Our C2E2 2023 Epilogue: Chicago!

Piles and piles of baked goods on a restaurant counter behind glass.

A plethora of pretty pastries yearning to be free at Goddess and the Baker.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

My wife Anne and I just got home from the latest edition of the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Exposition (“C2E2″), a three-day extravaganza of comic books, actors, creators, toys, props, publishers, freebies, Funko Pops, anime we don’t recognize, and walking and walking and walking and walking. After its 2010 inception, we attended every year from 2011 to 2019, then took a break due partly to the pandemic and partly due to guest lists outside our circles of interest. This year’s strong lineup lured us back in, much to our delight…

…and speaking of delight, it was great to be back in the Windy City once more after Fan Expo Chicago last July. That show was up in Rosemont and didn’t lend itself to a lot of new extracurricular activities away from the exhibit hall. For our C2E2 experience we arranged our accommodations with an eye toward offsite exploration….partly because the hotels near McCormick Place were either sold out or priced beyond what we felt like paying this time. Up in Chicago’s River North neighborhood, we found a suitable compromise and a variety of dining options surrounding us on all sides.

Statue of a lady skeleton in a red dress standing in front of upscale department stores.

A new sight along the Magnificent Mile: the Catrina statue put up last October in honor of Mexico’s Day of the Dead.

After we left the convention center Friday afternoon, a slow, mildly rainy drive up Michigan Avenue took us to our hotel for the next two nights, a mere block off the Magnificent Mile. Chicago drivers seemed slightly crazier than I remembered from our past trips. I don’t recall quite so many dudes illegally and obnoxiously using Left Turn Only lanes as passing lanes. I’d expect that in Manhattan; here, not so much, but I guess that’s the state of their civilization and the least of their worries, crime-wise.

The hotel’s amenities included an attached parking garage a tad less overpriced than nearby competitors, with good reason — they only offered two levels total for guests and any random drivers who happened to pass by and didn’t mind paying extra. Of those two levels, an annoying number of spaces were taken up by concrete load-bearing columns; still others were taken by schmucks parked across two spaces. Friday night I believe we lucked into the very, very last open space available, leaving only some nooks and crannies that wouldn’t have accommodated anything larger than a Yugo.

We dumped our stuff in our room, which was pretty wonderful as long as we didn’t look through the window. We were too exhausted to care anyway.

An angled view out our hotel window, filled with Chicago skyscrapers, but none of the cool distinctive ones.

Directly out our window, the view was a white brick wall, but if I turned to my left (and waited till Sunday morning to take this photo, when it wasn’t raining), this was as good as it got.

Selfie taken in a pretentiously asymmetrical mirror. I'm game and bleak, and my Atomic Robo T-shirt is plainly visible.

Half-awake selfie taken while waiting on one of three creaky hotel elevators to come whisk us away.

After a few minutes of near-catatonic recuperation, we decided to keep dinner simple and grabbed some familiar grub from a Shake Shack one block south. The line was short and the service was speedy compared to other Shake Shacks we’ve visited. The burgers were small and the crinkle-cut fries were basic; the star of the meal was our shakes, which was what I’d really wanted most.

two fancy shakes, named in caption.

Our respective tiramisu and Dreamsicle shakes.

Label etched into wooden table: "Handcrafted in New York from reclaimed bowling lanes."

Dinner was served on tables made of recycled bowling alleys. I worried we wouldn’t find empty seats, but they had some to spare.

Despite all that sugar, we conked out for the night by 8 p.m. and were both awake by 5 a.m. Saturday without using alarms and against our will.

We figured we might as well use the extra time to our advantage. At 6 a.m. we headed out to the only restaurant within a half-mile radius that was open and ready for business — Corey’s NYC Bagel Deli, a five-block walk through sunless morning rains. It was exactly the sort of place I expected and, frankly, was hoping for: urban utilitarian takeout with a handful of metal stools for seating, run by guys who’re good at what they do and will bounce you out the door if you even think the word “artisan”. We didn’t take photos, but the bagels were huge and reminded me perfectly of the Manhattan bagel carts that I fell in love with on our 2011 road trip. In my book that’s high praise.

* * * * *

Saturday night we left McCormick Place around 6:30 p.m. and drove back to the hotel parking garage, whose open “spaces” were down to just the nooks and crannies. I found the largest nook I could and slid the car into it, three inches away from the concrete column on my left and plenty of inches away from the SUV on Anne’s side. Fortunately my car is compact and I can slide it through narrow gaps as long as I ignore the sound of Anne’s entire nervous system clenching in terror as we come within centimeters of scraping the paint off either side.

Dinner was once again a mere block away but in a slightly different direction, at a Mexican place called Su Casa. They accepted dinner reservations through OpenTable; to my surprise I got us in a mere half-hour later.

Su Casa's neon sign at night, with other big-city lights dotting the background.

The only decent Chicago nighttime shot we took on this trip.

