Chicago and I fell in love over a hot dog.
At Wrigley Field, I indulged in a juicy, Vienna beef hot dog, topped with fried onions, ketchup, mustard, bright neon green relish (we need to talk about the color of this relish, Chicago), and some incredibly spicy yet amazing Chicago sport peppers. This was all nicely positioned inside a long, white, poppy seed bun. Paul savored his two bites and agreed-this was a heavenly dog. As I licked my fingers clean and resisted the temptation to jump back into the “hot dogs from heaven” line, I couldn’t help but think, “This is the beginning of something fabulous. I’m in love with another city.”
Shhh…don’t tell Baltimore.
Thanks to The 7 Line and our profound, sometimes worrisome, love for the Mets, this was my first trip to Chicago. The 7 Line is a small, independently owned apparel company, operated by a guy (a genius really) named Darren Meenan. Darren is from Queens and is responsible for producing some of the coolest Met’s apparel for the most die hard Met’s fans. While you’ll never see a Met’s logo on any of his merchandise, there’s no mistake, these t-shirts, sunglasses, stickers, calendars, etc. are made especially for those who have “stayed true to the orange and blue” for many, many years.
Darren also gathers his 7 Line customers together by arranging Mets outings at Citi Field. By following his website or logging in to Facebook or Twitter, anyone can join in on The 7 Line fun. http://the7line.bigcartel.com
So just how did we end up in Chicago?
Several months ago, Darren advertised his interest in taking The 7 Line on the road to Wrigley. He wasn’t sure just how many people would want to join him, so he asked for those who were interested to let him know. Paul and I jumped at the opportunity. And guess what? So did 500 other Mets fans from 14 different states! I told you this guy was a genius!
We bought our tickets, booked our flights on Southwest, and waited eagerly for our first trip to Wrigley. When our bright orange Wrigley Road Trip shirts arrived in the mail with our tickets, our excitement was indescribable.
We flew Southwest out of Newark at 6pm on a Friday night. We love Southwest, but we don’t love Newark Airport. Is there something that can be done about this nightmare they fly planes in and out of? We have yet to get out of this place on time, even on an airline that prides itself on always being “on time”. On this particular trip, we boarded the plane, backed away from the terminal, and waited our turn in line to take off. Since we were 18th in line (literally, I’m not exaggerating here), we had plenty of time to get to know the guy sitting next to us. You know, the 40 year old guy who says, “I just have to tell you both now, I have a terrible fear of flying. I cry during take-off and landing.”
As you can imagine, this guy and I had plenty to discuss. Paul rolled his eyes as he sat through his first meeting of the “Fearful Fliers Club”. We discussed our anxiety and worry about flying, and he expressed that he was traveling on business and how he was shocked that anyone would put themselves through the torture of flying in an airplane just to go to a baseball game. Meet the Shappirios, buddy. We do this kind of crazy stuff all the time.
Then we took off. Since we had to make a sharp left to head in the direction of the midwest, the plane did some bumping around and since we were sitting on the left side of the plane, we had a great view of the ground below us. The 40 year old guy started to cry and shake and I confidently said, “You are doing well!” and my husband almost fell out of his seat. He couldn’t believe, I, of all people, was consoling this guy.
The flight to Chicago is only about an hour and a half long. Aside from Mr. Anxiety, the flight was very pleasant. We even discovered you can track your flight for free on Southwest.com. This is super reassuring for people like me. You can see your plane is safely gliding across the sky, as well as keep tabs on the elevation, speed, and duration of the flight. Just in case the pilot needs any help, you can be totally prepared.
As expected, the guy next to us cried on the way down and eased any anxiety I might have had about landing by letting me know he thought we were going to hit the houses below us. “Thanks dude. Just when I thought I had it all under control you go and talk about flying into houses.” Luckily, we landed safely without clipping any structures on the way in. We parted ways with teary-eyed Joe and gawked in amazement at Midway Airport and all of its lovely amenities. Newark needs to take an educational field trip to Midway to learn a few things.
We picked up our luggage, hailed a taxi, and headed straight to the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers. Paul and I are Starwood members now so we stay loyal to their brand of hotels. If you travel a lot, Starwood Hotels is where its at. We almost always get upgraded to a better room with club access, and almost always get a free gift upon arrival, such as Starwood points or a beverage coupon good for the duration of our stay.
