Tuesday, May 20, 2014

It's Electric

This is one of the rare times when I’m at a loss for what to say about today. Not because something so profoundly fantastic or terrible happened, but because so much happened. I was so busy doing today that I never really had time to stop and think of a theme that tied it all together. So, as much as it pains me, today’s Chicago adventure will have to take the form of a bed-to-bed story.

It began with a 150-mile trip north through western Indiana. Since the designers of the interstate highway system failed to consider the importance of a high-speed linkage between Terre Haute and Chicago, we had to slum it and take a lowly U.S. Highway instead. Except, in parts of the country like this, I sometimes prefer those over some cold Interstate. Because they’re not limited-access, there are interesting things along the side of the road. Plus, these roads aren’t subject to interstate highway rules, so they’re free to go in a completely straight line with no bends whatsoever, all the way to the horizon.

Eventually, though, we crossed over into Illinois and Central Standard Time, where farmland rapidly gave way to midwest urban sprawl, until the twin antennae of the Sears Tower (it’ll always be the Sears Tower, despite what the sign in the lobby says) began poking up in the distance.

After some improvisation regarding parking (since we couldn’t check into the hotel yet), we ended up at Millenium Park and the old Bean. Having visited it twice now, I’m still amazed at how it’s almost completely free of bird poop. Is the metal too hot for birds to fly over it? Is someone just really meticulous about cleaning it off? The world may never know.


There was some more walking around the park (which had flowers today, unlike in August), including spending a few minutes standing in the middle of what I call the Hot Bridge (it’s made of sheet metal and because it’s really curvy, parts of it act like a concave mirror). We couldn’t go all the way across because Chicago is building what I’m convinced is the world’s largest foam ball pit on the other side of the road. I have no idea what this is going to turn into, but I made sure to document it for when it becomes whatever it decides to become.

From there, it was off to our token tall building of the trip. In the past we’ve been to the top of the Empire State Building, the CN Tower, and today we added the skyscraper formerly known as the Sears Tower to that list.

What was unique about this one (since it’s height alone no longer makes it unique, as it’s not the tallest building in the U.S. anymore), is that on the one side of the building that features a sheer drop the full 1,400-plus feet of the tower’s height, there are several glass boxes on the top floor that visitors can step into and step out over the void with nothing but a thin sheet of glass and 1,400 feet of air between them and the ground. My father wouldn’t have gone within 20 feet of those things. Fortunately, I’m not my father:

After coming down and finally being able to check into our hotel (which we’re apparently sharing with a candy convention this week. I know…), things got interesting. Instead of having dinner at Navy Pier (which still closes at 8, because sometimes this city doesn’t realize it’s supposed to be more like New York than Muncie), we decided to walk back towards downtown and see what we could find. After encountering several dozen puppies along the way, the skies began to look more and more ominous (on a day when it hits 85 degrees with plenty of humidity, it was foreseeable expected that something like that might happen). We eventually found a nice little Irish pub under the L tracks and decided to hang around there after eating until the rain stopped. Unfortunately, the rain had other plans. The best we could do was to wait for a lull in the line of thunderstorms which were all funneling towards Chicago, and hope to make it home in that brief window.

We failed.

The rains came. Slowly at first, when my cheapo umbrella could make a difference. But as the rain picked up and the umbrella became less effective, I started ceding articles of clothing and body parts to the storm. “OK, my feet are just going to be wet.” “Fine, my pants will be wet too. So will my left arm.” Eventually, the concern became getting all the valuable electronics into my camera bag, which had its own raincoat inside my backpack. In the end, those were the only things on either of us that remained dry. But that was just water. Water dries.

The real problem came when we were very nearly struck by lightning while crossing the street. Oh, I’m sorry… did I bury the lede there? Well I guess that’s your reward for getting to this point in this post. Anyway, as we were crossing Michigan Avenue, I suddenly had a whole bunch of random thoughts all at once, and this sensation was immediately followed by a blinding flash and an immediate crash of thunder. The one finger that had been touhing the metal pole of my umbrella was shocked (as if touching a doorknob after rubbing your socks on carpet), and it hurt for several minutes afterwards. So I guess we weren’t technically struck by lightning – we’re not sure which of the nearby skyscrapers it actually struck – but that was certainly as close as I’d ever come. And that includes the time at camp when I was walking over a bridge across a lake during a thunderstorm while wearing a metal external frame backpack.

What was worse was that this storm was teasing me. With all this bright vivid lightning flashing around me, I had left my lightning trigger in the car. And even if I had it, it wasn’t like I was about to stop in the middle of the deluge and try to get pictures. So as soon as we stumbled back into the hotel, dropping and squishing all the way, I grabbed the lightning trigger and set up the camera in the window, which has a decent view of Lake Michigan. Then I just waited. I’ll leave it up for the rest of the night just to see if anything materializes, but I did manage to capture this one gem:

So there. The rule of “pics or it didn’t happen” is satisfied.

Tomorrow, it’ll be a second shot at Navy Pier before attending a real-live Cubs game (as opposed to the empty-stadium tour from 2011), and heading down to St. Louis for the next leg of the journey.

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