My Kind of Town

My only full day in Chicago had a pretty packed schedule. Two more fellow travelers joined the caravan Friday morning (they had arrived in Chicago the day before and had their own full day of sightseeing), and the four of us headed to the Eleven City Diner for brunch prior to the Cubs game. I swear I took a picture of my meal, but I must have erased it in my rush to consume said meal, the Eleven City French Toast. Luckily, through the wonders of the Internet, I can just show you someone else's photo (thanks, Flickr user Emperor Anton!):

That's challah bread french (or freedom, if you prefer) toast, with strawberries, bananas, and toasted coconut. Probably the best french/freedom toast I've had.

Fellow Traveler #1 decided to go for it and ordered the Tom Waits 2 A.M. Breakfast 1987: two eggs, two pancakes, two strips of bacon, two sausages, home fries, and toast.

The Eleven City gets a big thumbs up all around.

Then it was onto Wrigley the way it should be seen: nine innings on a clear afternoon, with the "nickel-dime people," "the other 15," at the playground for the ... nevermind (just go here to catch up on the lingo...VERY NSFW language, so listen with the headphones, fool.) It makes you feel good to be alive to get off the train, head down into Wrigleyville, and stroll on through the front gate (we had to use the bleacher entrance Tuesday night). We had pretty kick-ass seats, too (thanks, Fellow Traveler #1!), and we got to see your American Idol, Illinoisan (Illinoyance?) Lee DeWyze, throw out the first pitch. OMG!

I had to settle down for a bit after lots of picture taking, partly because I was getting a little out of control and partly because I was attempting to keep score. I generally get bored after doing this for an inning, but I figured for my first full game at Wrigley, I should at least try to make an effort. Plus, Fellow Traveler #3 (we're giving his fiancée Fellow Traveler #2 because she's a lady, and that's how we treat ladies on Tinsel and Rot, although now that I think about it, being called "#2" isn't that much of a treat...oh well, this parenthetical aside has gone on too long...what I have written, I have written) was also keeping score, so I had a fallback if I either got distracted or went out to get some food.

And, let me tell you, friends, I did get up to get some food. And when I did, I came upon one of the greatest things I have ever seen, at a ballpark or anywhere. I was originally just going to get a hot dog, but then I saw something called the "Northside Twist Giant Soft Pretzel." The phrase "Giant Soft Pretzel" and the fact that it was $10 compelled me to purchase it. When I ordered it, the vendor asked me if I could handle this "B.A.P.--Big Ass Pretzel." I assured her I could. Then she handed me a small pizza box. I opened it and fell in love.

Now that's a pretzel, with mustard, icing, and, I assume, nacho cheese (it went unopened). When I brought it back to my seat, the fellow travelers were duly impressed, as were the people behind me. I let a guy further down our row take a piece and offered it up to the other guys behind me, but they said they'd be more interested in watching me try to finish it. It all went, with a bit of help from the fellow travelers, and I received kudos from the guys behind us when the game ended.

As if the pretzel and the sheer joy of being at Wrigley weren't enough, we were also lucky enough to see someone pretty cool sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." After getting his intro from the PA announcer Jeff Garlin from "Curb Your Enthusiasm" started off by saying, "Hey, can you believe it, it's me, Jeff Garlin!" and then led a pretty strong rendition. Sure, it wasn't as cool as Mr. T's take, but it was more on key.

Unfortunately, the game itself was another disaster for the Cubs, starting with giving up three runs before they even got to bat (though they put up four in the bottom of the first to take back the lead) and bottoming out with a horrid outing from erstwhile ace Carlos Zambrano, who gave up three runs on four hits (including a homer to Garret Jones, who went 5-for-6 on the day) in one inning of work, bringing his ERA up to 7.07 for the season. Zambrano took the loss, as the Pirates won 10-6.

After some souvenir shopping and a quick look at Uncle Buck's apartment building (which my Internet info had as the wrong address, meaning I have pictures of the building next to Uncle Buck's; I blame myself, as the other building was clearly the more logical site), we hopped on the train and headed toward Great Lake, which GQ's Alan Richman claims has the best pizza in America. Since two of the fellow travelers had had Italian the night before, we didn't stop there for a full pie (there were no tables available anyway), but they do sell slices, so I bought one for $5.50. I forget what all was on it, but I remember mushroom and garlic and some kind of fancy aged cheese. It's hard to judge on just one, warmed-up slice, but it was pretty damn tasty.

The other fellow travelers, due mostly to my ineptitude/poor sense of time (sorry, fellow travelers), did not have time for dinner, though they did sample some of the baked goods at A Taste of Heaven, which seemed to be enjoyed by all (I had a German chocolate cupcake, and it was pretty good, though not anywhere near the one from NYC's Buttercup Bake Shop).

Then we hopped on a bus toward the Old Town School of Folk Music, where we were to see Carrie Rodriguez, The Pines, and Tim Easton. Well, three of us were going to see Carrie Rodriguez. One of us had decided to see The Pines and Tim Easton and then hop in a cab to FitzGerald's in Berwyn to see The Knitters. Guess which one of us that was?

