by Sean Chercover
Today I was Mr. Mom. First thing this morning, we dropped Agent 99 off at her meeting and then we headed toward the lake, with The Mouse chattering baby chatter in his rear-facing baby seat. The Mouse is just shy of his first birthday, and his seat will soon face forward. A significant milestone - for me, if not for both of us.
We cruised east on North (which is less complicated than it sounds) and passed the Old Town Ale House, without stopping. The Old Town Ale House is one of my favorite bars in Chicago. It caters to newspaper reporters and aging hippies, and is a borderline-dive. Or was, before being “discovered” by the twenty-something hipsters. Hence the recent face-lift, which makes me nostalgic for the way it was before. Anyway, it still has one of the best jukeboxes in the city, and I still love the place.
But it was only 8:45, so the place hadn’t opened yet. And at 11 months, The Mouse is probably still a little too young for the place. Instead, I took him to a diner that I choose not to name, for fear that it will be “discovered” by the twenty-something hipsters and I won’t be able to get a table next time. At the diner, I got a little food down, while The Mouse tossed scrambled eggs and cantaloupe all over the floor. I left a big tip.
Then we found a relatively inexpensive garage near Navy Pier.
Now, those of you who know me know that I don’t do places like Navy Pier. I don’t do tourist traps and I don’t do national chain corporate food-factories. I do locally owned mom & pop restaurants and smoky dive-bars.
But here I was, with a diaper bag slung over my shoulder, pushing a stroller past Navy Pier, surrounded by tourists. I didn’t smell of tobacco, I was stone cold sober, and I didn’t care who knew it.
And now I’m looking at Chicago through the eyes of an 11-month-old boy. We cross the Chicago River (Wow! A river surrounded by really tall buildings!), pass a million boats (boats are big fun!) and come face-to-beak with a large gaggle of Canada geese. Of course we love to wave at the geese. The geese make us giggle.
We cross the walking bridge designed by Frank Gehry and check out his Pritzker Pavillion. Gehry is one of my favorite architects, and I’m pleased that The Mouse seems to dig the surroundings.
Then comes The Bean. The Bean has a proper name (Cloud Gate) but the nickname that Chicagoans prefer seems more fitting. The Bean is a giant, stainless steel bean, polished to a highly reflective gloss.
And The Mouse LOVES The Bean. Loves it. He peals with laughter as we run up to The Bean, reaching out toward our distorted reflections. We’ve abandoned the stroller to get right up close, and we stay for a long time, examining The Bean and encountering ourselves from many angles.
We spend a little time at the Crown Fountains, which may not be quite as cool as The Bean, but are fun, and offer the added benefit of spraying us with water on a 95-degree day.
Finally, we head to Navy Pier. Yes, Navy Pier is a tourist trap, and I never recommend it to visitors who want to see the “real” Chicago. But babies don’t care much about real and unreal Chicago. As it turns out, babies enjoy the atrium with palm trees and the world’s biggest ceiling fan, and the groovy water fountains, and a carousel with painted horses and rabbits and lions and calliope music.
So, maybe I’m getting soft. I’ll still do my drinking in dives and avoid most of the corporate and homogenized “new Chicago”.
But The Mouse and I had one hell of a great day.