Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Chicago, ten years later

Today's theme is "disorientation," because I keep getting confused about my own whereabouts. I just moved, but immediately after making sure everything we needed got from NY to NJ, flew to Chicago to attempt to show around my husband, who was there for a conference. I kept thinking the move had been to Chicago, given how little food/sleep I was on upon arrival, making the time between when the movers left and when I landed in Chicago quite a daze. Chicago seemed a plausible enough town for me to arrive home to.

I'd arrived in Chicago exactly a decade prior (as 9/11 news stories reminded me, because given that I was still in NY at the time, that stands out in my memory a good bit more than my first week of college), but mostly remembered Hyde Park. This time, I was staying in Evanston, so a hoped-for trip back to campus was out. I hadn't been back to the city at all since college, so there would be surprises wherever we went.

I first saw a friend from college who's now back for law school, and, with him, finally saw this "Logan Square" I'd heard so much about, but always deemed too far from Hyde Park to explore. It was a fine place to start, because the "Breakfast Brioche Bread Pudding" with a side of chicken-sage sausage and a cold-brewed Intelligensia was the perfect combination of hipster-food and hearty Midwestern feast. It was as though all my energy lost during the move-then-travel returned. Meanwhile, in further disorientation, our waitress was someone my friend and I had been in the dorm with my first year.

We then walked a bit around Logan Square, likely missing the main drag of it, but passing by a French bakery I'd read about but, what with the meal I'd just eaten, was not so curious about at that moment. Then, thanks to my friend who has more than a vague knowledge of the city (as well as an iPhone), we ended up on Armitage, a street I'd maybe seen before, maybe not, but at any rate that's apparently where the fun clothes-shopping happens. For those who have not just moved into apartments where they and their husbands are to share one closet.

Next after that was North/Clybourne, where we saw a little boy spit off the railing of a truly immense and shiny Whole Foods, from the café area down to dangerously near the baguettes, if not hitting customers as well. I will not recount the entire scene, but my friend, who saw this (my back was to the scene) spoke up, and the child's mother asked him to apologize to my friend, leading me to point out that it was really the people on the level below he might want to address.

Next up, Evanston, which is lovely but far from even the northern parts of the city - something I hadn't realized in college, when I'd assumed that Northwestern students experienced Chicago in the way that NYU students enjoy NY. So, lots of trains, but the Saturday market in Evanston was pretty great - not too surprisingly, the Heartland is good at producing food. Everything was far more geared to drivers and large families than you'd find at the Greenmarkets in NY - a "small" container of peaches was some kind of massive basket, the assumption being you'd get a barrel-full - but for the carless weekend visitor, raspberries in an only somewhat massive container and a massive-but-I'm-not-complaining cinnamon bun were on offer. And this market was right there, in the parking lot across from the hotel! I stopped myself from buying greens, because that's not something you do on a weekend a flight away from home, but am now sitting in this vegetable-less apartment, far from any groceries, and still without air in those bike tires...

This being my husband's first trip to Chicago, our first non-Evanston stop was to be Michigan Avenue. I of course screwed this up by getting us into one of those underground-parking areas below the city itself, where we proceeded to spend the part of the day it wasn't raining. We began with Fox and Obel, where I was reunited with the Caesar salad that for some reason made quite the impression years ago. It was fine. Then we headed over to the beach, but it wasn't quite admire-a-beach-that's-OMG-right-in-a-city-we-don't-have-things-like-this-in-NY-isn't-this-amazing? weather, so the Museum of Contemporary Art saw us a bit earlier than planned, definitely the way to go. It's a thing in Chicago, it seems, for white brides, grooms, and their wedding parties to take their photographers to museums, and to pose for photos amidst the art that, in this case, represented the artist's sociopolitical take on being black and gay in America.

Next was indeed Michigan Ave., which I will remember for future reference is much more exciting if you've been missing big-city bustle and had long since forgotten what it was like to go to a Gap, but which is nevertheless not half bad when you get down to the river. Next, Belmont, where I knew Intelligensia should be, but if it were not for kind locals, no way I would have found it. I remembered one big avenue with stuff on it, when in fact there are something like five, and the correct one isn't all that near the train. It was about then that I started to get the point of smart-phones. I'd also misremembered Intelligensia as a student "coffice," when it's in fact a pickup spot for middle-aged gay men. For the best, considering we weren't there to study in silence, and not surprising, in retrospect, given the locale. The coffee itself was as good as I remembered.

