What We Did Last Summer: Chicago

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Many cities around the world can brag about having a song made after them. If asked for a New York song, Frank Sinatra’s immediately pops into my mind, followed by Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind (ft Alicia Keys). Paris? Of course, Edith Piaf has a song about the City of Lights. Granada (Spain), was written by Agustín Lara, but my favorite interpretation is by Andrea Bocelli. You could say that it is possible to make a travel list based on song titles. Chicago would be on that list.

As soon as Auro told me that she was meeting two of her high school friends (Monica and Yuri) in Chicago, I thought about making a list of places to visit. I remembered an episode from Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown; I grabbed a pen and paper and began writing. Places to visit: 1. Old Town Ale House. Done! Everything else I would explore on the go, no pre-planned walking tour.

I usually plan my trips thoroughly, but lately, I have been leaving things unplanned. I just wanted to walk, walk and feel the city, roam. Auro had a whole week with her friends before I traveled North to meet them. I got constant photo updates of the restaurants, sites and coffee shops they were visiting.

I got there on a Friday afternoon, just in time for my first taste of a Mayan mocha coffee. The sweet flavor of the chocolate clashed with the cayenne and cinnamon spices. It worked, and it was addictive. The best part is that I could taste the coffee (hate it when a so called “coffee drink” does not taste like coffee at all). We re-visited Goddess and the Baker several times after that, seeking the hot and spicy beverage.

Auro and I found Millennium Park full of children and adults enjoying the water that poured from the fountains. We saw mariachis struggling to keep up with a full dressed quinceañera and her photographers. The famous Bean was also full with tourists and their cellphones. I was one of them. Before nightfall, we were in Willis Tower at 412 meters above the ground enjoying how the sunset drew shadows on Lake Michigan. The city lit up in yellows as the night took over. A lonely spider waited for her dinner outside the window.

Saturday was a big day; we did a mini photoshoot at the Garfield Park Conservatory. This time I got to lay back and enjoy a stroll, while Yuri posed and photograph Auro. I felt at home in the fern room. Suddenly, I was hiking through Gandoca. I felt the moisture in the air; I was surrounded by the Caribbean green. I was snapped out of my daydream by a sweating elder lady who said “excuse me” so I would get out of her way.

Later I was able to check off Old Town Ale House, the lonely item on my “To Visit” list. Auro and I sat there, enjoying a couple of beers while we chatted about life. At night time, we headed to Soldier Field for the girls trip highlight: Beyoncé’s concert. They spent the next 5 hours screaming and dancing while I roamed the city with a big shiny pink purse by my side. It seems that big colorful purses are not allowed into concerts, so I got to be its lucky guardian for the night. People looked at me puzzled; I could almost hear their thoughts:

-Did he steal it or is he making a fashion statement?

Early next morning we kept exploring the city. We did the Riverwalk from Lake St to the Navy Pier. We saw a group of people sitting in a circle like zombies, looking at their small screens while playing Pokémon Go. Later, we had dim sum for lunch in China Town, took the train to Wicker Park and stood in line for 15 minutes to get an ice cream. I don’t remember which flavor I got, but it was probably chocolate. The girls went shopping to one thrift store, or two.

In every trip there comes a time, an event, a spot that makes the whole trip unforgettable. That unforgettable moment came at night when we stayed past our bed time on the North side, in Lincoln Park. It was 70’s Night at the famous Chicago B.L.U.E.S Bar. I wasn’t dressed for the occasion; I guess I should’ve bought something from the thrift store(s). The 6-feet bouncer gave me a pair of star shaped glasses; he laughed and welcomed us.

The place was full with people who came to share their love for great live music. The girls got serenated (specially Yuri) by Vance “Guitar” Kelly and the Backstreet Blues Band. Music brings people together; music makes people dance and sing. Music, in the right hands, can do a lot for the world. Music can make a darn good travel list.