Saturday, November 3, 2012


Okay, so it's been forever, but finally - the Chicago trip log!

It started with a super-early shift at The Farm:


I took the 7:00 shift because I screwed up and forgot to request a half-day when I traded for the regular 8:30 shift. Since I couldn't take a half-day, I figured I'd trade for the early shift and get out at 3:30 instead of 5:00. Every minute counted because we had to make it to the South Shore train in Dune Park in time.

I normally work at 10:30, so getting up 3.5 hours ahead of schedule was not fun. I stopped at McDonald's for an egg and bacon biscuit because BITE ME and grabbed some coffee while there too. Our cafe doesn't open until 8:00, and I was not about to wait an hour. McDonald's coffee tastes like licking a cast iron pan, but I wasn't about to complain. I poured approximately nine teaspoons of Splenda into it and pretended it was medicine and, therefore, good for me.

Once the cafe opened, I got more coffee. The Farm coffee tastes like acid rain, so I hopped that stuff up with more Splenda and some hazelnut creamer.

For lunch, I had pizza and Diet Mountain Dew.

All was fine until after lunch. Then I crashed in the most epic way possible. I looked like a meth addict. I could hardly keep my eyes open, but I was twitchy and itchy. It was fabulous, and I still had three hours to go.

Once I was finally free, I raced over to Brent's office to pick him up, and then we were on our way.

Luckily, we didn't get pulled over, and we beat Google Maps' estimate by at least thirty minutes. So that meant we had lots of time to hang around and take pictures.

Check out the old Diet Pepsi logo! I also like the label that simply says "ORANGE".

Our train ended up delayed due to some "freight or passenger issue", so we sat around with a bunch of other people and listened to some guy plan his next RPG session. Folks, if you are on your cell phone, use your indoor voice; otherwise, everyone will laugh as you chastise your friend for letting some chick crash on his couch three weekends in a row without getting anything in return. F'real.

Once the train showed up, we took our seats and assessed. The South Shore is a commuter train that runs on electricity (this will come into play later) and is more like a mass transit train than a fancy-pants train like Amtrak. The seats are plastic with a vinyl cushion, it doesn't have tray tables, and it doesn't serve food or drinks. It does have a bathroom, though, and the windows are big and wide. Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures inside the train because I was too busy watching the movement on my GPS. This train was much slower than driving or taking Amtrak, but we didn't have to worry about parking, and it was fairly relaxing.

We got off at the Millennium Park/Randolph St station (the end of the line), and this is where the real test began. We had to schlep our stuff over a half-mile to the hotel. Now, this is no great distance by any means... NOW... but it nearly killed me last year. Brent had the suitcase, so I took the backpack, and off we went.

I kept up with everyone going up the stairs to the street level.

I kept up and passed people as we walked through the theatre district.

As we crossed the river and stood on the bridge to check out the view, I noticed I hadn't even broken a sweat or taken a deep breath, and my feet were fine. I wasn't tired at all. In fact, I could have walked more, and I was pretty energized. First test passed.

The hotel was ri-DIC-ulous. I fell in love the second we walked into the lobby. It was dark outside at that point, so picture this even darker and more vampy.

I was like, "YES. I will LIVE HERE," and Brent said, "Maybe we should check in first."

The desk clerk was very French and very friendly. I couldn't stop staring at the candles. Those mirrors have candelabras etched into them, and then the votive holders are mounted to them and have real candles in them. The check-in desk is a cabinet full of antique glassware. I'm glad Brent handled the check-in because I was standing there like some kind of French Revolution/Lestat fangirl. It was the perfect mix of burgundy velvet, antiques, and stark white. I want to hire their decorator if we ever buy a house.

Then there are the elevators, hallways, and rooms. Good god, let me stay here forever.

As you can see, we were right across the parking lot from the House of Blues, so we decided to go there for dinner. Neither of us had been there before, and we both really like live music and comfort food.

We decided to start with Pulled Pork Sliders:

They were waaaaaaayyyyy too hot for me, so I felt compelled to order a drink. I got to keep the glass!

