September 30th – Chicago

     On a trip full of incredible experiences, Chicago scores one of the top spots. I can’t measure it against my favorite days of hiking and camping because the activities are so different, but it’s certainly up there with them. I found a lot of reasons to like Chicago. There was the gorgeous skyline, the wonderful pizza, and the people (most of whom were friendly). I really don’t know what else I could ask for!

     Before reentering Chicago, I stopped at a McDonald’s to borrow their Wifi. I haven’t yet become callous enough to use a restaurant’s services without purchasing something, so I went to the counter to order a strawberry banana smoothie. There, I met Alonzo – the happiest McDonald’s worker I’ve ever seen. He greeted me and asked me how my day was going. Before I could answer, he told me that his day was “pretty dope.” After taking my order, he asked about me again, so I told him about my trip. That excited him even more and he said he wanted to do the same thing someday. I encouraged him to do it.

     When my smoothie came out, I sat down and got to work on the serious task I had come to do; replenish my depleted supply of audiobooks. Two caught my eye; The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde and The Republic by Plato. I’m looking forward to getting started on them!

     With my books downloaded, I got back in my car and drove into the city. I intended to start my walking tour of Chicago at the Ernest Hemingway Birthplace and Museum, so when “Hemingway House” showed up as a search result on Google Maps, I selected it. I thought that if Hemingway was born and lived at a particular location, it would be called his house. I learned my mistake when I walked up to the large glass doors of the Hemingway House and saw the smartly dressed desk clerk. Apparently, the Hemingway House is an upscale apartment complex that has nothing to do with the famous author, except for the use of his name. The clerk even looked up from his desk and gave me a look that said, “How dare a lowly commoner stand outside my door – wearing jeans, no less!”

     I did make it to the Ernest Hemingway Birthplace and Museum on the next try. There were two buildings to tour, and I only had time to go through one, since I also wanted to walk and get dinner in downtown Chicago. I settled on the museum because I didn’t know very much about Hemingway. Despite my interest in literature, I have not read any of his works yet.

     The museum volunteer was a little too friendly for my taste. She would have told me stories at the front desk all day if I had let her. I sat through one story, in which she took ten minutes to narrate the tragic history of a BBC documentary of Hemingway’s life and how it happened that this museum owned the only remaining public copy of the film. At the end of this story, I extricated myself and headed into the museum itself.

     Inside, I found lots of pictures and plaques along with several artifacts from the author’s life. learned that Ernest Hemingway was born in 1899 in Oak Park (a small city that sits on Chicago’s western border) and went to school like most boys and girls do. After finishing high school, he became a news reporter and kept that job until he joined the military in 1916. He spent two years driving ambulances near the front lines before a blast of shrapnel severely injured him and sent him to a hospital back in the United States. Near the end of his time in the military, he met and fell in love with a nurse named Agnes. When his injury sent him home, he received a polite letter from Agnes, in which she told him she did not share his romantic feelings. Her rejection devastated him and many historians attribute the failure of his four ensuing marriages to that early heartbreak. He began his career as an author in 1926 and wrote six novels (among other works) before his death in 1961.

     I left as the museum closed, and my new friend at the front desk offered me a box of garlic knots, saying that she was too full to eat them. I politely declined and continued on my way – toward my own dinner, and the Magnificent Mile.

     The Magnificent Mile is a famous stretch of Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. It’s full of people, cars, restaurants, shopfronts, and huge buildings. I managed to find free parking, but I did have to walk a mile to get back to Michigan Avenue. The walk gave me the chance to see the skyline and to notice the moon as well.

      I made my way in a leisurely fashion to Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria. Two people I worked with in California have visited Chicago many times and both recommended this place. It was certainly popular when I got there. I waited an hour wait to sit down, but when the deep dish Chicago Classic Pizza came to my table, I knew the wait had been worth it. Sausage, cheese, sauce, and bread never tasted so good!

     After dinner, I walked back up the Magnificent Mile and detoured through some of Millenium Park. The sky was beginning to darken, so most of my pictures didn’t turn out very well. The walk was beautiful though, and I found a plaque that explained why. The many pavilions, fountains, gardens, and monuments that constitute Millenium Park were finished in 2004, and cost four hundred seventy-five million dollars to complete!  I am just one of the twenty-five million persons who are estimated to visit the park this year.

     Despite the good time I was having, I did not want to be out too long past dark since I’d have to walk through a few of the less populated parts of the city on my way back to my parking spot. So I called an end to the evening, had a safe walk to my car, and ended my night back at the Illinois State Beach.

     I enjoyed every bit of Chicago that I explored, but I know there’s a lot more to see. Maybe that’s why I liked it so much – I just can’t wait to go back!

August 30th – Flowers, Flight and Fun

     Just as I hoped, today was much calmer than yesterday. I still spent a lot of time out and about, but I took a slower pace.

     I started the day with a peaceful walk through the Kubota Japanese Garden. From what I read, the unique aspect of the garden is that it follows Japanese principles of design while utilizing plants native to the area. I only recognized a handful of the flowers (that is quite normal for me when visiting gardens) and was greatly impressed with the variety of colors on display – in both the flowers and the plants themselves.

