Shortly after Laura and I arrived in downtown Chicago on a recent Sunday night, masses of people filled the sidewalks. The 2013 NHL Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks finished off Edmonton 5-4. Fans happily made their way home all decked out in their expensive Blackhawk sweaters.
Just blocks away, fancy frocks of another kind adorned the crowd streaming out of the Chicago Theatre following the John Legend concert. Women were clearly dressed to impress, even though there was little chance Legend could notice or would be willing to trade his model wife, Chrissy Teigen.
Immediately we knew it was great to be visiting Chicago again. Everything that makes a big city great, yet a city that retains its midwestern roots with a pride that makes any visit a joy.
Ours began with a taxi ride from the airport in a MV1. Designed by a conglomerate of car makers, our cab was reminiscent of a London taxi in shape but was all modern inside and out. A compressed natural gas engine saved our driver Michael on fuel costs and the environment thanks to the clean burning fuel. As the MV1 pulled up curbside at Midway Airport, we naturally began hauling our bags and camera gear to the rear of the vehicle. Instead, Michael swung open the big, wide side doors and set our luggage where the passenger seat would normally reside. The versatility of the MV1 allows it to haul the handicapped, haul work supplies and varying amounts of passengers based on chosen seating patterns.
All of that seemed pretty cool, but our seats were far from comfortable for anything more than the short ride from the airport. Woe be it to anyone not wearing a seat belt. With the upright seating, any sudden stop could launch passengers in flight over the vast expanse, as Michael pointed out. Thankfully we were all buckled in for our race to the Hard Rock Hotel in downtown Chicago.
Housed in the old Carbide and Carbon building noted for its gold foiled top, beautiful black granite walls and terra-cotta details, the historic building was perfect for its rebirth as a living tribute to the greats of rock and roll. Each of the 40 floors honors a famous rocker with an elevator lobby display. Our floor, the 18th, pays tribute to Tina Turner with a giant portrait and in a glass case, her black all-fringe mini dress reminding us that in her hit Proud Mary, Turner wailed that she never did anything “nice and easy.”
That thought summed up our shopping efforts the next day. The Magnificent Mile beckoned. We had no intentions of completing this mile in under four minutes. By the time we finally took a long break to share lunch with good friends Charles Rex Arbogast and his wife, Lolli, we had only ground our way through less than a half mile of shopping delight.
Fully fueled, we capped the rest of our shopping assault with a quick nap and a romantic evening dinner at a restaurant that still appreciates allowing patrons to linger over their meal. We loved sitting next to each other and sharing good food and wine. However, on that Monday night, the idea of sitting close and warming ourselves was especially meaningful after a day battling the “hawk.”
That is what native Lou Rawls called the Chicago wind in his 1967 hit Dead End Street. “The hawk, the almighty hawk” where the wind “not only socks it to you, it socks it through you.”
The “hawk” certainly socked through us. Combined with rain and even some snow, the day was actually perfect. What would a late fall visit to Chicago be without a taste of the Windy City’s winter weather? It made our time walking arm-in-arm that much better.
The next day we needed to hit a true dive bar by diving down below Michigan Ave. One of the multi-level streets just a staircase away includes the self-proclaimed “World Famous” Billy Goat Tavern. Notoriety initially came when the bar’s owner placed a curse in 1945 on the Chicago Cubs after team management ejected his pet mascot goat from a World Series game, even though the goat had a paid box seat. Doomed to never return to the World Series, the curse still holds true today. True fame came from the original cast of Saturday Night Live with their skit highlighting the gruff ordering demands the staff placed on guests in the “Cheezborger, Cheezborger, Cheezborger. No Pepsi. Coke,” skit.
However, the draw for me is always to pay homage to the great Chicago journalists, including Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Mike Royko, that lovingly haunt the joint. They came to grab a bite of food, pound back more than a few drinks and beat their impending deadline as only they could in the really wild days of big-city journalism.
With that completed, it was time to head to the city’s United Center to photograph “a little basketball game” as we joked with a store clerk the day before. The truth is the games between Kentucky and Michigan State followed by Kansas against Duke were giant. The feeling in the arena rivaled the Final Four. The teams went after each other from the opening tips and never relented.
In a building where Michael Jordan won championship after championship, four of college basketball’s heavyweights battled with young stars bound for the NBA in no time. Legends from the various schools were there to be seen, as was every talking head from ESPN that you have never seen in person. Made us wonder who was left in Bristol to anchor the rest of the sports. When it was all over, KU’s young crop of super stars shined brightly. What is sure to be an eventful season truly began that night in Chicago.
The only problem is the two games took forever. Any hope of KU’s game tipping off at its scheduled 8:30 disappeared quickly as Michigan State and Kentucky battled with the Spartans using tight defense and the freshman-laden Wildcats having a rugged time with the tighter foul rules that are dragging games out this season.
By the time we left the arena at 1:45 in the morning with our friend Arbogast, the Associated Press photographer, my hopes of getting any sleep were gone. With a flight leaving at six that morning, I was better off just working away on the gallery back at the Hard Rock while Laura tore off clothes and jumped under the covers with hopes of catching just a bit of sleep.
When her alarm began to go off without any response, I turned to find her face down on the bed with just sheet and bit of comforter covering her half-naked body like some grainy old black and white image Annie Leibovitz might have shot during her Rolling Stone tour days. Shaking Laura gently and then harder to finally awaken her, I was very thankful we were not staying on the Janis Joplin floor. As we know, that didn’t turn out nearly as well as our time in our kind of town – Chicago.