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A Day in Downtown Chicago

The next day I awoke exhausted from singing my guts out at Sidekicks and skinny dipping in Lake Michigan. Nonetheless, I eventually put myself together around 11:00 and made way for the underground, taking the blue line into Downtown Chicago. When I arrived, I walked all nine blocks of Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. It’s referred to as “The Mag Mile” and is an exciting strip of upscale Michigan Avenue.

I people watched for hours, explored various shops and Chicago-original boutiques, bought my husband and I some cool silk-screened t-shirts, got caught up and lost in the 100th Lions Clubs Parade of Nations for about two hours, photographed every breathing moment of the entire day, and all the while imagined myself as Vivian Maier in 1960 Chicagoland.

Eventually, I caught the number 6 bus to the Southside from Wacker and Michigan Ave. I was headed for Hyde Park to meet my cousin and chill by the lake at Pebble Beach.

While en route, I met Christabell who is from North Carolina. She moved to The Windy City for adventure and work a few years ago. Now, she teaches math and science to intercity students, who, according to her, are of various economic statures. Christabell explained how opportunity, at least in Chicago, is really a product of income. She has to work around a lot of stigmas- such as that poor kids are dumber than rich kids. She explained that, from her teaching experience, kids who come from less privileged backgrounds aren’t less intelligent, but rather show a greater sense of innovation and thinking outside of the box because they are cultured to be resourceful with little means. Unfortunately, she says that poor kids are still a product of their impoverished cultures and thus aren’t introduced or raised with the popularized concept that “hard work will provide one with opportunity and growth”. Christabell explained that this concept of “hard work pays off” is popularized in families of wealthier financial standing, because they have ‘the means’ for investment, time and a disposable income specifically allotted for their kids.

You know, I always thought this was the case. I attended public schools my entire life and grew up a military brat during which I saw different types of peoples, backgrounds, cultures, and incomes. I remember realizing that the home is what fosters motivation and depending on the type of support and resources the home offered, the more or less successful a child was. Nonetheless, it was interesting to learn this from someone who has direct exposure to both sides of the spectrum and from the inside-out as an intercity Chicago teacher.

An hours ride to and we finally made it to The Point at Hyde Park where I met with my cousin. We kicked it for a while in our cheeky bathing suits, lounged at the banks of the clear Lake Michigan water and listened to the water splash up against the rocks and slabs of cement that lined the shore.

According to Nicole, the cement slabs serve a purpose. The controversial installation was backed by the initiative to provide safer access for folks entering the choppy waters. The city aimed to align the Southside beaches with long slabs of cement, but were forced to trash the idea due to civic protest. Thus remains a small strip of the cement slabs, to which this day, nobody really hangs out on.

Christabell joined us later and lent me a fantastic book about Chicago, printed by Bonechi. In it, I learned a bit about African American History and the famed Blues Trail. According to the book, the “Great Migration” from the South to “The Promised Land” of Chicago brought more African Americans from the Mississippi than any other state, especially and during World War II. With the migrants, came the Delta blues that was the foundation of the classic postwar Chicago blues style. Muddy Waters, who became the king of Chicago blues, was among the thousands of Mississippians who arrived on Illinois Central trains at Central Station, which stood across the street from Michigan Ave and Lake Shore Drive from 1893 to 1974.

After a few lazy hours, Nicole and I packed up shop, separated ways from Christabell and set forth to explore the city followed by dinner at Medici on 57th; a popular coffee/pastry joint known for their sinful Garbage Burger. In our way to, our exploration took us to The University of Chicago campus; a world class and private university located in a global city.

Modeled after Oxford University, the University of Chicago is complete with breathtaking Victorian gothic architecture that features spires, cloisters and grotesques. The campus is also one of the greenest places in all of Chicago. Ok, I may be exaggerating here, because all of Chicago is super green, but the campus’ greenness offers an unreal vibe that’s both bohemian-hip and prestigious. Just at first look, it seems like the university is the hipster’s dream school, because its costly, eco-driven and trendy! Nicole also told me that the campus, although privately institutionalized, is rather open and welcoming to the general public. The neighborhood in which the university resides, Hyde Park, feeds off of the brilliance of the university’s students and organizational affairs. The school often advertises lectures, exhibitions and events neighborhood-wide, bringing together a mix of students and non-students who make up a welcoming campus experience and community. Oh yeah, and Obama taught at The University of Chicago!

Somewhere in the innards of the campus is Doc Films. Doc Films is a special feature of the university because it hails as the longest running student-driven film society in the United States; founded in December 1940. Doc is also famous for hosting the likes of film’s most brilliant cinematographers and directors, including: Alfred Hitchcock and Woody Allen. In 2005, Doc premiered the highly controversial “Brokeback Mountain”, which was an exclusive showing before it hit mainstream theaters. Doc is known for premiering movies that cannot be seen anywhere else.

After my tour of Chicago University, Nicole and I meandered through the quaint and colorful Southside neighborhoods with their baroque facades and contrasting color palettes. Chicagoans took that warm summer evening to relax on their cozy porches to the buzz and glow of fireflies shining in their front yards.

Alas, we made it to Medici on 57th where we dined on the famous Garbage Burger and Bacon-Bleu Burger. The food was delish and the portions HUGE, which was perfect for all of the energy we burned throughout our long evening. The coolest thing about Medici, in my opinion, was their BYOB (if you want) policy, which we took great advantage of with a nice bottle of red wine that Nicole brought from home.

We ended the night with an evening cruise by car through the Southside. Another great feature of the Chicagoland experience is its driving infrastructure. Unlike New York, Chicago is a midwestern city, with midwestern mentality and culture – people are less city slicker and because of its vastness, driving by car is totally easy and acceptable.

Read about my other adventures in Chicago here.

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