Friday, February 14, 2014

Our Second City Soirée

Lydia and I had some business to attend to in Chicago over the weekend, so up we went.

Lydia booked us a room on one of those travel sites where the location is shrouded in mystery until you are already committed. We ended up at the Hotel Felix Chicago. It was in a good downtown location which was useful, but we weren't super impressed otherwise. It was supposed to be a 4-star "a luxury eco-friendly boutique hotel", but I'm wondering if the bar is lowered downtown because they don't have any space? They didn't have a pool, and the only option for parking was to pay $50 a day for valet service. Bleh.

My first (and hopefully last) interaction with a valet service was pretty interesting. At one point we needed something out of the trunk of the car, and didn't have a whole lot of time to spare. So we ended up following the valet guy over to the parking lot they were using. The lot was a few blocks away and super sketchy. There were several smashed cars sitting there, which made us wonder what sort of other companies were using the same lot. The worker was Syrian, and we had an amusing conversation with him about world politics. Big cities are so much fun.

The lobby was pretty cool, I guess.

One of the touristy stops in my travel book was the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio. I was even able to drag Justin, Natalie, and Joe there with us-all friends from old school Springfield. They all needed a good hug and a cry after being beaten down by life in Chicago.

The entrance fee to the home didn't bother me ($15), but there was an additional $5 fee if I wanted to take pictures inside the home which they conveniently declined to mention on their website. Nice try Chicago. Suck it!

I feel like four pictures of the front of the house is just as good as pictures of the inside. Not really.

 My most favorite room of the home was the drafting room. The room was some multiple-sided geometric shape, and it was being held together by a gigantic chain that wrapped around the room. Tension was held on the chain by giant iron balls that looked like they belonged in a cannon.

Our tour guide was very good, especially considering he was probably a volunteer. He mentioned something about a murder almost under his breath. Of course we were all curious what he could possibly be talking about. I looked it up and it turns out that Frank was living with his mistress and her kids for a period of time. One day one of Frank's servants, while Frank was away on business, set their house on fire. He then waited outside by the door with an ax and murdered anyone who tried to escape the flames, including Frank's mistress, her two children, and five other people. Crazy man then swallowed acid in an attempt to kill himself before capture, eventually dying in jail. You might say he "engineered their doom". Or he "drafted the blueprints of their death".

Back in town, and out on the street, we walked past a Walgreen's situated inside a old bank building. Very cool.

Of course I insisted we go inside. Turns out the interior looks a whole lot like a Walgreen's, only older.

My friends Joe and Natalie took us to Native Foods Cafe for lunch. It was super vegetarian magical hippy food, but for the most part it was pretty good. 

They made their own juice in house which was pretty neat. The sandwiches all had different kinds of faux meat on them. I had a turkey sandwich, and I probably wouldn't have even noticed it wasn't real meat. Pretty spiffy. Natalie had some fake bacon on hers which I was not fooled by. I imagine it is what Beggin' Strips may taste like.

Later that night we checked out one of Chicago's famous Second City improv shows. I haven't been to a "real" comedy club before so that was kind of neat. We got to sit right up by the stage and share our little table with a couple of strangers.

We saw What The Tour Guide Didn't Tell You: A Chicago Revue. The show mixed improv with preplanned skits, and it was really good.

The next day, while Lydia wasn't paying attention and thought we were going to dinner, I drove us to Milito's Mobile. I learned of its existence via Facebook a while ago and it had been on my Chicago hit list ever after. I tried to purchase one of the bright orange Milito's Car Wash t-shirts that the staff were wearing, but no dice.

Dinner eventually did happen at Superdawg, an awesome drive-in restaurant from the 1940s. It took the fun of eating at Sonic and subtracted having to eat the food at Sonic. Maurie and Flaurie, the giant anthropomorphic hot dogs on top of the building brought back fond memories of eating in the shadow of Springfield, IL's own giant hotdog people.

Even carless people could get in on the fun!

The meal tray hung on little hangers from the car window, all classic-like.

Notably, the dog with everything on it did not include ketchup.

Our final act in the area was to go visit IKEA. Lydia likes to look at the furniture but I mostly just like the funky European food. I bought some interesting concentrated syrups that I've been adding to bottled water: lingonberry and elderflower.

SAFT FLÄDER Elderflower syrup IKEA
Tastes like delicious imported flowers. Boom!

Friday, February 07, 2014

The Delightfully Low Budget Crystal City Underground

I bought a Groupon for a barge ride at the Crystal City Underground for Lydia and I, but I wouldn't tell her where we were going until the last minute. She likes tortuous surprises. I tried to get some friends to come with us but they were all too lame. The weather was pretty cold, and they theorized it would be even colder in the cave. If they had even bothered to glance at a subterranean temperature textbook they would know that the climate that far down is fairly constant regardless of the weather. Amateurs. Moving on...

The approach to Crystal City was quite tension building. It's in the middle of nowhere, and at the time the parking lot was near deserted. Steam bellowed out of the caves.

Once inside the place had sort of Lost Boys/adult tree-house quality to it. Like if there was some sort of apocalyptic event and I had to live in a cave for a few years, this is how I would set it up. The first thing I noticed were lots of random large artifacts that the caves' ample space had no problem accommodating. A large parade float, a Christmas tree, a faux Mayan pyramid.... why? Why not?

Bar? Check. The cave bar had reasonable prices, and I may have had a cave Jack on the rocks or two.

Movie theatre? Check.

Beach volleyball? Check. There was naturally find sand spread out everywhere inside the giant caves. The caves exist because they were being mined for the fine silica that could be found here, which was used to make glass, hence the name Crystal City. The main attraction was to take a barge ride on the underground lake. The mining went deep enough that once abandoned it naturally filled up with water.

The barge was pretty cool. It seemed both homemade and awesome at the same time, with a fishing boat motor welded to the front for propulsion. We were the only people on the boat, so we had the friendly captain/tour-guide all to ourselves.

The lights on the barge interacted with caves and the water in a very interesting way. Rather than show us what was on the cave floor, the light produced a vivid reflection of the caves. It's a bit hard to describe, but the water's intense shininess was like floating on a lake of mercury. Our guide had a powerful searchlight that could penetrate the liquid metal and reveal what was below. Ghostly artifacts were above and below. Tire tracks could still be seen, along with various mining tools. Large antique light bulbs were stuck to the walls.

I believe this was a rusted out drill bit.

Back on dry land there was a display case of a few artifacts brought up out of the water.

At one point our guide turned off every light on the barge, and the cave was completely devoid of light. I could have touched my own eyeball and not seen anything.

Crystal City Underground was unexpectedly awesome. I'd like to go back with some friends sometime. Maybe play some laser tag too.