COLUMBIA — People seem surprised when my wife and I tell them that we went to Chicago for a getaway over Spring Break. I'm not surprised that they are surprised. I understand that nice weather is often associated with spring breaks, and Chicago is not associated with nice weather. But bad weather is just one of many discomforts from which one would get away for a getaway.
We wanted to get away from the children, work duties, people that know us, expectations, chores, meetings — you get the point. Weather was not even in the top five. Some vacationers like to see things, some like to do things, and some like to just be. We wanted all three, and just seeing anything tropical would cost so much the only thing we'd be able to do is be in debt. So, we went for utility and picked the least expensive place that knocked out the greatest number of our top 10 reasons to get away.
Plus, tropical settings are great, but maybe a touch overrated. I find it ironic that many who say they love the sun only spend about 40 hours a year outside. They usually have a comfort range from 70 to 75 degrees, which in Missouri is only a few hours of only several days a year. At a beach, I see people wearing broad hats, SPF 120 sunblock on top of last night's Aloe vera and sunglasses; they are sitting under umbrellas, praying for a breeze, dipping into jellyfish-infested waters just to cool off.
Some like the beach scene because of the water. These are often the same people that avoid public swimming pools because, "Sometimes people pee in there." The ocean is literally the toilet bowl of the planet: animal and human waste, chemicals, dead bodies, everything. Whales give birth in the ocean! Think it through!
Anywhere else, if a stranger sees a woman in her underwear, there is screaming and flailing and sometimes a police report, but intoxicated by the smell of saltwater or chlorine and, Whift! Off come the clothes. Swimwear and underwear are almost exactly the same, except that swimwear is designed to be seen from greater distances. The delusion is so strong that those of us not under the spell are afraid to say anything to those who are. It's like we are all the servants in "The Empress's New Clothes."
Safe drinking water, the English language, medical facilities, human rights, my retirement fund – these are all things from which we did not want a getaway.
I don't want to slam the beach in general. I'll go anywhere if it's cheap enough, but a milestone vacation like this one as an anniversary trip, I wanted to take my wife where we actually wanted to go and not just where everyone else goes.
Chicago to me was a bit more dynamic. It's a world city, yet with a Heartland feel to it. It is diverse, yet it has a distinctive unified spirit. It is sophisticated, yet every year the city dyes its river green to celebrate public drunkenness. It has produced Frank Lloyd Wright and Hemingway and Nat King Cole and others who have enriched the world, yet also Al Capone and Oprah. A husband on vacation in Anguilla has to say, "Look, honey. Driftwood." In Chicago, I said, "Look, honey. A restaurant that was disassembled in Ireland and transplanted two blocks from our hotel." Two nights we went to Second City - the primordial soup kitchen for modern comedy and the alma mater of several of my heroes like Chris Farley, Steven Colbert and Tina Fey.
Plus, nowhere in the Caribbean can one find this level of culinary anointing. New Orleans, yes. Barbados, no. We had Chicago dogs. We had the pizza. We ate at Frontera restaurant, which is supposedly cool because the owner's name is Rick Bayless and he did something impressive once that my wife knows about. All I know is that it was good. My normally sweet, generous, polite wife actually got mad at me for eating my half of the guacamole appetizer. She usually does not even finish her entrée, and I depend on that when I order my food. It's why she looks the way she does and I look the way I do. On that day, she ate hers and then tried to take part of mine, which was not okay, because I'm an only child. She denies all this now, but I was there.
My moral failure was the previous day when we went to an Italian Restaurant named Valero and had tortellini. After the first bite, eating the rest was involuntary. At one point I lost my wherewithal and accidentally kissed one and had to look around and make sure no one saw the event. I'm not proud, but it did happen. This was not accidental in the sense that I did it because I thought it would be cute; it was more like two college students in a movie that were studying too close together and then suddenly fell into each others' eyes and then snapped out of the trance in mid-kiss. It was like that. The tortellini were that good.
So, I learned many things last week. I learned that the Chicago bus system map is so busy and multi-colored and condensed that, thanks to pointillism, if a person holds the map at arm's length and squints, the town looks like Rahm Emanuel's face if he were facing west in one of those '08 Hope posters and if his brain were replaced by Lake Michigan. I learned that my wife and I still really like each other and that it's best to do what we actually want to do and not just what others want to do. They can get their own vacations. And I also learned that even though I say illegal immigration is unacceptable, when it comes to Italian chefs, we have to use common sense. Let their Alfredo be their citizenship test. Just let them in. No, bring them in.
Brad Clemons lives in the Columbia area with his wife, three kids, a visiting student from Korea, and a dog. He has been teaching for nine years, depending on whom you ask.