My foray into the Heartland concluded with stops in two of the United States’ finest cities, both ranking in the middle digits of my top ten, Chicago and Nashville, aka Delicious and Delicious. The former I’d been to, in fact it’s where I started; the latter I enjoyed for the first time. I’ll try to avoid the then we went here, then we went there, narrative style but that’s the way it goes in short visits to big cities.
That Toddlin’ Town
The Ole Man lived here for 15 years and loves to go back, so it was to good to get him out of duck hunting country and back to the pavement. And I was definitely itching for some city. As soon as we made it to the city, we popped in an IHOP for a restroom/coffee stop and as we were leaving I witnessed a [note: I’m about to stereotype a guy in a story about stereotyping] classic mustachioed Chicago white guy explaining to a cop that he was “just trying to keep our country safe”. The cop then asked the young arab-american looking guy his side of the story and he started explaining how he was just waiting to be seated with his sister and girlfriend when this guy started staring them down. I was outraged at this apparent racist incident that I was witnessing, but then we heard on the radio that there was a rash of incidents in North Chicago in which Arab-Americans were starting food fights in IHOPS. This type of terrorist mischief cannot stand. Not only do they hate our freedoms, they hate our pancakes. Kudos to you Mr. Mustache for pre-empting another possible pancake attack.
Moving on, we found the famed Wrigley Field (2nd oldest ballpark in the US), had a Goose Island Honker’s Ale at Murphy’s, and wandered around Wrigleyville, which is a very cool area to surround a ballpark. That must be a great place to hang out before, during, and after Cubs games. I’m going to have make a road trip to watch A-Rod play there next year – for the Cubs. (Please, please, please, Sweet Lou, make it happen. For old times’ sake. Give us Zambrano.) The rest of the trip consisted of a series of places that I would recommend and am happy to describe in more detail if anyone should so desire:
- Portillo’s Italian Beef – Pat’s style beef with gravy soaked bun and peppers instead of the cheese wiz and onions.
- State Street – great street
- Billy Goat Tavern – home of Belushi “Cheeseborger” SNL skit, origin of Billy Goat Curse on Cubs, located under the Tribune, watering hole of 75 years of Chicago reporters
- O’Neil’s Bar and Grill – the JJ Foley’s/Hugo’s of Chicago, 152 East Ontario St off of Michigan Ave.
- Twin Anchors – Frank Sinatra’s rib and steak joint in North Chicago. No wait, reasonable prices, good atmosphere, tasty vittles.
- The Original Pizzeria Uno – actually I realized I’m not crazy about deep dish pizza, but this would be the place to go if one were.
Love Chicago. Great town. Toddlin for sure. Check out the 1973 Presidential Inauguration parking sign hanging in my bar, O'Neil's - 5 miles away from the hospital I was born in, dated 5 days before my birth, referencing the biggest Inauguration protest in history. All that and they serve Goose Island IPA on tap. Love O'Neil's.
I’ve never been big into country music itself (though it’s influence on many bands I like is clear), so I never figured to go to Nashville. I would have thought that I would have gone to the more blues based Memphis to pop my Tennessee cherry, but a girl I once dated introduced her friend to my friend and then three or four years later, there I was for the wedding. And I gotta say, I like that town. It’s a classic example of the progressive, artsy community that forms like a pearl in response to the irritating parasitic Christian Red State South (also see St. Petersburg FL, Austin TX, and I’ve heard, Athens GA). After meeting a bunch of family, we went to a great little vintage store named Katy K’s to get some country gear. I purchased my first real belt buckle. It’s pretty much the best. Later in the weekend a Nashvillian asked me if we were making fun of Nashville by wearing our gear or giving props. I assured her that there was no making-fun involved; we’re just tremendous dork jackasses and really do love this stuff.
Nashville is probably most famous for the Grand Ole Opry and it’s former and sometimes current home at the Ryman Auditorium downtown. This was apparently a non-alcoholic venue back in the day, but fortunately for Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson, etc., they could run across the side alley between sets and go in the back entrances to any of several honky tonks on the strip for a few quick shots. Nowadays they’re very touristy and you can see live music every day all day at any of these places. We went to Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Legend’s Corner Bar, Robert’s, and pretty much all of them. Of greater interest to me on the strip was Jack’s Bar-B-Que, where I had possibly the most delicious beef brisket dinner I’ve ever had – twice. I couldn’t even order anything else the second time; the brisket was like I don’t think so, kid. Get some. So I did. I’d put it up there with Stubbs in Austin.
On the afternoon of the wedding, the groom, the co-groomsman, and I hung out around town. Of note, was a war reenactment that we stumbled upon at the Tennessee Heritage Festival. It was a reenactment of WW2 though, not the Civil War. I’m not a fan of war reenactments – I just think it’s weird and creepy that people do them and people enjoy watching them – but if I had to go to one in the South, I would have preferred to see one of the Civil War, if only so I could gauge the crowd. It’s not like anyone watching was rooting for the Germans, though the park was right next to Germantown so it’s possible that there were a few Nazi's in the crowd. Germantown was actually having an Oktoberfest which was fun. We didn't wait in line for any beer but I did pick up a plastic cup chicken toy which would figure prominently in the rest of the day.
The wedding was a traditional Jewish ceremony in a beautiful setting at the Country Music Hall of Fame. As one of the two groomsmen, I was responsible for one of the speeches after dinner, so I was sure to moderate my intake. In addition to the speech, I handled the emceeing duties for the string of speeches in front of the crowd of approx. 250 people. First up was the father of the bride, who I introduced and then interrupted 15 seconds later to move the microphone closer to him on a request from a member of the wedding party. He shot me a look which I didn't quite understand at the time but in retrospect was something along the lines of "kid you have no idea how much I'm about to blow the doors off this place. get away from my mic". And that he did - brought the house down. It was later described as the "best speech I've ever heard at a wedding". Then her sister got up and delivered a poignant speech that touched the crowd. So at this point, they've laughed, then they've cried, and then I had to step up for my speech. Fortunately, I had my little plastic cup chicken squeak toy in my pocket as a prop in case my speech started to crash. But, following those two speeches I didn't have much choice, so at the beginning of the speech I pulled that little baby out of my pocket, held it up to the microphone, and let her fly. Between that and the Conway Twitty joke, I managed to get through it. Great times had by all.
And that's about it for the Heartland Tour Wrap-Up. I was glad to get away and now I'm glad to be back. Congrats to NR and AK on your weddings.