Illinois - Chicago

by Kimp 6. June 2013 22:47
 
Chicago can be described by two adjectives; crowded and windy. Usually early June is in the mid 70's, but in June of 2013 it was in the low 60's and very windy. Pretty cold day, colder by night. Something a little warmer than a spring jacket would have been nice to have brought with me.

The metropolitan area of Chicago contains about 10 million people and the interstates are like parking lots most of the day, afternoon, night, and weekend. I think the average Chicagoan spends about half of their life in their automobile, just watching life go by. The more people there are in an area, the higher the real estate prices, the higher the real estate prices, the more money vendor's need to charge for goods to pay for the real estate. And so and so, all of the way down the money chain. Basically, when you are a visitor, everything is going to seem fairly expensive.

Their metro system is a little confusing in places. Some of the lines share the same set of tracks in areas, like the purple and the red line. The purple line is kind of an express train that only stops at a few of the red line stops when it is on the red tracks. However, sometimes the driver dude forgets to change the color sign on the train, so you get on the one marked red line and really its a purple line train or vice versa. Also all of the metro lines appear to converge on the historic downtown area called the loop. The Loop is like four sets of elevated metro tracks and go in a loop, creating a lots of congestion and confusion. You often end up going through the down town, even if neither of your end points are anywhere near it. Plus changing trains at a stop in the loop area, creates another 8 layers of confusion (which train? Which direction? Did I get on the right train, in the right direction?). There are so many stops that the metro doesn't appear to be any faster then driving. Metro stops are small and trains are small for the size of the crowds.

Chicago has an interesting history. It started from very humble beginnings. Illinois decided to build a canal to connect the Chicago river with the Mississippi and land speculator's started buying up lots of land, expecting Chicago to become a major transportation hub, which it did. First via river barge, then via railroad. Big job market brought in lots of immigrants and Chicago has grow exponentially every since. Lots of growth and immigration meant it was easy for organized crime to move in. From several stories, that I was told be locals. It appears that their are still struggles within the city. The most prevalent seemed to  center around politicians ,who appear (to the layman), to often put unqualified people in important money controlling positions. One example is Millennium park (built 15 years ago), which cost nearly 5 times its estimate. Many think that was due to lots of changes and cost overruns, that were approved, by the government overseer's of the project.

At one time, the downtown was all wooden structures. When the big fire of 1833, flattened the entire business district, steel was just starting to be recognized as a building material. The 1st skyscraper was built in Chicago. Many more quickly followed on the nice clean slate left by the fire. A construction model that continues to this day.

Chicago buildings are all huge in scale. It's probably one of the most dense areas in the US. Buildings are both very tall, and very wide. Judging distance in the downtown area is even more deceiving then judging distance in Las Vegas. It looks like a particular building is only like a five minute walk away. Twenty minutes later I get there. The only reason there's space between some buildings, is because the Chicago river is creating that space. The banks of the Chicago river were all consumed by buildings, making it look more like a canal then a river. Downtown, I got about 30 minutes of direct sunlight each day (on the few days that there aren't any clouds), 15 minutes each side of noon. The rest of the time, I was in the shade of a building.
 
The Chicago Blues Festival was in town while we were there. They set up in the beautiful millennium park, which is the social hub of Chicago. I assumed that the festival would be open until at least midnight, so Sam and I didn't go there until around 9:00 P.M., just in time to see them shutting it down for the night (Say what, this is a major festival and it's only 9 P.M.). Maybe, Chicagoan's, leave early, because the drive home takes three hours. I've been to lots of festivals and have never seen one close so early.

When you see a dude playing a harmonica, with his hands cupped around both the harmonica, and a microphone, that's Chicago Blues. Usually accompanied by electric instruments with the volume turned up as well. It only comes in one flavor, "Loud, Nasty and Sweaty.". Played slow or fast, it's always full of energy. Junior Wells, Muddy Water's, Jame's Cotton, Buddy Guy all come quickly to mind.

No trip to Chicago is complete without going to a game at Wriggley's field. Wriggley started out as a soap company. Year's ago, when you bought a container of soap, there was always a prize inside of it. I can remember my mom getting a whole set of towels (one at a time), included with the laundry soap that she bought. Wriggley put gum inside of one of their products, as a prize. When lots of people started writing them and asking where they could buy the gum on its own, because they loved the taste, Wriggley decided to change business models. Wriggley field retains it's 1914 charm and is one of the most iconic stadiums in baseball. When built it was named Weeghman Park, but was renamed to Wriggley Field in honor of the owner of the Chicago Cub's. If you adjusted the original cost to today's dollars it would cost around $5M to built Wriggley field from nothing. However, the politicians just approved a $500M stadium renovation (Say what?!? 100x's the adjusted original cost). Maybe the Chicago laymen have a point when they complain about their politically appointed project overseer's.

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