Monday's doctor visit had given me some peace of mind. I felt more certain about my foot health and the future of this trip. A pleasant reality dawned upon me: I had two weeks to be a tourist in Chicago. Plus, it was springtime. Chicagoans will tell you that Spring is the best time to be in the city. Everyone is giddy, eager to let loose after the long, bitter winter. I felt like I was about to get the best of Chicago.
Wednesday I began my staycation in the Chi. My first stop was the John Hancock Center, a 100-story tall skyscraper in Chicago's Magnificent Mile shopping district. Despite its height, the tower only managed to be the third tallest in Chicago. Based on the (not legal) advice of my friend Jess, I headed to the Sky Lounge on the 96th floor of the tower. People interested in checking out the view from the top have the choice of visiting the 360 observation deck or the sky lounge. Both have views of the entire city, but the former has an entry fee whereas the latter just requires you to buy a drink. The Sky Lounge sounded more my style. I spent a good hour or two hanging out up there, marveling at the endless views.
After the Hancock I headed to Humboldt Park to catch up with Elan, a friend from grad school. I hadn't seen him in about five or six years, but was quickly reminded of why we used to get along. Elan was a smart, easygoing dude. We got a bite to eat at some burner joint, then stumbled into the California Clipper Lounge. Man, this place was cool. Low red lighting illuminated the bar while a three-piece jazz ensemble jammed away on stage.
Everything about this experience was very cool except for the fact that my buddy urged me to try malört. Malört is like the "national drink" of Chicago. Elan explained that Malört is dear to Chicagoans because some exception was made during the Prohibition Era by Chicago's historically principled politicians to keep it legal. After drinking it you quickly understand why that wasn't much of an exception. Malört is garbage. It's like drinking rubbing alcohol with a hint of battery acid. Nevertheless, I was happy to have sampled this odd beverage.
I kept the tourism spree going on Thursday with a trip to Millenium Park. This wasn't my first and wouldn't be my last time going to this great park in downtown Chicago. Centrally located, I imagine it would be hard to visit Chicago without somehow coming into contact with this park. If the creative public art displays weren't enticing enough, there are concerts and festivals galore at the Pritzker pavilion and in neighboring Grant Park.
That evening my friends joined me in the River North neighborhood to do Happy Hour. I would quickly learn that this was one of Chicago's bougie areas. The bar we went to, Barrel Blonde, seemed to be pretty happenin'. A solo acoustic guitarist/vocalist kept the place full of nice tunes. Despite being surrounded by countless television monitors, live music and attractive people, Dave somehow managed to whip out his laptop to work on a final paper. Man, he and I were in completely opposite universes. I was funemployed, galavanting about Chicago on a tourism spree while he was enduring the peak of law school's hardships.
The highlight of the evening for me had to be when, after everyone had left the bar, Dave and I headed to Al's Beef and stuffed our faces. Now, I don't mean to offend any of my friends by suggesting that I preferred Al's Hot Beef to their company. But, honestly, that place is amazing. Do not judge me until you try some Al's. If you do get to Al's, make sure you get the provolone, spicy peppers and the gardineira. Then, only after having eaten the hot beef with the gardineira, will I accept your criticisms of me as valid. I'm sure any of my friends would pick Al's Beef over me. Well, after reading this they probably would because I sound like a pretty shitty friend. Anyway...
Friday rolled around. Janelle hit me up to see if I was interested in checking out Mayfair, a street festival near my neighborhood. That sounded great to me. She and I met up to enjoy an evening of live music and great street food. It seemed that we had received a different weather forecast than everyone else at the party. We were bundled in our rain jackets while everyone else was garbed in trendy summer fashion. I guess we got the wrong forecast, because not a single drop of rain fell during out two hours there. We rocked out, rain jackets and all, to the main act, an excellent Dave Matthews Cover Band.
Around 10:00 or so the festival wrapped up so Janelle and I split ways. I took the bus to Belmont and Halsted, then walked North towards the apartment. It was Friday night and I was walking by myself through the strip in Boys Town. This meant that I was surrounded by drunks, half-dressed people and half-dressed drunks. I power-walked to the apartment, in no mood to make friends on the way home. I was walking so quickly that I passed a young guy who was also walking by himself. He was startled as I rushed by.
"My bad, man. Didn't mean to scare you."
He responded, "Oh, it's all good. For a second I thought you were a homeless person. I looked back and all I saw was beard!"
Nice. For the first time in my life I had achieved a full, mangy, homeless-looking beard. I could never have grown such a beard while living in DC. I would have heard about it from everyone and their mother. Now that I was becoming a nobody, the state of my facial hair really didn't matter. Whether lost in the anonymity of the metropolis or alone in the countryside, my hair, and more generally my appearance, was becoming inconsequential.
Everything in my life had a newfound air of lightness. With the gravitas of DC a thousand miles away and my ankle slowly healing I became more and more able to enjoy this unique chapter of my life.