RAFFI: After a fantastic three-day stay in the welcoming and generous hands of the extended Conley family in Milwaukee, we set out toward one of the most iconic cities in the world, Chicago, known for such legends as Barack Obama, Muddy Waters, Richard Wright, Michael Jordan, Al Capone, Bill Murray, Kanye West, Ferris Bueller… And, of course, Mark Greenberg.
The initial reaction to Chicago that we—or at least I—had was, “This place is [expletive] huge.” No kidding. The Windy City was unlike anything we had thus far seen, with a cityscape that spans what-seemed-like five Seattles. To begin our first night, and, thus, the Chicago experience, we classicly went to a deep-dish pizza restaurant suggested by Greenberg himself, only to discover we didn’t particularly love deep-dish pizza. Afterwards, we walked around the city at night, an activity that, at this point in our trip, had essentially become an icebreaker for getting to know a new city. Chicago is so full of lights and huge buildings and more lights and huge buildings… it’s just so overwhelming, but in a fantastic sort of way. After the walk through the city and through crazy Millennium Park, we drove 20-some miles to Wheaton College to stay in the apartment of a handful of generous girls, of whom we knew only one—a friend of Horea’s sister. Their extreme hospitality seems to be, in retrospect, a recurring theme in our trip in which nearly every stranger we encountered was extraordinarily friendly and helpful, a stark contrast to the seedy bastards that make Los Angeles classic.
Our next day was pretty uneventful because we got a really late start on the city; however, we were able see a few landmarks: Navy Pier, Belmont Harbor, and the Willis/Sears Tower, the latter being the highlight. Basically a speedy elevator shot us 104 floors up the tallest building in the western hemisphere, where, upon arrival, we were able to look over the magnificent Chicago skyline at night. But the fun didn’t end there; this floor has these clear “skyboxes” that jut horizontally out from the building, which allowed us to look straight down at the streets below—a truly one-of-a-kind experience.
The following day, our final day in Chicags, was, by contrast, extremely eventful. We began the day by attending what Greenberg deemed the best museum in the country, the Art Institute of Chicago. Indeed, we found out that he might be right, because the museum was spectacular—everything we could’ve hoped for and more. Its majestic buildings housed—in addition to a myriad of art from every world region, art movement, and art medium—some of the most iconic works in the history of history; to name just a few: Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, Grant Wood’s American Gothic, George Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon…, and Gustave Caillebotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day. After spending four hours, which hardly seemed enough, in the museum, we felt in awe of and fascinated with art and its infinite spectrum. Certainly an incredible experience, and one of the more memorable ones of our trip. But we could never have known what the night had in store for us…
A few days prior, Greenberg had messaged us on Facebook with the offer of three free tickets to a Chicago Cubs game (apparently, his cousin has season tickets and was willing to let us sit with him), so we gladly accepted. After the museum, it was time to go to the game at Wrigley Field. Overall, we had a great time hangin’ with Cousin Jerry, eating hot dogs, and watching the Cubs win (which is apparently unusual). But the real fun started when we left the stadium and took a stroll down to a place known as The Weiner Circle. An unnamed party had previously told us to go there, explicitly instructing that we order a chocolate shake.
We assumed we were in for a really great milkshake.
After walking two miles from Wrigley Field, we were there, only a problem arose: this small burger joint’s menu didn’t list a “Chocolate Shake.” Duncan peeped up to the counter.
“Um, do you guys have a… chocolate shake?” Before answering, the tall black guy behind the counter looked to his left, then his right.
“Chocolate shake? Uh, yeah.” He slowly turned a tip can around to reveal the words “chocolate shake $20” crudely scribbled on top.
“Um, okay,” said Duncan, as he hesitantly handed the man a twenty-dollar bill. “Is this gonna be enough?”
“Oh, it’ll be enough,” the man shot back.
What the heck is going on? seemed to be the general thought going through each of our heads at the time. With puzzled looks on our faces, we waited in silence for this shake. About ten minutes passed, and, all at once, the lights were flickering on and off in a rave-like manner and repeated shouts of “chocolate shake!” began emanating from the direction of the counter. Simultaneously, we turned our heads in the direction of the noise, and, to our complete and total shock, an overweight black woman was jumping up and down with her top pulled off. She and the other workers—male and female—were hysterically screaming “chocolate shake!” After about ten seconds, the lights and the chants ceased, just as soon as they had begun, and the restaurant was returned to its normal state, but not before our original server popped his head over the counter and asked—sarcastically, might I add—“Was that enough for the three of you?”
I think our mouths probably stayed open for damn-near twenty seconds, as we tried desperately to process the sequence that had just unfolded before our previously-unscarred eyes. But life goes on, and so did we. As we left the restaurant and walked back to our car, I could not help but think about the person who told us to get the chocolate shake, and how, in his own devious and evil way, was smiling.