Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Who willingly goes to Chicago in January... I DO!

After a fantastic New Year's (though the last 90 minutes I would have happily traded for sleep!) it was time to head to the airport. I'm not entirely sure what I was thinking when I scheduled a 10 am flight on New Year's Day. That, of course, means BEING at the airport around 8. Add in that I live an hour away from the airport and chose to spend New Year's Eve an hour or so away from home... do the math. I got to bed at 3, only to have to drag my tired tuchus out of bed at 6:35, and left the house at almost seven. Yeesh! Note to self, do NOT get SO caught up in medical school that you lose your ability to add two and two...

So, with all that, I got to Redd's place around 7:10, she was outside waiting for me, so we spent about five minutes getting the car loaded, doing one last check for the tickets and we were on our a way. A quick hop down 316 to merge with 85 and we were dropping our bags off at curbside around 8:15. All in all it was rather painless. Security was annoying because they didn't have enough lanes open, and the schmuck who said my laptop had to go through again wouldn't let me take my glasses out of the bin. I can't see bozo and you won't let me pull JUST my glasses out of the bin, ahhhhhhhh rant!

After security we trained our way down to the B Concourse, where we had about an hour before boarding began, so we decided eating some breakfast would be a very good. Our gate was B24, so logically we looked for something breakfast near there. Unfortunately there isn't a Paschal's in B concourse, so we moseyed over to Cafe Intermezzo. The waiter, though thorough, probably isn't best suited to working in an airport where people are on the go. He took five minutes just to greet us and take our DRINK order. He then took three steps to a table one away from us a literally spent at least twelve minutes (after at least five when I started to count) bumpin' his gums with that tables' occupants. He then came back and prattled on and on and on and on... Really pal, I just wanted my French toast... I got the feeling that he wasn't yammering just to be friendly, but rather that he was BORED and felt that if he had to endure such a lousy existence he was going to make his customers' experience as excruciating as his own. Anyway, the French toast came as did my Coke, and they were both satisfactory. While we were eating Mr. Short-for-Words-but-not-for-Yarns found another victim at another table and we overheard him saying how Concourse B is the "gem of airport terminals for shopping." Now, I'm not sure if he was comparing it only to ATL's concourses, or airports in general, but still, I thought what an idiotic thing to say!. Atlanta isn't an airport in BFE or anything, but it certainly isn't Dubai or Singapore...Some people you just have to shake your head and laugh at!

We meandered over to the gate and boarding started shortly afterward around 9:35. This flight was on an MD-90, a first for me. In reality, it's just like the dozen MD-88's I've flown, but the geek in me gets excited by the two-number differentiation! Unfortunately there was no window to snap an image of the little gem. Well Scheisse!
The flight was full to the gills, which makes one wonder how many other idiots like us were flying this early on New Year's Day. We had to sit at the gate area for a few minutes because the first fifty or so passengers who boarded took up all the overhead bin space with their small steamer trunks. I realize $20 bag fees can be annoying and nobody wants to pay MORE money, but when you're trying to cram a week's worth of two changes a day into one bag, you're going to be stymied. Delta has (smartly) extended the bins on most of their aircraft, so this usually isn't a huge deal, but the MD-90's had the nonextended bins (you could tell just be looking at them). As a result, most of the rolley bags had to go in sideways, as opposed to long ways. This means that where you could before put up to three bags, now only one will fit. Something had to give, and the passengers who boarded later weren't even permitted to bring their rolling suitcases on board. They were checked at the gate, much to their annoyance I'm sure. Redd and I had checked our bags because I knew mine was shaped oddly and wouldn't fit without severe squishing. I had a suit in the bag so this was a non-option. Redd being a woman...let's just say cramming everything into a carry-on is also a non-option ;). The manner in which they got the bags from the gate to the baggage hold was pretty cool, I thought. They drove a belt loader over to the jetway and placed the bags onto the belt, then drove the loader over to the plane. Pretty clever!
We pushed back and taxied to the North runways, where we waited for about ten minutes in line. We took off and I grabbed a few minutes of shut eye, though it was more a ten minute power nap than anything else. We were sitting in seats 11A and B, the pair of two on the left side of the aircraft. Being in the front we got "refreshments'' rather early. The Flight Attendant serving our row had a pretty good sense of humor. He asked Redd what she wanted to drink. She said "I'll have a Coke." On cue, the FA said "Please?" You might have had to be there, but it was hysterical. Of course, when it comes my turn I had to ham it up. "I'll have a Coke, PLEASE." The FA of course rubbed it in. Why am I always called upon to make people feel like an ass??lol I'm the perfect accomplice!