We decided to sample the Macaroni & Cheese. It was delicious. It tasted like homemade, but it was a million times better. I could have eaten an entire plate full of this stuff.

For dinner, I had Buttermilk Fried Chicken, Mashed Potatoes with Cheese & Bacon, and Citrus Slaw. The chicken was okay but kind of a waste on me since I never eat the skin anyway. I tried a little piece to see what it tasted like, and it was pretty good. Brent liked it too (he had to finish it for me since I can't eat that much food in one sitting - it was HALF a CHICKEN). The potatoes were awesome. The slaw would have been fabulous, and I really liked the touch of citrus, but they put cilantro in it. :( I HATE cilantro. I tried to eat around it, but I gave up halfway through.

Brent ordered a French Dip w/ Fries. I didn't try the sandwich, but he loved it. The fries were the best french fries I've ever had in my life, hands down. I couldn't stop stealing them!

It turns out my phone can do Panoramic shots. I thought it was just the iPhone 5, but I guess the 4 can do them too!

After we finished dinner, we decided to walk to the Subway just a couple buildings down. We wanted to pick up some bottled water for me and Pepsi for Brent. We were right on the river at this point, so we enjoyed the view for a while. I was setting up to take another panoramic shot when I saw two homeless guys heading our way. I shoved my phone in my bag and started to walk, but Brent didn't catch my cue. Sure enough, one of the guys started chatting him up and pulled out a bottle of liquid. He was going on and on about Brent's boots and then started squirting this soapy liquid on them to shine them.

I kind of laughed because 1) I can't believe he got caught and 2) I was buzzed from that super-strong drink. The guy was going on about how smiley and happy I was and how Brent has a "good woman". After the guy did Brent's boots, he asked if I wanted my shoes cleaned (umm, they're Converse, so no?) I started to walk away, and he squirted me. So I was just, "Fine, whatev," and figured I'd give the guy five bucks. No biggie. After he finished washing my shoes (both of our boots/shoes looked exactly as dirty as before), I started to hand him a $5 bill, and he was like, "Okay, that's $10 per boot and $5 per shoe."

I started laughing again because it was so freaking unreal. I handed the guy the $5, intent on walking away at that point, but Brent pulled out his cash. Ugh. Hustled. THEN the guy started playing the, "Well you give me $X and I'll give you back $Y," game where they trade money back and forth and the scammer ends up with more money. Fortunately, Brent is really quick with math and realized the guy was about to scam him. He handed him a $20 and said, "Here, bro. Have a good night."

As soon as the guy walked away, I said, "Unbelievable. Next time, FOLLOW ME," but I was still laughing. Poor Brent. ;) It's not that he isn't street smart; he just wasn't paying much attention and wasn't on his game that night. And honestly, I can see how he'd be worried about the guy hurting me or pushing me into the river. Brent kept moving us away from the river as the guy was yammering on and on.

So that was Friday. ;)


On Saturday, we woke up to pouring rain. It was like sheets of water just falling onto the ground. We were supposed to meet Stacy at Grant Park, where she was getting her bib for the Color Run. It was a 1.5-mile walk, so I figured we'd just hoof it. Unfortunately, like an idiot, I'd forgotten my umbrella. Fortunately, there was a bus stop right next to the hotel. We managed to catch a bus down to Jackson St, where we got off and ran into Barnes & Noble to get some coffee and a breakfast pastry. As we were walking (and getting poured on), I looked behind me and saw Stacy just down the block a ways. What are the odds?!?

We let her catch up, and then we all walked over to Grant Park. I was drenched. Stacy had an umbrella with her, though, and let me use it since she and Brent were both wearing hats. After she registered, we looked up the nearest bus that would take us to the Museum of Science and Industry. We walked toward it, and as we were walking, I noticed I still wasn't tired or sore. Last year, I would have been dead beyond dead beyond dead at this point. Stacy also commented that I was walking faster than the last time she'd seen me, which was true. She and Brent used to get a block ahead of me before they realized I was waddling behind them. ;)

The Museum of Science and Industry was awesome. We went all over the place, to a ton of different exhibits, and we still didn't have enough time to see everything. It was crazy. I was really looking forward to the tour of the Burlington Zephyr, but they'd made it all dark for Halloween, and it was more about scaring people. I didn't get to see much of the inside, since it was dark, but Brent took a picture of me while we waited in line. My hair was starting to dry and become afro-licious at this point. Not only was it pouring, but it was 65 and HUMID all weekend. Blecch.

