October 22, 2005
There's a lot of traffic in Chicago. It's worse in Seattle, but I know my way around Seattle so I avoid it. Chicago, we get in a cab, we creep along and honk at people. Creep, honk, creep, honk.
They like honking at people in Chicago. Street signs and stoplights are really considered guidelines, there. Running reds is de rigueur, because by the time the people blocking the intersection during your green clear out it's red again, and so you've got to run 'em to get anywhere. It's like the magazine wars where every magazine wants to be first with the December issue, so now December comes in October.
We actually had a guy honk (a LOT) and roll down his window and throw f-words at us for crossing in a controlled intersection when we had a white "Walk" signal. He wasn't alone; there were three cars behind him as well, all offended that a huge group of pedestrians would dare to be crossing a street with the light in the world-famous(?) Magnificent Mile shopping district. I was so angry I stood in the street and pointed at the "Walk" sign and yelled back. I don't think I was getting into the proper spirit of Chicago.
I'd been asking everyone where I should buy a nice pair of hand-cobbled Italian shoes while I was there, because everyone said the shopping is great and I have a brown pair that need a friend in black. One lady actually had the temerity to say, "Nordstrom's" to which I replied with a whithering, "I am from Seattle." She supplied the implied part of my statement herself: "If you want to shop at Nordstrom's, you'll go to the flagship store." Exactly.
I stayed at the most beautiful hotel ever created, not that I saw a lot of it. After the talk, the first bar, loitering in the street yelling obscenities, the second bar / jazz club, and the all-night authentic taco place, we ended up stumbling in at 5:30AM. My bodyguard and I were like, "Damn... nice place... marble... gold elevators... zzzzz."
Saturday afternoon, while checking out, we did ask the world's greatest concierge where to go shopping for shoes. He was a man of immaculate grooming, English descent, impeccable manners, and strong opinions. He did not dither for a moment. He recommended an Italian-sounding shoe place on the Mile that sold, possibly, the greatest shoes in the world. Do not bother with the salespeople, he said, you must talk only to Alex. He is the manager, and he has a degree in orthotics from Northwest University. Not that I am saying salespeople are less-than-capable, sir, but you know, in fact they are. Nudge and wink.
You think I'm making this up, by I am not. In fact it went on for much longer. This man was so passionate about shoes his eyes glowed. He said he'd invited the manager of this particular establishment to speak at the annual convention of concierges, because he is renowned as an expert in his field.
I realized that my whole life up until that point had just been building up until the moment that I had discovered these shoes. Everything that had happened up until this afternoon - my career, the talk, my trip to Chicago - was merely to guide me to meet this man, so that I could possess the Platonic Ideal of shoes. I would have paid any amount for them.
The second bar we went to was the Green Mill, which is a Chicago institution and was apparently where Al Capone used to hang out. I can see why. It's a gorgeous old joint and if I lived in Chicago I'd go there every day. In Seattle bars close at 2AM by law; we got to Green Mill at 3AM and drank for hours more. The place was absolutely jumping. An ever-varying group of dudes came and went on-stage and would play some REAL jazz then come and sit with the rest of us and drink. I got the feeling if you knew how to blow you could just grab a sax and wander up and nobody would blink. The owner of the place was playing the baritone sax, which was pretty cool, although the drummer really stood out.
Almost every table was full with an incredible mix of people. Chicago is an integrated town. In Seattle we don't consider ourselves racist (that's for Southerners!), but the truth is we're comparitively lily-white, so it's easy to say, "Oh, of course we have no hate. Then again, we pretty much all look like ads for REI."
Adler Planetarium is in a campus of museums and stadiums and gorgeous architecture that makes me realize what a Real City is like. The only previous time I was in Chicago was to see the original King Tut exhibition at the same museum, which gives you an idea of my age and provided a beautiful bit of symmetry, I thought.
The talk itself was a lot of fun. There were people there who had flown in just to listen to a bunch of "independent" developers talk for a few hours. There was a Mac Users' group (with a cute president, who wore a mini-skirt for the event) from Purdue who had driven for six hours just to see us. I can't help but feel we must have been disappointing after that kind of build-up.
I got bought a lot of drinks afterwards by people whose names their own politeness has erased from my mind. The staff at Jak's Tap kept apologizing to me for not being ready for our event, because fifty or so of us showed up two hours late (there were no cabs at the planetarium, and we went an hour long anyways), right before the kitchen closed, and a lot of our people ended up hungry and/or angry. They thought that since I was wearing a nice shirt and had people buying me drinks I was the organizer.
I kept telling them that, no, drunkenbatman was the organizer, I just came to talk. They'd ask, "Who is this drunkenbatman?" And I'd look around and he'd be outside smoking or mashing on some strange girl, so I'd have to say, "Uh, well, I don't see him right now, but he's here..."
Finally Zoe (a very pretty redhead who looked like young Tori Amos without all the issues) decided this was all a bit too convenient, and declared, "You're drunkenbatman, aren't you?"
No baby, no I'm not. But good thing someone is.
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