Then came some complicated CTA-stravaganza that involved considering and ultimately rejecting a restaurant Gwyneth Paltrow recommended in her guide to Chicago for people unlikely to be in Chicago in the first place (but in the process, learning that there is indeed a part of Chicago filled with could-be-supermodels, and it ain't Hyde Park). Then more CTA, then more Evanston, and eventually some grocery shopping at an Evanston Whole Foods - yes, an Evanston, IL Whole Foods - because we now live in a part of NJ so bucolic that that was, for the time being, our best bet for groceries.


jim said...

I take it you haven't yet found Wegmans.

Wegmans justifies places that are not New York (but are places with Wegmans).

Phoebe said...

I haven't yet found much of anything. There was a store off Nassau with really overpriced olive oil, which I bought in desperation, but supermarkets all appear to be at the very least a bike ride away.

Nicholas said...

McCaffrey's off Harrison St. in the Princeton Shopping Center was the consensus choice of people who lived in Princeton, though word on the street was that it was pricey, even by central New Jersey standards; it's pretty bike-able from anywhere in town. Wegman's, off Nassau Park Blvd, is the best combination of cheap/good selection, but I can't even begin to imagine how one would bike there. There's also a Trader Joe's on the other side of Rt. 1.

J.L. Wall said...

Well, OF COURSE the Intelligentsia on Belmont is more a pickup spot for middle-aged gay men than a "coffice." It's on BELMONT.

On the other hand, being one of those people who spent four years in Evanston-not-Chicago it sounds like your disoriented whirlwind tour was about as coherent as anything I could've given.

Phoebe said...


Thanks, much appreciated! That anything is accessible by bike gives me hope. Wegmans must be investigated. I haven't had great luck at NY Trader Joe's, but I guess it depends what the options are otherwise. (No Princeton Fairway, alas.)

J.L. Wall,

Yes, I remembered Belmont, Boys' Town (which I had to convince my husband is the name of the area and not a slur), the rainbow phalluses that line the main drag of it. But Intelligensia isn't precisely on Belmont (on Broadway a couple blocks south), and so much of Belmont is... like St. Marks Place in NY - post-punk commercialized-ish youth culture. It's where I bought odd-colored hair dye in college. The gay not-so-y-anymore yuppies were not a shock, but they were not the clientele I'd remembered.

So... yes, Evanston is about as much "Chicago" as is Hyde Park. At least this time I wasn't harassed while waiting for the 55 bus...

kei said...

Ooh, Logan Square! That's my neck of the woods, but that area specifically is more like my parents' area. We're a little farther west of the circle and Lula's and so on. And if you were between Lula's and the French bakery, that means you were also right by where apparently Tavi gets her hair cut (Sparrow; even though she's from Oak Park, way out west). (Btw, have you seen her rookiemag.com?)

I really like your Lincoln Park Whole Foods story. The kid's and mother's behavior both fit that area, or a common image of it, so well. But I still love going to that Whole Foods, maybe because it's so big (it's supposedly the third largest in the world after London and Austin locations?). I once dropped Mordecai's paycheck in their parking lot, and someone had returned it to guest services. I thought later that someone picked it up thinking, "Oh no, poor guy makes peanuts, I should really turn it in." I like making up these kinds of stories, visualizing the customers to be a certain way, which they kind of are, but I also realize that the line that separates them from me is pretty thin...I mean, I must get my salmon and whole chickens from there! The dog gets in on the salmon too :D

Phoebe said...


Wow, I did not realize Tavi got her hair cut right where we were! And I had (of course!) seen her teen mag. It looks promising, I guess, but a bit like a guide to how to be like Tavi, kind of like how to be Daria but also a fashion celebrity. It's an odd concept - the teen too eccentric for high school, but who doesn't need to wait to grow up to have her coolness appreciated by adults. But I'm mostly on the pro-Tavi bandwagon - she does interesting things with her celebrity.

"I like making up these kinds of stories, visualizing the customers to be a certain way, which they kind of are, but I also realize that the line that separates them from me is pretty thin..."

Yup! I'd always have this at the Tribeca Whole Foods - on the one hand, I was always struck by the Chanel-handbag-and-jumbo-diamond combo on all the women, inevitably paired with high-end workout gear and perfectly-toned everything. On the other, I... was there in the first place, inspecting each tomato, sometimes even - gasp - wondering where my food comes from.

PG said...

It's a thing in Chicago, it seems, for white brides, grooms, and their wedding parties to take their photographers to museums, and to pose for photos amidst the art that, in this case, represented the artist's sociopolitical take on being black and gay in America.

It's observations like these that keep me coming back to WWPD.

Phoebe said...


I'm flattered!