We did get to sit in the coach seats on the train, so that was kind of cool. I'm excited to go back and get the real tour so I can take pictures and really see what it looks like inside.

We also saw this awesome "Jollyball" machine from Switzerland. It's like a gigantic game of Mousetrap or something. The ball starts way up at the top and goes through all of these crazy stunts as it travels up, sideways, down, and around the machine. There are trains, little elevators, boats, buses, clockwork, spirals, buckets, you name it. I wish I had a video. We caught it just as it started, and we probably spent a good ten minutes watching it until the end.

The following are some random shots around the museum. Brent loves to play with stuff, as you can see, and there are other things that caught my eye. I loved the train exhibit, as it had several freight and passenger train lines from Chicago to to the west coast, with farmland in between. The model of Chicago was really neat, and it even had a little L train going around the Loop. Brent loved the weather science experiment area, and I was really big on the anatomy stuff. There's also the giant Fairy Castle, with tiny replicas made with genuine diamonds, crystal, and gold, along with the world's smallest Bible, actual woven tapestries, and miniature copper cookware. We'll have to go back someday and devote more time to actually looking at things.

My veins!

I noticed that I didn't sit down until we'd been walking around for three hours, and that was because we were in a crowded room full of exhibits I'd pretty much seen, so I figured I'd upload pics to Facebook while Brent ran around playing with stuff. I thought it would be a good opportunity to rest my feet, just in case we were going to walk around for another hour or so. Last year, I had to sit down every 5-10 minutes because my feet were in so much pain, and I could barely hobble around. It was nice to be able to walk around with everyone else this time. I felt kind of bad for wussing out before the other two (who are a healthy weight, I might add, but still), and then Stacy came over and said she'd been thinking of sitting too. I'm not sure if she was trying to make me feel better or not, but I appreciated the thought. :)

After the museum, we headed up to the Gold Coast to sample the cupcakes at Sprinkles. Once we got off the L, I had no issues walking to the cupcake shop. Again, by this time last year, I'd have been dead on my feet and crying from the pain. I kept waiting for my feet to give out, but they were just the normal level of tired from walking around all day.

Anyway, Sprinkles has a cupcake ATM!

Vegan Red Velvet

Top left = Coconut. Top right = Dark Chocolate. Bottom left = Caramel Apple (seasonal). Bottom right = Regular Red Velvet

The cupcakes were delicious. We bought four to sample. The cream cheese frosting was too heavy/sweet for me, but the regular frosting was very good. The cake was fresh. You could tell they'd come out of the oven that day. The Coconut was my favorite, for sure. It had rum or bourbon or something in the cake mix, and the frosting was really light. The Caramel Apple had chunks of Granny Smith apples in it, but not too many. The Red Velvet nearly killed me. The cake was amazing, but the frosting was way too heavy and sweet, as I mentioned. If we go back to try more flavors, I'll make sure to get one that has regular frosting. They're also HUGE. I was too stuffed to eat dinner afterwards, even though I only had one cupcake total.

Brent wanted to go to The Alley to look at t-shirts, so we hopped back on the L and headed up to Belmont, where we had dinner at Clarke's. I'd been there before and love it. I think Stacy said she'd always wanted to try it but hadn't been there yet; or, she'd been there once. Anyway, I knew Brent would love it since diners are his favorite type of food and atmosphere. Also, it was pouring again, and I was hot, humidified, and ready to get somewhere dry and cool.

On the way there, Brent spotted a comic/CD store with all of these horror movie action figures in the window, so we ended up in there for 20 minutes. He bought a Tarman replica. I don't think I've ever seen him so excited. As he educated me, Tarman is the first zombie to ever say the phrase, "Braaaaaaaains..." Here he is all put together after we got home.

