Entries in Chicago IL (4)


Day 01 - Dinner.

Well we had our first Route 66 diner experience tonight. We ate at the Artists Café. Its at 412 South Michigan Ave., about 2 blocks from the start of the highway. We met Irene Makris, she was one of the owners. The diner has been there since 1961 and has been owned by her family since the beginning. We enjoyed it.

They don't take credit cards so you have to be prepared with cash but the place just had a really cool old vibe to it. Not a roadside diner but more like the type of diner you would expect to look into the booth next to you and see Jerry and Elaine and George and the Krammer.

Irene was delightful. When she found out we were from San Francisco, she told us a story about a shoe store on Union Square that she has shoes delivered from all the time. Irene has a bit of a shoe thing.

We told Irene that we had came from California to drive Route 66 and she immediately lit up with things to tell us about. At one point she said. "Well you know, the end of the road is just a couple blocks from here." To which I interrupted, "Well don't you mean the START of the road."

Irenes eyes lit up. I think she was impressed that I indeed understood the significance that Route 66 was a road that really did run East to West so Chicago would be the Start of the road and not the end. It meant something to her that I understood that. 

The "ownership of ideals" is something that is important to people and I think that I scored some points with Irene because I knew where the road really does 'begin'.

The food was good and the architecture and decor were awesome, plus Irene told us some fun stuff to see in the morning.

After dinner we went for a walk around the neighborhood and saw the Chicago El go overhead. We had to stop and take some pictures and video... Luckily I had the Flip Camera in my pocket.


I love old funky, touristy camera stores, although I never buy anything from them. This place was right under the El and I noticed it because of the "Since 1899". That was the year my grandfather was born.



Day 02 - The city and the car.

When we first envisioned what this trip was going to be like we had the intention of avoiding all chain restaurants. Being creatures of habit we decided to go back to Irene's Artists Café again for breakfast. Unfortunately our bodies were on Illinois time but our stomachs were on California time. We sauntered into the Artists Café at about 11:40… too late for breakfast.

It's not as if we hadn't been up. As a matter of fact Beth left the room around 6:30 to go running by the lake and well, I was, uh… I was watching all the stuff in the room… thats right. The point is that by the time we went to 'breakfast' we had been up for hours.

When we couldn't get breakfast we headed out to find something and there weren't a lot of options available to the casual observer. So, in a fit of "lets just get this over with" we ended up eating at Subway, Jared would be proud.

After Subway we headed out into the midday heat for a bit of a photo walk thru the Grant Park area of the city. We came across a really cool fountain that kids of all ages were cooling off in and then, and then totally by chance, we came across the big mirrored egg. 

This thing is cool. Frankly, it looks like it was left behind by aliens and until I see some construction photos showing non-reptilian humans constructing it I'm gonna say it was left by an intelligent life form.

What you don't really notice when you walk by the thing is that under it, in the middle is a big upward reaching cavity that is also all mirrored. Needless to say, its weird under this thing, And, for the first time I can totally understand how time travel works.  All you have to do is bend time and space to this shape and I believe you'll be able to be in multiple realities all at the same "time"… sounds simple right?

The next order of 'business' was picking up our rental car. We took the L Blue Line out to O'Hare and spent a bit of time with the guy who rented us the car. Garfield at first was reading the computer display and said, "So you'll be returning the car in California… tomorrow?" We had to explain to him that we'd have the car till the end of June, not the end of May.

Just like I was afraid of they didn't have the Ford Taurus that we want and since we didn't want the Toyota replacement car we had him do a slight upgrade to a Dodge 300.  I've always like the styling of this car and I thought it would be fun to drive one for a month. After a quick 'test fit' by going and sitting in it in the parking lot we signed away on the dotted line and were off.

Almost immediately we missed the giant GPS screen that we have in our Prius back home. Navigating in real time off the iPhone screen is a chore. I'm assuming that we'll end up buying some sort of an alternative in the first couple days or so.

After driving away from the airport with the rental car we realized. They got TOLL ROADS here. Something we don't really have in California. We asked few people in the parking lot of a Target, where we stopped to buy supplies, how much the tolls were generally. The woman said, "Oh you're asking the wrong people, if you live here, you just have a Fast Track Pass" and at almost the same instant the man said, "Yea, they just take the money right out of your bank account."

All I could think of was, "Isn't that the roll of government anyway?"

To get back on track with our "no chains" theme we found Andrew's Open Pit and Spirits. A LOT of old people in this place. The food was better than the lighting but neither of us finished our meal, so that has to tell you something.

Andrew's also had the distinction of being in my 'hometown', or at least the town my parents lived in when I was born. Park Ridge Illinois. Its important to remember that I only lived in Illinois till I was 3 months old and have lived in California ever since.

After calling Mom and getting an address we drove by the house. What a cute little neighborhood with large open front yards and little kids running around playing with not a care in the world.

As we drove up to the house my mom called us back and said, "So have you been inside yet?

"Mom, I'm NOT going to go inside, besides, it looks like no one is here."

"Why don't you go around back, we had such a nice yard."

"Mom, I'm NOT going to just invite myself into this houses yard."

"Well you should at least knock. Your room was at the top of the stairs on the left. Wait till you see it, it was so cute."

"Mom stop, I'm not going in the house."

"Oh come on… just knock and hand the phone to who ever answers."

Knock knock knock….

A little old chinese woman finally answers the door.

"Hi, will you talk to my mom, we use to live in this house when I was a baby."

We then stood there and watched as my mom talked to the woman and eventually she hands me the phone back and says… "you're more than welcome to go in back but we've totally changed the back yard. its nothing like what your mom remembers."

