Chicago, Day 4: Bats and balls and beluga whales

[Photos to come…]

Today we got our mojo back, reversing everything that went wrong yesterday. Rain hitting the hotel window woke me up early in the morning, but by the time we set out across Grant Park around 8:30 for the museum campus, the solid gray was breaking and sunshine was livening up the blue shades of the lake.

Our early arrival, combined with our CityPass, paid off; we breezed right into Shedd Aquarium, and because of the early hour, viewing the various creatures was unhurried without a lot of jostling. We had about an hour until seating for the amphitheater show, so J.Hooligan led the way through the exhibits, snapping photos by the dozens as he went.

The Shedd amphitheater is so beautiful, it was a treat to bide there waiting for the show to begin. Beyond the pool, surrounded by rock formations, rose a long wall of glass windows that showed a panoramic view of the harbor and Navy Pier in the distance. Long before time for the show, J. spotted beluga whales swimming around the pool, occasionally spouting water and cutting the surface with their curved ivory backs. He had also spotted the fins of dolphins cross the adjacent pool. This was an important moment of intense relief: The whales and dolphins mattered most, seeing them for the first time had captured J.’s heart and imagination. It was unthinkable that he’d return home without seeing these creatures.

As I said in my previous post, I’m not enthusiastic about whales in general as a subject of interest, but I admit the beluga whales captured my fancy. I hadn’t expected them to have such personality and charm. Yes, I was a sucker for the little performance bits, such as swimming on their backs while spitting water and waving a fin or tail. I bought a silver charm of a beluga whale in the gift shop (for my charm bracelet, which I never seem to wear; I have a horde of charms from other vacation trips I haven’t yet attached).

After the show, we saw the dolphins, otters, penguins, and sea lions. We had admittance to the jellyfish exhibit, which pleased me because I do really like jellyfish when they’re in a safe, attractive tank. J. found out there were sharks in another part of the aquarium, so we set off through that display as well. Finally, S.Hooligan and I sat hollow-eyed on a bench while Diamondqueen and J. went back to the coral reef section looking for the frogfish J. so wanted to see. We watched a video on an overhead monitor above the round fish tank that told about Nickle, the tortoise who had been severely injured by a motorboat propeller. It was reassuring to sit there and watch the tortoise swimming contentedly in the tank, although its tail was always higher than its head.

At last we departed the aquarium and began our trek up Roosevelt to the Red Line. The high point of the trip for Diamondqueen was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream: to see a Cubs game at Wrigley Field. Somehow she emerged a Cubs fan among a family full of devoted Reds fans, but her enthusiasm had drawn me into the saga of the team and the lore of Wrigley, so I was quite interested in visiting the ballpark for a game myself.

The train grew more and more  crowded as we approached the Addison station, and the doors spilled a heavy wave of baseball fans into Wrigleyville. We pushed through the crowds outside the park so Diamondqueen could snap photos of the big Wrigley sign and the player statues before we went in to find our seats. They were in the upper deck—a long climb up ramp after ramp—but our seats were excellent and the view terrific on several levels, from being able to see the players to gazing out on Chicago skylines from different angles.

Diamondqueen kept saying (maybe it was snarling), “Let me have my MOMENT!” as she basked in the delight of finally sitting in a Wrigley seat despite the kids’ requests for hand lotion, lip balm, and who knows what else. She sent S.Hooligan and me for our lunch first. I’d had my heart set on trying a Chicago dog with all the unfamiliar trimmings. The vendor served it with grilled onions (did he say “with the bird”?); I had to add pickled peppers, tomatoes, mustard, and neon green relish myself—I’d forgotten about celery salt, although there might have been some there. I got a beer to go with it. S. just wanted a bag of peanuts and a bottle of water, although Diamondqueen added Crystal Light to it to make pink lemonade.

My Chicago dog was very messy, but it was delicious, especially washed down with the beer. I was amazed to watch S. cracked open peanuts and throw them down her gullet one after another. I didn’t even know she liked peanuts.

J.Hooligan had said two of his dreams was to ride on a subway and try a soft dough pretzel. We’d taken care of the subway ride, and his lunch at the ballpark was a soft dough pretzel. He said it was pretty good and even ventured to try some of it with mustard, which he spilled all over his shorts.