By the time we got to Clarke's, my feet had officially had it. Even my knees were starting to feel it. Between the walking and all the stairs to/from the L, I was approaching dead. Brent was hurting too, though, so I didn't feel too bad, and he kept reiterating that we had been on our feet, walking around, and climbing stairs ALL DAY, something I couldn't do last year and something that would tire a lot of people out, even at a "normal" weight. That made me feel better. :) I didn't like that he was hurting too, but I liked that we were both in pain and that made me more like a normal person. ;)

Here's the food from Clarke's, along with their awesome menu:

I had a Patty Melt and Mac & Cheese, Stacy had a Veggie Burger with Sweet Potato Fries, and Brent had a Mushroom-Swiss Burger with fries. I could hardly eat my food. I was still stuffed from the cupcake. Also, I noticed that Friday night and Saturday night, I was ordering food the old way, completely forgetting I don't have the appetite I used to. Now that the Glucophage is keeping my insulin resistance under control, I'm hungry at the usual times instead of every waking moment of every day.

Brent teased me and told me, "Young lady, you finish your dinner, or you can't have dessert," and I reminded him the dessert was the entire reason I couldn't eat any dinner. I did take the bread off the patty melt and eat half of the patty along with some of the mac & cheese. I'm not going to pass up mac & cheese. It was just regular Kraft dinner, but mmmmmmmmm Kraft dinner. ;)

At this point, Stacy left us since she had to get up at some crazy hour to run the 5K, and Brent and I went to The Alley. I was starting to get dead on my feet at this point, and I was so tired of being wet/humid. I just wanted a shower so I could fix my hair and cool off, and I wanted it to STOP RAINING, even though it got super humid every time it did. I'd been thinking of getting another ear piercing while there, but I was getting crabby and figured I'd just look around at dresses and things. They only go up to size XL, but instead of getting sad, I got excited that I'll be able to wear that stuff in a couple years. I could wear XL dresses when I was a 14/16 (165 - 175 pounds). It's really nice to feel optimistic and happy while looking at clothes instead of defeated and depressed.

After we left The Alley, we took the L back to the hotel. I was going to take the Red Line to State/Lake, but I figured we could catch the Brown Line to the Merchandise Mart since it was about the same distance and took us right by a CVS (to pick up more drinks/snacks). It's a good thing we did, because we caught the announcement about the construction in the Loop shutting down one half of the L tracks. Oh, hell. This would completely change the way we were getting to the concert. I almost wanted to skip it at this point, since it was almost 10:00 and I was pretty much done, but I hopped on my phone, checked out the service alert, and saw they'd re-routed the Green Line. We could still get there just fine; it would simply require a slight change in where we got on/off plus a transfer.

We got back to the hotel, and Brent laid on the bed for a while. He was a tired boy. I feel so bad that he was dead, but I just kept thinking about last year when he had to drag me all over and I couldn't move, and he was just fine. To know that we were sort of equal, finally, that made me feel really good, even though we both felt like crap. ;)

Anyway, we dragged ourselves into our "going to an industrial show" clothes, slogged our way back to the Brown Line, transferred to the Green (oh yay more stairs kill me now), and then walked the half-mile to the bar. As soon as we walked into the back area where the concerts are, I felt awesome. I haven't been to a goth show in nearly a year. I used to go clubbing and saw industrial shows all the time when I lived near Detroit, and I really miss that lifestyle. I felt like I was "home", surrounded by all those weird people in leather, lace, spikes, and satin.

Thrill Kill Kult wasn't on for a couple of hours, so we sat in the bar area where it was quiet and had a snack and a couple drinks while watching the Tigers/Yankees game. Talk about a surreal difference from the concert area. There were doors separating the two, and it was practically soundproof. It was so bizarre.

