I’d been to Chicago before a few years back for a visit downtown for a few days and a couple of concerts, and it still remains the only part of Illinois I’ve been to. Again. This time it was because it was such a short jump across the state line and also to visit friends in the area. Most summers around this time I’m driving north from Green Bay to have a week of party on my friend’s family compound on Washington Island, Wisconsin, but with all the crazy this year not only can she not come home as usual from the Virgin Islands, but it’s just as infeasible to have anyone else congregate since the island has a strict lockdown going on like most places. In any case, this little mini-reunion was as close as I was going to get this year.

After a few weeks of very limited socialization it was so nice to spend a couple of days with my friend Inna at her place in the suburbs. En route I stopped by a farmer’s market that turned out to be in the town they filmed the movie Groundhog Day, which I would not have know but for a sign. I have a weird aversion to the actress in this movie so in my mind don’t like it and have not watched it in at least 20 years, but perhaps it’s time to gove it another shot. Anyway, when I reached Inna we went for a nice long walk to a neighborhood forest preserve, and I was treated to the amazing food fest that is the outlet for all the foods Inna likes that her husband doesn’t. Win for my belly! We had dinner feast of pierogis, salad, all the wine and dessert of figs with nuts and honey while sitting in her back patio on a beautiful late summer evening admiring the visiting skunk family (!) and bunnies, doing astrological insight readings, and generally breaking into a gigglefest and being ridiculous as usual. It was the best.

Unfortunately it didn’t work out to coordinate a visit with another friend Jackie because apparently having a baby kind of puts a wrench in spontaneous visiting and you know, pandemic, but I felt like I was close and sent some good vibes their way. The next day after even more delicious food (shashuka and greek coffee which I’ve been dreaming of ever since) we went for another nice walk at Fort Sheridan, highlights of which included beautiful blue lakeside shores, a giant hawk nest replica, a cemetery we couldn’t find a way through, and some cool condos and homes in the repurposed old fort buildings. Between all this fun, having a shower, doing laundry, refilling water, etc. it was an excellent stop and fueled me for another few upcoming weeks of uncharted territory and no expected meet ups until I reach home most likely.

After Inna’s, I ventured closer to the city for the night to walk through Oak Park in my perpetual Frank Lloyd Wright visitations. Conveniently for me, I was able to walk by about a dozen Wright designs, his studio/office, and two of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s homes in about an hour. Needless to say, it’s a pretty sweet neighborhood. If someone wants to gift me a few million dollars I’m ready to move in. No? Okay, maybe later. I also took the opportunity to have some deep dish for dinner in the neighborhood before finding a spot to park for the night. This adventure toward my inteded area took me through… some interesting parts of town it seemed. It was a little before 10pm and every few blocks the streets were being blocked off by police checkpoints and garbage trucks- is that a thing now? Based on some after the fact googling it seems that the city had been utilizing fleet vehicles like garbage and salt trucks to prevent access to areas where they expected crime/protests/looting/what have you… and it was right around the time there were issues in Kenosha but… seemed pretty quiet for the most part.

I stayed in the Ukrainian Village/Wicker Park area and walked around in the morning to a funky 80s themed coffee shop where I had a kind of good, kind of odd, too sweet fancy coffee with miso, sesame and caramel. As per the new usual, the inside was pretty off limits so I couldn’t view all the memorabilia and decor but the small glimpse I got was good stuff. From there I went in search of a fountain in the neighborhood dedicated to a dog who kept pooping in an unwanted location, and saw some cool murals and beautiful rowhouses (again, if anyone wants to donate some cash my way… still no? Okay fine…) before taking off into the city again.

My next stop was the University of Chicago area to walk through the desolate but beautiful, ivy-laden campus. In college for a course on teaching children’s books I read a series of semi-mystery middle-grades novels set in this neighborhood with the kids attending the University Lab School, and one centering on the Robie House just across from the campus. This was one of my first steps into this Wright architecture rabbit hole, I think, reading this book and looking up all the visuals to help fuel my mental picture for the plot. Touring the actual home was pretty surreal given my probably 15 years past memory of this (!!) and the fact that I had a solo tour on a random weekday morning.

From there I went over to Jackson Park and walked the wooded island paths and through the lovely Garden of the Phoenix Japanese garden with stunning views of the Museum of Arts and Industry. Next time I come I’ll spring for a ticket to the museum but for now, I opted to continue northward to some free sights like the Bahai Temple (the only one in North America) which some call the lace building for good reason, and spent a while by the fenced off beach nearby watching videos for an online teaching conference to which my access expired at midnight that night, but frequently distracted by a vert dedicated squirrel meticulously burying nuts in the sand. My Illinois journey concluded with what can only be described as a nostalgic highlight, a sketchy driveby of the Home Alone house. I wish it were Christmastime, aside from the fact that then I’d be freezing my butt off. In any case, back to the land of cheeses!

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