J. returned alone with his pretzel, which surprised me, but he said his mother had to go to the bathroom. When Diamondqueen didn’t appear after about 15 minutes, I figured she’d probably slipped off to do some exploring and basking unimpeded by Hooligans. Just before the game started, I spotted her heading our way with a huge tray of nachos in her hand.

Diamondqueen is a realistic Cubs fan, and she’d already said we’d leave after the seventh inning stretch if it was a blow-out for the opposing team. To the amazement of many in the crowd, including us and lots of Brewer fans, the Cubs created their own blow-out, winning 12-7. The entertainment included several homeruns from both teams, the umpire taking a bounced ball in a very sensitive spot, and a row of loud Brewers fans to our front and back. (They had some colorful reactions to the umpire’s misfortune; S. heard them, turned to her mother, and asked, “Did the umpire get hit in the crotch?”) We had a slight mishap when I was trying to get the wrapper off a giant jawbreaker-on-a-stick J.Hooligan had purchased at the Shedd Aquarium. The sticky band of paper holding the plastic wrapper in place was stubborn as heck. I pulled hard and lost my grip. The jawbreaker hurled back and hit J. in the nose, then bounced off Diamondqueen’s leg. I apologized immediately, but J. gathered his fist and jabbed me between my eyes, right in my glasses. No damage done to J., me, or the jawbreaker, which was still safe in its plastic, but Diamondqueen and I got the giggles and almost strangled trying to conceal our mirth from J.

Most entertaining was S.Hooligan’s emergence as a rowdy Cubs fan. She cheered loudly with her penetrating voice, and as the game progressed she started up a rivalry with a middle-aged Milwaukee fan behind us. I saw her yell something and cut her eyes back to the gentleman to see if he was listening. At one point he yelled, “Go Brewers!” at her, then grinned at me. By the final innings, though, S. was talking smack and giving the guy the hairy eyeball. “The Cubs are WINNING!” she cawed, pointing her fingers at her own eyes and then at the fan’s. It warmed her mother’s heart, although Diamondqueen admitted she was starting to feel uncomfortable about S.Hooligan’s more confrontational remarks. S. obviously loved an occasion when it was not only okay to yell, it was encouraged.

After the game, sharing the Chicago ecstasy of a Cubs win, we snapped some photos in the stands until they started clearing the place out. Diamondqueen bought a few souvenirs, then we went through hell shoving through crowds waiting to board their charter buses to make our way to the Harry Carey statue for more photos.

I heard about a restaurant known for good ribs AND had been frequented by Frank Sinatra. I did some research and found the Twin Anchors wouldn’t be hard to reach from Wrigley Field on the CTA. J.Hooligan has a thing for ribs and can clean off an entire slab with amazing speed. He’s also a Sinatra fan, as is Diamondqueen, so the Twin Anchors seemed promising for an interesting post-game adventure.

We found it easily after a two-block walk in the wrong directios from the Sedgwick station, and we got the last open four-person table. I suggested J. order a half slab of ribs and I’d order ribs and chicken. If he liked the ribs, he could have most of my portion as well. If he didn’t like them, at least money wasn’t wasted on an entire slab. Diamondqueen ordered a steak as a backup, since J. loves steak almost as much as he loves ribs.

I wasn’t overly impressed with the ribs. They seemed fatty, and the “mild” sauce we chose was almost bland, especially compared to Montgomery Inn’s. J.Hooligan enjoyed the ribs, though, so he took the remaining portion from my plate. I wasn’t thrilled with the chicken, either, although I liked the cole slaw and onion rings. The big dill pickle spear tasted fine, too, and I washed it all down with Guinness, although it was kind of flat out of a can.

The Brown Line train was peaceful and cool, and we even got seats on the Red Line for our last CTA ride. It was a marvelous day, but I was so tired as we walked back to the hotel I was almost stumbling and my chest felt caved in. I’d promised to take the Hooligans to the pool, though, which Diamondqueen welcomed since it gave her time alone to get the packing finished for our return trip tomorrow. We stayed at the pool a little over an hour, then returned to the room for the usual drill of baths and television. J.Hooligan threw up in the bathroom shortly after he tried to go to bed around 11:30 Chicago time. Whether it was the pile of sucked-clean bones he left behind at the Twin Anchors or the giant jawbreaker-on-a-stick he sucked for an hour before bedtime, no one could tell, including J.

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