Once Thrill Kill Kult came on, we went back inside. It was pretty awesome. Brent does. not. dance. but he was behind me and put his arms around me at one point so we could both sort of sway/dance all booty-like to a song. He's rarely outgoing and flirtatious like that, so I was all :)))))

There was some HUGE guy in front of me, though, and he had NO concept of space. I almost got slugged and stepped on more than once. I spent more time keeping an eye on Slagador than the stage. Additionally, his girlfriend was doing this hyped-up, even more awkward version of what I can only describe as "The Elaine Dance from Seinfeld", and I thought one or both of them were going to plow me over or poke an eye out.

You can see Slagador to the right of the frame. The guy was a freaking sasquatch. For reference, I had my phone raised over my head Simba-style when I took these shots, and I'm 5'6". The guy was easily 6'6".

I managed to make it halfway through the show, but I was seriously beyond dead at this point. It was 2:00 AM, and I was sleepy, achy, and ready to lay down with some ibuprofen. I went and sat in the bar until the show finished, and then we walked (ow) the half-mile back to the L. Unfortunately, we'd just missed the last L for the night (dammit!), so we waited for a cab to show up. We were just outside of the West Loop, so I wasn't hopeful, but I think they realized the bars were closing because we saw a few cruise past the Bottom Lounge and the booty club nearby. It was only a five-ish-minute ride back to our hotel, a grand total of $8 plus tip, and part of me wondered why we didn't just get a cab in the first place. I'm so used to being a poor college student that my first thought is always, "Can we get a bus or L?" Sometimes, it's so worth it to just suck it up and pay for a cab.

By the way, Hotel Sax has the comfiest beds ever. We were both so sore and miserable Sunday morning, I would have given my left arm for a late checkout, but we figured we'd catch the 12:30 train back to Dune Park and get home nice and early to snuggle with kitties, do laundry, and relax so we'd be fresh for work on Monday.

Oh. Ho. HO. No, that would not be happening.

I got in line for tickets, after we'd schlepped our stuff to the train station (admittedly, I wasn't so sore after walking for a bit, which made me feel pretty awesome since it was just muscle kinks and not fat-ness), and the girl told me there were power lines down in Indiana due to the storms coming through, so the train wouldn't be running at 12:30 or 1:30, and the next train, at 4:30, was a huge "maybe".

Not. Cool.

I told Brent, and he just rolled his eyes and walked over to Starbucks to get coffee. I put my thinking cap on and started making phone calls. First, I started with Enterprise, since I get a discount, but it was still $350 for a one-way rental. Hahaha no.

Then, I got on the Amtrak app to check trains. My car was in Dune Park, but I figured we could get off in Michigan City since the 4:00 Blue Water stops there and then take a cab to Dune Park. The Blue Water was sold out, but the 6:00 Wolverine still had seats. I nabbed it, figuring we could just get off in Kalamazoo, walk home (half-mile), and then go get my car the next day after work.

We waited around at Millennium Station, figuring we'd check on the 4:30 train and then go to Union Station if it wasn't running. I was impatient, though, so I called the South Shore toll-free number, and the alert message said, "No trains until tomorrow." Oh, geez. I was really, really glad I bought that train ticket because someone came around just a couple minutes later, telling people to head over to Amtrak. Haha! We already had tickets!

We took a bus to Union Station (I will never be grateful enough for the transit app I downloaded) and then sat around there for-freaking-ever waiting for our train. We were both sore, tired, and upset, but at least we were getting home that night.

As we waited, I read the timetable for the 6:00 Wolverine. Whoa! It stops in Michigan City! I've taken that train a million times, so I have no idea how I forgot. I thought it was express to Kalamazoo, just like the one that goes from Kalamazoo to Chicago in the morning. Oops. :) I ran to the ticket counter and asked if we could modify the ticket to let us off in Michigan City. She was able to process it and give us a refund right away. Woot.

I took some pictures while we waited for our train. I was kind of bummed because they kept announcing the Southwest Chief, the train we take to Albuquerque. Every time they called the train and listed the station stops, my heart would pound a little. I wanted to get on that train so badly. I knew it was bothering Brent too.

