Deep-dish and hot dogs and donuts, oh my!

“Do you realize that if we played by the rules, we’d be in gym class right now?”

So I said to myself, standing outside Wrigley Field, staring at that famous sign, picturing a very young Matthew Broderick….and wishing I hadn’t left my sunscreen back in Indiana.

(Substitute “gym class” with “meeting” and we might be able to translate Ferris Bueller into adulthood…but the idea’s the same.)

I didn’t intend to end up at Wrigley Field, not entirely anyway. So how did I end up at Wrigley (…especially when the small bit of Chicago family heritage I have skews towards the Sox)?

I did intend to find myself in Chicago that weekend after all; Midway was the easiest airport to get to a friend’s wedding – one of exactly two planned things that weekend.  The wedding was out in Gary (the same one from the song), and they were (American) friends from Paris, coming home to celebrate with their families.  The other was to revisit the only other spot I’d ever been in Chicago.

I hadn’t been to or near Chicago in…15 or so years.  I’d come to Chicago’s Chinatown for a couple days in college, while studying Mandarin, and Chicago was the next nearest big city to practice our speaking skills.  I recall the dim sum and the CD shop I’d bought an album by a Taiwanese pop star, but that was about it.

I wish I’d known more about the city my father grew up in – and a friend’s wedding seemed like at least just enough to dip a toe in on either end.

So out I flew, early one June morning.  Needing coffee and breakfast (and a wifi hotspot – I’m sadly the type who can’t fully tap into my inner Ferris, all the time – there are always people who need a little attention), I stumbled upon a trendy looking spot called Goddess and the Baker for a latte and delightful egg sandwich (and a slight shock in a place being “cashless” but delightful nevertheless).  The rest of my flanering that morning involved finding more coffee and more wifi – I thence rediscovered that I very much don’t mind Peet’s Coffee – until a workmate kicked me offline and I found myself standing in front of the famous Bean (and taking the requisite, required tourist selfie to prove to her on the Book of the Face that I’d taken her directive).

After a minute, nostalgia got the better of me, and I found myself back on the L, and jumped off at the nearest stop to Chinatown.  It looked…just as I’d remembered it 15 years ago.  And smelled the way I’d remembered, too.  I thought about some dim sum, but did not find myself hungry enough for a full meal…and part of me wanted to leave the dim sum the way it was in my memory – so it got saved for the “save it for the next meal” list.  But I could say I came back – the first of my two planned items for the weekend.

So back on my way I went, to find more coffee and more wifi, until it was time to board the commuter train out to Miller Beach, two stops past Gary, with a dozen fresh donuts in hand from Stan’s Donuts and Coffee (to celebrate National Donut Day, and because, despite my friend’s assurances to the contrary, I couldn’t show up empty handed).

And so I found myself on the shores of Lake Michigan, with friends old and new, celebrating a barefoot, potluck wedding-turned-beach party-turned-garden party, just outside of Gary, staring at Chicago back across the lake.  As with all good parties, the revelries went long into the night until everyone peeled off to bed.

And so I found my way back into Chicago, and to the North side of town for Sunday brunch with another old friend.  And so my feet led me from brunch to the hotel, to the next hip coffee joint, through a summer Greek festival, and onto tacos.  There was more adulting to be done in between – but then my feet found their way to a pizza joint (couldn’t leave Chicago without some deep-dish, of course – with spinach and mushrooms), and then from there slightly more northward, until I was face to face with the famously red marquee at the corner of Addison and Clark.

There wasn’t a game on that day; they weren’t my team; but it was a glorious day, sunny, without a cloud in the sky, so how could I help BUT take a tour of the stadium, admire the ivy, chill in the right-field bleachers?  My feet had led me here, I couldn’t entirely ignore them (or leave Chicago without doing one touristy thing).  If I’d played by the rules that day, I’d be in a meeting.  I finally channeled my inner Ferris Bueller, at least a little bit – all I needed now was a Von Steuben Day parade.  Alas, I’d come in June instead of September.

So I settled on finding one more bit of stereotypical Chicago food – a hot dog.  I found one on Google Maps (it hasn’t led me wrong yet for food – I’ve trusted it since the Thurman’s escapade in Columbus) and started back southward, slowly.  I meandered past a used record store and almost walked out with some limited edition Springsteen, but went on my way to Chicago’s Dog House instead.  Once again, Google Maps did not lead me astray – I walked away with a satisfied bellyful of Tijuana Street Dog and wished I’d had room for all the others.  I’d just have to leave it on my save-it-for-next-time list, with so much else in Chicago.

I didn’t make it over to the west side, or the southwest side – I didn’t find any family history (nor did I especially go looking for it)…this time.  But neither did my feet lead me astray – instead they led me back to some old friends (and new), to good food, to good coffee…and away from some meetings and emails, even if only for the nonce.

(Before I went, I asked one of my bosses – also a native Chicagoan – of any good diners I ought to camp out in while I needed to adult for him; he responded, “Where does one even get married in Gary?  The casino?  Or the tire fire?”  He never actually answered my question; but even if he had, it might have taken some of the fun out of flaner-ing anyway.)

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