Chicago, Illinois, USA…So I thought I was through with running after the Reunion ultra-marathon. Silly me. Perhaps I should be flattered my youngest stepson literally followed my footsteps and expressed his desire to run a marathon. Upon learning the news, Eric’s mother informed me “he can’t do that by himself.” Of course, my response was “he’s twenty-seven, he can do that by himself!”
Just kidding, Eric is a great guy and was living in Phoenix at the time, so we split the distance (a wise move for a marathon?) and settled on the 2013 Chicago Marathon. This would represent Eric’s inaugural visit to the windy city, but it would be dropping in on an old friend for me. I had worked near Indianapolis for a while in the 1980’s and made many weekend junkets, enjoying the wealth of lively neighborhoods, museums, restaurants and blues clubs.
Our plan was to arrive Friday and explore the city a bit Saturday before the big run on Sunday. Coming from the west, Eric would appear later in the evening, but travel buddies abound and I began reacquainting myself with Chicago by rendezvousing with Lindsay at Manny’s, a downtown cafeteria only three blocks from the hotel.
The short distance was no coincidence because I intentionally selected lodging near this landmark eatery. Manny’s is a vintage diner which seemed old fashioned when I last visited twenty-six years ago. You might imagine my delight to discover time had stood still for both décor and menu.
Even in the 80’s, it was hard to find anyone serving Liver & Onions, Fried Smelts, or Tongue & Mushrooms. I was relieved to see all were available, and you could still accompany your main course with latkes (potato pancakes) or chicken soup with kreplach (meat dumplings). My favorite is their renowned corned beef, so I was tickled to see Lindsay order the same thing. I would bring Eric here for dinner the next night and ordered their beef stew, which is so thick I ate it with a fork. Even better was my side of pickled herring!
The dinner was after a day of walking about town, where I tried to get current with Chicago’s wealth of attractions. I was very impressed with Millennium Park and the Cloud Gate installation there. You are probably more familiar with Cloud Gate’s alias, “The Bean”. I will be honest and confess the motivation was primarily being able to say “bean there, done that.” Although not seriously motivated to visit, that was my mistake and I was blown away.
The magnificent aspect of the sculpture is how it reflects everything. Made from 168 stainless steel sheets welded together (with no visible seams), the structure weighs roughly 100 tons. Everything is reflected: the Chicago skyline here, the clouds there and folks enjoying it all around. The Bean presents its subject matter with a dynamic combination of vividness and “fun house” distortions. Perhaps that seems a contradiction, but even where views are bent out of their natural state, the reflection is crystal clear.
Walking beneath the Bean is awesome – you are presented with multiple reflections here and it is an entirely different attraction from the balance of the sculpture. What I found remarkable was how clean and clear the surface was. Between all the guests touching it and knowing how quickly birds cover my mailbox with poop, this begged some research. Turns out the Bean is hand wiped two times every day with Windex, and a more determined cleansing twice yearly with Tide, lol.
But of course, the primary order of business was running the marathon, and what a marathon. There were 45,000 runners for this grand event, which is hard to comprehend. To accommodate the mass of humanity everyone gets assigned to ‘corrals’ at the start and let me help you appreciate how massive this is. Once the starting gun sounded, it was six minutes before I crossed the official starting line! Fortunately, participants attach timing chips to their shoelaces so your official timer does not begin until you finally achieve the beginning.
Of all the races I have been in, this was the first where I ran with a companion. If you know me I am competitive, so even though I did not have much time to prepare for the marathon I trained hard to be sure I kicked my stepson’s butt. In fact, I decided my goal should be to complete Chicago under four hours: a time which is laughable among the elite crowd, but considered a lifetime achievement by rank and file human beings.
It was a great run. So many folks thronged the sidelines to cheer us on throughout the entire course. My fondest memory was a stretch where I noticed runners looking up and waving. We were passing a senior center and almost every window of the four-story building was open with an elderly citizen waving their hand at the runners.
Eventually, I finished and you will never guess what my time was. Would you believe 4:00:19? By a lousy nineteen seconds, I had missed my goal, despite besting my stepson by forty minutes. Now that barrier needed to be crushed and my retirement needed to be postponed again. The next weekend I was on-line looking for marathons in faraway places. If I had to endure another marathon I wanted to mix travel in.