     I also enjoyed the bridges and waterfalls that fit in seamlessly with the environment. There were several main paths with side paths branching off, leading to different levels of the waterfalls. I followed the side paths and thankfully managed not to get lost!

     My next stop was the Museum of Flight which is located next to Boeing Airfield, and (as you’ll see) it contains a lot of Boeing Airplanes and historical information. I spent at least five hours exploring. It was huge! I started in the main building which had six enormous rooms full of planes that spanned the history of mechanical flight from its beginning, through both World Wars and up to the Korean War. There was also a section on the Space Race.  I saw the Boeing 1, the first plane William Boeing made (he even flew it himself apparently).

     I learned that mail delivery was essential to the development of airplanes – it provided the economic opportunities that attracted businessmen like Boeing. The use of planes in World War I encouraged further improvements. The airline industry really got started soon after that, as courier planes started carrying passengers along with their packages. The Boeing 80 was one of these planes and had a compartment for mail in addition to a cab that could fit 18 passengers.

     In other rooms, I saw World War I and II aircraft from many nations. My favorite plane was the M-21 Blackbird, which I saw when I came back into the main room. This was a variant on the A-12, which was eventually developed into the famous SR-71 Blackbird, a super-fast, long range reconnaissance plane. The plane on display (the M-21) was modified to carry an unmanned aircraft for further reconnaissance work. Only two of these planes were made. The first one was destroyed in a crash with its drone and this is the only other one of its kind.

     There was another building (with only one room) that was devoted to the Space Shuttle program. I skimmed over that one because it contained mostly videos and information boards, with information that I could read in a book. I walked through that building and found a large outdoor display area which contained another impressive collection of planes, including modern passenger jets and more war planes.

     I didn’t take pictures here because I was almost airplaned-out after touring through the exhibits inside. I did still enjoy looking though. They had a B-17 Flying Fortress – a World War II bomber so famous that even I know about it.

     They also had the first two super-successful modern airliners, which were made in the late 1930’s; the Boeing 247 and DC-3. Apparently, when William Boeing came out with the 247, he would only sell it to United Airlines, so McDonnell Douglass made the DC-3 and sold it freely to all airlines. Because he had a larger market, Douglass outsold Boeing by a wide margin and set Boeing a few steps back in the airline business.

     Of course, Boeing survived and has made thousands of passenger planes since. The museum had many of them, including the 707 (Air Force One), 727, 737, 747, and 787. Think of how much space those five jets alone take up! And they filled only filled about a third of the pavilion!

     Even though I was tired of looking at planes, it was hard to leave. This was an incredible museum and I wanted to go back over what I had skipped. But I called it quits and drove to Gas Works Park, which sits across the bay from Seattle. The equipment at the park was used to make gas out of coal and oil for the first half of the twentieth century. It shut down when Seattle transitioned to using natural gas. about twenty years later, after the city opened the park up to the public.

     Several people told me that there are two great places to view the Seattle skyline. One is up in the Space Needle and the other is at Gas Works Park. The first one is expensive and the second is free, so I picked the second. The view was worth every penny I didn’t pay! I walked around the park, then sat down to write and read a little. Finally, I gave my mind a break and took the opportunity to just enjoy the view.

       For dinner, I met my Uncle and Aunt at a restaurant in the Capitol Hill district of Seattle. Since I don’t know the fancy names for what I ate, I’ll just have to say that I had steak with small sides of salad, pickled blackberries, turnips, and flatbread. When dessert came, I discovered that a new favorite ice cream flavor – cinnamon basil! Yes, it did taste like both cinnamon and basil, and yes, the flavors mixed wonderfully! I doubt that I will find another place serving it, but I enjoyed it there.

     That wraps it up for today and just about wraps it up for Seattle as well! Tomorrow I will leave civilization behind me and drive over to the Olympic Penninsula.

August 29th – Seattle

     When I thought about leaving on this trip, I found it difficult to imagine myself navigating safely across the USA. I’ve never been good at using maps and directions. They definitely do not come second nature to me – fourth or fifth nature is about where my navigation skills are. I knew I wanted to be places. I just hoped I could deal with moving between places. Then I remembered that Google Maps exists and my problem was solved. Type in the address and follow the directions. It’s that easy.

     Then, when I got to Seattle, I wondered if I could make my way through the crowded and confusing city streets without getting lost.

     Well, there’s an app for that – of course, there is. There are apps which tell you how to arrive at your destination by car, foot, public transit, or Uber. That’s pretty cool. So instead of allowing myself to get lost, I used an app.

     I started out in Edmunds, where my Uncle lives. He drove me to the commuter rail that would take me into downtown Seattle. On the ride to Seattle, I saw the ocean to my right but was rather distracted by the people squishing in on me from all sides. Especially the ones on my left who were reminiscing about their young adult days of picking fruit in Northern California. I did learn that harvesting peaches is a very uncomfortable task because it is impossible not to get covered in peach hair, which is apparently quite itchy.

