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TODAY

Wednesday, September 26

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Detour

10:00 a.m. Wake up lazy sister, who is visiting from Boston. Plan to finally go on the famous architecture boat tour featuring Chicago's eclectic mix of old standards and modern favorites. But first, caffeine.

11:30 a.m. Apply liberal amount of SPF 45 sunscreen to exposed skin, including sides of feet. Pray that it will be absorbed before inevitable sweating commences after two minutes outside.

11:45 a.m. Catch train into the city. No whistles from above or people pushing, people shoving. Good thing.

12:11 p.m. Think that maybe wearing black canvas Converse All-Star trainers on a sunny, late-summer day in Chicago might not have been the best idea.

12:14 p.m. Realize that sunscreen was only applied to part of feet, so taking off shoes on the boat will not be a wise option. D'oh!

12:35 p.m. "This... is Grand." Thanks, El Voiceover Guy! Walk to Michigan Avenue Bridge. Plan to buy tickets at the blue awning at the southeast corner of Michigan Avenue and the Chicago River (friend who went on the tour weeks earlier said this was where he and his family went).

12:40 p.m. Walk south on Michigan. See awning at northwest corner. Walk through loud construction outside of the Wrigley Building. Discover that Wendella Boats offers a 60-minute architecture tour.

Wrigley Building

12:42 p.m. Remind sister of friend whose tour departed from the southeast corner. Decide to check out that option before buying tickets at Wendella's.

12:43 p.m. Walk south across bridge. Going east, cross Michigan against the light. Make sister run for it rather than wait at the scary median. Mock her much-shorter leg stride.

12:44 p.m. Boat company at the southeast corner does not offer architecture tour, which is what sister wants to see.

12:45 p.m. Walk north across bridge. Descend northeast set of stairs to discover that there is no outlet under the bridge. Congratulate each other on complete ineptness.

12:46 p.m. Walk back up stairs. Descend stairs on other side of street, completing a Michigan Avenue Bridge circle in less than three minutes. Sweat copiously.

12:48 p.m. Go to Wendella ticket window. Read sign that announces a 90-minute general lake/river tour leaves at 2 p.m. Sister changes her mind and wants to go on this tour instead. Stare at sister and will her back to Boston.

12:50 p.m. Ask cashier for two tickets. Cashier shares that the two o'clock tour will have 200 "kids." There are only 217 seats on the boat. Tickets are nonrefundable. Immediately slap down $36 for two tickets. Question sanity.

1:00 p.m. Grab a quick lunch at 437 Rush. Enjoy what is probably a real lemonade as well as a turkey sandwich and the most gorgeous, tasty French fries. Sister snarfs plate of ravioli.

1:35 p.m. Drop in at Walgreen's to buy disposable camera for the trip. Sister also purchases Orbit Bubblemint gum.

1:45 p.m. Walk down stairs to river to Wendella's boat. Stand in line. Do not see expected mass of children.

1:50 p.m. Board boat. Sister loves the sun, so she chooses a spot on the port (left) side, about 15 feet from the bow (pointy front part) of the boat. Sit on sun-warmed cushions. Immediately stand up. Those be hot!

1:53 p.m. Put on floppy hat to protect face and head from direct sunlight. Wish that sunscreen had been applied to all of feet.

1:54 p.m. Sister insists photograph be taken of sibs together. Sure it is because the floppy hat emphasizes wearer's innate dorkiness. Nice lady snaps the pic.

1:57 p.m. Chat with woman who is traveling with her family, most of whom only speak Spanish. Her sister might not make it on the tour because of the large group.

2:00 p.m. Notice said group approaching the boat line. "Kids" do not resemble children in the slightest, but rather twentysomethings. Disappointed that aforementioned "kids" are a school group but are not excitable tykes.

2:02 p.m. Group boards boat. Since they are so late, most of them have to sit inside the boat. However, a small group manages to snag seats outside in our section. Immediately notice young man who kind of resembles Josh Hartnett. Hope he sits nearby.

2:04 p.m. Josh Hartnot sits next to sister. Smile to self.

2:05 p.m. Friendly sister immediately starts chatting with Hartnot, asking what group he is with. He explains that they are all from the Chicago Summer Fellowship, a Chicago Public Schools program for prospective teachers. Sister asks if most participants are still at university. Hartnot confirms that most are college seniors. Feel better knowing that cute boy is at least 21. Feel dirty for thinking of boy that way at all.

2:07 p.m. Spanish-speaking sister makes it on board!

2:08 p.m. Pray that boat leaves the dock soon. A breeze would be most welcome.

2:10 p.m. Boat rumbles to life. Noise from Wrigley Building construction renders the safety advice imparted over loudspeakers utterly useless.

2:11 p.m. Boat turns from original west-facing direction to take the river east to Lake Michigan.

2:13 p.m. Sister continues interrogation of Hartnot.

2:15 p.m. Pass Tribune Tower. Guide announces that the Trib newspaper was established in 1847. That's one old paper.

2:18 p.m. Move past the Sheraton, the third-largest hotel in Chicago.

2:19 p.m. See Centennial Fountain for first time. Mentally plan to check it out at a later date.

2:22 p.m. Guide shares fact that the Chicago River is the only river in the world that flows backwards. Originally, it drained into the lake and took most of the raw sewage with it. Because Lake Michigan is the source of Chicagoland's drinking water, engineers decided to reverse the flow to stop nasty diseases. Good plan.

2:24 p.m. See Lake Point Towers. Tell sister that it is the only Chicago residential address east of Lake Shore Drive. And that Sammy Sosa has a place there. Guide confirms this, adding that Sammy owns the entire 55th floor. Nice.

