Balls! Shiny balls, fiery balls, balls!: Chicago, IL

Chicago Skyline

My journey to Chicago begins with a trip on the Metra system: double-decker trains. Seats above and seats below, what a revelation! We’ll get right on that once our rail system learns how to cope with leaves, the wrong kind of snow, too much heat and, worst of all, people wanting to use it.

MetraO brave new world…

My first stop is the Adler Planetarium:

Adler Planetarium

I’ve come here to uncover the mysteries of the universe, and find out what happened to the sets from Seven Days*.

Atwood Sphere Seven Days


* Three full seasons that lasted, with amazing plots like:

“Someone who calls herself Deloris calls Neverland and knows about Backstep and is making threats, which they don’t take seriously. But she then gets a sample of Frank’s voice and makes a phone call which makes them think Frank has gone mad. But when they learn it was Deloris, the[y] send Frank back to deal with her. And when he arrives, Deloris wants to play games with him. So he carries it out while they try to find out who Deloris is.”

On an unrelated note, if you want a quick demonstration of how little you’ve achieved in life, the Planetarium is happy to oblige, with a copy of an infographic detailing 50 years of space exploration:

50 Years of Space ExplorationTo my American audience, this is basically how roundabouts work in the UK.

The Planetarium features several interactive exhibits, including a video game version of the Moon landing. I managed to land my pixelated astro-self on our moon flawlessly, which frankly puts me at the head of the line for the next space missions. Something I’ve been telling NASA for years, but they never call me back, no matter how threatening I get.

Amongst the lovely displays, scientists take time to remind us that they are all heartless and cruel:

Pluto Revolve In Peace

Too soon.

Next to the Planetarium is an Aquarium, as we are in the Arium section of the city. Look, if I may go on a tangent for a moment: I know Chicago is a somewhat liberal place; President Obama lived here. I know that the march for marriage equality is going to win out, but seriously, sometimes you go too far:

Adam and TroutIt’s Adam and Steve, not Adam and Trout.

In fairness to the liberals, this statue may have been commissioned after President Bush’s visionary belief that man and fish can co-exist peacefully.

As that image bores its way into your soul, I’m off to the next part of this ballwind tour:

The Bean Okay, “bean”, technically.

The Bean continues to remind us that for all we, as a species, can achieve, all we really need is something shiny to look at. The square is constantly bustling with people staring at, being pictured staring at, being pictured next to the shiny thing. It doesn’t matter that it’s the middle of December and too cold for this sort of nonsense, they continue to flock to the shiny thing like idi—

Bean Below Oooooohhhh.

As is apparently a winter tradition in American cities, Chicago too has an ice rink set up, just next to the bean.


En route to my next stop, I grab a coffee and due to some still-inexplicable screw up I end up with three coffees. Since I don’t need to wander around Chicago like I’m in an earthquake simulator, I go to find a couple of homeless folk (of which Chicago has an abundance) to give them to. There’s a guy directly outside, but, rather strangely, he’s already booked. A guy in a three-piece suit is sitting down on the street beside him and they’re having a great chat.

Overhead Railway

Up next is a trip to the Sears Tower, the imposing 108-storey skyscraper in the heart of Chicago. In 2009 Willis Group Holdings, as part of their lease agreement, were given the right to change the tower’s name, hence why it is now known as “Of course we’re going to keep calling it Sears Tower, nice investment”.

View from Sears

I should preface the next picture by introducing a special guest star on my trip. He was originally intended to be a gift, but scheduling / Sandy got in the way, so he was just loitering in the boot (trunk) of my car for the best part of a month before I remembered him (I’d be a great parent). So now he’s going to accompany me and get odd looks from strangers.

Bertie at Sears TowerHe’s Bertie the Bear

Anyway, I came up with the cunning plan of going up to the top of the Sears Tower at sunset, but somehow, someway, someone else had a similar idea (or rather, nearly two dozen someones). My point is, enjoy this picture, because it’s unique.

Sears Tower Sunset

After the sun’s departure is documented by roughly 1,500 photos (but just think of what Instagram can do to them!), I leave the Sears Tower and head for a quick bite at Giordano’s to try the renowned Chicago-style stuffed pizza. This unholy heap of food:

Giordano's Pizza

I know what you’re thinking: he’s someone who takes pictures of food. It’s true. I’ve done it now. That’s something you can never take back, like your virginity or calling your wife fat.

Giordano's PizzaWhich she will be if she eats all of this.

Special thanks to the lovely waitress who was dealing with a table of six teenagers (I was about to say “youths”. I’ll be voting Tory next.) who wanted a picture of their pizza adventure. She politely took the first guy’s camera and took a group shot. Then a second guy produced a second camera. Patiently she did the same. Then a third guy produced his camera and no, she ain’t got time for that, third guy, go away. You’re all going to have them on your facespaces anyway, youths.

I leave, with most of my pizza (one slice is the size of a baby gorilla), and while I was intending to take in some blues in this great music town, I end up returning to the ice skating rink. Everyone’s having a warm, fuzzy time. Not just the skaters, but the crowds around and above who are just enjoying the festivities. It feels all cosy and Christmassy. [L: Yeesh. “Cosy and Christmassy”. Remember when you used to be cool?] Not really, no.

Skating Skating in Chicago Skating

As the skaters skate on, my time in Chicago comes to a close and I head back out on the Metra. But will I go top-deck or lower-deck? I’m frozen with panic. I have no idea which to pick. Britain’s not ready for these.


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