get ill.
With heavy bellies we continued to roam the city, admiring the shops and skyskrapers, until we cam upon the Chicago River. We were impressed with this waterway, and not just for the looks. It has interesting traits, such as it flows backwards, which is extremely impressive. The view along the waterway is also impressive. A path along the South side allows a view of the triple decker Wacker Drive and of the waterway. A must visit area of the city.
Finishing our walk we head for one of the famous Chicago pizza restaurants. We were both excited as we love New York pizza and couldn’t wait to compare. The Battle of the Pizzas. The restaurant itself had a fabulous atmosphere. Dark with graffiti everywhere and photos of famous people who visited, though I didn’t recognize more than half of them. Sitting down the first thing we noticed was the price. It seemed outrageously expensive. We discussed leaving but couldn’t do it. We had to give Chicago pizza a fair shake. Ordering our deep dish pizza and a pitcher of local beer we settled in. The beer arrived quickly enough but the hour and a half wait for the pizza seemed a bit ridiculous. Then things got bad. Chicago style pizza is disgusting, plain and simple. It is nothing but tomato soup with a block of melted cheese. It is a gut bomb with no taste. Chicago, you lose this competition badly. Please stop making this pizza(that isn’t even really a pizza) and concentrate on the many things you do well. Let New Yorkers make pizza from now on and have it shipped in.
Only able to eat half of our soup bowl we got the rest for take away and tried to give it away to a begger on Magnificent Mile. Here the misses learned a valuable life lesson. The beggers refused this expensive pizza when we offered, saying they only wanted money. So sad that these people ruin it for those that really need help. Shaking our heads we leave the bread bowl of nastiness on top of a garbage can where it belongs and head back to the hotel to get ready for our night of laughs.
Finishing my toilet in two hours this time and looking and feeling fantastic we head for the Second City theatre. It is not in the city center so we hop on a bus North that takes us along the lake and into a nice area. After a short but freezing walk we arrive at the theatre. Chilled to the bones and quite early, we get our will-call tickets and settle in at the attached Starbucks. Warmed a bit we hop into the theatre, which is much smaller and simpler than I expected. It surely wont be mistaken for a Vegas showroom. Shown our simple chairs we mentally prepare ourselves for a night of laughs. The drink lady stops by but we pass on drinks. She is to become a thorn in our side all night. Annoying and mistaking us for other customers, first giving us someone elses drinks, then someone elses food, and then their bill. Maybe she cannot see well in the dark. I advise the company to purchase her a headlamp.
For a few hours we enjoy the show. They are not as good as Ryan Stiles or others I have seen, but perhaps it takes years of practice. It is more set routines than improv which disappointed me, but my expectations were sky high, so I blame myself. At the end of the show they announce that they will now try new routines and those that wish can stay to see them. This is worth skipping unless you wish to help them and provide feedback. We stayed and missed the last bus because of it. This wasn’t too bad as we got a taxi with an Indian immigrant who was nice and funny, telling us how he had gotten used to the cold. He was a little perturbed at us though as he was heading to Wrigley Field, which offered much better fares, but instead we took him away from the stadium.
Second City, while not perfect, makes for an enjoyable night. You will laugh, cringe, and leave with a smile on your face. If for some reason you really hate the show and get depressed, go get a Chicago pizza and drown yourself in it.
Bored with the shopping on Magnificent Mile, your eyes struggle to focus on something that isn’t a shop. Finally they land on a small and simple signpost reading ‘Navy Pier’, with an arrow pointing the way. Well, anything to escape this current situation. Looking at Navy ships sounds as good as anything. Your feet lead you East towards the lake.
Emerging from the city skyline you realize that you have been fooled by the sign, or more truthfully fooled yourself, as signs are rarely at fault. Opening in front of you is a large park and pedestrian walkway, with modern buildings and a ferris wheel watching over all. No large grey ships are to be found. Instead of a Navy Pier it is more of a city center, or tourist attraction if you please.
You begin your walk around this 3,300 foot(1,010 meter) long pier. Starting on the right side like all sane people, you start your loop. Have no fear of the pier collapsing. It has been standing strong for one hundred and one years. You think back to those days, imagining the people who came before you. The Roaring Twenties with the women dressed to kill in Art Nouveau sequined dresses, the men in suits, walking arm in arm along the pier. Enjoying the live bands, fireworks, concerts, and even airplane and motorboat races. Out on the water are freighters lined up to dock and leisure ships departing full of tourists. It is a bustling sight.
Enjoying the cold lake breeze you walk past the wave wall, which is touted as the Spanish Steps of Chicago(They are really in Rome), and the Ferris Wheel. You would love to ride the wheel but those are a lot of steps and there is no elevator(A glaring omission of the planning council). You continue your walk around the pier, passing restaurants and a gift shop, all the time admiring the cleanliness and beauty of this pier. You wonder if it looked this good during the Great War.
This poor little pier is barely a year old and yet it has been taken over by several regiments of soldiers and Red Cross workers, who now live here. In one area is a barracks for new recruits and a jail for draft dodgers. It certainly is no where near as clean.