Since we were exhausted from teaching all day and doing the airport shuffle, we decided to eat dinner at our hotel. We wound up at Shula’s Steakhouse, a chain restaurant we’ve been to in Fort Lauderdale. While it wasn’t exactly what we were looking for as far as food, we were too tired to venture any further. We do have a strong affection for the BBQ Shrimp appetizer at Shulas. They stuff jumbo shrimp with basil, wrap it in bacon, and dunk it in barbecue sauce. Not healthy by any means, but oh so delicious.
Our server at Shula’s was delightful. He was very warm and welcoming to us and gave us all the information we needed to know about getting to Wrigley the next morning. This is what I love the most about traveling. Making a connection with the locals. It is beyond satisfying when somebody goes out of their way to make you feel at home in their city.
The next morning we navigated the Red Line and headed to Wrigley early to get in line with 500 of our friends in orange shirts to claim our spots in the bleachers. The enthusiasm among us was contagious and the Wrigley employees were, for the most part, extremely friendly and accommodating to this Mets invasion. Once we were seated in the center field bleachers, the Mets players began to notice and run by and wave. Even the general manager, Terry Collins, came out to say hello. It was hard not to feel like we were part of something big. And when we saw the photos in the Daily News the next day, we knew we were, indeed, part of something huge. Darren Meenan brought “a sea of orange” on the road and made Mets history at Wrigley.
After the game we met up with our good friend John and his girlfriend at an establishment called Murphys outside of Wrigley. Everyone wanted to know who these people in orange shirts were and where we came from. There were reactions of shock and concern when they realized we’d all traveled from 14 different states, separately, to meet up as one united and devoted group of Mets fans. It goes without saying that even though the Mets lost the game 8-2, our pride as Mets fans never diminished.
For the rest of the trip, Paul and I ate up Chicago. We watched soccer in a packed Irish pub on Sunday morning. We didn’t plan this, we just walked into it. We felt like we stepped out of Chicago and into Ireland for a few hours. The intensity and rivalry was strong as fans indulged in Guiness and Irish breakfasts while belting out their team anthems amidst rounds of applause and cries of outrage.
For lunch on Sunday, we gave the deep dish pizza at Lou Manalti’s a try. We went for the traditional Chicago style deep dish for two. I’m pretty sure it was enough food for ten and I’m not sure it fit our definition of pizza. It was a solid brick of cheese, tomatoes, and sausage and it wasn’t very flavorful. It definitely did not even come close in comparison to my heavenly hot dog and I was filled with some regret that we didn’t return to Wrigley for lunch instead.
Between eating, we strolled through beautiful Millennium Park. The parks in Chicago are gorgeous and clean. In fact, the city itself is the cleanest city I’ve ever seen. And this bean thing is hilarious…
I experimented taking photos of these perfect flowers. Yes, yes, I know. I should stick to writing, but I just had to capture these and Paul isn’t fond of flower photography.
At night we took an architecture boat tour. The river and its bridges reminded me of the Seine in Paris. While sitting on the top of the boat, Paul captured some amazing photos of the unique and beautiful buildings of Chicago. Paul likes to call these buildings the “cd towers”…
After our tour we took a long walk through the city of Chicago. In an effort to find a restaurant frequented by Anthony Bourdain, I directed Paul and I into a somewhat deserted meatpacking district. We eventually did find the restaurant, the Publican, filled to capacity, and without reservations, decided we’d give the place a try another time. We must have walked a good 6 or 7 miles on Sunday and eventually, in an effort just to find a place to sit, wound up at Harry Caray’s Steakhouse eating a dinner of bruschetta appetizers and a side of creamed spinach. Yes, I know that sounds strange, but that brick of deep dish pizza kept us full even through dinner. While resting our legs and snacking on appetizers, I saw a side of creamed spinach go by and I knew I just had to have it. The fact that the server didn’t even think twice about getting me a side order of creamed spinach for dinner, made me feel assured that this spinach was going to be good. And, of course, it was delicious, like I expected!
Like all of our vacations, this one ended quickly. Before we knew it, it was time to head back to Midway and our Met’s trip to Chicago was over.
But my love for Chicago is just beginning. We will be back. I’ve got a list of things I need to do, food I need to eat, and places I need to see in the Windy City.
See you on our trip across the country this summer Chicago! We are going to hit you up on our way back! Have a hot dog ready for me!