Monday, March 14, 2011

Home Again

American Girl Place in Chicago was slightly creepy.  There were no y-chromosomes in the store.  None.   There weren't very many children either, although that's probably not unusual on a Thursday morning.  Almost all the customers were women about my own age and many of them were photographing the dolls.  I wanted Brigid to take some pictures for me--it was her turn to have the big expensive school camera from her photography class-- but she refused. 

We went to many other shops along the Magnificent Mile where everyone was super friendly.  The store clerks all wanted to know where we were from, what were we doing in Chicago, and to tell me how gorgeous Brigid is.  It was a nice change from Charlottesville, where in some stores, they give you the haughty up-and-down if your boots don't go with your skirt. I bought myself a cherry pitter at Crate & Barrel.  At first I thought, "But we have Crate & Barrel in Virginia and I can just order one online," but then I realized that this would not be just any old cherry pitter, but The Cherry Pitter I Bought In Chicago and thus infused with Importance.

We  amused ourselves playing "spot the art student" of which there weren't many along the Magnificent Mile, but were in abundance in the Loop.  The hallmark signs of the art student:  Asian, clunky black-rimmed glasses, scarves tied into the hair (girls), skinny legs squeezed into skinny  jeans that have had their seams taken in to make them even more skinny.

Then, a brief rest watching the skaters in Grant Park and on to the Art Institute.  The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the best art schools in the country.  The only undergrad program that ranks ahead of it is at the Rhode Island School of Design.  There's no campus, just classroom space stuffed into the basement and utility areas of the Art Institute. Art spaces tend to be very utilitarian anyway and require  industrial accoutrements.  the Art Institute has its own foundry,  kilns, woodworking shop, sewing machines and other heavy equipment.   Dorms are in high rises a few blocks away.  The dorm we toured had a studio on the top floor with skylights and huge windows and views to die for.  The problem is that it's so far away.  And expensive, despite the scholarship.

Brigid has been accepted at Chicago, the Savannah College of Art and Design, VCU Art, and is waiting to hear from Pratt.  VCU is an excellent art school (ranked #4 overall) and is cheaper and closer, but it's in Richmond which is not as culturally forward as New York or Chicago.  Savannah--well Brigid is mad at Savannah for only giving her a scholarship for her grades and not her portfolio, so I guess Savannah is out.  Pratt has a cozy brownstone campus in Brooklyn and New York is a more convenient location than Chicago, but it's not ranked as high--and she hasn't been officially accepted anyway.

Our business concluded at the Art Institute, and tired of the Loop, we took the subway to the Wicker Park neighborhood, wandered about and ate dinner in a pretentious wine bar that, among other esoteric offerings, served fried risotto balls in a sauce of wild boar. The Chicago metro system is most satisfactory, if you, like me, prefer gritty urban cars that rattle like tin cans and scream when going around curves.  It has the advantage of being elevated, with the interesting views that provides.  I could ride it like it was an amusement park attraction. 

Trying to get out of Chicago the next morning,  I lost my parking garage ticket.  Twice. It was only through the intercession of St. Anthony that I found it the second time.  Then the GPS wanted to send me to Charlottesville, Indiana so I had to program in my exact street address and then it was calculating the route for a good five minutes while I huffed about it taking so long.  I was like one of those people that Louis CK ranted about when he was a guest on Conan O'Brian:

Give it a second! It's going to space.  Can you give it a SECOND to get back from SPACE? Is the speed of light too slow for you?  

I was too impatient to stay in the parking garage and decided that if I headed south on Michigan Avenue I would eventually blunder into I 90, and I was right, but we had to program the GPS for Indianapolis to make it stop whirring.

At the first toll booth, I found an extra quarter in the change slot, presumably abandoned by a limb-impaired person such as myself.  At the next one, hampered by the inadequate clothes pegs that serve as my arms, I dropped an unknown quantity of coin into the road. The rest of the toll booths were manned by actual people, thank goodness.

The sun was sinking as we hit Charleston, WV, which is about four hours from Charlottesville.  Soon it was dark and driving through those mountains in the dark is not fun.  There was one hill in particular--a curvy five mile, 7%, downhill grade with two runaway truck ramps--and a requirement for ALL trucks to exit and have their brakes checked before beginning the descent.  I saw the sign for the trucks, I saw the sign warning us of the extra steep grade and suddenly we were plunging down an abyss in pitch darkness.  Hey West Virginia!  A few reflectors along the scary bits of the interstate would be NICE

So Chicago is a wonderful city. This was my second visit, but the first time was long ago and only for half a day.  I felt at home, probably because it is similar to Buffalo:  it sits on a Great Lake, the climate is similar,  the architecture is similar, there are the same Polish and Irish faces.  We did, at times, have difficulty finding places to eat, which probably seems crazy to those of you who know the city well.  Our first night, I was hell bent on a nice dinner and a glass of wine and we trudged for blocks along State St. and saw no places that fit my requirements and finally settled for a sandwich shop.   The next day, I craved a hot dog for lunch--isn't Chicago famous for its hot dogs?--but I could not find a hot dog anywhere.  I assumed there'd be carts on every corner but there wasn't a single one.  Maybe I am just blind, or chose the wrong streets, but Chicago, at least in the Loop, seemed to lack restaurants.  Wicker Park, where we ate dinner the second night, and which reminds me of the Elmwood Ave. neighborhood in Buffalo, had more restaurants (but no hot dogs that I could see).  I did see some popcorn places but I was ignorant, alas, of Chicago's famous caramel corn.  Oh well.


  1. Of course, if you'd left the Charlottesville, Indiana, route, the GPS would've put you in an area where it was simple to get to US 35 (well, US 40 and then I-70, then 35). No Lexington side trip. ;)

    I occasionally drove to my hometown from Indy along US 40 (avoiding traffic, wrecks, whatever). We'd pass through Philadelphia *and* Charlottesville without the incessant crying and rending of garments that such a drive requires on this coast.

  2. That is a good way to approach the metro system. We are going to visit Chicago this summer, for the first time in five years. I will be on the lookout for art students.

  3. I'm glad you had a good trip--it is a magnificent city. And of course it's filled with friendly midwesterners, adding to the ambiance. It think the hot dog stands are more of a weekend and summer feature.
    The Louis Black rants ALWAYS crack me up--thanks for the chuckle~