Chicago

 

Two and a half days in Chicago, and I’m not sure if the town ever once toddled, but I like it there anyway. So much so, in fact, that I’d consider moving there in an instant if (again) the weather weren’t so severe. I can deal with the cold and the snow; it’s the summers that would get me. Fortunately, at least on this visit, things were just right. Last time, it got a little cool and I was a little rushed.

 

I didn’t cover nearly as much ground as I’d have liked, simply because I just didn’t figure in enough time there. I was also unable to connect with Gary or Curt. But the accommodation and guided tour, courtesy of Joe, my host, were great. I predict another visit to the windy city very soon; I have to admit the place fascinates me tremendously.

 

Diving into Woolworth’s downtown proved to be rewarding. It’s really depressing that this American institution is about to disappear forever. I almost picked up a lunch counter stool for $35, but decided I didn’t really want to carry it around the country and back in my back seat. I’ll probably come to regret that decision.

There was also a visit to the first Ray Kroc McDonald’s franchise in Des Plaines. Contrary to popular belief, this was neither the first McDonald’s (that was in San Bernadino), nor the first McDonald’s franchise (which I believe was in Sacramento). It was, however, the beginning of the evil empire we know today as McDonald’s Corp.

 

Much-anticipated was my return to return to Big Chicks, which may be my favorite queer bar between New York and San Francisco. This time, I even met one of the owners. She was fairly big, but not huge.

The Chicago Reader is without doubt the best free weekly in the country, putting even the Village Voice to shame.

A few more highlights:

  • Dinner at the Wishbone, a “home-cooking” establishment which seems oddly out of place in a dark industrial district. Liked the restaurant. Hated that they were out of pork chops.
  • Boy-watching (and band-watching) at the Empty Bottle.
  • Street cruising on Winnemac Avenue (which I’m told is NOT common). Guess I’m just lucky…
  • Compulsively humming the theme from “Good Times” after driving through the Cabrini-Green projects in which it was set. This got a little embarrassing.
  • The “el”. Being short for “elevated”, it is not spelled “L”. Keep that in mind, please.
  • Yet more White Castle. Yumm…
  • A tour of the Chicago boulevards of urban planning fame.
  • Joe’s really cool 1972-era book on drag culture.

 

Chicago is an amazing place, which is unlike any other city of its size in the US. The fact that land was so abundant has resulted in an unusually sprawling city by east coast standards, but still a very dense and concentrated one compared to the rest of the midwest and west. The streetscapes are wonderful and colorful, the road system works, and driving around the city is a joy I might never tire of; there’s something to see around every corner, from neatly-maintained rowhouses to industrial wastelands to the severe decay of the south side projects. Like I said, Chicago just fascinates me.

 

And there was also my moment at the very start of Route 66 at Lakeshore Drive and Jackson Boulevard. It’s a little disorienting to do Route 66 out of sequence, but it’s better than not at all, I guess.

 
All in all, it was an eventful couple of days. And, after a drive through the depressing landscape of the south side and the Indiana suburbs, followed by a few hours of Indiana farmland, I have now successfully reached Indianapolis, where I’m living in the lap of luxury thanks to Bob. The Hoosier adventure begins in earnest tomorrow.

Chicago

I wanted Chicago to be much more than it was. Maybe I didn’t spend enough quality time there and maybe it’s because we didn’t do sufficient planning, but Christopher and I were two fags in search of a scene and there just didn’t seem to be one. Driving and parking were a nightmare (yes…worse than in San Francisco) and it was 27 degrees one day, which is outside my California-moderated temperate zone. All the same, there were moments. And anything would seem exciting after driving across Wisconsin!

  

How could I not stay at this place? It was almost as much a symbol of good karma as the White Castle I encountered on the way into Minneapolis. And it was cheap! When we checked in, having OK’ed the two people/one bed arrangement, I offered ID. The nice lady at the deask responded “I’d ask other people for it, but I won’t ask you…if you know what I mean…” (Insert wink and nudge.) My theory was it was related to our inherent whiteness. Christopher’s guess was that she thought he was my whore and the fags would treat the room gently. Who knows? Big old console TV in the room which displayed “The Simpsons” in colors I didn’t know existed. I was appalled to find a station which plays not one, but TWO reruns of “Home Improvement” daily.

The closest thing to a scene we found and the reason our road trip was scheduled as it was. Picture a 50-year-old bowling alley which has never been remodeled. Add an all-ages show, put on by Homocore Chicago featuring the Third Sex (again) and Kaia. Great scene, great place. But they need to serve food (or maybe it was just that I hadn’t had my White Castle fix for the day…)

  

 

Christopher did the Art Institute. I took pictures of buildings.

Friday was good, although the “driving aimlessly” thing got a tad tedious, especially due to the fact that driving in Chicago is truly an obnoxious thing. Downtown Chicago rules, but we were never quite able to find the “cool neighborhood” (or at least not until it was too late.) Made it home in time for most of “The Simpsons”.

I’ve always heard bad things about the Chicago bar scene, but I didn’t dare believe them. Until this week. Five bars visited: the Manhole, Cell Block, Big Chicks, Berlin, and Cocktails. The first two seemed OK, if a bit mired in the 70’s leather/disco scene (in a non-endearing sort of way.) The Cell Block actually has a dress code for its back patio, a practice I thought (hoped?) had gone out of vogue about fifteen years ago. I also question their definition of “rock and roll”. Big Chicks seemed to have potential and reminded me a little of the Tunnel Bar (not the club) in NYC, but was pretty slow, perhaps due to location. Cocktails was too deplorable and preppy to consider except as a place to sit down and be warm. Berlin may have been the best of the bunch, but it was tremendously clubby and crowded and had no place to escape. I actively solicit suggestions for my next visit.

I hate to sound like I’m running down Chicago. Maybe we just needed the right “native guide”. I just sensed a really strange energy there (and I rarely use that term) and never quite felt comfortable anywhere. Next time?