Cross Country Day 3 – Pittsburgh, PA to Chicago, IL

The day started off early. Alyson had to leave to babysit her sisters kids at 7.a.m and I took the opportunity to get an early start. My brain had a thick mat of fuzz from the previous night’s banjo celebration, but Alyson helped to scrub it away with a strong cup of coffee. We said our goodbyes and she peeled out of the driveway in her 300. I gassed up at a relic of a station that unfortunately didn’t have premium but filled up any way because I needed the juice. I jumped on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and just started laying down the miles. I had 462 of them in front of me and this would be my longest day yet. 8 hours on the road. Gotta get to Chi-Town.

The weather was a Pennsylvania postcard featuring cool temperatures and a slight breeze. Once I got rolling I was able to relax into a mental state. Driving the Brick has an effect on me that is very calming. Perhaps it’s the drone of the engine at 6000 revolutions per minute that lulls me into a trance-like state, of maybe it’s simpler than that, just the idea of rolling away from someplace to someplace else without any real purpose. Whatever the reason it’s days like today the make me feel lucky that I bought this beast of a bike. She’s been a trusty steed so far – knock wood for good luck.

The road was relatively uneventful. A pile of miles through rolling hills. I did hit a snag where 76 crosses 80. I thought I was supposed to stay on 76 but I needed 80 west. I backtracked and missed the exit, and then I backtracked again and missed it one more time. This time I jammed on the brakes and pushed my bike dangerously backwards on the emergency lane and gunned through the grass to get up the correct ramp. This was totally irresponsible and unsafe, but as John Wayne said in The Cowboys, I was burning too much daylight. Once on 80 the rest of the trip was smooth and pretty.

I rolled into Chicago and navigated my way to my friend Liz’s apartment. Liz was a former student of mine and through Facebook she offered me a futon crash for the night. I parked the brick right in front of her apartment. I realized I did not have her phone number in my contacts on my phone so I tried to log onto Facebook. The social networking megalopolis informed me that my messages were temporarily unavailable. How could I make such a knuckle headed mistake? I called my co-worker Brian back in NYC. He logged onto my account with the same bad luck. Brian executed some fine sleuth work and found her twitter name so I tried tweeting her also with no luck. I had been waiting a half of an hour and I was tired. The very technology that reconnected Liz and I was now preventing me from calling her. Damn the Internet gods.

I thought maybe if I had a stronger phone signal I might have better luck. I drove around for a few blocks in the maze of Chicago streets and finally was able to get the message from Facebook. I called her up and she said she would meet me in front of her apartment. I had taken many turns and lost my orientation of where her apartment was, so I punched her name into the map function on my iPhone. The map gave me a different address that was miles away in Calumet City. I called her back and finally navigated my way back to her apartment. It was a waste of over an almost an hour but I didn’t let it get to me, after all I was on vacation.

I dragged my BMW luggage into her place and we chatted for a while before heading out on our adventures. Our first destination was food. When on the highways, there is not much choice so I usually try not to eat too much and save my appetite for a decent meal when I land. What was to come beat decent by a metric ton. Liz took me to a burger joint named Kuma’s Corner that featured a wide selection of craft beers and a bizarre range of hamburgers all named after heavy metal bands. I ordered a Metallica burger that had bacon, buffalo sauce, and bleu cheese dressing. Along with a Lagunita’s Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ which is a pale wheat ale. We ate our food and caught up on life events. I told her of my relationship woes and she told me of hers. We swiftly shifted to matters more pleasant and talked about music. The place was packed and for good reason. The service, the food, the flavors, and the vibe were all perfect. Just what a guy needs after a 462-mile joy ride.

After the meal I informed Liz of my quandary of not packing any t-shirts. She knew a cool store called The Alley that has a selection of edgy clothing. I picked out an Edgar Allen Poe shirt for only 10 bucks and again had a change of clothes and another souvenir.

Even though we just scarfed down massive hamburgers, I knew I had to try the famous Chicago dog that instead of chili, has tomatoes, onions, peppers, pickles, and sprinkled with celery salt. Liz steered us towards the Wieners Circle, a place known for their delicious dogs and comically rude treatment of customers. It is a classic open-air hot dog stand and I noticed they also had shirts for sale. I inquired about one and the woman behind the counter made a few wise cracks. “15 each or 2 for $30!” she yelled. “You are a great sales person!” I shouted back and bought one along with their famous Char Dogs. I ate most of the dog but I was so stuffed from Kuma’s that I could not finish it. The flavor was decent but I like a little more snap when biting into the dog. The type of casing and the way it is cooked determines this amount of snap. Sorry Chicago, but New Jersey has you beat. Libby’s Lunch in Paterson is still the high water mark in my book of Hot Dog ratings. The experience was vibrant. I saw people having a good time at their jobs, just goofing around and having fun. I will remember to keep a lighter heart at my job.

