lost, for a little while

destination: chicago
July 24, 2011, 7:59 am
Filed under: trips

"Land of Really Tall Buildings"

As I said goodbye to my friend Eric in Milwaukee, he gave me a tight hug and told me to have fun in Chicago. When I pulled away to walk to my car, I could see a large splotch of beige makeup on his black tee shirt, a profile silhouette which was suspiciously Lisa-shaped. My face was literally melting off.

This did not bode well.


It was hot as balls in Chicago. My hair was doubling in size by the minute, I was covered in a perpetual sheen of sweat, and every time I stood up I experienced that unpleasant separation of sticky vinyl from skin. The fans in Sam’s non-air-conditioned apartment blew warm gusts of air around the living room that only felt refreshing after I’d gotten up to splash water on my face for the billionth time. I yearned for the frigid depths of our basement in Michigan, where a sweatshirt in summer would sometimes be a necessity, and gulped down another glass of water. The ice, which I’d just piled in a few minutes before, was already melted.

It should go without saying that exploring all that Chicago had to offer was pretty much the last thing on my mind. But it was either sweat my ass off in Sam’s apartment or sweat my ass off while walking around the city, so I sucked it up, filled my water bottle to the brim, and caught the L downtown.


There’s a secret formula to winning me over, and I’ll share it with you now: animals + food + body of water. Simple as that. Should anyone decide, for some reason, to date me in the future, all they need to do is make me a sandwich, bring me to the beach, and present me with a puppy. Or a panda. Whatever. I’m not picky.

Chicago had the winning formula, and it all started with a visit to the Lincoln Park Zoo. Situated in the heart of Lincoln Park, the zoo’s got all your old favorites of lions, tigers, and bears, but they also have a Fennec fox (possibly the most adorable zoo animal ever), a Sichuan takin, a sand cat, and a serval. These last three, I’d never heard of before, so bonus points for creativity–though, the sand cat literally looks like a house cat wandering around a cave-like enclosure.

I walked around the different sections of the zoo and had a grand time staring at the animals in amazement like the emotional five-year-old that I am. Best part? Freeeeeeeee.

Jibarito goodness

My brother’s childhood best friend’s sister (still with me? good), Liza, lives in Chicago now, and when I bugged her for recommendations, she hit me with this gem of a restaurant: Habana Libre. In her e-mail, she asked “Have you ever had a jibarito? Plantains with steak in the middle? Sooooo good!”

No, I had never had a jibarito–never even heard of it. I was intrigued, and so was Sam. Even though the entire menu of Cuban dishes was enticing, we both went with Liza’s suggestion, not knowing what to expect. When they brought out our plates, I stared at the sandwich, having a little “Huh” moment. From Liza’s description, I’d had an image in my head of a plantain stuffed with meat, maybe baked or fried. This was a sandwich of steak (Sam) or pork (me) stacked with lettuce, tomato, onion, and mayo on two slices of “bread” made from flattened slices of plantains fried until crispy. It was a welcome carb break, and the taste of the plantains didn’t overpower the rest of the sandwich; instead, every once in a while you’d get a bite of the crunchy edge and taste that hint of banana. It was amazing.

The sandwiches came with a side of blacks beans, rice, and traditional sweet plantains–certainly more than enough to leave us feeling incredibly full, but oh-so-satisfied. The restaurant itself was charming; not too small, not too big, and seemed to be filled with a lot of regulars. When we were there, there was a party celebrating someone’s birthday, and the staff threw a Spanish birthday song on the stereo and brought the cake out while wearing hats and shaking maracas. Adorable.

I think I’d visit Chicago again just so I could get another jibarito. It was that good.

So misleading

My last day in Chicago, Sam and I tried to deal with the heat by visiting a (air-conditioned) museum, and, based on a recommendation from his girlfriend, took a trip to the Chicago Museum of Science & Industry.

No offense to Hilary, who is a lovely girl, but this museum sucked. Hard. This whole trip, I’ve been pretty careful about which museums I’ve visited due to the fact that, let’s face it, most museums are the same and a lot of them are overpriced. The heat was messing with my head, though, and I agreed to the plan without hesitation, even though it’d cost me $13 and, as it turned out, three hours of my life that I’d never get back.

This museum would be interesting to people (A) wealthy enough to fork over the extra dough for the special exhibits (the Body Worlds looked cool), (B) dorky enough to enjoy model circuses and fairy castles (what this had to do with science or industry, I’m not sure), or (C) sheltered enough that technology from 15 years ago is still impressive (really? An MRI image is supposed to wow me?).

Sam and I tried our best to give the museum a chance, but by the time we reached an exhibit that encouraged visitors to race each other on the automated milking machines, we’d had enough.

Plan B: Beer.

Liza met up with us as we were nursing our third round at a sports bar next to Wrigley Field, and when we eventually settled the tab, she suggested that we chill at the beach for a bit.

Here’s how hot it’d been that day: Lake Michigan, which normally numbs extremities with relative ease, was bearable and, dare I say it, refreshing. Even in the dark, the lake was beautiful and calming to me. Earlier, Sam had tried to impress me with the Chicago skyline, but I didn’t see how it was much different from any other big city at night. There, on the water, though, I could see how it was special.

As Liza drove us home, it hit me that this was the last night of my road trip. After four months of living out of my car, staying in a different city every week (sometimes every night), and finally feeling good about myself and my life, it was all coming to an end.

“I feel like we should be listening to ‘Closing Time’ or something,” Liza joked, and tried to find something suitably nostalgic and bittersweet on the radio. A crappy pop ballad came on and we listened for a couple seconds.

“Okay, that’s enough of that,” she said, and switched stations.

No need to get all maudlin, guys.


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