22 April 2012

C2E2 III: Taking Ownership of Chicago

I have discussed previously my love for Chicago and its people. I confess, though, that I was somewhat apprehensive about returning there after six-plus years because the last time I was there was for my honeymoon. Though our wedding was in January, we scheduled an August honeymoon because we wanted to attend Wizard World Chicago and catch a White Sox/Yankees game. I had been several times before, but it was my wife's first visit to the Windy City. On that visit, I enjoyed a sense of inviting her into a very specific part of my world. Beyond pointing out familiar places and activities I thought she would enjoy, I largely let her take the lead on what we did or where we went. I wanted it to be our exploration rather than me leading her around the place.

In many ways, Chicago stopped being "my" place. I feared how I would handle returning there, though I felt reasonably confident that as long as we stayed focused on C2E2 and didn't really do much else in the city, I would be fine. I took my Buspar just in case, though, and I had it on me at all times. It went to the convention with me - not, mind you, that I had the presence of mind to bring anything to wash it down should the need have arisen. By the time I got through the concession stand line, I would have either required emergency services or gotten over it entirely.

Upon arrival, I found myself invigorated with the kind of familiarity that one develops with a place where they feel at home. It was like visiting out-of-town relatives. I felt so upbeat that I began to try to locate a local pizza joint I had first visited on my honeymoon. I had little to go on: I knew it was within a few blocks of the Tremont Hotel, it was directly across the street from a Walgreens and that there was a mural on the wall. Well, firstly, I was wrong about the Walgreens. It actually faces a grocery store.

When we arrived at the place, we were told how long the wait would be and we cheerily elected to wait. It was our last night before coming home and we couldn't leave without having some authentic Chicago deep dish pizza! The brochure at the hotel recommended the place, it was nearby and that led us to waiting about half an hour. The weather was gorgeous and we were on our honeymoon. We waited patiently.

The foursome ahead of us, however, weren't so patient. They kept making comments in earshot of the hostess until they were eventually seated. When my wife and I were seated, we were brought to a cozy table along the back wall and we were given a very sincere apology for the wait. We explained we were cool with it; besides, they told us how long it would be. As I recall, we were sat a few minutes before we had been quoted. No big deal.

Along the wall next to us was this mural, though. I recognized the iconic figures, of course, but I wasn't clear who the guys behind the bar were. I also found it curious that Jerry Seinfeld should be in a group with Frank, Marilyn, Elvis and Sammy. I asked the manager about it and he explained that the two guys behind the bar were the current owner and his predecessor. Seinfeld was originally Dean Martin, but then they realized they were the only two living people in the mural and it made them nervous! Dino became Jerry, then, to soothe their superstitious anxieties. I thought that was terrific.
Photo credit belongs to my friend.
After finishing our meal (quite tasty, with very friendly and attentive service, I might add), we were then told that dessert was on the house. Whether it was because we had been so patient and the other group wasn't, because we were on our honeymoon or because we had made conversation about the mural, I can't say. Whatever the case, it was the perfect pleasantness to cap off our honeymoon. We were completely smitten with the place.

Back to the present. Armed with this little information, I scoured the interactive online recommendations service in our room at the Hilton and I worked out that it was Pizano's Pizza on State Street. I called and asked if they were the place with the mural and it was confirmed. I was anxious about returning, but I figured I might not get another chance any time soon and it would do me good to finally get the photo of the mural that I wish I had taken in 2006.

Saturday (14 April), my friend and I checked out of the Hilton in the morning and hopped a shuttle to the convention. I snagged an interview with a group of very friendly cosplayers which figured prominently in a blog post I wrote for Flickchart, we enjoyed the con in general and capped it all off with an hour long Q&A with Val Kilmer that was absolutely hilarious. I have attended several conventions where celebrities fielded questions from audiences and rarely have I seen anyone as comfortable and engaging as Kilmer was that night. Afterwards, we discovered that the line for the return shuttle was so packed we might not even make it on the next two buses...if there even was a second. We briefly deliberated about whether to wait it out, but I reasoned that I'd rather just get going than to get comfortable for 20 minutes only to find out we had to walk anyway. We began the return hike.
If you check out Infinite Hollywood's coverage, you'll see a photo of this photo being taken! (These are different cosplayers from the ones I interviewed.)
It's a respectable walk, from McCormick Place to the Hilton. Google Maps says the route we took was two miles. My left foot says Google Maps doesn't know how to measure distance. Regardless, it was a beautiful night and we felt good. We decided that we wanted some authentic Chicago dogs for dinner. We hoofed it some more, which was not the brightest idea for a couple of guys who'd spent all day walking around at a convention. Still, I know it's important that I take advantage of any opportunity my body gives me to do such things because it's so rare. I had my cane, which helped tremendously. We got back to the parking garage near the Hilton, and moved across the Chicago River to another garage from which we went back out on foot to find us some dogs. The place recommended to us by a local pedestrian turned out to be closed. Off we went, exploring.

Eventually, I made the executive decision that we would explore down State Street. I had a general sense of where Pizano's was, and I figured if we were going to wander about anyway, it may as well point us in the direction of a place I (mostly) wanted to go anyway. We finally found a place: Mister J's, which was the first place my wife and I ate on our honeymoon. The service leaves something to be desired, but the grub is good and the prices are decent. As soon as we walked out of there, we discovered Pizano's staring us in the face! We strolled in and I bought us each a beer. Not my brightest decision, but I figured I'd go for broke. Amazingly, my guts handled the brew okay...though I dare not ask that of them again anytime soon!
The bar at Pizano's Pizza on State St. Photo credit: My friend (again).
I introduced myself and explained my reason for being there, and they were quite friendly about allowing me to photograph the mural. As my friend and I sat at the table adjacent to where I had sat on my honeymoon, I reflected on how I felt. It was certainly bittersweet, but I also felt it gave me a sense of ownership over not just Pizano's or even Chicago, but my own memories and experiences. They're shared, of course, but I hobbled away from there with a renewed sense of self-identity. It was that, more than anything else, that I took away from this most recent visit to Chicago. It's not about writing my wife out of my experiences, but rather about reestablishing my focus on me, rather than on us. It's a compartmentalization of sorts, but rather than isolating her out of things, I've elected to emphasize myself. I think this is the healthiest perspective I, or anyone else, could manage. I'm glad I took the chance on my emotional state (and physical condition!).

I offer my sincerest thanks and gratitude to my friend who made possible this excursion, and for indulging me. I also thank Pizano's Pizza for being awesome and the city of Chicago for once again making me feel welcome.

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