It was, to be honest, a forced march toward the Museum Campus. I had parts of Chicago I’d not yet seen on this trip and I was going despite lingering sleepiness, achy legs and feet and waning energy.
Once I coaxed Carrie out of bed – she arrived at the room as the hour neared midnight, talking of a $184 bill for dinner with big names in the field when I woke me up from a deep sleep – we had omelets at the hotel, then proceeded to pack our things and check out of the room before noon. After tucking our luggage in the storage room manned by 5 uniformed men, we set out, heading south.
“Walgreens first.” I announced firmly, feeling my face hurt sharply with the introduction of more harmful rays on already sunburned skin. I’d applied lotion more than 10 times after we returned to the room the night before, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as it might have been. But still – walking around outside all day with no sun protection (save Bare Minerals SPF 15) is asinine. All the post-burn lotion in the world isn’t going to fix that. So we found Neutrogena Cooling Spray (SPF 45/UVA and UVB protection) and I closed my eyes, held my breath and misted myself thoroughly. Carrie – after buying eye drops for the plane – quickly followed suite.
Then we started to walk in earnest, moving at a steady pace until we saw stores of interest. I stopped in PostersPlus to buy a wind-up toy for Little One and a couple of magnets for Ken and Maria. We stopped at a tiny souvenir place so Carrie could get a hat with a tiny bear cub hugging the Cubs logo. I found 2 shirts on sale that Brother would like so I picked them up. I found jeweled flower note holders at the Architectural Foundation store, something for Friend, and a little light bulb that looks like he’s reading a book for my desk at work. It’s fantastic and after seeing it on Sunday during our first walk around the city, I knew it would be mine.
Content with my purchases – I didn’t want to return home without gifts – we crossed the street to Millennium Park.
“Are you OK?” I asked Carrie, for she was uncharacteristically quiet and docile. She nodded in response.
“Are you sure?” I continued to ask, worried, and she shrugged.
“I don’t feel well and I’m tired. But this is our last day and you want to see stuff, so we’re going. I’m fine.” She explained and I made my sympathetic face before deciding that, yes, I was heading north for a more relaxed weekend at Elle’s and did want to see many of the things on my list.
“It’s mostly photos.” I mused as we slowly made our way across Michigan Avenue. “The curvy, silver concert thingie is up ahead.” We trudged forward, feeling muscles protest but yield to our will and stopped to take pictures from a distance. “I want to get closer.” I said, glancing to see her nod, so we went on.
“Do you know how much this cost?” I asked, trying to be informative for my poor friend and having read the little fact in the hotel informational book as I waited for her to get ready. She shook her head.
“Sixty million.” I informed her, proud of my knowledge.
“I would have guessed that.” She said. “It’s like the price for one of these things. Whether it’s bigger or smaller, standard of curvy, silver or stone. $60 million.”
“Like a flat rate?” I asked, smiling since she’d finally spoken.
“Exactly. Like when we built our deck, we got estimates for wood and stone and concrete – all $2000. That’s how much it costs to build a deck.”
“So it’s the same for architectural marvels?” I grinned.
After we were finished nodding approvingly at the architectural marvel and taking its picture, I insisted we go see The Bean while we had our cameras. We examined it carefully, taking several pictures and carefully locating each other – me in a pink shirt and black shirt, Carrie in a bright orange top and khakis.
“I’m glad I wore this.” She said as we watched the crowd’s reflection morph and flow. I was fascinated. “At least I can find myself as we look into it.”
“I love it.” I told her, moving underneath it so we could take a photo looking up. “It’s amazing and cool in some inexplicable way. I love cities that install large pieces of art just for fun.”
She agreed and we took a moment to praise Chicago while we moved toward the brick fountains that show faces. They’re neat, but most wonderful was the children running through the cool, falling water, feeling the mist wash over my legs as we walked by, thinking that there’s community here. In the midst of this incredible city, there are parents who create memories for their children of running through massive art pieces, playing with strangers, watching the world walk by and smile (in my case) or avoid tiny people (that’s Carrie).
Gathering energy, perhaps from the art, we continued to press on. “If we head over this street then into Grant Park, we’ll get to see Buckingham Fountain.” I told her. “I haven’t seen it in years, but I think I remember being impressed.”
She nodded and we applied more sunscreen to our faces then went on. As we walked and walked, seeing the fountain suddenly seemed this insane thing that was requiring energy neither of us had. But when I form a plan – and Buckingham Fountain is part of the freaking plan – I has this compulsion to propel my poor body toward the spraying water so I could look at it and take its picture. The energy turned out to be fleeting, carrying us only halfway there before we both wilted.
“I think it’s coming up.” I said, beginning to drag my feet. “Hey, look, a statue of some guy.” I lifted my hand in a feeble wave toward the left.
“Abraham Lincoln.” Carrie identified him. “Have some respect.”
“Oh,” I said a moment later, “look at the pretty.” For surrounded by pink flowers was a sculpture of some other guy (he wasn’t on my list of things to see). I sighed – with pleasure rather than exhaustion – and dug out my camera, took a picture, then found the bottle of water tucked in my bag and stood and watched the water run over this piece of art. More classic than the pieces in Millennium Park, but no less wonderful. And much more peaceful. Then we moved on toward the fountain.
“I remember it being surrounded by something other than gravel.” I commented, wondering if it was undergoing construction or if memory was failing me. For the actual fountain continues to be impressive, but its surroundings leave a bit to be desired. Two older couples had brought lawn chairs so they could sit and watch the water as it was propelled upward, then cascaded prettily back to the pool. Otherwise, people stood, photoed and left. It seemed a shame there was nowhere nice to sit and enjoy. Perhaps an air conditioned bubble that would help cool me down and provide a fluffy bed on which I could nap. Buckingham Fountain is pretty, but I was flipping exhausted.
Standing on Lake Shore Drive, I said it was time to find a trolley. Digging the map from her pocket, Carrie analyzed the nearest stop, then looked off at Museum Campus. I coveted the planetarium, the only of the buildings I’ve never visited. Plus, I wanted to see the black hole movie. And sit while watching the black hole movie.
“It’s better to walk.” Carrie announced and I closed my eyes for a moment before nodding. So we walked and walked, stopping to try to admire the skyline as we moved under Lake Shore Drive and into the pretty landscaping around the museums. We went past Field, then the aquarium, then finally reached the planetarium.
“It’s marble.” I breathed, impressed despite exhaustion. “Pretty.”
We went in, trudged around some of the exhibits – wishing it were a bit colder in the building – then had a snack at the lovely café that looks over Lake Michigan. We hurried through the end of our meals, not wanting to miss our black hole showtime. I was suitably impressed with the movie and lying back while staring into the dome and learning about infinite gravity and warps in the space-time continuum was lovely.
“Neat.” I said as we hurried outside. Carrie needed to be back to the hotel and time was running short.
“Sure.” She said, moving faster than we had most of the day. “I fell asleep three times, but it was otherwise fine.”
We abandoned hope of taking a free trolley upon seeing the crowds and got in a cab, trading speed for money. Zipping through the Chicago streets and being deposited safely back at the hotel, there was neither time nor energy for lengthy good-byes. Yet we hugged and I knew I’d miss her. Carrie is rather spectacular.
But I went to the valet stand, requested my car – which had disappeared on Sunday to some unknown location – be returned to me, tipped the gentleman who drove it around, wove through the underground garage until it was time to deposit my token, waited for the metal door to rise, then headed out in the city to find Lake Shore again and head north to see Elle.