Lake Point Towers

2:25 p.m. Hear woman speaking Spanish and explaining to her family where Sammy Sosa lives.

2:28 p.m. Notice that the back of Josh Hartnot's shirt reads, "I can do all things through Christ. —Phil. 3:14." Uh oh.

2:30 p.m. Arrive at water locks. Learn that Lake Michigan is 44 inches higher than the Chicago River. It is also the third-largest Great Lake in terms of area, second largest in water volume. That's a lot of water, man.

2:32 p.m. Hartnot suddenly gets up and moves away from sister. Note: Sister did not talk to him for more than ten minutes. Decide he might not be that cute after all.

2:35 p.m. Check out Navy Pier while waiting for lock to open. Sister remembers the last time she was on a boat was when she and sib went whale watching off the coast of Massachusetts. Good times. Good, big-ass mammal times.

2:40 p.m. On Lake Michigan. Boat picks up speed, which immediately kicks up a good wind. Take off hat to enjoy a bit of sun. Go north and enjoy view of city, including Gold Coast high-rises and the best building in the world, the John Hancock Building. It is so the best building. Shut up.

Hancock Building

2:43 p.m. Guide explains what the four stars on the Chicago flag represent (Fort Dearborn, the Great Chicago Fire, the World's Columbian Exposition, Century of Progress of 1933). Disappointed to discover that the Haymarket Riot was not represented as previously believed. Guide adds that there's talk of adding a fifth star when the Cubs win a World Series. Guide says that is impossible, of course, "but they did get Nomar." NOH-MAH! Or Nohmahrr, now that he's in Chicago. Boston-based sister pouts.

2:47 p.m. Boat turns in circle to head south, taking us close to the lighthouse. Sister insists on taking picture of her sibling with lighthouse in background. It's a weird family thing.

2:50 p.m. In addition to other well-known buildings, guide points out the unique Smurfit building with its slanted, diamond-shaped roof. Sister says Smurfit is one of her clients. Guide tells crowd that the building might be familiar to anyone who has seen 1988's Adventures in Babysitting. Remember that Adventures in Babysitting came out in 1987. Suddenly doubt the accuracy of all knowledge imparted on this tour thus far.

2:51 p.m. Guide informs tour of "mayor-slash-king" Richard Daley's middle-of-the night raid on Miegs Field. Tell sister details as it is hard to hear each word over the wind.

2:53 p.m. Guide tells brief history of large buildings on and near Museum Campus, including Soldier Field (oldest stadium in the NFL) and Shedd Aquarium (largest indoor aquarium). Still not sure if guide can be trusted.

2:55 p.m. The first of several mentions of the Sears Tower, "the tallest building in the world... as far as we are concerned." Blah blah blah on a clear day, you can see four states from the Skydeck blah blah blah. Whatever. It ain't no Signature Room.

2:47 p.m. Motor back to river-lake locks. The lack of breeze makes heat from the sun suddenly intensify.

2:49 p.m. Wait for locks to open.

2:51 p.m. Guide points out Dime Pier, which is parallel to Navy Pier. People used to pay a dime to fish from this pier. However, it is now nothing but a jagged and incomplete wooden outcrop. And a hazard for drunken boaters.

2:55 p.m. Sit in locks. Melt slowly in the sun. Wonder why it's taking so long. Muse how long it takes to die of heatstroke.

2:57 p.m. Hear woman ask her family, "¿Caliente?" S�. S�, muy caliente.

3:01 p.m. Wait. Melt.

3:05 p.m. FINALLY get through locks to river. Hallelujah!

3:07 p.m. See 2 Prudential Plaza. See IBM building, which was the last one built by Mies van der Rohe before his death.

3:10 p.m. Pass the eyesore that is the Chicago Sun-Times building. Guide breaks news that the property was bought by a man from the East, Donald Trump; he will replace the newspaper offices with a 90-story building by 2007. A horrified gasp of "NO!" is heard from another section of the boat. Heh.

3:13 p.m. Float by Merchandise Mart and learn it has its own ZIP code: 60654.

3:15 p.m. Find out that 333 Wacker�the green-glassed, curved building at the bend of the river�was voted "favorite Chicago building" by Chicago magazine readers. What do they know, anyway? It's cool and all, but it's no Hancock Building.

3:17 p.m. Notice that formerly cute boy looks less like Josh Hartnett and more like Cameron from Ferris Bueller's Day Off..

3:19 p.m. Pass Chicago Mercantile, the largest marketplace in the world. Guide informs us "everything" is bought and sold there: "gold, baseball cards, Beanie Babies, small children, you name it."

3:21 p.m. Reach turnaround point: the Sears Tower. Guide admits that building is really only fourth tallest in the world, but the top three use "cheat sticks" to have higher rankings.

3:23 p.m. Travel past Lyric Opera House again. See that Don Giovanni is playing next season. Plan to buy tickets.

3:25 p.m. Look at the Leo Burnett building, home to the advertising giants that created the likes of the Jolly Green Giant, the Pillsbury Doughboy, and Snap, Crackle & Pop. Hungry.

3:27 p.m. Observe "new" Lower Wacker Drive, which was home to the Batman Begins movie shoot last week.

3:28 p.m. Discover two boats are already docked at Wendella's usual space. Guide announces that boat will stop at Rush Street Docks instead.

3:30 p.m. Wait.

3:32 p.m. Boat begins docking process. Luckily, shade is abundant.

3:35 p.m. Depart boat. Heed warning from guide, "Be careful using the stairs; they aren�t uniform. You'll see what I mean." Giggle meanly at the number of people who trip up the stairs. Secure place in hell.

 

About the Author(s)

At 6'2", Dee Stiffler positively towers over her older-but-smaller sister. It never fails to fill her with glee.

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