The remainder of the flight was uneventful. We approached over Lake Michigan, North of Downtown, and flew just over Wrigley Field. Much different than my other two times landing at O'Hare where we came in from the West. We landed and turned off the runway almost at our gate, E12. We deboarded fairly quickly and made our way to the baggage claim. Terminal 2 (where Concourse E is) doesn't look that large on a diagram, but my grief! it's a walk from the end of E to the baggage claim! We still had to wait twenty minutes for our bags. After gathering our bags we made our way to the CTA where we took the Blue Line into the city. The main reason for using the Blue Line other than cost savings was that we landed at 11:30, and our hotel wouldn't be ready for some time, why not kill some time absorbing "local culture" on the subway. On the platform at the airport I brilliantly managed to break the handle on my suitcase. This meant that I would have to carry the thing. UGH! The train ride was uneventful. We changed lines, but genius me remembered the stop incorrectly, and we got off too early. Down the street I saw the Arts center at Millennium Park, which meant, that OOPS! we had gotten off on the OTHER SIDE of the river from where our hotel was (I had stayed at the hotel before so I knew the area well enough to know that we weren't around the corner). Once that was established we hailed a cab. We probably could have found the hotel, as we were only about ten blocks away (not even a mile) but it was too cold and I didn't want to carry that blasted bag or run the risk of getting turned around. Oh well, it was a five minute diversion that apparently annoyed me more than it did Redd. After examining the CTA map, we got off one stop too soon, oh well. Live and learn.

We get to the hotel and our room isn't ready. Apparently New Year's partiers trashed the place. Instead of waiting around we went out and grabbed a DELICIOUS hotdog at Portillo's. And did some shopping on the Magnificent Mile, about two blocks away from the Hampton Inn and Suites where we were staying. About 4:30 we got back and our room was ready. In a strange twist of fate our room was the same room I stayed in when i was in Chicago in March 2007, although the room had been remodeled. We had a two room suite. Though there was only two of us, I've learned a long time ago that extra space is well worth it no matter what, as long as the price isn't ridiculous. For an extra $20 a night the extra space was a no brainer. The bathroom was bigger, we had two sinks (which is huge when you're trying to get more than one person dressed for a wedding or conference, etc.) and we had plenty of space to dump our crap such as our huge coats and my suit bag. These items would have cluttered up a conventional room, though of course we would have managed. It was nice to be able to spread out, and having two TVs was also good.

We chilled (actually warmed) for a little while before getting ready for dinner. Redd asked for a cab to dinner as she was wearing a dress and had just done her hair. A reasonable request. So, we went out front to hail a cab. One taxi had almost driven by the hotel but I stuck my hand out anyway. The cab stopped RIGHT THEN AND THERE. Of course, another cab ran into his rear bumper. He paid it no attention and asked us "are you coming??" So we got into the cab and made our way to David Burke's Primehouse. The food was delicious! I had a 55 day aged ribeye, and paired it with a nice Shiraz. We had asparagus, "mac and cheese", and basil mashed potatoes with our steaks. Fantastic! You have to eat steak when you go to Chicago...I mean really. Afterward, it was about nine, and we decided to try and find a nice place to hear some music. We had passed a place called Red Headed Piano Bar earlier, and knew it was three blocks away on the same street, so we decided to give it a try. It wasn't too bad. The crowd was a little older, but the music was still good. We stayed a little while and as sleep was catching up to us we decided to head back and relax in the hotel and then get some sleep.

