by Steven Leventhal
I just wrapped up nearly a month of playing tourist guide to family and friends visiting Chicago. My hosting duties took me to locales as varied as museums, Second City, a Fourth of July parade, and the Taste of Chicago.
Nearly a month ago, I took in an excellent Matisse exhibit at the new wing of the Art Institute. After that we went to go look at all my favorite Impressionist paintings by renown artists such as Monet, Cézanne, and Van Gogh. Don't think I'm an art snob or anything like that. When I was a kid, we played a board game called "Masterpiece." Some of our older readers will remember this game. You get to bid on famous works of art and then see if you got a bargain, overpaid, or ended up with a forgery. At the time, I was unaware that all the artworks featured in the game were hanging at the Art Institute. It was only later, when I paid a visit to the museum and saw such iconic works of art as "American Gothic," Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks," or "Sunday Afternoon at the Park" by Seurat. In fact the Art Institute probably has the finest collection of Impressionist works outside of Paris.
My host duties also took me to the skyscraper formerly known as the Sears Tower, the 1451 foot edifice that now bears the name of London investment group Willis Holdings. We made our way up to the Sky Deck on a gorgeous day that yielded spectacular views and could see as far away as Wisconsin and Michigan. Get there early. We arrived just after nine, and by the time we were ready to leave, it was getting crowded. I even braved the new "Sky Ledge" the plexiglas "boxes" that extrude from the building giving you an eerie feeling of being suspended out in mid-air. It took some getting used to, but I was not about to shown up by my grade school aged nieces.
Next, it was off to see the river. We found a two for one discount coupon at the Chicago Office of Tourism website for the 10 and 11:30 AM skyline cruises from Mercury Skyline Cruiseline. I have ridden the more well known Wendella boats in the past, but they had nothing on Mercury's tour. Granted it was a smaller boat, but our guide was just as knowledgeable and gave an extremely informative tour. All the boats go on basically the same itinerary, so who cares. The price was right. Again it was a beautiful day to see the lakefront. Check out the pictures in the slide show. I enjoyed the trip so much I went again a week later when some college friends came to town and we had to improvise some activities for my guests, due to the postponed U2 concert.
Like I said, it was hardcore tourist time, so I made my first visit to the Taste of Chicago in years. Man, the prices sure have gone up. Twelve food tickets for eight dollars just doesn't seem to go as far as it used to. We had to make many return trips to buy more food tickets. The culinary highlight for me was prime rib quesadillas from "The Grill on the Alley."
I even took my buddies to see Second City. We saw the troupe performing the upcoming review - "Spoiler Alert: Everybody Dies," which was in final previews last week. It is comprised of some outrageously funny skits. My favorites included "Things We Know," "Tennis," "Reality TV," "Ding-Dong Dad," "Absti-dance," and "Rapture Assurance." There were several occasions where cast members were trying to make each other laugh during the skits and come out of character. We even stayed for the after show improv, which lasted nearly an hour. The whole cast was great, but a special shout out goes to Shelly Gossman, Sam Richardson, and Emily Wilson. Look to see them on SNL someday.
Lastly on Wednesday, I brought my guests over to Millenuim Park. I love the reaction on people when they see the bean, almost as much as visiting this newest Chicago icon.