Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Good Times in Chi-Town + Remembering 9/11 Ten Years Later

As very lengthily described in my previous post, we were in Chicago for my first half-marathon on 9/11/2010. Weird day for a race, huh? I thought so when I signed up, but what can you do?

We packed on Wednesday night, spent the night at our friends' house Thursday, woke up at 4:30 AM, and were driving to the airport by 6:00.

On Friday it was just Chris and I from 11:30 until dinner. We got in and made it to our hotel, then Rick Bayles' Frontera Grill for lunch by 2:00. We had some yummy drinks, a great ceviche, a masa cake with pork, and then a lamb dish. The ceviche was my favorite. I know Chris will blog about the food aspects of the weekend since he loves to take pictures of everything we eat, so I'm going to skip the details.

We did some shopping after lunch. Chicago has three H&M's! We both scored big along Michigan Ave. I'm glad I don't live there or I would have no money -- both because of the clothes and the necessary closet remodel to fit them all.

After we'd run out of time (but not gotten to everything that could have emptied our bank accounts) we headed back, cleaned up and met Ruth, Scott, and their friends from law school (Brian & Becca -- native Chicagoans!) for dinner at Lux Bar. It was bar food for dinner and we had our last alcohol before the race. Mmm...beer. For the carbs, of course.

The next day I was scheduled to run a tiny 2-miler so I got up at 7:00 and hit the treadmill. The news was on and showing 9/11 stories. I teared up but then a guy came in and got on the other treadmill, so I sucked it up and didn't cry.

I finished, showered, ate hotel breakfast, and we headed to pick up our race packets at Navy Pier; then we went on a Shoreline architecture-centered boat tour of the city. The tour was great and the guide was even better. It was a good way to learn some Chicago history and see the city from a new vantage point. Becca said she'd been on it four times, as she always took family when they were in town. Highly recommended. Next time we're there Chris wants to do the 3-hour Frank Lloyd Wright tour.

Ruth & Scott had never seen Millennium Park, so that's where we headed next for some quick sight-seeing.

We headed to another bar for the Bears game (they won!) where the the boys had beer and the girls had copious amounts of water. I was trying to prevent any race-time digestive issues, so I was packing in the vegetables (fiber!) with my meals.

After the game, we headed hung out at Ruth & Scott's friends' place for a bit, then did dinner at a little Italian place called La Scrola. They had made reservations for 8:00, but when we got there it was obvious that the word reservation was just to make us feel good. We were seated at 9:00 after much craziness (starved and sick pregnant ladies, a party of obnoxious, middle-aged drunk people, and an owner trying to appease us all while schmoozing and lying like a politician). Thankfully, the food was great. I am always made happy by simple things done well. I had pasta with a spicy tomato and basil sauce. It reminded me instantly of the homemade food I'd had in a small Italian village over ten years ago. If you're not in a hurry, go here for some great food.

After dinner, I was in bed by 11:15, for the next morning was go time!

Since the race fell on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the organizers had set a patriotic theme and asked us to wear red, white and blue. There was even an FDNY fire truck at the race that had been at Ground Zero. Ruth and I were both sporting our patriotic gear, and others ran with flags. It had seemed almost sacrilegious at first to do something like this on this day, but turning it into a tribute of sorts seemed appropriate. I'm not the "America is the best God-d@mned nation on Earth" kind of person, but it is sobering to remember that the people who died on that day 10 years ago died simply because they were Americans, and that it could have been any of us.

After the race, we cleaned up and then rendezvous'd for brunch at Revolution Brewing Company.  The restaurant was a good 40-minute train ride from our hotel, so I didn't eat real food until 1:00 on Sunday. Needless to say, I was very hungry. Becca recommended the burgers, so I consulted with our waiter and on his gushing recommendation ordered the Hombre Burger. Hombre my gosh -- it was yummy. It consisted of shoes-string slivers of fried tortillas, a smoked poblano pepper,  avocado, Chihuahua cheese, and red pepper crema. On top of all the fabulous dressings, the beef was to die for, and perfectly cooked (or not so cooked, depending on how you look at medium beef). I will lust over that burger for the rest of my days.

After brunch, my knee was killing me (my fault: old shoes for 13.1 miles) so we headed back to our hotel for a nap. On our way back we wandered around a bit to see what we saw. Being in a city with many more and taller buildings than I'm used to -- I couldn't help but imagine what it must have been like to be walking down the street and suddenly being witness to the horror that was a plane crashing into a building. That weekend we found ourselves on trains and in public places much like the ones that have been the targets of attacks. Thinking about it while riding the L or walking below towering skyscrapers didn't make me feel uneasy because I was worried, but because people have become sudden victims in that same situation that I happened to find myself in at that moment: so unexpecting and then ...


When we made it back to the hotel I curled into bed with some ice on my knee and we slept for almost two hours. We woke up without much time to do anything, so we decided to head out for coffee on our way to dinner. Yep, we napped off brunch and got ready for dinner. (Thankyoooou, running for 2.5 hours straight.) Coffee didn't work out though, because  everything in downtown Chicago closes at 6 on Sunday, if it was open at all. Very surprising and also sad in that we wasted cab fare.

We ended up at the restaurant a bit early, so we grabbed some cocktails. I had chosen Joe's Stone Crab, since our friend Samir raves about the crab. This was my chosen reward for running the half-marathon. At first I really only had the trip to Chicago as my motivation but someone (I can't remember who) said I should have a "thing" I was giving myself. Decadent seafood came to mind, and so did this place. Had I known that Ruth's friends had lived in Chicago for quite some time (one for life) I would have asked for recommendations for a seafood place. No one threw out anything else, but it turns out this place is most famous for the Stone Crab claws. The name seems like it would tip me off, but really I didn't think about it. None of us ordered them, which left me wondering if we should have thought about that and looked into other options. The food was great, though, so I'm not complaining. The service, on the other hand? It was obvious to all of us that our waiter was happy with the automatic 18% gratuity added to our party's check.

After dessert we hugged and parted ways. I was in bed and asleep by 11:00.

We woke up at 7:30 so that we could do some last bits of sight-seeing. We walked to the Chicago Board of Trade building and went in for a quick look around. It's a gorgeous, newly-restored Art Deco building. The limestone was highly-polished and every silver accent sparkled.

Before heading to the hotel to check out, we hit up an interesting coffee place Chris had discovered, called Intelligentsia. It was pretty cool and had great coffee. I learned what a Chemex brewer is, and now I want one!

We took the train back to the airport and that was our last taste of Chicago for quite a while. It was a fun trip and I still can't believe that I ran a half-marathon!

(For all of Chris's awesome pictures, check out his blog.)

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