Now the really funny thing was the email my mom sends me as we are driving away from the place. And I quote…

"Dad and I did not like the house but they were hard to find and we needed one - Dad wanted a new one because he did not have time to work on a house - I had had my wonderful one in Rockford - and older house, so I agreed.  The house has no personality - not an ounce - but we did entertain a lot and it was a very, very livable home and we were probably the most happy there - as newly weds.  All the homes were new and they were all about the same price range so all of us were about the same in our financial status.  Great neighbors and great school, the Church was a good Lutheran one.

The yard was wonderful - see how things grow - wonderful Banana Belt living - never too hot and not too cold - the back yard was huge and amazingly nice when we put in trees and a fence - we had a hedge in front - first to do it and every one was not happy with the fence and the hedge but soon they all did it.   They were great neighbors."

We did have a chance to meet the neighbors but of course no one from the early 60's. The people who lived across the street were about my age and they had approached us when we were standing out front taking pictures wondering if we were "casing the joint". 

When they found out we were from California one of them asked us, "So is California really in as bad a place financially as we hear about on the news?" We basically said yes, chatted a bit about taxes and schools and the cost of war to our society. Not that War has caused the economic woes in California, but those were the topics that came up.

The topics got extremely politically charged, not that I was preaching to them, although, I kind of was, but frankly they brought the subject up first and basically they agreed with everything I had to say.

You see, I have a long standing belief that if I guy in Oakland will stick a knife in me for the 20 bucks in my pocket, why is it that people find it so hard to believe that a major corporation wouldn't do despicable things to make 100's of Millions of Dollars? To think otherwise would be naive.

We said our good byes, hopped in the Dodge and made our way back the hotel to call it a day.

Tomorrow, we spend one more day in the city.

Tuesday AM we hit the road.



Day 03 - Thunderstorm on the Tower.

Sometimes things don't work the way you thought they were going to go.

Route 66 historically begins on Jackson St. in downtown Chicago. Jackson runs right thru the heart of the Financial District and right by the base of the Sears Tower. The only problem is that Jackson is now a one way street, and guess what, it goes the wrong direction. 

About a mile from the beginning of the road is a diner called Lou Mitchell's. Beth had read about it and thought it would be a fun place to begin our journey but we thought it may be be easier to avoid doing it with a car full of all our stuff and just head over there today and 'get it out of the way'.

So we grabbed a cab from our hotel. 7 bucks and a tip and we hopped out right in front of the diner. 

Oh crap, its Memorial Day, Lou Mitchell's is closed for the holiday. Well, next door we grabbed a couple donuts at 'yet another Dunkin Donuts' and then decided to just huff it back to the hotel. We don't mind walking on vacation which is really funny because, at home, we are the typical Californian who drives from one end of the parking lot to the other.

Being that we were passing right under the Sears Tower we decided to head up to the Sky Deck at the 103rd floor. They warned us that the visibility was only 5 miles in the lobby but we didn't think anything of it. At the top the rain started… then the lightning bolts, then the thunder claps. At 103 floors you are ABOVE a lot of the lightning… it turned out to be really cool. Do you have any idea how hard it is to get a lightning bolt on video? Check it out at 37 seconds in on todays video update. (and yes Jeff Regan, you ARE seeing the effects of the rolling shutter)

We actually stayed on top for a long time. I took a lot of photos for people and we did the "stupid glass box of death", I think they call it something else, where you step out and can look straight down to the ground… not comfortable.

Then we headed down to the street and walked back to the hotel.

Nap time. Cut some video, process some pictures.

Then we get a call from the Borger's, our friends that moved to Illinois from California about a million years ago. They had seen we were here by reading the Facebooker and they invited us to dinner… and that is what we are doing next.

In the morning we'll get the Chrysler out of hock and load it up and hit the road.

Next stop, Bloomington Illinois.



Day 04 - Start of Route 66

OK... Today we are FINALLY hitting the road, and THIS is the actual start. 

Lou Mitchell's is a bit of an institution on Route 66 and rightfully so. The breakfast was great. Just sort of one of those things you need to experience. They don't take credit cards so you need to be prepared for that, sort of the same as the Artists Café in that regard.

We left Lou Mitchell's and back tracked a few blocks to go shoot some video at the official beginning of the Route. Jackson Street has always been the official path of Route 66 but years ago they turned it into a one way road, all but the last block of it before Lakefront Drive... go figure.

So, in order to drive out of Chicago "on" Route 66 you now have to go one block north and drive out on Adams Street. It has taken on the responsibility of being the new 'official' route. As it turns out this is a theme that you run into THE WHOLE trip.

As we drove out of town, this is what the Odometer read. Should be interesting to see what percentage over the "google maps" milage we drive with the side trips and mistakes we'll more than likely make.

These brown "Historic Route" signs will be our best friend for a the next 2000 miles. 

One of the first notable cities you drive through is Joliet Illinois. I'll always remember it as the location of the prison that Jake got out of in "The Blues Brothers".

Not an "official Illinois Giant" but a bonus giant right off the top. This guy is running a jack hammer because it is in the left field of a minor league ball park. The team is "The Jackhammers". The park was all fenced in but there was a gate open so we just walked in, walked out to the outfield, took the shot and left... easier to ask forgiveness then to ask permission.

Illinois has a few of these "giants" across the state. They use to be very popular to entice people to stop at their shops. We found this one right around the time for lunch. It worked... we stopped. The Gemini Giant as this guy is called is the first of the three 'official Illinois Giants'.

In the town of Odell there is an old gas station that is a historic landmark. Out front there is a button to push that plays a sound file with the details about the site. My mom told me that as a kid they always called the "fillin' stations".

The end of our first full day of driving brings us to Bloomington Illinois. Tomorrow we'll take a side trip to fulfill a desire that Chris has had for a few years now. Visit the childhood home of his mother.

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