Chicago and the 3rd of July

View from the John Hancock building

There’s something in the air here. Something that makes Chicago feel like home. Indeed, after spending the better part of a week riding the “L” and walking miles and miles of its perfect grid, I feel as though I’ve reacquainted myself with an old friend. We’re staying in the cutest little apartment too in the neighborhood of Norwood, northwest of downtown along the Blue Line.

Home Away from Home
Wednesday was by far the highlight of the week, it being the day we chose to celebrate the holiday. I spent the morning gallivanting around the Loop, watching the Grant Park Orchestra rehearse in Millennium Park and spending a good three hours at the Art Institute of Chicago (not nearly enough time). I’ve got to hand it to the city when it comes to accesible arts and culture events. All summer long, the Grant Park Music Festival showcases a variety of artists in concerts that are free and open to the public. Even the venue’s architecture is a spectacular experience, with its beautiful thick ribbons of brushed steel.
Concert Hall Quality in a Public Park
With a wee bit of symphony as the soundtrack for my morning, I caught the Impressionism, Fashion & Modernity exhibit at the Art Institute. It was a trifecta of Drea-tuned interests, impossible to resist! I could have spent the entire three hours just on this exhibit alone, but was surprised and delighted by every other turn I took through the seemingly endless galleries. Perhaps the biggest highlights for me – in addition to 19th century fashion plates and garments – were Van Gogh’s The Old Guitarist and The Bedroom. Seeing such monumental, iconic works in person was pretty jaw-dropping.
On the deck of the Odyssey
That same evening Tim took me on a fancy pants dinner cruise aboard The Odyssey on Lake Michigan.  It was incredible! Leaving from Navy Pier, the ship slowly wound its way up and down the Chicago shoreline, providing enchanting views of the city skyline. Cloudy as it was when we embarked, the skies cleared up well in time for the holiday fireworks show. Surrounded by a motley crue of sailboats, yachts and other vessels, multicolored lights shining all around, countless faces aimed in the direction of the fireworks barge, dance music blaring in the distance, and the air thick with anticipation, it felt kind of like Burning Man. Imagine my disappointment when no 40-foot-tall effigy was burned to a fine crisp for the finale! Still, a very special time.
As for the actual Fourth of July, Tim and I celebrated with one of the finest of American traditions: lazing about. Yes! We stayed in, had ourselves a lazy day, watched Django Unchained and made Filipino food. We even enjoyed hours of fireworks, as viewed from our cozy little apartment in Norwood. Being in a place with far fewer fire concerns than California is pretty damn exciting on Independence Day.

Twin Lakes, You Irresistible Temptress

View from our canoe on Lake Elizabeth

So I lied. Over the past two weeks, instead of writing about New Orleans, I did nothing but chill lakeside. Lake Elizabeth beckoned me to take lazy dips in it and explore its glassy waters by canoe. Marvelous thunderstorms commanded attention, hurtling crisp lightening bolts through the sky, splitting it in half day and night. Wisconsin cheddar and bratwust seemed to rain down from the heavens. And each day a veritable brick of a novel consumed me at length; I got to know that cozy wraparound porch very well.

Today Tim and I returned to Chicago, NOLA’s soul sister. New Orleans has had to wait. Contemplating her the placid environment of Twin Lakes just wasn’t in the cards. She did not bide her time quietly, oh no. She’s been clamoring for attention, and I’m just about ready to give her what she wants.

My time in New Orleans is like a fantastic and convoluted dream to me. Surreal flashes of sensory input swim around in my brain. The brassy blare of a trumpet here, the smell of hot beignets there, and through it all a swirling mass of bold colors. It was such an otherworldly experience that I’m still decompressing from it. It’s too big to write about in a single post. As such, I’ll endeavor to break up my tale into a series of posts, each centered on a different theme. For tonight, dear readers, I’ll leave you with some highlights from Twin Lakes.

Another fine day for swimming in Lake Elizabeth
Tim’s brother and nephew fishing

Friday Night Fish Fry at Mad Dan’s

Float boat time

Twin Lakes, Wisconsin

Panoramic of the Twin Lakes Property

Ah, finally a break. For the next two weeks we’re kicking back at Twin Lakes, Wisconsin, where Tim and his siblings whiled away the summers of their youth. Several generations of Tim’s family have spent long, lazy summers at this house, stretching back to the early 1900s. Back then you could order blue prints for a house out of a Sears catalogue before, you know, recycling it for toilet paper.

Tim: Captain of the Float Boat

Last year was my first summer at Twin Lakes. After just a few days I came to understand the magic of this place. Playing, swimming and fishing in the cool water, swinging languidly in the hammock, reading for hours underneath the awnings of the wraparound porch until the fireflies caught my eye. Never before had I seen Tim so completely at home, in his element. He knew exactly where everything was, how everything worked. Knick knacks, Archie comics and boat keys were still in the same places they had always been for decades.

Now I find myself once again in the cozy embrace of Twin Lakes. Here, where time has the consistency of blackstrap molasses, I will gradually unfold a marvelous tale of New Orleans.

Days 13-19: Seven States in Seven Days

Wigwam Village on Route 66 in Holbrook, AZ

When Tim mentioned this morning that we’d been to seven states in the past seven days I was sure his calculation was off.

Petrified Forest in Arizona

It wasn’t. In fact, today makes eight for me.

