Chicago, Day 3: Disappointments and Downpours

[photos to come once I get home]

Today we crapped out on our run of good vacation luck. The day started off well enough. After our continental breakfast, we got on the Red Line to visit Macy’s in the old Marshall Field store. We have Macy’s at home; this was strictly about architecture and history.

As soon as we opened the doors, I got nostalgic for our old Shillito’s downtown in Cincinnati. Shillito’s wasn’t quite as grand as this, but it had its elements. This building is something else, from the massive ironwork clock on the State Street corner to the sumptuous details inside, including ornate columns, marble niches, the stunning dining room (we didn’t eat there, but you can view down into the room from the eighth floor), and that incredible Tiffany glass dome.

Actually, the real reason we were visiting was because of the Levenger store inside Macy’s. Diamondqueen is a Levenger fanatic and really wanted to be able to shop their merchandise in person. After the disappointment of her missing out on the Dooney & Bourke outlet store, I discussed with J.Hooligan our making a quick trip to Macy’s in the morning before “his” day at the Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum. He agreed readily, and he enjoyed the  visit to the venerable old store building as much as any of us, taking over a hundred photos of every kind of detail, antique and contemporary.

I wanted Diamondqueen to have some time to shop in peace, and S.Hooligan kept whining she wanted to go to “the tippy top” where we could gaze down through the atrium. S. and J. acted as though the store was a theme park as we rode up elevator after elevator, J. snapping photos the entire way. We returned to the Levenger department when I realized Diamondqueen might not know which atrium we were going to explore, and she was still there, putting the final touches on her shopping which went on for another 15 minutes at least.

We took the Red Line back down to Roosevelt and disembarked for the walk to Museum Campus. Diamondqueen, seeing how close our hotel actually was, decided to take the heavy Macy’s shopping bag back to the room. I sat with the Hooligans on a park bench, recharging our batteries as we waited. The sky to the west looked threatening and there were a few raindrops, but Diamondqueen made it back in good time and we continued our hike toward the aquarium, J.Hooligan’s highly anticipated “must” for his first personal viewing of dolphins and a beluga whale.

We saw a long, long line of people stretched in front of the Field Museum, but we thought maybe it was a lunch line for the food vendors, or perhaps even some kind of outdoor entertainment that might have attracted a crowd. To our horror, we discovered the line consisted of people waiting to get into the aquarium—it’s “community discount” week. We have a combined pass that gets us in to attractions without waiting in line, but when we went into the building to find the Will Call booth, we saw lines snaking in all directions. Even if we did get ready admittance, we would have had to stand again and wait for entry to every exhibit. We decided to try Shedd tomorrow and suggested to J. we go on over to the Field Museum. J. agreed, but his stiff upper lip gave way and the cloud of doom settled on his brow. He was crushed, and I was heartbroken for him. I also felt responsible because I’d come up with the Macy’s plan, and everything might have been okay if we’d gone directly to the aquarium in the morning. On the other hand, Diamondqueen had gotten to enjoy one of her coveted “musts” in visiting Levenger’s and the Marshall Field’s building. It’s her vacation, too, after all.

J.’s next blow came when we finally got inside the Field Museum. He’d been extremely excited about seeing Sue, the dinosaur skeleton which is the biggest, most complete anywhere. I shared his disillusionment as we stared at the figure; could this small thing be one of the mighty creatures depicted by Spielberg and his ilk?

It didn’t help that we were all tired and hungry, but the cafe was spilling over with customer queues, and we didn’t see any empty tables. What finally started the healing process was Diamondqueen purchasing tickets for us to see the “Whales” special exhibit. She cheered up as well when she found out the totem poles on display had stood outside the anthropology building at the Columbian Exposition. Nothing like seeing an actual item from the fair when you’re a devoted fan.

We couldn’t get into the “Whale” exhibit until 2:30, and it was just after one o’clock. We tried the McDonald’s (bleh) in the basement, but it was still packed, too. We finally settled on an area of vending machines, which was relatively peaceful. We sat munching junk food and jazzing up on soda caffeine while gazing at a diorama of arctic walruses. After that we got the kids smashed pennies and molded whales from a machine, visited an African exhibit we viewed in a blur (J. rushes past the things I like to study, such as carved figures and beadwork), and caught up on bathroom visits. By this time J. had recovered most of his good humor, and he was ready to enjoy the whale exhibit.

I didn’t get much out of it because whales aren’t my thing. I guided S. ahead to give J. and Diamondqueen some peace, and after a quick tour of the Maori section, we settled down on a bench. The kids bought whale stuffed animals that also served as puppets in the gift shop. We exited into the Native American section, which S. claimed interested her. (She’s already talking about saving up money to buy the Native American American Girl doll.) I tried to look at beadwork and Hopi Kachina dolls, but J. went into one of his non-stop lectures, this time about whales, so I didn’t get to concentrate on anything.

We finished up with Diamondqueen and J. going off to investigate the dinosaur hall, and S. and I rested our sore bones on some wood benches in an alcove-like spot. Most of the time I had a stuffed whale swimming under my nose or making Jaws-like lunges at my face, so it wasn’t all that relaxing.

We emerged from the museum to find the city drowning in a steady downpour. Diamondqueen had lightweight rain slickers for the kids, but there was only one umbrella. I wasn’t concerned about getting wet, or so I thought. We set out bravely, but the rain picked up, and before we were halfway back to the hotel I was so wet the water was cascading from my clothes into my sport sandals. J.’s socks and tennis shoes were sopped, S. had pushed her slicker too far back on her head so her face and most of her hair were wet, and anything Diamondqueen couldn’t cover with the umbrella was getting drenched, as well as her shoes. I haven’t made a walk that miserable in years, and piles of wet things took over the bathroom and the hotel room as Diamondqueen struggled to find surfaces on which to hang pieces to dry. (One of her innovations was to open the ironing board and lie it flat on the ground so she could use the legs as a drying rack.)

Everyone dried off and crashed. I was alone in the sitting room, but I was too keyed up to sleep despite my fatigue, and probably a little hungry, which always keeps me awake. I spent 40 minutes on the Web trying to find nearby restaurants that we wouldn’t drown trying to reach. Finally, a little after six, Diamondqueen and I decided to see if the hotel allowed deliveries. They do, so we ordered pizzas and soda from the same restaurant we visited Monday evening, with pizzas not expected before eight o’clock. In the meantime, we saw that the county was under a tornado warning. I stared out the hotel windows at the sky, but everything stayed to the south. We didn’t even get thunder.

When the pizza arrived, we had a pleasant, cozy dinner around the coffee table. J. and I looked up videos on YouTube—J. has become a big fan of the Ted character on “Scrubs”—and S. polished her newly acquired Googling skills to research mermaids on the Internet. Tomorrow’s going to be another interesting challange: Getting to the Shedd Aquarium as near as possible to their early 8:00 opening time for Community Discount week, then getting to Wrigley for the one o’clock game, Cubs vs. Brewers, all with a forecast of thunderstorms throughout the day. We need crossed fingers and prayers!

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