We have lived in the Chicago area all our lives and as usual the summer has been filled with the interesting activities our area always has to offer. A few highlights:
The musical “Six,” which debuted in the West End in London and is moving to Broadway after an extended run here was a real find. All the dramas we’ve been watching on PBS about British royalty more or less long ago, have piqued our interest: nothing more so than the lives of the six women who had the misfortune of marrying Henry VIII. In this show the queens perform their life stories as if they were rock stars. The music was great and the strength these women conveyed had the females in the audience on their feet cheering. And I’m feeling extra smug, because I got half price tickets just before its reputation made the box office go beserk. It’s hard to find such opportunities in cities that are less familiar to us when we are on the road. After the play we walked along the newly refurbished Chicago River. In the days when Chicago was the hog butcher for the world, the river was a cesspool of detritus from the meat packing operations, but today it is a picturesque addition to our already spectacular lakefront.
After we are home for more than a week or two, Ken is on a first name basis with the Amazon delivery folks. We try to shop locally, but when exactly what you need is not available, Amazon always seems to come through. So we took advantage of a free tour of our local fulfillment center to find out where those batteries and electronic gizmos were coming from. Security was tight and we were not allowed to take pictures, but the deafening noise of all those conveyor belts is something we will never forget even though we were wearing headphones so we could hear our tour guide. The boxed items traveled on belts that moved 45mph throughout the 800,000 square foot facility. Workers could not dare to pick up a mistaped box or they’d lose a hand. It was amazing to trace the flow of random items from the trucks that delivered them, to the shelving units where they were stored in no particular order to the pickers who filled the orders and labeled and sealed the boxes. This used to be a much more taxing job physically, but 5,200 robots energetically moved things around, never making a mistake, never tiring, on duty 24/7. In our area many of the people who have lost their retail jobs have ended up working here.
The motor home gets colicky when we leave it sitting still for too long. The serpentine belt that broke and stopped us in our tracks after a lengthy stay in one place in Florida last winter was an expensive lesson. So we traveled to Lake Geneva, WI and camped in a state park on a spacious wooded site. Lake Geneva feels like the Hamptons of Chicago. After the railroad made traveling there from the city quick and easy and the Chicago fire destroyed so many homes, Chicago’s glitterati came there to build lavish summer homes and wait for their city homes to be rebuilt. Anyone who is anyone still has a summer home here including our governor. The best way to gawk at these houses is from the water in a boat, but there is also a 26 mile walking path around the lake that passes through all the lah-di-dah properties. Originally the path was used to bring building materials from the railroad to the boats to the homesites, but it remains public property to this day. If you plan it right, you can arrange to get picked up by a boat half way around the lake and save your aching feet.
When we toured the old Joliet prison, the huge facility looked more like a palace than a prison, constructed from the same local limestone that was used for many of the finer buildings in our area. The prisoners began building their confinement center in 1858 and it was in use until 2005. Women were housed in a separate facility across the street and were put to work sewing. For a long time they were only allowed to go outside once a year. Many notorious criminals like Baby Face Nelson were housed there along with Leopold and Loeb, John Wayne Gacy and Richard Speck. When the prison was closed it was regularly ravaged by vandals and no window remained unbroken. Many parts of it are unsafe to visit today, but tour admissions are being used to stabilize what remains. Because the prison is so picturesque, it is regularly used by TV and film crews. People who come to our area to travel on old Rt. 66 like Sir Paul McCartney make the prison part of their travel adventure.
And of course, no summer can go by without at least one picnic on the grounds of Millennium Park, enjoying a free concert of classical music. This park was built over what used to be part of the Chicago Stock Yards, a smelly, unpleasant place, but today this beautiful park is a huge draw for tourists and locals alike. No matter whether you sit on the seats or lay on the grass on a blanket watching the lights come twinkling on in the skyscraper windows, it's a beautiful summer experience that never gets old. The sound system is so fine, it feels like you are sitting in the middle of the orchestra as the music pours out over the grounds.