Su Casa looked and felt like every other “authentic” Mexican restaurant we’ve ever visited, but they took the concept of “bring Mexico to America” one step further in a way we’ve never seen done: they also take photos of you and hope you’ll pay them for the privilege. A rather professionally dressed young lady approached our table, said something I couldn’t hear because my hearing is lousy, and pointed the camera at us. She said something else I didn’t understand because I was dead tired, but it ended with the word “free”. Anne and I looked at each other, shrugged, smiled, and acquiesced. Then she began requesting poses. First we had to pretend to make a toast. Then we had to kiss. Then I had to give Anne a peck on a cheek. Then we did another cliched romantic move I can’t remember, which definitely didn’t involve our trademark jazz hands. She thanked us and went away without another word. I wondered if maybe these were candid happy-customer fodder for livening up their Facebook page or whatever.

Several minutes later she returned and handed us a free copy of our first photo. We’re especially amused because, in our confusion as we wondered why the heck we were doing this, we’d done the fake toast holding each other’s drinks — Anne with my Diet Coke, me with her water.

A scan of a poorly lit photo of Anne and me toasting. This quickie printout has a border around it with pics of their food.

Our copy had two QR codes in either corner, which I’ve deleted using a combination of my primitive MS Paint skillz and some classic 1980s direct-market comic-book UPC-box fillers.

Then she handed me copies of the other three photos and said something else I couldn’t hear because this was a crowded Saturday night. We looked at them. I handed them back to her and said in all sincerity, “These look nice.” I just kept smiling and staring at her. In reality I was still 30% confused and hoping for further explanation. She interpreted my weird, half-awake reaction as a hard negotiation shutdown, thanked us and disappeared. Moments later we figured out the game and chuckled. We’d just spent the past two days getting awesome photo ops with superheroes and vampires. The last thing we needed was more photos of ourselves without Chris Evans next to us. We have too many of those already.

The food took a while to arrive, but eventually did. Things were fine except I’d ordered their chicken fajita burrito (an actual menu item) and instead received a combination fajita platter. By this point I was too tired to unravel any more communication breakdowns and ate what I was given…which, again, was fine for what it was.

A pair of barbacoa sopes -- refer to caption.

My best bite there was the appetizer: beef barbacoa sopes with beans, roasted tomatilla salsa, lettuce, red onions and queso fresco.

Well-seasoned snapper dinner served with street corn, refried beans and Mexican rice.

Anne’s snapper dinner. I also photographed my fajitas, but who cares.

The meal filled a need, but we’ve had better Mexican elsewhere. They’ve apparently been around for over fifty years and began as a sort of spinoff from the pizza joint next door. I can’t say we really felt five decades’ worth of expertise that night. As we ate, we enjoyed an informal dinner show as the photographer plied her trade with a large party at the next table over. This time she found a willing buyer, an older gentleman who, I’m fairly certain, had not already had the pleasure of posing with TV’s Chuck that weekend.

We went to bed slightly later that night and awoke Sunday at a more reasonable hour, this time to much sunnier walking weather.

The massive Medinah Temple, sitting downtown with FOR SALE signs all over it.

Wanna buy a Shriners’ temple? After they gave it up, Medinah Temple was turned into a Bloomingdale’s for 17 years, till they closed during the pandemic. Despite a 2022 proposal to turn it into a casino, as of today this 110-year-old artifact is still for sale. Fun trivia: the Fantasia 2000 soundtrack was recorded here!

We ventured two blocks south to an establishment where “artisan” is the watchword. Goddess and the Baker was launched in 2015 as a spinoff from a restaurant called The Goddess and Grocer, which in turn had been started in 2005 by an Australian chef who used to cook for famous rock stars on their world tours. Goddess and the Baker now has six locations , including one in Wisconsin and the River North location we found ourselves in, where every chair was filled even at 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning.

Goddess and the Baker desserts! Lots of baked goods and chocolates!

We may have gawked a bit too slack-jawed, like the bumpkins we are.

We stood awkwardly in one of the narrow spaces available and waited for our treats to be ready, along with our drinks — a hot chocolate for the lady and a honey wildflower latte for me. By the time our order was bagged a few stools had opened up, but we’d already had our hearts set on returning to the hotel and luxuriating there instead.

Four treats; refer to caption.

Our takeaways, clockwise from top left: white chocolate pistachio croissant; biscuit stuffed with dark cherry jam and cultured butter; fresh fruit tart; and chocolate peanut butter crunch tart.

We checked out shortly before 10 a.m., carefully crept out of our parking nook, and headed home to Indianapolis largely without incident on our side of the road. Meanwhile in I-65’s northbound lanes opposite from us, around mile marker 151 traffic was at a dead stop for miles. The weekend’s tornadoes and accompanying storms had apparently done major damage to an old house next to the roadside and scattered sizable debris all around, which crews were working hard to clear. We arrived home three hours from takeoff to learn our house and neighborhood had been missed, but family and friends had their own stories to tell in the days to come.

The End. Thanks for reading! Lord willing, we’ll see you next outing.

Other chapters in this very special MCC miniseries:

Part 1: Cosplay!
Part 2: Actors!
Part 3: Comics!
Part 4: Convention!

A selfie of the two of us, overlit and a little fuzzy, but with sincere smiles.

Anne insisted we take our own free photo at Su Casa. We’re the Goldens. It’s who we are and what we do.

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