The next morning we got up and moving about 8:30 and had had breakfast and were moving by 9:30. Redd wanted to do ice skating, just for novelty of it, so we bought a day pass and went back to Millennium Park (remember we inadvertently started our trip there...). We got skates and did our perfunctory laps and after about ten minutes decided that the novelty had worn off. It was indeed fun, but I was quickly rendered a fish on a bicycle as Martha Washington was doing triple Lutz's and Figure 8's all around me...plus, I could feel a spot on my foot that would undoubtedly have a blister if I kept this up. So we decided to move on. At least I did not fall!!

After our adventures in the Ice Capades we headed North for Wrigley Field. We walked around it, took the cool pictures and grabbed some food nearby. I had a gryo, it was pretty good.

After Wrigley we went further North to check out the Baha'i House of Worship. I heard about it as Nasty, a former colleague, had mentioned it when talking about her ex-husband. Since it was relatively convenient we checked it out. It was a beautiful building, ornate and decorated. I did think, however, that having a Star of David interlinked with a Swastika is questionable, even if the faith stresses understanding and a world government.
After Baha'i it was time to head back to the hotel. It was about 2, and we were going to a wedding, so we needed to get back. I nodded off a little bit on the train ride, but it was a long ride!! Baha'i is at the end of the line and we were staying downtown. The ride back took about thirty minutes. We got ready and then grabbed a cab to the wedding. It was located about a half hour from the hotel. At first we weren't quite sure if this was the place, but a sighting of a Georgia plate with Lowndes County (deep south Georgia, near Valdosta) quickly confirmed we were in the right place. Spotting two other Georgia plates was even better...

The wedding was organized differently than any other wedding I've ever been to, in that the reception was held first. We arrived about 30 minutes after the stated start time, and the wedding party was seated. After that there was an open mic where all the friends and relatives came up and offered a little story or piece of wisdom. Then the ceremony began. The ceremony had a few elements that I'd never seen at a wedding before either, such as a mime to the song "Your Love" (NOT the "Josie's on a vacation far away" song). We left after the cake with most of the guests around 8pm. I would like to take this brief moment to thank our wedding hosts for hosting their Chicago wedding in January, when it's only -12 windchill as opposed to February...when it's regularly -20...

Finding a taxi in that part of the city proved to be a little bit of a challenge! Unlike downtown where you waited three minutes tops there weren't any around. We had asked the people we were sitting with the best place to catch one, and they advised that we walk up a block or so, and they also gave us a number of a service. Well after that block we were FREEZING, so we decided to go into a 7/11 on the corner and call the service. Well lo-and-behold if there wasn't a cab with his light on sitting right in front of the 7/11!! We gratefully jumped in and were whisked back to downtown. Score!

We decided to grab a small dinner at OYSY, where I'd had my first taste of sushi almost three years before. In a sense of nostalgia I also ordered the first roll I'd ordered from there. Yes, I realize I'm a huge dork, but I don't care! After the sushi we asked our waiter where we should go for good jazz music. He directed to a place called Up Close 2. Ok, well, technically he directed us to "Clarke and Congress, but I don't remember the name"... Ok, so we were taking a little bit of a leap of faith! We get there and the first thing I see is a "men only" hotel. Great, he sends us to the seedy side of town was my first reaction. However, just beyond the signage of sin was indeed a sign that said "Jazz." We head in, deciding to check it out, and the band was REALLY good. They also had good martinis which Redd partook of, though I stuck with my ritual gin and tonic and a glass of pinot noir. Ahhh, can't get much better than that! Redd's martini was about a foot tall! Use the wine glass as a size comparison!
We thoroughly enjoyed the jazz! I'm not a huge jazz person -- my repertoire goes about as far as knowing who Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday are -- but I enjoy good music, and this was good music. We unfortunately had to head about about 11:45 because we were PLANNING to get up around six to be at the airport between seven and seven thirty for our 9:00am flight. Ugh, too many early mornings.

