Friday, January 18, 2008

Day 4: Chicago, IL

TOTAL BEERS: 1 (Goose Island Pale Ale) TOTAL DISTANCE: 0 Miles

Vince had plans that we should wake up at 9:30 for a 6-mile run. Normally I would applaud such an idea to light a fire under my ass and get me out the door for some exercise, but one of my most tangible fears came to life around 2:30 AM during the night. I woke up with a cold, and a fairly bad one. It was standard as far as my usual symptoms go. The roof of my mouth is scratchy the night before, then I wake up with heavy eyes, a few sniffles and, worst of all, an energy level about 70% of capacity.

So it went that sunny, wintry morning in Chicago. I left the house anyway, figuring that with some airborne and a couple of Kombucha teas I would be able to knock down my cold no matter how much Chicago tourism and beer drinking was on tap. We wound up only doing about four and a half, and I was moderately miserable throughout, but at least I got my legs moving. It was the first time I had run in nearly a week. The hectic days leading up to my New Hampshire departure created an environment where running was the first to go. Isn’t it funny how that happens?

I also needed to get my car’s tire alignment fixed, so I dropped it off before we ran, and walked down the street to pick it up once we got back, showered and changed. Bundled up enough to fight some of the cold, but lightly enough to travel, Vince took me out on a tour of Chicago. The walk to the L train was just under fifteen minutes, then through the turnstiles and up the stairs to the platform.

  • Positives of Chicago Public Transportation: The elevated trains provide a unique opportunity to see the city from the crow’s nest as you travel through it.
  • Negatives of Chicago Public Transportation: The elevated train platforms are fucking cold.

Nevertheless, after a five minute wait we were seated and Vince took over as Chicago tour guide, pointing out the different neighborhoods and infamous housing projects as we rolled toward the downtown loop at an elevation usually suited to rich people and pigeons.

We wandered around downtown for a while with Vince simultaneously describing the architecture and providing a brief history of the city before beginning our search for an Illinois beer in earnest. Downtown any city is a tough place to find a decent microbrew, but downtown Chicago, with its large financial district and high rent pushing out all but they highest corporate bidders, is arguably the toughest. At least in New York there are bodegas every block, and in Seattle you even have a brewery. I don’t go to California as a rule, but I guess that Boston wouldn’t be an ideal place, either.

Anyway, Vince surmised that if we headed south toward the less, shall we say, gentrified area of town our chances would greatly increase. As if literally demarcated in the zoning books, not one block below the loop we encountered a liquor store. Much to our surprise it was a fairly high end shop specializing in yuppie snacks, wine and European beers, but it served our purposes perfectly with one exception. Illinois state law does not allow for the sale of singles.

So we bought a six-pack of Goose Island Honker’s Ale and headed back toward Millennium Park, the spot that Vinnie had blueprinted for our uniquely Chicago photo. About ten blocks later we reached the Cloud Gate sculpture, a "110-ton elliptical sculpture is forged of a seamless series of highly polished stainless steel plates, which reflect the city's famous skyline and the clouds above." Though on this Chicago dusky evening, it just reflected two dudes suspiciously holding up bottles of beer.

After deciding not to take separate photos we hollered at a nearby tourist and asked him to take the picture for us. With a funny accent, he obliged and snapped a couple of pics as we stood in front of the large piece of public art.

Two men, two beers, one Cloud Gate

And a blurry close-up

Mission accomplished on the picture front, we still needed to drink our beers and make it home. Since we didn’t feel like lugging a six pack all the way back to the North Side, we felt it best to give in the spirit of beer drinking. Following a brief consultation we offered the gentleman photographer a beer from our bag. He gave a puzzled look for a second, then answered, "sure, why not?"

I handed him a bottle, which he then immediately tried to twist open.

“"Wait, wait! Excuse me sir, do you mind if I ask where you are from?"


"Ahh, well I hate to say it, but it is illegal to drink in public here in America. But you should definitely take your beer back to your hotel, and thanks again."

He gave me an appreciative word for the civics lesson then went on his way. I then offered beer up to the next group of pedestrians I saw, but they looked nervous and said no. There was a good chance they were underage. Next up were two women in their late thirties.

"Excuse me, would you like a beer?" I asked.

They didn’t answer, just looked at me with the same expression that a popular girl in tenth grade gives to a nerd who asks her how her weekend was. I knew almost immediately that she couldn’t handle the question so I shot her a wide, knowing grin and turned around. Looks like we were going to have to lug around the five remaining beers.

Ah, yes. We still had to drink our share. Although logically it makes sense that we just carry the grocery bag back to the apartment and have a beer before dinner, we decided to think pimptually. In other words, we had made the decision to drink these beers downtown, and there was no turning back.

But the more pressing issue had to do with my body. I needed to piss. Vince knew of a bathroom in a nearby train station, so we walked around the sculpture, across the street and underground. On the way it occurred to me that the idea cover for boozing would be a bathroom stall.

If people like Larry Craig could solicit sex for the most part unbeknownst to the law, why couldn’t we sip a beer on the public throne? In fact, we could and we did.

The two of us walked into the bathroom with beers tucked into our coat pockets and took seats at adjacent stainless steel stalls. We went through all the motions of the heavily boweled businessmen who might normally frequent such places. Take off the jacket, hang it over the top. Rip off toilet paper for a skin/seat boundary. Make plenty of adjustment noises. The only difference is that the only thing dropping was fluid ounces of beer.

I felt it necessary to complete the activity in the spirit of the news cycle, so I grabbed my keychain opener in my left hand and offered it to Vince from underneath the stall with the key ring full fastened around my left ring finger. Turns out the bottles were twist off, and he slapped my hand away. I took the ale down beer mile style, in three long chugs, pretended to wipe, flushed, put my coat on and went back out in the hallway to inconspicuously wait for my companion.


We walked back to the L platform, which was even colder this time around, and had to wait until the third train to get a seat because of the 5pm rush, but eventually made it back to the neighborhood for a burger and a nap.

Our plans to go out that night in Wrigleyville, the youthful party area around the stadium, were postponed when I decided that sleeping off the beginnings of my cold was more important than exacerbating it in a fit of stuffy-nosed and half-hearted game toward the girls that Vince had described as blond, big boobs, Big 10 grad, and guaranteed to go home with you as long as they weren’t that cute. Let me tell you right now, saying no to that in the name of health was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made.

Even after the nap, I kept it low-key as Vince introduced me to Law & Order: Criminal Intent. We watched back-to-back episodes and called it a night. After all, we had a long drive ahead of us tomorrow.

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