Coming to the end of the pier and its empty beer garden you quickly make the loop around without stopping, as the cold wind is too intense. With head tucked in and bones frozen, you breath a sigh of relief as you finally get your back to the wind. Looking onto this building that stands 3000 feet out in the lake you are amazed to see how little it has changed in a hundred years.
Sailors and Marines are training everywhere, becoming metalsmiths, mechanics, and diesel operators. The noise and amount of people is incredible. This Navy pier has become the largest training facility of its kind in the world, playing an important part in this second world war. When the war is over there are rumors that it will become a University.
Walking this North side of the pier is quite different from the South side. You feel like you are in the back of everything. There are high walls and loading docks. You spend most of your time enjoying the fine skyline in front of you as you pass Uber and Lyft pick-up points. As you come back onto land and into the pier’s bus terminal you praise the city and the nameless people involved for the redevelopment in 1990 of this amazing area.
Navy Pier has stood through fortune and disuse for a hundred years. May it prosper and always return from downturns for a hundred more.
Chicago has no shortage of things to do but you decide on the Museum of Science and Industry since it is extremely highly rated on Tripadvisor. It is located on the lake but far south of downtown. You consider renting a bicycle and riding the eight miles from your hotel but quickly dismiss the idea as it is so freezing cold that you would most likely have to snap a dog off the bike before being able to use it. You could take the “L” which gets you a block from the museum but you decide on a bus so you can see more of the city from street level.
Riding the bus takes you through multiple forms of the city. You begin from the incredible triple-decker Wacker drive and cruise the city streets stocked with office workers and the mandatory Starbucks and Chipotle’s, enter a motorway where you can catch a glimpse of what might kindly be called ghetto housing, then quickly get off the motorway, pass through a Hispanic neighborhood and turn onto a long residential street that dead ends into the museum. It is quite a diverse bus trip.
Your first view of the museum is impressive. It looks like it belongs on the Mall in Washington D.C. A large grass field, which hides the underground parking garage, opens up in front of the building. All in all a beautiful site and very welcoming.
You cross this grass field and enter into a pillbox well in front of the building itself. This leads to a stairwell which then leads you deep underground to the ticket counter, coat check, and gift shop. After looking over the bewildering amount of ticket options you finally decide on the basic ticket and proceed up an escalator that brings you into a foyer. Here is seating for the restaurant. From here the museum spreads into multiple wings and three levels. Keep your map at the ready so you can see what you wish to see. Or if you are up for an adventure and have all day just start roaming around.
You come across rooms for children, rooms where you can touch and play with stuff, rooms full of planes and trains, a large model of Chicago, an old United 727, a mirror maze, avalanche simulator, famous cars, models of important ships, and dozens of other things. You are glad you decided to spend a whole day here as you need it to see(and touch) everything. Your one regret is not paying for the add-ons. You are missing out on the Lego exhibit, as well as Robot Revolution, the U-505 submarine tour, Coal Mine, Future Energy Chicago and others. There is so much to do!
Extremely happy and with a smile on your face you get your coat from the coat check and walk up the stairs, out the pillbox, and back to the bus stop. Time to go see the Bean now.
Be extremely careful using GPS if you have a job interview in Franklin Park, Illinois.
The misses and I visited the Chicago area to see about a job opportunity for her. We wished to see this Franklin Park area before the interview to get the vibe and feel if it felt like home. Setting off from our hotel I type Franklin Park into the GPS and away we go. Never having been to Chicago we put all our faith in the GPS. We have all heard the stories of people blindly following GPS and had a laugh, but yet it is difficult not to trust it.
The view getting progressively worse as we move along. Things aren’t on the up and up as we pass through an Hispanic neighborhood. It isn’t too bad as it is busy and a few people are walking the streets, but it isn’t where we would choose to live. The GPS says we are a mile from Franklin Park and we have already made our minds up not to live or work here.
The neighborhoods continue their decline as we continue on. Our windows go up and doors get locked. The misses wishes to escape but I’ve come this far and want to see this Franklin Park. Only two minutes until our destination we make a right turn and good lord we are in the ghetto. This isn’t a joke anymore. The streets are empty. The buildings along the road also look empty and derelict. Keeping my eyes focused straight ahead I go as fast as possible(damn speed bumps) to get out of here. Off to my right I catch a glimpse of a park. So this is Franklin PARK in Chicago, not Franklin Park the town in Illinois. Maybe the park is beautiful, and maybe the people are amazing and some of the nicest in the world, but like all of us I judge but what I see, and I could see that we did not belong there.
Getting off that empty road that belongs more in a third world war zone and not in Americas second city we breath a sigh of relief. If it is this bad on the West side I cannot imagine how bad it is in the South side that we always hear about in the news. I feel sorry for those that have to live and survive in such circumstances. Trying again with the GPS we proceed to the Franklin Park we truly wanted, which is located near O’Hare airport on the West side of the city. Here is more our style we thought as we got out of our car and walked around. Happy in our safe and easy life.