Day 13: Grand Canyon, AZ – Gallup, NM
Day 14: Gallup, NM – Pueblo, CO
Day 15: Pueblo, CO – Salina, KS
Day 16: Salina, KS – Kansas City, MO
Day 17: Kansas City, MO – THE ENTIRE STATE OF IOWA –  Minneapolis, MN
Day 18: Minneapolis, MN – Edgar, WI
Day 19: Edgar, WI – Minneapolis, MN – New Orleans, LA (flight)

I’m saving our Grand Canyon tale for a singular post, but here are some highlights from the past week.

Day 13: Grand Canyon, AZ – Gallup, NM
Read post.

Day 14: Gallup, NM – Pueblo, CO
Read post.

Day 15: Pueblo, CO – Salina, KS

Steadily becoming a better hand at Parking Lot Lunches. I can slap together turkey and cheese on wheat while squatting over a cooler like nobody’s business. Also, I have no shame. Kansas is a flat land that threatens to blow you away in a tornado. NOT COOL, KANSAS. Not cool. The Smoky Hills Wind Farm is a freaky thing to suddenly see at night – miles and miles of red lights surrounding you and all flashing eerily in unison.

Day 16: Salina, KS – Kansas City, MO

BARBEQUE. Go to Oklahoma Joe’s in Kansas City for their “Burnt Tips Platter.” It will make you cry and wonder why you’d ever leave Kansas City. Yes, it’s in a gas station. No, it doesn’t taste like gas station food. The line is long at dinner time (probably more so at lunch), but they’ve got that Disneyland magic that speeds you through, and somehow there is always a table available in their crowded seating area. Stay at the Hotel Phillips near the convention center for charming art deco surroundings and proximity to the hip new Power & Light District. We enjoyed an overpriced drink and bowling at Z-Strike Bowling.

Day 17: Kansas City, MO – THE ENTIRE STATE OF IOWA –  Minneapolis, MN

Clouds, clouds everywhere. Pizza Lucé  in Minneapolis has yummy food and exceptionally friendly bartenders.

Iowa. Much like Kansas.

Day 18: Minneapolis, MN – Edgar, WI
Crossed the Mississippi River. Minnesota and Wisconsin are so green! Suburban homeowners in California spend a fortune on futile efforts to keep their lawns green, but here it comes naturally and with such vibrance. Farms with their red barns and shiny silos in the middle of green fields are postcard images of pastoral America. Homes are made of brick and wood, not stucco. Edgar is a lovely small town in which you won’t find fences demarcating property lines. The openness that exists between houses is comforting. Here I had the great pleasure of meeting Tim’s Uncle Mike, Aunt Vicki and his cousins. I’ve never met anyone in Tim’s family I haven’t liked, and this was no exception. They are some of the kindest people I’ve ever met, and I appreciated the warmth with which they welcomed us into their home.

We had to be in Edgar by yesterday for Tim to meet up with his dad for their fishing trip, hence the speediness. For the next week they’ll be doing fishermanly things while I am down in New Orleans playing hooky with a dear friend of mine. WOOHOO!

Day 4: This Boot Was Made for Walkin’ (Retro Post)

Any good visit to Los Angeles starts with a meal at Porto’s Bakery in Burbank. I’d been to Porto’s on a few prior occasions, enthusiastically returning each time for their famous potato balls. These things are pure magic – seasoned ground beef encompassed by mashed potatoes, breaded and fried to perfection. Breakfast of champions!
Porto’s promotes a calm, healthy and happy disposition
After breakfast our hosts Pat and Laura took us up the hills to Griffith Park and the Griffith Observatory.  The park is a very popular filming location; you’ve probably seen it in multiple movies without even knowing it. Griffith Observatory is at its peak and well worth the trip up. Endure its parking fiasco, and you’ll be rewarded with a number of interactive exhibits and panoramic vistas of Los Angeles. Star Trek fans will appreciate the fact that the auditorium is named after Leonard Nimoy. On the way back down we drove through the tunnel from Back to the Future II, and I could have died a happy woman at that point. 

We zoomed up, down and all around the Hollywood Hills, narrowly escaping death at every hairpin turn. Mailboxes, garbage cans and oncoming vehicles threatened to send us careening down the cliffs, but Laura and her trusty steed became one with the road, leading us safely to the top. The road ended at a spot that provided a fantastically intimate view of the Hollywood Sign. 
Being in a residential neighborhood, this unsanctioned viewpoint was cluttered with ominous warning signs for trespassers. This one was my personal favorite:
Well that escalated quickly
Now I don’t know about you, but every time I escape persecution, I like to celebrate will a 24-ounce boot full of fun.  So we made brief stop at the house to whip up a batch of walking potion and strolled through Thai Town to catch the metro. Alighting at Union Station, I experienced the same déjà vu I’d had at the park. Blade Runner and The Dark Knight Rises are just two of the many movies that were filmed here.

That night our worthy fellowship dined in the great hall of Palms Thai Restaurant in Hollywood. Palms is home to the best yellow curry I’ve ever tasted and a popular Thai Elvis impersonator. Unfortunately we did not  have an audience with the (Thai) King that night. Our consolation prize: two entertainers I had initially mistaken for karaoke participants. An entire set list of late 90s pop music poured forth from the stage with much enthusiasm. 

From there the evening progressed (or devolved, depending how you look at it) into hours of silliness.  We met up with more friends at a dive that was so dive-y its sign wasn’t even lit, averted a parking lot confrontation with a curiously-aggravated bro, and fell asleep chuckling to Bob’s Burgers. All in all a successful day.