The Chicago 2018 Birthday Weekend, Part 2 of 4: Gray Friday, Windy City

Buckingham Fountain!

I’m told Grant Park’s Buckingham Fountain is pretty when the waters are working and beautiful when lit up at night. We got neither.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: for Anne’s birthday celebration this year, we headed up to Chicago for yet another weekend — this time mostly to attend the inaugural Ace Comic Con Midwest at Navy Pier, and partly to see if downtown Chicago contained any sights we hadn’t already seen and/or shared. In past years we’ve shared pics of the Lake Michigan shoreline, the Magnificent Mile, and scenic Navy Pier, among other locales you can find with MCC’s “Chicago” tag alternating in between their frequent conventions.

Sooner or later we expect to run out of reasons to keep exploring the Mile and the Loop again and again, but we did what we could with the hours allotted and the ugly autumn weather against us. Temperatures were in the 40s all day Friday and light rain turned the early afternoon into a bit of a bummer. We walked around for a few miles anyway to spend time with each other and to kill time before the con began at 4 p.m.

We parked a few blocks west of Navy Pier, grabbed lunch at a familiar dive near the Mile, then walked south toward the park areas between the Loop and the lake shore. Art and architecture popped up here and there along the way…

Chicago River!

To our west, the chilly Chicago River.

Chicago hotels!

Skyscrapers also abounded to our east, including two hotels where we’ve stayed before when we found decent deals. Those occasions are rare, but the hotels themselves were lovely moments of indulgence.

Benito Juarez!

Spotted before we headed south across the river, a statue of Benito Juarez, 19th-century President of Mexico, stands in a Latin-American tribute plaza.

The Pioneers!

“The Pioneers”, one of four sculptures at each end of the Michigan Avenue Bridge.

LaSalle & DeTonti marker!

Nod to five explorers who traversed the area in various bygone eras.

Fort Dearborn!

Walking in the former location of Fort Dearborn, a 19th-century holding destroyed by a combination of fires and river expansion. The last vestiges burned down in 1871.

Nested among all the cement and asphalt and intrusions into the skyline is Millennium Park, the northernmost part of the long stretch of greenery running alongside the eastern edge of the Loop. Mandatory first stop is always “Cloud Gate”, a.k.a. “the Bean”. We first walked around it on our 2009 road trip, but we’ve revisited since then.

Bean 2018!

I suppose gray skies reflected in silver produce a different ambiance, but folks show up just the same.

Bean selfie 2018!

Updated selfie, now with more autumn outerwear. We didn’t notice the group photo going on behind us.

Jay Pritzker Pavilion!

Maybe someday we’ll be treated to a performance at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, but nobody made plans for it at lunchtime.

To the south of Millennium Park is Grant Park, which somehow we’d never reached before. In our defense, the awfully large Art Institute of Chicago is a bit in the way. This outing happened to leave us with more time to pass, so we pressed on.

Chicago Stock Exchange Building arch!

On the Art Institute’s northeast corner stands the last solid piece of the original Chicago Stock Exchange Building, which was demolished in 1972.

Abraham Lincoln: The Head of State!

Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ 1908 work “Abraham Lincoln: The Head of State” was once exhibited at the 1915 World’s Fair in San Francisco. It’s been a Grant Park fixture since 1926.

Our southernmost destination for this particular excursion was Buckingham Fountain, which a coworker had recommended we check out. It was dedicated in 1927, the year after the neighboring Lincoln. The lead photo shows the results of all that extra walking: no water, no lights, no other onlookers enjoying the design except one young guy staring more at his phone than at the empty fountain. I tried not to hold it against said coworker the next time I saw her.

Buckingham Fountain seahorse!

It’s surrounded by four seahorses symbolizing the four states that border Lake Michigan. The parallel means more when the seahorses aren’t dehydrated.

Around this time came the light rain, adding dampness and a deeper chill to the already crisp air. For temporary shelter we ducked inside the Art Institute and perused their free gift shop. I was surprised to find a small but healthy graphic novel section with recent works such as Emil Morris’ My Favorite Thing is Monsters. A teenager and I took turns boggling at an utterly massive coffee-table tome devoted to the art of Jamie Hewlett, co-creator of Tank Girl and Gorillaz. I settled instead for a Piet Mondrian magnet. Anne and I then departed, agreeing the time wasn’t right for a spontaneous museum tour at $25 per ticket. Another weekend some other year, perhaps.

Art Institute of Chicago!

Cool lobby, though. Nice and sheltering.

We spent the next hour-plus retracing the distance back to Navy Pier, but with a diversion into the Loop for a modicum of shopping — at a chain eatery for disappointing snacks; at Reckless Records for a Kele Okereke album that I didn’t realize existed; and at Graham Crackers Comics for a couple of recent issues that my local shop failed to order. One of them was a particular relief to find, one of the best books of the year — a strange little gem called She Could Fly. Four issues in all, which I ended up buying from four different comic shops located in three different states. Great reading shouldn’t require that much legwork.

Bronze Cow!

Unrelated discovery along our path: this Bronze Cow, installed November 2001 in remembrance of a previous Chicago art-cow takeover. You probably had to be there.

…and all that’s the story of why we were already exhausted by the time we walked into Navy Pier, ready for bed well before the doors opened for Ace Comic Con. This is also why Tom Hiddleston looked so much more hyper in our big photo op than we did. Once we’d finished that brush with greatness, we shuffled the few blocks back to our parking garage on the mainland and headed to our hotel out west, no more walk-a-thons required till we returned on Saturday.

Lower Wacker Ave!

Google Maps knows me so well that it took us on a sightseeing tour of Lower Wacker Avenue on our way out. You might remember this street-beneath-a-street from such films as The Blues Brothers and The Dark Knight.

Come Saturday, with our pains far from healed, we honestly didn’t care to do much else in town beyond the convention itself. All things considered, we were glad to choose a getaway far from the hustle-and-bustle, that we could reach on wheels rather than on aching legs and virtually broken feet. Also, it was cheaper to have a hotel room in the ‘burbs and just get gouged for daytime parking during the con, than it would’ve been to stay at a downtown hotel that would’ve charged us twice as much for car storage and three times as much for the room.

Oak Brook hotel!

Refuge in Oak Brook: not historic, but also not harmful.

To be continued! Other chapters in this special MCC miniseries:

Prologue: Loki and the Birthday Gal
Part 1: Our Ace Comic Con Midwest 2018 Photos
Part 3: Navy Pier Amid the Drear
Part 4: Food!

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