Liz and I debated on what to do. I had a long drive already and staying up late the night before wasn’t doing anything for my energy level. We talked about maybe seeing a rock show, but I was running on fumes. We decided to check out her work digs at the Navy Pier. Liz is an audio engineer for WBEZ Chicago known for it’s production credits of This American Life featuring Ira Glass (now produced in NYC), and Wait Wait Don’t Tell me and entertaining commentary/game show mash up.

She toured me around the station. I had Liz as a student in my Studio Tech Workshop class at CCNY and walking through the halls of the famous station she mentioned, “I really learned a lot in you class. I use so many of the things you taught me and that is more than I can say about a lot of my other classes.” It was a beautiful complement and I beamed with pride as we walked from one studio to the next. We entered the live recording room and there sat a beautiful Steinway piano. Me being the ultimate goof, persuaded Liz into shooting a video of me playing the torch classic “Feelings.” We did one take, but both of us being audio nerds had to do a second. That’s just how audio nerds roll. I deadpanned the song and we both had a good laugh.

We ventured out onto the veranda that the station owns and looked over the water of Lake Michigan. The moon was full and round and the energy of the people on the pier was exciting. There is a large Ferris wheel there and Liz said she had never ridden on it. “We have to go on it!” Not leaving any room for Liz to question my proclamation, we boarded the 150-foot-tall illuminated wheel. It slowly rotated above the vista of Chicago. We snapped pictures like tourists and decided that the audio loop that played during the ride should not be repeated over and over. Why didn’t the Navy Pier create a message that would last the duration of one revolution of the wheel since that amount of time is easily calculated? Again, we are audio nerds and that’s what audio nerds do.

We walked around for a bit after the ride. Liz told me that people have been enjoying the music she has been writing and they want to play her songs – the ultimate complement to any composer. She is a drummer primarily but also plays other instruments. She is success at both her work and recreation, and that is a great goal to achieve.

My body was surrendering so we headed for her apartment. I wrestled with the idea of stopping at a bar to pack in even more fun, but my fuse was at its end. Liz made me some tea for my cough that sunk its claws into me at the beginning of the trip, such a kind gesture for a weary traveller.

As I drifted off to sleep I thought about the day. Liz and I had not stayed in touch after she graduated, but when I put out feelers for places to sleep on this journey, she was one of the first ones to offer a place. We never know how we affect people in our lives. By teaching them we give them tools that they use to reach success. Liz’s comment about my class reminded me of the drastic influence I can provide for others. I have the power to change lives for the better. I closed my eyes and fell asleep with a satisfactory smile on my face. A great day in Chicago served with tomatoes, onions, peppers, pickles, celery salt, and a thick slice of healing.

Click for larger versions:


Chicago from The Navy Pier

Starting mileage Made it Kuma’s Menu
Metallica burger Good crowd Public Art
The Wieners Circle Char dog Navy Pier
Me at the console Liz working hard WBEZ Steinway
WBEZ Machine Room Veranda Jellyfish Promo
Sculpture Ferris Wheel Ferris 2
Ferris 3 Ferris 4 Ferris 5
On the wheel 1 On the wheel 2 On the wheel 3
On the wheel 4 On the wheel 5 On the wheel 6
On the wheel 7 Liz snapping Crystal Gardens 1
Crystal Gardens 2 Walk home


Pittsburgh to Chicago – 462 miles

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8 Responses to Cross Country Day 3 – Pittsburgh, PA to Chicago, IL

  1. toadmama says:

    You are covering some ground! And look at the variety of awesome experiences you have already had. That Chi Dog looks gross. I love pickles, and tomatoes are good, but on a hot dog? The Little Sumpin Sumpin wheat brew piqued my interest. And I am usually not a city person — just prefer country over city as a whole — but sometimes, cities can just be magical. Looks like a fine night.

  2. I heart Chicago! When nice people are nice to people they are treated to niceness in return (re: Liz and her generosity). xo, Joe!

  3. Observations of a Perpetual Motorcyclist says:

    Great pictures. The console and equipment rack shots take me back to my 15 years in broadcasting, but I was more an overall techy nerd as opposed to just an audio nerd.

  4. Paul Kozel says:

    Joe, The trip sounds great!!! Didn’t know you were going to hook up with Liz. Great to see she landed in a great town and a nice gig!!! That 76/80 screw up in Ohio is legendary!!!!! So don’t feel bad. Sounds like this trip will resonate with you for years to come. I’m off to Maine on one of my sea kayak trips. Will be back at SAC on August 20. Can’t wait to hear all the details in person!!!!

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