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September 20, 2004

To Chicago and back in 48 hours

John and I made a flying trip to Chicago this weekend to visit Wendy and David. Here are some highlights and observations from the trip:

  • We left St. Paul at 10:45 PM Friday night, following a St. Paul Chamber Orchestra concert we didn't want to miss (it was worth it). Both of us managed to stay awake during the entire four-hour drive to Madison--something only made possible by the combination of strong coffee, sugar overload thanks to Krispy Kreme donuts, and a manically uptempo iPod playlist I created especially for the occasion. Eric and Charlotte generously allowed us to crash their place at 3 AM for sleep and brunch before heading onward. Although we survived, I don't think we'll want to try the same thing again anytime soon!
  • As we fought our way through excruciating traffic driving into Chicago on Saturday afternoon, and then fought our way back out on Sunday afternoon, we considered the question of whether we would be happy living in a city as large as Chicago. The crush of social and cultural diversity is exhilarating and deeply appealing. But the crowding, chaos, and expense would be hard to adjust to. Tough call.
  • Wendy and David live in a great apartment in the Wicker Park neighborhood in Chicago, an eclectic area quite convenient to the Loop where it feels like the changes wrought by gentrification are happening before your very eyes. One of the most interesting things about their location is its relative proximity to the infamous Cabrini-Green housing projects, which are currently being demolished and replaced with mixed-income redevelopment, while high-income residential development goes on around its edges. The Cabrini-Green redevelopment is a mishmash of contentious negotiations, lawsuits, politics, and personal stories that adds up to an extremely compelling tale. Chicago's struggle to find a way out of its public housing mess is emblematic of what's going on in cities around the nation. Looking for more information, I stumbled across this recent series of columns from the Chicago Tribune (free registration may be required, but highly recommended -- the columns are worth it).
  • We spent part of early Sunday afternoon exploring the brand-new Millennium Park in downtown Chicago, which includes a beautiful amphitheater designed by Frank Gehry as well as a number of other pieces of striking and entertaining public art. Unfortunately, we didn't have a camera with us, but this photo essay captures the sights far better than we could have.
  • On the way home, we grabbed some dinner at the Culver's in downtown Wisconsin Dells. We didn't have time to see much. But having grown up in the Black Hills, we were both nostalgically amused by how the main street is just a larger version of Keystone's, especially as we remember it in the 1980s. Cheesy t-shirt shops, various tourist-trap type attractions, and the vaguely old-west styling of the place are all reassuring proof that there's still demand for old-fashioned, warts-and-all Americana.

It was a very enjoyable trip, however brief!

Posted by at September 20, 2004 3:24 PM