September 24, 2006

Ain't That America

I just came back from Indiana. The rest of the state has to be better than where I was.

The Chicagoland area encompasses the northernmost part of Indiana, including Gary (made famous by The Music Man) and Michigan City, both of which run along the south shore of Lake Michigan. We flew into Chicago on Friday for a bachelor/ette party and then headed wayyy out to Michigan City on Saturday to spend the rest of the weekend doing more wedding-related activities (mostly eating).

I have to say, I was unimpressed with both.

I've been to Chicago before, but on business trips staying in a nice hotel and not really seeing suburbs (except Highland Park, where Michelle is from). This time around I got to drive around the southern neighborhoods (yikes - I swear it's stuck in 1979) and eat deep dish pizza for the first time at Lou Malnati's (I like Uno's better). Even though I'm the groom's friend, I got stuck with the bachelorette festivities, which was planned as a sleepover. The problem is, we didn't really do anything. There was a bellydancing instructor who came to give us a lesson, but she wasn't very good and just did a lot of talking and not a lot of teaching. I don't think we really learned anything, and I felt like an expert compared to her. Can't wait to go back to Crunch and take another class with Mimi.

The best part was staying over in an amazing converted loft apartment in the old Rowe Building on Printer's Row near the Loop in downtown Chicago. The bride's sister-in-law has an amazing space and it was cool to be in such a historic area I'd never seen, with the El tracks looming above...

It was too bad we had to drive the hour and a half out to Michigan City, but we did some exploring there too. I knew that there were a lot of dunes along the beach shore, and we got to see one for ourselves: Mt. Baldy, a huge mountain made of sand that - because of wind, erosion and other environmental factors - actually moves 4 ft. every year. It looms 123 ft. high above the Lake Michigan shore and there's only one way to get to the top: a practically vertical climb of pure sand, flanked by foresty trees. I was certain I'd never make it up there but after taking my time, I managed to ascend to the flat top and see the gorgeous and bizarre view (obstructed only by the weird fossil fuel plant next door). By the time we stumbled down the vertical drop to the bottom (some ran, I squished my bare feet in very slowly and carefully), our legs were covered up to the knees in sand, grains like cinnamon sugar, soft and sweet between our toes.

Michigan City has this nature thing happening but it's also riddled with chain restaurants and big discount superstores. For a small town, it has no small town feel - only highways, a weird casino that's half boat / half building, and tons of cigarette/tobacco shops and fireworks stores. I was happy to eat at the Bob Evans for breakfast, but I don't know if that was because it's good or because I was anxious to get away from my repulsive motel room with the terrifyingly dirty bedspread.

The wedding today took us back to nature, at the International Friendship Gardens. It looks like they have a great variety of gardens and hiking trails there, but we stuck to the official wedding area which, although chilly today, was a beautiful venue for a marriage ceremony.

I'm glad I was there this weekend - after all, it's all about friendship - but I'm betting that Vic's December wedding in St. Thomas is going to give me a more enjoyable vacation.

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