Tourist for a Day
High tide for tourists is here. Instead of holing up inside until the last pair of jeans shorts disappears from the streets, The Closer tries it from the other side.
Mrs. Closer found a good deal for the Swissôtel (323 E. Wacker Dr.) and we took the little Closers to live downtown for 24 hours. "Why are we doing this, again?" she asked. I told her I wanted to see if I could feel sympathy for the invaders instead of the urge to drop-kick them back to Dubuque. "No, I mean, why are we doing this?" she said, motioning to the children.
11:36 a.m., Saturday We take in the 22nd-floor view, which includes a reflection of Navy Pier in the building across the street. ARE WE TOURISTS YET? We are certainly excited about the touristy possibilities: Shedd Aquarium? Architectural cruise? One of those double-decker buses full of Germans asking about Al Capone? Anything is possible.
12:11 p.m. "Are you here to eat, drink, or play?" asks the perky hostess at ESPN Zone (43 E. Ohio St.). The four of us, already in the deepest stages of flatscreen hypnosis, stare blankly. The arcade is overrun with tweens hopped up on Powerade and driving Formula One cars. ARE WE TOURISTS YET? Unclear. One of my kids cowers in a corner near the mini basketball court. The other won't get out of the stroller.
12:52 p.m. We're 1,000 feet up, at the John Hancock Center Observatory (875 N. Michigan Ave.), taking in the view. ARE WE TOURISTS YET? Unlikely. We just spent $24 to search for our own neighborhood.
2:11 p.m. At the Museum of Contemporary Art (220 E. Chicago Ave.), Mrs. Closer accidentally pushes the stroller into a triangular wooden crate full of old-fashioned soda bottles, which was art. "I had no idea it was there," she whispers, mortified. ARE WE TOURISTS YET? No. We are idiots.
4:18 p.m. We're at the mother ship. The top tourist destination in the Midwest: Navy Pier (600 E. Grand Ave.). We peruse kiosks with everything from Balinese handcrafts to Austrian crystals, then watch a stage show where a rowdy band of buccaneers compete for the booty of Navy Pier. ARE WE TOURISTS YET? Possibly. We skipped the Ferris wheel, but Dippin' Dots were purchased.
5:55 p.m. My daughter gives money to one of those guys near the Wrigley Building who drum so loud that I curse them daily from my office. ARE WE TOURISTS YET? We're getting closer. Next, we cross the street to marvel at the moon rock in a Tribune Tower window, which, in my three years of working in the building, I have never noticed.
6:44 p.m. By the time the assorted colorful staffers at Ed Debevic's (640 N. Wells St.) hop up on counters and start gyrating to "Shake a Tail Feather," our children have decided this is the greatest place on earth. ARE WE TOURISTS YET? Outwardly, yes. By the time we return to the hotel, our kids are tired and whining, and we're still wearing Ed's short-order-cook hats.
10:42 a.m., Sunday I notice a lot of little girls carrying creepy dolls that look just like their owners. "It's an American Girl Place thing," my wife explains. "It's only three blocks from here . . . Should we?" She looks at our three-year-old, then back at me. "I can't. I don't care about your column that much." ARE WE TOURISTS YET? We're fighting it fiercely, so something must be happening.
11:31 a.m. Our concierge has gotten us a table at The Cheesecake Factory (875 N. Michigan Ave.), where Mrs. Closer—who doesn't get excited at Alinea anymore—oohs at the mountain of fried noodles atop her Chinese chicken salad. ARE WE TOURISTS YET? We must be, because now we're overcompensating like mad. When our waitress asks where we're from, we trip over each other to pronounce ourselves Chicagoans. This baffles her so completely, she pours iced tea in my water glass.
12:30 p.m. "Everyone's so nice," my wife remarks on the way back to our hotel to check out. "Everything's so clean," I observe. "I wanna see the drum guy!" our daughter cries. Then we cross against the light, forcing three cars that had the left-turn arrow to stop and honk. A hipster in headphones shakes his head. ARE WE TOURISTS YET? We are. And I feel no sympathy. Only shame.
Illustration: Clare Mallison/agoodson.com