For those of you planning a trip to the beautiful city of Chicago this summer, you’re in for a real treat. I recently visited the city where I grew up and I couldn’t be prouder of everything this town has to offer (with the exception of the Cubs).
My parents reside in the western suburb of Westchester (which recently took on eight inches of rain in a twelve hour period and flooded 5,000 houses), so I decided to take a week vacation with my wife to check on the homestead. Knock on wood, my parent’s home did not take on any water, but some of their neighbors were not quite so fortunate.
During our visit we decided to go downtown and see how the city has changed since our last trip, and I could not have been more impressed. Taking the Amtrak from the La Grange Station made the excursion downtown effortless. A seven dollar round-trip ticket drops you off at the Union Station, which is closely juxtaposed to the Sears Tower. After traveling on the train, I had to wonder why anyone in their right mind would fight the traffic on the constantly construction-oriented Eisenhower Expressway. Within thirty minutes we arrived at Union Station with no symptoms of road rage and no outrageous parking fee to pay. We exited the Adams Street stairway (the street where I was born) and walked into the bustling downtown of Chicago. Making our way across Wells Street and towards Michigan Avenue, I was struck by the cleanliness of the city. I can honestly say that I did not see one piece of garbage laying anywhere. After crossing Michigan Ave, we made our way into Millennium Park. The park which was first planned in 1997 as a way to transform Grant Park into a world-class attraction, did not disappoint. It is a 24.5 acre oasis that offers a blend of music, art, architecture, al fresco dining, and even ice skating, with the Chicago skyline offering the backdrop. The Jay Pritzker Pavilion is one of the most sophisticated concert venues in the world. Designed by architect Frank Gehry, the pavilion stands 120-feet high with stainless steel pipes criss-crossing in a web like pattern, which creates an open air “acoustical canopy.” My wife and I sat down in the 4,000 seat pavilion and took in a free concert performed by the Chicago symphony (imagine that: something for free). After the concert we walked across the BP Bridge, which links Millennium with the eastern part of Grant Park and made our way across Lake Shore Drive to the lake front, heading north to Navy Pier.
Navy Pier was one of the first venues in the United States designed to combine business with recreation. In 1909, Daniel Burnham created the “Master Plan of Chicago,” which originally encompassed five piers at the mouth of the Chicago River. Eventually it was scaled down to one 1.5 mile long pier. In 1917 the pier served as barracks for regiments of World War 1 soldiers, Red Cross workers, and Home Defense units. In 1933 the pier served as a backdrop for the World’s Fair, and in 1942 the Navy used the pier as a training area for pilot training. Eventually 15,000 pilots were qualified for combat (including George H.W. Bush). More than two hundred planes lie at the bottom of Lake Michigan as a result of the treacherous take offs and landings at the location. By the time training ceased at the pier in 1946, more than 60,000 veterans from all over the world had passed through. Today the landmark stands as a cultural icon for entertainment in the city, offering everything from regional food and drink, to carnival rides (in 2008 the pier hosted the Hollywood Red Carpet premier of “The Dark Knight,” which shot many of the movie’s scenes on location). After touring Navy Pier and walking nearly five miles, we took a water taxi for a seven dollar fee, and went for a twenty minute ride up the Chicago River back to Union Station.
Although this is just one small cultural token of what the city has to offer, it was an enjoyable one. I would also have to say, that this has to be one of the cleanest cities in the world. If we could just get the Cubs to the World Series someday, it would be nirvana.