     When I exited the rail, I didn’t know exactly where to start. I had downloaded the magical app that would lead me safely through Seattle and I had a general idea of where the places I wanted to visit were located, but I didn’t have a route planned. To figure out where I would go first, I flopped out of the tide of humans I had been swimming with and sat on a bench. I plotted a course to the Seattle Center, which is a public gathering place that was built in 1962 for the World’s Fair. It is a center for performances and activities and includes (among other things) the Seattle Pacific Museum and the Space Needle.

     I had a mile and a half to walk from the transit station and I enjoyed seeing the city as I went. When I started on my way it was 8:20 A.M. and the sky was still cloudy, making for a cool morning stroll.

     I arrived at the Pacific Science Center, hoping to sign up for tickets to see the traveling exhibit of Terracotta Warriors (funerary statues of the first Emperor of China’s army). However, I found that the tickets were slightly beyond my price range, so I decided to leave the exhibit for the real tourists who come with overflowing wallets.

     Moving on from the Science Center, I walked the short distance to the Space Needle and sat near the base to find my next stop.

     I decided to go to the Olympic Sculpture Park and then walk along the waterfront. At the Park, I found three pieces of art that interested me. The first is entitled Wake and is modeled after the lines of the ocean – waves, ships, etc. The second is called Wandering Rocks and I won’t pretend to know what it is about. It’s supposed to be symbolic of something. And it looked cool, so I took a picture. The last one is a sculpture of a nine-year-old girl, entitled Echo. It is over 46 feet high. I watched for several minutes as two people worked on the upper surface. Watching one of them stand on what looked to be a very precarious work platform made me realize that 46 feet is really really high off the ground.

     As you can see in the last picture, the Sculpture Park borders on the waterfront. When I left the park, I followed the water and eventually made it to Pike Place Market.

     During my tour thus far, I had seen at least six different Starbucks locations. Now I saw the original one – 1912 Pike Street. It was crazily busy, so I got coffee at a different Starbucks that was only a block away.

     I walked through Pike Place Market and saw lots of people, lots of stuff being sold and lots of food. In addition to the open-air marketplace that it is famous for, there are four levels underneath, inhabited by a wide variety of shops. I approached it from the waterfront and walked up several flights of stairs to get to the top level. From there I explored downward where I eventually found the best kind of store there is – a used bookstore.

     Next, I used the underground transit system to get out to the University of Washington. I haven’t been to a university quite that large before, and I was interested in comparing it to Grand Canyon University, where I plan to attend in the fall. The University of Washington didn’t disappoint – it is huge. It took me about half an hour to walk from the southern edge of campus where the transit station was to the center of campus where the tour departed from. I was impressed with the grand buildings that gave off the feeling I’d always imagined I’d find at places like Harvard and Oxford.

     I finished the campus tour and walked back to the subway. When I got back to downtown Seattle, I visited the Waterfall Garden, which is a tiny patch of lush greenery in the heart of the bustling city. The garden is built on what is said to be the footprint of the original UPS office (then called the American Messenger Company) in 1907.

     My next stop was the Frye Museum. I enjoyed all of the walks I took throughout the day, except for this one. There was a steep, long hill, upon which the sun graciously decided to bestow its warm rays. Just as a piece of advice, if you ever tour Seattle, don’t walk east on James Street. I enjoyed the art at the Frye but was not able to take pictures there.

     I finished up at Seattle Public Library. Because of the shape of the building, I couldn’t get a good picture that would communicate the size and awesomeness of the place. It is an eleven story tall library filled with books, media of all sorts, people, comfy seats, meeting rooms, and at least one coffee shop. I looked around for a few minutes, then went up to the eleventh floor and sat down to rest.

     After recovering, I walked to the commuter rail and rode back to Edmonds, where Uncle Ross picked me up. We ate a delectable dinner at home of barbequed pork, fresh salad, corn, and sourdough bread. For dessert, we had fruit, including plums that I was given in Oregon and blueberries from Aunt Dianne’s garden.

     Now that the day is over, it seems to have gone so fast! It went by in a blur of busy people, impatient cars, incredible skyscrapers, and churning feet. Two of those feet were my own. They churned a lot – twelve miles in all. I am thankful for everything I got to see and also for the way I experienced the city. By walking all around, I saw both the good and the bad (thankfully not the dangerous though). Taking public transportation was interesting too, as it gave me a chance to catch a glimpse of the middle-class culture in the city.

     Even in the hugeness of a metropolis like Seattle, people build relationships. On both of my rides on the commuter rail, I listened to people greet each other as friends. From what I heard, think it would be true to say that they primarily see each other on the way to and from work. But that is enough time to talk for a moment and appreciate the presence of a familiar, friendly face. Even the security officers who came back to check on the passengers was able to greet many of them by name. On my trip back to Edmonds, the security officer stuck around for the whole ride. He and the eight people he talked to were making plans to have a barbeque together on the weekend.

     Well, there’s enough for one day! Tomorrow should be a little bit more relaxed. I hope.