Friday, July 20, 2012

Chicago


For the first part of July, my roommate Kimmy and I had a houseguest: Kimmy's BFF from California, Miles. During Miles' whirlwind tour of our region of the world, the three of us trekked down I-94 to Chicago, a city I visited many times on school field trips growing up, but that had never been visited by Kimmy nor Miles. Chicago is the location of the Dresden Files, Kimmy's favorite books series that she has gotten me and Miles both into reading, as well, so Kimmy was super excited to get to see the real place.

Since I got stuck working until midnight on Friday, we got up really early Saturday morning and set out at 7am. To Chicago from Ann Arbor is about 4 hours by car. (From Kalamazoo, a little over 2 depending on traffic.) Since Chicago is in the Central time zone and the majority of Michigan is in the Eastern, we didn't have to leave as early as we might have been tempted to had we been traveling, say, east instead of west. My friends and I made this mistake once way back when. We failed to take the time change into account when visiting Chicago and arrived an hour before what we wanted to see opened. During this trip, we were just fine on time.

Traffic was pretty smooth the entire way. The only snag we hit was when coming upon our destination, the Field Museum. Unknown to us at the time, the nearby Soldier Field would be playing host that evening to country music star Tim McGraw. This made the conveniently located parking lots for the museum campus (the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, and Adler Planterium) over double their usual price. It was a full $49 to park that day, which floored all three of us. No way could we or would we afford that price. I knew there were more parking options in the city, and between my GPS that had decided it didn't really feel like working that day, and Miles' magic phone with maps and GPS installed, we found our way north to the vast parking complex located beneath Grant and surrounding Parks where the price was a more acceptable, if teeth-grinding, $31 for the day.

We popped up by some mysterious large and very tall objects that not only had water cascading down the sides, but faces somehow projected onto them. The faces were largely stationary, though they occasionally blinked and, I think, smiled. This was apparently a hot summer gathering place. Children ran, splashed, and played in the water from the giant structures while adults and baby strollers lined the periphery. Some folks had even spread out blankets for picnics. We snapped a few pictures, then headed on our way south back to the Field Museum.

Along the way, we found the Buckingham Fountain, one of the largest fountains in the world, which we recognized as the one featured in the opening to Fox's old TV show Married... With Children (the theme to which is not stuck in my head). Again, we stopped to take some pictures of both the fountain, and the beautiful Lake Michigan which sat opposite. This was Miles' first view of the Lake. It blew his mind. If you've never seen them, the Great Lakes are larger than many inland seas, yet the water is not the least bit salty. If you aren't worried about disease and the disgusting crap that humans have flung into them, you can drink from the Lakes. I've actually drunk from Lake Superior, the cleanest and most remote of the Lakes, and it was delicious, tasting almost sweet.

We continued walking along the shore of Lake Michigan all the way to the museum campus. The Field Museum is quite an impressive building. The steps leading up to the front doors are smooth and shining in the bright sun – also numerous. You can look out from the top of the stairs at a beautiful vista of downtown Chicago and the Lake alongside. You can quite plainly see Navy Pier, as well, made so prominent by its iconic Ferris wheel. I've never actually been to Navy Pier, but I most certainly know about it.

Upon entering the Field, we decided on the plus pass that got us into more exhibits. Even after spending the entire day there, however, we were only able to see about half of the museum. We started off in the front hall by Sue, the most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton ever discovered. Sue's skeleton is around an amazing 90% complete, though the head on the skeleton is a replica. The real skull is too heavy and would break the skeletal neck, so it is located in a its own niche on the second floor behind the skeleton. Sue's gender is also unknown, and named Sue for the archeologist who found it. They often refer to Sue as a she because of the feminine nickname. (Haven't they heard the song “A Boy Named Sue”?)

Another thing about Sue that was particularly relevant to our little trio is that in the Dresden Files novel Dead Beat, Sue is brought back to life as a zombie dinosaur and ridden through the streets of Chicago. Standing at the feet of this massive creature, it was a little intimidating imagining it coming to life again and being on the loose once more after so many millennia.

