Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Mouse and The Bean . . .

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.

27 comments:

Kevin Guilfoile said...

Ha! I was with boy the first at Millennium Park on Wednesday.

I grew up in a town where the summer tourists outnumbered the locals ten to one. Even today I have a neurotic aversion to anything that might make me look like an out-of-towner, even when I'm out of town. Just standing in a line--any line, a line at the grocery store--makes the back of my neck hot.

So I share your Navy Pier aversion. In Cast of Shadows I even murdered someone out there just because I can't stand the place. But I was down at the NP ballroom not so long ago for a fundraiser thing and I took a minute to turn around and look back at the city, and man is that a view. Every Chicagoan should take a stroll to the end of the pier every year or so just to turn around and remind themselves that they live in one the most beautiful cities in the world.

And I don't feel like a tourist in Millennium Park. It's such a terrific space that I don't feel like it was built to give tourists somewhere to go. I feel like we built it for us and we let other people gawk at it and be jealous.

Libby Hellmann said...

That's funny... I was down at Millenium Park this past week too, showing a New Yorker how beautiful downtown Chicago is. The CSO was practicing in the amphitheater while we were there, so we enjoyed an impromptu concert as well. You're right, Kevin... Chicago rivals any European capital these days.

Cameron Hughes said...

What perverse genius designed The Bean?

It is perfect that a child would love it, and there isn't a better feeling than watching a baby observe things you've seen a million times that they're absolutely fascinated and delighted by.

Sean Chercover said...

Hey Cameron, the Bean was designed by Anish Kapoor (you can read an NYT article on him here)

The Bean rocks. I love The Bean. Didn't mean to equate the Bean with Navy Pier. Just that The Mouse and I spent most of the day surrounded by tourists.

And yes, watching The Mouse experience and observe things for the first time is incredible. It really does you the opportunity to look at things as fresh and new, as if you've never seen them before.

Michael Dymmoch said...

Sean,

Nice to know you're getting the kid off to a good start.

John said...

Can't agree more about how seeing the world through the eyes of a toddler, cliche though it may be, really offers a new perspective. My little guy is 19 months old now, and I'm amazed at the new perspective he grants me every day. That and the fact that I'm willing to do things I'd never do before just because I know he'll get a kick out of it. Sounds like you had a great day, you big softie!

Jon The Crime Spree Guy said...

ok, You can be my dad.

I like ice cream. We could go for ice cream.

I remeber ice cream trips very well going way back to when I got to ride instead of walking.

Oh, by the way, have you read 8 million ways to die?

Matt said...

Progress is not always great. One of my favourite neighbourhoods in Toronto, Kensington Market, is becoming gentrified by degrees. The Mom 'n' pop bakeries, vegetable stands and coffee houses are making way for honest-to-God franchises. I'll tell you, the whole thing stinks. I'm almost hoping the economy tanks so some of these businesses will reconsider whether it's worth their while to come down here.

Mark Combes said...

Sean~

You and I have the same approach to bars I think. I only frequent bars that don't have websites. As soon as they get a website, I go on the prowl for a new bar to haunt.

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