If you can't tell, I find Chicago fascinating and it was great to be back this past week. A little more mental unpacking from our vacation:
- There's no question that Chicago politics are still corrupt and stultifying, but I'll say this -- the place looked great. When I lived in the Chicago area, I rode the blue line Congress train into the city just about every day. This train runs down the Eisenhower Expressway straight into the South Loop, then runs north along Dearborn Street before turning northwest towards O'Hare. I remember those trips as being gritty, utilitarian and sometimes a little frightening, especially at night. The trains were often dirty and could be filled with thuggish young men, aggressive panhandlers and staggering drunks. You always had to keep your wits about you in those days. We rode the same train several times this week and it was astonishing how much better things were. Several of the stations along the line had been significantly refurbished and the trains were tidy. Even though I had young children in tow, I felt completely safe. Meanwhile the corridor of the Ike, which was an open dump when we lived in Chicago, had significantly less litter than you'll see on 35W or on 94 between the downtowns here. I don't know if Mayor Daley has some sort of Singapore thing going regarding littering, but it was an amazing transformation.
- Millennium Park has to be one of the nicest additions to a city I've ever seen. It occupies a parcel of land on the north end of Grant Park and includes the whimsical Cloud Gate sculpture that is pictured above. This thing is the closest thing to a human magnet I've ever seen. Kids and adults are just drawn to it. They also built a gorgeous open-air ampitheather and a really neat fountain in the space, among other things. Not much in Chicago is free, but this is. My wife's aunt described Millennium Park as one of the happiest places she's ever seen. That is an apt description.
- We were staying out in Oakbrook Terrace, on the eastern edge of DuPage County, and we ended up driving up and down Roosevelt Road a lot while we were in town. Roosevelt Road is famous for two things - cemeteries and hot dog joints. I'm not certain how those two facts relate to each other, but it would probably be reasonable to suspect a certain level of correlation. It also meant that I did get to the Portillo's in Forest Park to have an artery-clogging but yummy combo sandwich (dipped, but no peppers). Those cemeteries should be able to provide a comfortable margin of victory for Sen. Obama in the upcoming election, by the way.