Writing in Chicago

I’m in Chicago this weekend and most of next week; my wife has a professional conference here and I get to tag along and soak up the city. I love this town, and if I controlled the universe and could orchestrate my life, I’d probably fix myself with a nice brownstone in the Gold Coast area and just revel in this city until I retire (at which point, PEI, here we come!).

My plan was to get some writing done in the hotel room while my wife is off at meetings and conference panels, and in fact, I’ve done quite a bit already; last week, in Texas, I knocked out two new drafts of long-troubling short stories, and yesterday, as it rained outside, I began work on a third. This morning, I read a story from a friend of mine and offered some comments, then went back to work on my own story, but I made the mistake of opening the window, and I didn’t last long at the desk. Compared with our summer weather in the Middle East, and last week’s weather in Texas (where we were visiting family), the weather here in Chicago is gorgeous, so today I rode the El down to the loop and then walked over to the newly revamped Sears Tower, with the intent to visit the new observation deck there. Word was, the new owners of the building built these clear glass “pods” in some of the 103rd-floor windows, so you can actually stand inside the window and gaze through the clean nothing between your feet all the way to the street below. I don’t suffer much from vertigo and generally love heights (despite my back-breaking tumble from a tree two years ago), and I was looking forward to the chance for a Spider-Man view of the building, but when I arrived, the line wrapped around the block, and I decided to grab a bit of lunch instead. I think I’m going to head out early tomorrow morning and try again, when the line might be a few dozen people shorter and I can more comfortably enjoy the long wait.

Instead, I walked a few blocks west to check out a diner I’d read about, Lou Mitchell’s, a 1923 diner that bills itself as the start of Route 66 and is famous for their fluffy omelets and homemade pastries. I arrived right at lunch time, and the place was jumping, but the service, mostly from delightfully cliched old women I kept wanting to call Flo and Alice, was swift, friendly, and efficient. The line was almost out the door but I was seated–at one of a series of nifty U-shaped bars–in minutes and had ordered and was eating just 10 minutes later. Though it was a bit noisy, the atmosphere was classic and the food fantastic; I ordered a simple breakfast (which they serve all day) of two scrambled eggs, with hash browns and toast. The eggs were the thickest, fluffiest eggs I’ve seen in my life, bigger than my two fists together, and the toast tasted like it was made not from bread but from pure butter, squared off and fried crisp. And the coffee, though nothing earth shattering, was nice and rich, the way I like it, and came in true diner style, tossed onto the table to slosh, just a few drops, over the rim of the thick mug and into the heavy saucer below. Their fresh-squeezed orange juice, by the way, tastes like liquid fruit. Amazing.

Afterward, I decided to made my trip downtown worthwhile by hoping on the Brown line and riding the El around the Loop and out into the city. I didn’t go all the way to the end of the line, but I did ride across the river, through the city to North Ave, and up into Lincoln Park a ways, before I realized it was time to head back. The Brown is practically a tour train; it rolls slowly from stop to stop, easing through wide intersections, around turns, and across the river as though pausing for photographs (which I took plenty of), and it makes for a leisurely ride. When I hopped off and transferred to the Red line back into the city, we dipped underground and shot through stop after stop, making what the return trip in less than half the time.

All in all, a wonderfully satisfying afternoon. Tonight is the first of Navy Pier’s twice-weekly summer fireworks, and the weather is perfect for that, too. Better still, my wife’s conference schedule, unusually, is wide open this evening, so I’m looking forward to a quiet night on the beach. Tomorrow morning, it’s back to Sears Tower, and then maybe, if I can resist the bright blue skies and cool breeze, I’ll get back to work. Or else I’ll just take a notebook and pen over to Grant Park and gaze at the Buckingham Fountain and Lake Michigan beyond, holding my pen thoughtfully and acting like a writer but, let’s face, simply enjoying the view instead.

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

3 thoughts on “Writing in Chicago

  1. Although I’m reading this 3 yrs. later, I can’t help but comment on your assessment of my city. Lou Mitchell’s was my destination years ago when I worked in the same block. And the cream in that coffee you had there is whipping cream, not half-and-half like so many other places. And you left out the Milk Duds! Next time you’re in town, try a grilled ham and cheese on wheat, where the cheese is Wisconsin cheddar, the ham is cut off of the bone and the wheat bread is sliced thick! What great lunches we had there, and it’s been at that location way before I was born.. True Chicago.

    1. Our home of homes is Portland, Oregon, but no kidding, Chicago is our second-favorite city in America. We get out there as often as we have the excuse to. I don’t eat ham myself — I’m a vegetarian — but I’ll definitely recommend the ham and cheese to my wife!

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