But I'm getting ahead of myself. We got to to the Old Town School just before the show started, so there wasn't much time to soak the place in. But there were lots of interesting photographs on the walls, and the theater itself was really cool. Photography wasn't allowed, so you'll just have to go to the Old Town School's website to look at pictures and read up on the history of the place (or better yet, just go to Chicago and check it out for yourself). I was a little bummed at having such a rushed experience there, but I made my bed.

Tim Easton had a really strong set (if you've never heard his song "Next to You," you oughta, because it's a good one), and The Pines, whom I'd never heard before, had a few good songs in their set, too. But after they were done, I wandered around the school halls for a bit looking at the pictures, bought an Old Town School of Folk Music t-shirt (T-shirt #3 on the trip so far), and headed out to find a cab to take me to FitzGerald's, which I was looking forward to almost as much as I had been looking forward to Wrigley.

Why would I be looking so forward to going to a club in suburban Chicago? Was it because I really liked The Knitters? Well, sure, I like them just fine, and any opportunity to hear "Dry River" played should be acted upon in my book. But that wasn't the main reason. Was it because the club sounded like a really cool place? Yeah, that had something to do with it, mainly based on the excellent coffee-table book, Live from FitzGerald's. But that I wasn't leaving a concert just because of what I read in a cool book.

No, there was really one main reason why I was taking a cab (something I hate doing, by the way, but public transportation wasn't a reasonable, timely option) to Berwyn, Illinois, to see the Knitters play in a place I'd read about in a book. And that reason is that FitzGerald's is where one of my all-time favorite movie scenes was filmed. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the "Babysitting Blues":

Yes, I have stood mere feet from where Elisabeth Shue and Albert Collins sang "Babysitting Blues." I can't tell you how happy that makes me. And how sad I am that there isn't an official soundtrack for "Adventures in Babysitting." There are so many great songs in that movie (in addition to "Babysitting Blues," there's The Crystals' "And Then He Kissed Me," Edwin Starr's "Twenty Five Miles," and Southside Johnny's "Future in Your Eyes," among others) that it seems impossible that there isn't an official soundtrack. Someone must pay for this.

I'm getting off track again. FitzGerald's was everything I'd hoped it would be. There's a really cool vibe to the place, with neat stuff decorating the walls, including a bad-ass accordion signed on the keys by everyone from Garth Hudson to Boozoo Chavis.

I realize I'm sort of discrediting The Knitters here. I was, after all, going to see them play, not just stare at the walls at FitzGerald's. I could have easily gone to FitzGerald's Tuesday night for open mic night, but I wanted to see a real show there. So when I saw The Knitters were playing there, but on the same night that we already had tickets for the Old Town show, I started to do the math in my head (always a dangerous proposition) to see if it was possible to see at least half of the Old Town show and most of the Knitters show. And it wound up working out perfectly, because I got to FitzGeralds's about 10 minutes before the show started and found a good corner at stage left where I wasn't blocking anyone's view.

The Knitters (John Doe, Exene Cervenka, D.J. Bonebrake, Dave Alvin, and Johnny Ray Bartel, if you were wondering; Cervenka and Alvin pictured above) sounded as good as ever, and did particularly strong versions of the aforementioned "Dry River," "Wreck on the Highway," "Rock Island Line," and X's "I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts," whose title runs through my head on an almost daily basis. The Knitters always put on a fun show (or at least they try; I am thinking of a Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors show at which the predominantly older audience seemed too perplexed to engage in the give-and-take necessary to create a fine show), and I assumed everybody was in on the fun at FitzGerald's, until a tipsy gal turned to me at the end of the show and asked, "I liked it, but do you think they were for real?" I assured her they were, but she seemed hesitant to take my word for it. I can only hope she was able to find John or Exene after the show to inquire upon their realness.

I planned to buy a Knitters shirt to support the cause, but then I saw a FitzGerald's shirt and plans changed. So I bought the FitzGerald's shirt (I'm wearing it now, in fact--if only I blogged live on a webcam) and bought something else from the Knitters' table (it just occurred to me I haven't told the person I bought the item about that, so I'll keep it on the down low). Then I headed back to the Blue Line train that took me downtown, where I transferred to the Red Line to get closer to the hotel. It occurred to me that I hadn't eaten since that cupcake about six hours ago, so I bought a banana and some peanut butter and crackers at 7-Eleven, walked around for a bit, and took a picture of the building used as the exterior for Chez Paul in "The Blues Brothers" (i.e., the restaurant where Jake and Elwood harass Mr. Fabulous into rejoining the band and Jake asks the immortal question, "How much for the women?"). It was right around the corner from our hotel. I suppose I looked odd taking a picture at a little after midnight, but so be it.

So, to recap, the day featured: a hearty breakfast, a full game at Wrigley, the biggest pretzel I've ever seen, a strong slice of pizza, a decent cupcake, two concerts, and seeing three places where my favorite movies were filmed.

I'd call that a good day. Thanks, Chicago. Go Hawks.

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