From there, we headed upstairs to our date with a mummy. Well, sort of. On the upper level of the museum is a 3D theater that shows a couple different shows. When you purchase your ticket, you decide which movie that you want to see. The one I wanted to see, and that my friends graciously agreed to, was the one about mummification and finding the ancient pharoahs. I have to say, this was the most impressive 3D film that I have ever seen. Egypt really did seem to come alive before me like never before. And it was beautiful! When I get married, I want to honeymoon in Egypt.

Next up was the Evolving Planet exhibit that took us on our planet's journey from the very beginning – or as near as science can tell. This is the exhibit that takes you through the Dinosaur Hall, a very impressive exhibit that also includes a fantastic view of the Chicago skyline if you peek out the little window on the north side. The Dinosaur Hall has even more skeletons to intimidate and awe its visitors. There was almost too much to absorb in this exhibit, and left me feeling awed by the vast amount of knowledge we puny humans have pieced together about our planet's past, and the sheer vastness of the knowledge we have yet to uncover, if we ever will.

After all that, I had to see the Inside Ancient Egypt attraction where we got to be up close and personal with more mummies than I have ever seen in my life. It was a little eerie. There were not only adult human mummies, but tiny babies, young children, cats, falcons, and much more! Seeing the unwrapped mummy of a little boy was really rather disturbing. Also fascinating. The Field Museum has been adding to its collections for over 100 years, and really, it's damned impressive.

Near the exit of the Egyptian exhibit was the entrance to a special exhibit, the Underground Adventure, which Miles and I both agreed was slightly disappointing. The exhibit “shrinks” the museum-goers to inch-worm size and you wander through the unseen underground world of bugs. Ants are giant monsters and the roots of grass become as thick as tree branches. Which was mildly interesting, but that seemed to be all there was to the exhibit, which I suppose was really more geared toward children anyway. The other special exhibit that we ended up missing out on because the museum closes stupidly early was about Genghis Khan, which was a little disappointing for me, though honestly, I already know a lot about the man, something I tend to forget when confronted with anything involving my deep-seated Asian obsession. (One of my degrees is in Asian Studies.)

At this point, we tried to head over to the Shedd Aquarium, but it turned out to be over an hour wait to get in, which would have left us only about an hour and a half to see the place, not enough time. The Shedd is easily a day onto itself, so back to the Field we headed.

We wandered through the “What Is an Animal?” exhibit and the many animal-centric exhibits beyond on our quest to see the man-eating Lions of Tsavo. The entire hall surrounding the lions was filled with countless stuffed animals (not the fuzzy, kid-friendly kind), which was a mite disturbing, though pretty cool to get a look at these creatures up close. It was like being a zoo, but where all the inmates are dead. (So not really like a zoo at all, I guess.)

Before being booted out, we hurried up to the Ancient Americas exhibit, which was already closed, so we ran over to the its exit, the North American Indians exhibit and traveled backwards to the Pawnee Earth Lodge, which I had really been curious about. Alas, that was also already closed, so we couldn't go inside, but we did get to peer through the gate and learn a little about the exhibit on the outside through reading. Not long after a guard came through and yelled at everyone that they had to leave, so reluctantly made out way back out the north entrance with vows of one day returning to see the rest of the exhibits that we missed out on, as well as finally see the Shedd Aquarium, which I have also never visited despite my love of water and its plethora of animals.

Maybe the next time I visit Chicago, I really need to stay more than just a day. After the Field Museum, we got some deep dish pizza (how could we not?), and wandered back toward the car, which was parked near another Chicago landmark, the Bean - I mean the Cloud Gate. (I mean the Bean.) This is a great place for goofy photos. Underneath the Bean is a little disorienting, but still fun. Just be warned that you may fall over upon first entering.

Next up, we used the GPS to visit another Dresden Files landmark, the St. Mary of the Angels. By then it was dark, and we couldn't visit another Dresden landmark, Graceland Cemetery, except to drive by it and peer at its brick wall. There was also that time difference to keep in mind, and we'd lose an hour traveling to my mother's house near Kalamazoo where we intended to stay the night before journeying back home to Belleville.

So we departed Chicago filled with tales of adventures, and many missed opportunities. Chicago is just that sort of town.

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