Note: The below entry is an article I thought I’d send to my hometown paper about my visit to Chicago with my mom. An abridged version has been sent to the Chicago Tribune editor, thanking the city for a memorable 4 days. Hope you enjoy the pictures as much as I enjoyed taking them!
My trip to Chicago began along the Yangtze River, at a small Chinese vocational college where I teach English in Luzhou, Sichuan Province. My summer holiday was fast approaching, and I wanted a refreshing stateside getaway to share with my mom, living in downstate Illinois.
In my childhood, our family visits to the Windy City had been yearly affairs, greatly looked forward to by my mom, dad and me. Good food, shows, museums, people watching and shopping were crammed into a three or four-day visit. But my many years of teaching English overseas, and later my dad’s illness, put a halt to such family excursions. We contented ourselves reading about city happenings in the Chicago Tribune or Midwest magazines and tour guides. After my dad’s passing last February, however, my mom was free to travel and this summer, I was free to take her.
So while finishing out the semester in China, I began meticulously planning online our mother-daughter Chicago outing. Amtrak tickets were secured. Discounted hotel rooms were reserved. Theater shows and restaurant reviews were studied. Numerous city tours were considered.
All was ready for our visit to northern Illinois, including a stop in Galesburg to visit friends before training it into Lake Michigan’s waterfront city.
When we landed in Chicago last week, it was a 4-day experience we will never forget.
Millennium Park was a true joy: children splashing around the towering faces-of-Chicago Crown Fountain, the Cloud Gate (“The Bean”) with its amazing reflective views of the city, Jaume Plensa’s stately portraits, a noontime rehearsal concert at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, and then a trek to the nearby Maggie Daley Park. The Chicago Line Architectural Cruise, accompanied by an incredible docent, gave us an outstanding view and knowledge of the city. We hit Hot Tix theater offerings to fill our evenings. “Kinky Boots” had us dancing out the Cadillac Palace doors while The Goodman’s “Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike” enlisted our critical thinking skills of play themes and character portrayals. Good food at decent prices abounded, with a splurge at Miller’s Pub (famous Chicago restaurant) for lunch. An adequately appointed hotel room along Michigan Avenue at The Congress Plaza allowed us easy walking distance to well-known destinations, including The Magnificent Mile, an avenue a mile long with cafes, restaurants, hotels, boutiques and glorious shopping opportunities. Here we squeezed in shopping at Macy’s (formerly Marshall Field’s) and found great discounts at Filene’s Basement, as my mom and I still fondly call it. (Filene’s is now known by another name but we still refer to it under its previous title.)
The Chicago Cultural Center became our air-conditioned comfort zone in between outside jaunts. The beautiful building, informative hostesses and interesting exhibits gave us a pleasant respite from the outdoor heat. This building also housed one of numerous StoryCorps hubs in the country, in which we had so much wanted to participate.
StoryCorps, for those who don’t know, allows single individuals or couples to enter a recording booth and choose from prompts to talk about their lives. Its mission is to provide people of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of Americans’ lives. Since 2003, StoryCorps has collected and archived more than 50,000 interviews with over 100,000 participants. Each conversation is recorded on a CD to share, and is preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. It’s one of the largest oral history projects of its kind, and millions listen to the StoryCorps weekly broadcasts on National Public Radio’s (NPR) Morning Edition.
Hundreds of prompts are suggested to get you started, such as: “What was the happiest/saddest moment of your life?” “What’s your earliest memory?” “ Who has been kindest to you in your life?” “What’s your proudest moment?”
It’s quite a task to stir up people’s story-telling juices but those prompts do the trick.
If my mom and I had been more organized and on the ball, we’d have reserved an interview time online so we, also, could have shared our life memories with others. Guess we’ll have to schedule that into our itineration next time we visit Chicago.
It’s been 25 years since my last trip to Chicago, which had been my family’s limited-budget splurge during my college years. My mom and I found the changes since then absolutely astounding. My dad would have been so pleased to see his beloved Chicago in its newly revived form. As a retired Civics and U.S. History teacher, he’d most likely have proclaimed it a city “of the people, by the people, for the people,” (to steal a bit from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.)
What a memorable city adventure! I’m already putting together our photographic Chicago journey in a power point presentation to share with my students in China. In the below pictures, you’ll find out just how much fun we had. I’ve only added a few from our time in Chicago. There are so many!
From small town Illinois, here’s wishing you Ping An (Peace) for your week.