The waiting area at Union Station is the sixth concentric circle of hell. It's hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter. Those chairs are nowhere near as comfy as they look, and it's always crowded beyond capacity. Add in a bunch of screaming children and teens on cell phones, and... yeah. If you're riding Coach, wait in the Great Hall or Food Court. If you have a sleeper ticket, you get to wait in the Metropolitan Lounge, which has leather couches, Wi-Fi, and free drinks. :)

It was pretty bizarre being at Union Station with Brent, and even more bizarre being on the train with him. We always used to meet there when he came to visit, and I took the train to visit him once, so it was really neat that we got to travel together for Christmas last year. It was fun being with him instead of one of us meeting the other. So, being with him this time, I kept thinking we were going on a long vacation or that we were on our way home from a long vacation, not just a trip to/from Chicago. I was really grateful neither of us were leaving the other. I still have nightmares about those days, by the way. Sometimes I wake up feeling empty and cold, and then I realize he's right there.

Anyway, it was so awesome being on a real train again. Even though the circumstances weren't optimal, I was geeked. I love trains! The South Shore, as I said, was more like the L than a train, so it didn't really satisfy my train lust.

Once we got to Michigan City, we got off in a freaking windstorm. It was freezing cold and SO WINDY. The gusts were over 40 mph. I called for a cab right away, and the guy was super rude and said we'd just have to watch for one. Um, okay. Michigan City isn't exactly a thriving metropolis, especially the area around the train station. So I found another cab company, and we ended up with a really nice guy with a warm, dry, comfy minivan. He talked to us the entire way out to my car, which took about 20 minutes. Brent said he reminded him of my cousin, Tom, who is really outgoing and makes you feel like family. We tipped him really well, considering it was such a long ride back and that he'd been so nice at the end of a really tiring crazy day.

When we got in the car, I joked, "Watch. Now the car will break down." Brent said, "OH MY GOD DON'T EVEN SAY THAT." Hehe. :)

We got home in one piece, despite my car getting blown all over the road (I really need to get a heavier vehicle if we're moving to New Mexico), and the kitties were so happy to see us. They greeted us with this mess.

Can that wine bottle be any closer to the edge of the table?!? I was so happy to see them, though, that I didn't even care. I thought it was pretty funny, actually.

The next day, my knees were still pretty shot, but my legs felt fine. I was amazed. I figured I'd be recovering for a week after that trip (last year, it took me over a month to kick the plantar fasciitis and tendonitis), but I was fine. To be honest, though, I did something to my left knee while waiting for our Amtrak train, and then I re-tweaked it a couple weeks ago. It still isn't 100%, and that makes me sad because I haven't had sore knees since I lost 40 pounds. I'm trying to figure out what I should do. I may have to break down and see my doctor. It only hurts when I'm getting out of a chair where I have to get up from a deep squat, so I might start sitting on the couch, where my legs are at a 90-degree angle and it doesn't hurt as much. I don't want permanent knee damage, especially after I've come so far!

Also, I read a newspaper article about the South Shore the next day, and it turns out they restored service at 1:30 that afternoon! Seriously?!? We could have gone back to the station and been home and comfy by 5:00 instead of midnight. Oh well. :-P

Phew. What a long trip journal. Thanks for hanging in there. ;) This is mostly for me, and I wanted to capture everything (and I actually left 50% of it out - ha!), so I don't blame anyone if they skipped most of it.

Bottom line: I had a lot of fun, and I'm really proud of how much easier it is to spend a weekend in the city. We talked about things to do differently next time, like spend one day at a museum and then rest that night, or if we're going to a concert, rest all day so we have lots of energy to stay out all night. We simply tried to do too much at once, and it reminded us we aren't 21 and/or athletes anymore. ;)

Oh, and when we got back, I'd gained all of a half-pound. I tallied up the calories, and even though it felt like I'd ordered a lot of food, I didn't eat most of it. I ended up only a few hundred calories over on all three days, and since we did all of that walking, it pretty much negated any overage. For all I know, that half-pound was swelling on my knee, because it was gone later that week. :) Not bad for a weekend of junk food in Chicago!

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