We get back to the hotel and promptly fall asleep pretty quickly. Thankfully we packed before we went to sleep. I have preset alarms on my phone, and I turned on the 5:45. Genius me, however, forgot that those were "Weekday" alarms. Of course, this being Sunday, it wasn't going to go off! So I roll over and it's 7:01...nominally the time we should have already been at the airport. BONK! Insert picture of Mr. and Mrs. McCallister going "We slept in! AHHHHHHHHHHHH!" here Somehow we both managed to shower, get downstairs, and check out by 7:29. We were going to hail a cab when the bellhop informed us that we could simply take the hotel's Town Car. I asked how much it was -- it was $7 more than a cab would have been (we had already priced out a cab the night before as to make sure we had enough cash). SOLD! Seven extra bucks for a much more comfortable car that didn't have that felon shield, that I didn't have to hail and watch get rear ended. DUH!

We get to the airport and through security about twenty minutes before boarding is due to start. Another first: my first DC-9! In this case a DC-9-50 bound for Detroit. Ok, airplane geek go away. Why, you ask, were we going through Detroit to get to Atlanta? The answer is -- $$$$$$ It was about $100 cheaper to fly through Detroit -- two evenings meals/entertainment. We sat down for about fifteen minutes before boarding began, a very short time for me, I'm usually through security at least an hour early -- which gives me enough time to eat! Well that didn't happen today!

Upon boarding the two unaccompanied minors immediately caught my attention. After all the hoopla about Delta losing an 8 year old how could it not be?? The flight was pretty much uneventful with two exceptions. 1) One of the Flight Attendants wore more eyeliner than Elvira, and 2) something about this aircraft/flight made my stomach flip flop -- a lot. I usually have a rock solid stomach on airplanes minus those delightful incidences whereby the plane just decides to hit a pocket of air and drops fifty feet...bit I digress. All throughout the flight the way the plane would turn or ascend, the angles were just bizarre. I was glad when we finally descended and landed in Detroit. We decided that since we had two (as it turned out three) hours before our flight to Atlanta that grabbing a bite to eat was probably in our best interests. It was around 11, so why not. Finding a place to eat in the Detroit airport proved a little more difficult...the blasted terminal is THREE MILES LONG! And people gripe about Atlanta being too big...

We finally settled on a place near our gate A34 and I hate some sort of salad with a lot of fruit on it. Mental note: apples + cranberries is too much tang. After lunch we acted like dorks oohing and ahhing at the tram that ran overhead. Just to solidify our DORK status we rode the bloody thing from one end of the concourse to the other. Then we had had our fill of that we sat down at the gate. The 777 that was supposed to leave at 1:30 was apparently still being cleaned... FYI it was ship #7006. Apparently the passengers from either Shanghai or Seoul had TRASHED the airplane...who knew, eh?

So we finally get on the plane and then sit around as the dead heads bicker about who gets to sit in first class...I mean really...how lame. We also had to wait while they called no less than fifteen names three times...apparently all of those individuals decided they didn't want to take that flight. I know one name was called at least six times from the time we sat down at the gate area until pushback. AHHHHHHHHH!

Once we FINALLY took off the airplane was creaking overhead. The FA seated in the jump seat across from us said it was normal for the 777. This was ship 7006 for anybody who cares. We struck up a conversation with the FA for a few minutes while she was seated. We talked about where we had travelled (though mostly where I had travelled) and she just as pleasant as she could be. She was a Dallas-based crew member, and that was her only segment of the day. When beverage service began she said "Happy hour is on me guys" to me and Redd. Woohoo! She gave me two bottles of wine. I only drank one of them while playing Trivia. The rest of the flight was uneventful and we landed without incident and deboarded at Gate E26. Again, our bags took FOREVER to get to the belt, and this after was had to come from Concourse E. Once we retrieved our bags we went to the car, where I had to jump start somebody (strangely enough I would have to do it again two days later at Moe's). Then we were on our way. Thankfully traffic on the roads wasn't nearly as hectic as traffic at ATL!

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