Wednesday, September 15, 2010

On the Road - 3: Comrade Bazarov's day(s) off

I decided to combine my Chicago outings into one post.
My cousins here graciously took me out to the city on Saturday and kept me well-fed throughout the day. They even pretended to be tourists and took me to the "touristy" places. I had been to Chicago before (about 8 years ago) so it was nice to visit the city again and refresh my memory.

The first place we visited was the Giant Bean. There is nothing much I can say about it except that it is a bean and it is giant. My friend from Northwestern University informed me today that the structure's official name is the Cloud Gate. But no one calls it that. So we will call it the Giant Bean as well. Situated in the middle of the Millennium Park, the Giant Bean has a very shiny mirror-like metallic surface that reflects the city's famous skyline, providing excellent photo-ops for tourists. Wikipedia tells me the architect Anish Kapoor was inspired by the characteristic liquid shine of Mercury. My friend told me the reflective nature of the Giant Bean caused some considerable controversy a couple of years ago, when the designers of many Chicago skyscrapers filed a lawsuit alleging their copyrights were being violated when tourists snapped pictures of the city's skyline in the Giant Bean and freely distributed these snapshots online. Thankfully common sense prevailed, and a judge threw the case out.

The Giant Bean in its full glory [image:]

Next we took the Chicago architectural boat tour, which takes tourists on a boat ride on the Chicago river, giving them views of various Chicago buildings. The tour was 75 minutes long and quite informative. Our tour guide was obviously knowledgeable and reeled off an impressive amount on information as we passed each building. Some random things I remember from the tour:

  • This dude Montgomery Ward is very important to the city. He wanted to keep open spaces in the city and to this date, he is remembered as the protector of the famous   Grant Park . He also believed everyone should be equal and none of his buildings had corner offices. Finally, he was awesome enough to equip his employees with roller blades so they could glide across wooden floors in their offices, achieving maximum productivity. Way cooler than Google's segway-equipped employees. 

  • The Trump Tower, a 92-feet tall behemoth constructed by Donald Trump, has mostly been a dud. Majority of the penthouses (worth $8 million each) remain unsold, but the building is gorgeous. It is the largest (or second-largest, I forget) reinforced concrete structure in North America.            
Donald Trump's unfulfilled ambition []
  •  Some buildings were constructed in Brutalism style. Aside from being a cool name, Brutalism is an architectural philosophy that emphasizes function and utopian ideas expressed via concrete structures and severe geometric design. The style gained popularity in the 50's to the 70's but has lately fallen out of favor. Prince Charles is a noted critique of this style of architecture, calling it more offensive than rubble. Hey you know what else is more offensive than rubble? British royalty scandals.
  •  A bucket-load of movies were filmed in Chicago. Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Untouchables, Transformers and the megablockbuster The Dark Knight. 
  • Chicago dyes the river green for St. Patrick's Day. 

Chicago River - St. Patrick's day (2009)

Image courtesy of user multisanti on

On Tuesday, I visited Northwestern University to see my friend Max and my cousin. This week is freshmen orientation so the campus was buzzing with activity. Hordes of bubbly people in vociferously purple t-shirts were marching around the campus, guiding anxious parents and students to the right places.

"Maybe I will get drunk later and harass these parents, put some fear into them. They are already nervous so they should be good targets", my friend joked.

The campus is beautiful ("they spend a lot of money on landscaping" - Max) but quite spread out. The Technology Center, Max said, is the largest structure by square-footage after the Pentagon. After I told him the Chicago tour guide said some other structure in Chicago had that honor, he got agitated.

"The Tech is big enough to be its own county. It is its own principality, like Lyxembourg. Protected by the United States. Your tour guide was full of s**t."

NU is situated right on Lake Michigan, offering magnificent vistas of both the hazy Chicago skyline and the vast lake. There is a particular spot on campus where people paint messages on rocks. A popular spot for proposals too, I was told.

The lagoon, an artificial pond created from Lake Michigan

All in all, it was a great visit. Chicago definitely beats LA.
In the next edition of On the Road, I will talk about the pleasant surprise that is Pittsburgh, PA.

Oh and Tony Romo is a tragic genius. I feel for the guy.

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