Chicago, Chicago: That toddlin’ town

It’s like a clean New York. Maybe a little more manageable and a little more friendly. I guess you could say it’s New York Lite.

Alan and I just got back from Chicago, and we loved it. I’d been there before. To the airport, of course, and to our client U.S. Cellular‘s offices. But they are in a suburb. I’d never done the honest-to-goodness tourist thing in Chicago, as I have many times in New York.

We were in town for the National Urban League convention because I am chair-elect of the Knoxville affiliate‘s board, and Alan came along as a “spouse” registrant. The convention was jam-packed, but we still managed to slip away and do a few things that weren’t on the schedule. Here are the highlights of our five days in “that toddlin’ town” (what does that MEAN, anyway?):

First, a great hotel recommendation: The Hilton Chicago at 720 S. Michigan Avenue. Upgrade to a lake view room. It’s worth it. Here’s the view from our window.

Lake Michigan from Hilton Chicago

Lake Michigan from Hilton Chicago

The convention kicked off at the huge Apostolic Church of God on the South Side. With 20,000 members, it’s really more of a compound than a church, but we needed a big place with the 5,500 people in attendance that night. We got a little nervous when our shuttle bus driver got lost in an iffy neighborhood and we had to back down a dead-end street to get back on track. I’ve never seen so many folks so quickly pull out their GPS devices to offer assistance to a bus driver! Here’s a shot of the some 300-person Sanctuary Choir that wowed us during the two-hour welcome service when we finally did get there.

The 300-voice Sanctuary Choir

The 300-voice Sanctuary Choir of Apostolic Church of God

After church? Drinks, of course. Over at the Field Museum, actors Tracee Ellis Ross and Terrence Howard were the hosts. We felt privileged to be invited to the VIP reception upstairs — until we realized all the food was downstairs. Here’s a shot from the balcony. Fellow Knoxville Area Urban League board member Tom Catani, also at the foodless reception, was trying to meet up with his U.S. Cellular colleagues — by cell phone, of course. “We are standing next to the T. rex,” they told him. You don’t hear that every day.

Opening reception at the Field Museum

Opening reception at the Field Museum

One of the highlights of the trip was a concert by girl group En Vogue at the beautiful, historic Chicago Theatre. The ladies have been together for 20 years. Do the math. They’re not exactly girls anymore. But they were still spunky and sexy and fun. The lighting was terrible for photos inside the theater, but here’s the entertainment palace, which first opened in 1921, from the outside.

Talk about a warm welcome!

Talk about a warm welcome!

Alan and I sneaked away from one of the lunch sessions to visit the Art Institute of Chicago and its new Modern Wing. I could spend the whole blog talking about that. I have a weird fascination with Rene Magritte, and they had a couple of his pieces. And you know the nine little Thorne Rooms at the Knoxville Museum of Art? Well, 68 more of them are in Chicago. Here’s Alan (with my pink umbrella) inspecting “Paris Street: Rainy Day” by Gustave Caillebotte.

The Impressionists made a good impression on us.

The Impressionists made a good impression on us.

The Ferris wheel at Navy Pier was built in honor of the first Ferris wheel, which premiered at Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair. This is where I found out, after being married for 25 years, that Alan is less than thrilled about heights (he wouldn’t let me use the term “scared”). But he was a good sport. The ride is seven minutes long and costs $12 per person.

Alan braves the Ferris wheel.

Alan braves the Ferris wheel.

Best thing about the Ferris wheel? The view. Here’s an example. We also took the architectural cruise, which was a blast. But the photos weren’t as good as those from the Ferris wheel.

Best view in town - for seven  minutes

Best view in town - for seven minutes

Historic Navy Pier is the number one tourist attraction in the Midwest. It’s a cleaner version of the Tennessee Valley Fair.

It just says "fun," doesn't it?

It just says "fun," doesn't it?

The convention ended Saturday night with a black-tie gala. Here are Knoxville’s Phyllis and Jim Nichols in the hotel lobby before the event. Other Knoxvillians in attendance: Peyton Hairston, Tierney Bates, Christopher Jones, Y’Londa Byrd and Quiana Hardy.

Phyllis and Jim Nichols, our traveling buddies

Phyllis and Jim Nichols, our traveling buddies

A word about the food: Great meals at Tavern at the Park, Park Cafe, and Terzo Piano inside the Art Institute. All the meals at our hotel, including those from room service, were perfectly prepared and artfully presented.

The convention was mostly at McCormick Place, a huge and lovely LEED-certified facility. But the food there was so bad that I found myself either skipping or coming late to activities that included meals. That’s a shame, as Chicago is known for its good food.

One other puzzlement: they roll up the downtown sidewalks before midnight – even on weekends. As the folks at Tavern at the Park gave us last call before 11 on Friday night, they told us that the establishments stay open later in the nearby neighborhoods — only the waiter called them “liquor-hoods.” I guess we’ll investigate those on our next trip.

Photo credit: Chicago Theatre shot by Jim Nichols.

For another Knoxville view of Chicago, go to one of my favorite blogs, The Modern Gal. She just returned from a different convention there.

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6 Responses to Chicago, Chicago: That toddlin’ town

  1. Lauren Christ, on August 4th, 2009 at 2:17 pm said:

    Terrific photos, Cynthia! When I went to Chicago for the first time in January for the U.S. Cellular conference, I had a blast — even while it was freezing and the city was covered in snow! I loved visiting the Art Institute of Chicago, too. I really enjoyed seeing for the first time some familar Impressionist pieces that I’ve always loved.

  2. Christopher Jones, on August 8th, 2009 at 12:45 am said:

    I enjoyed this article and the conference as well, however I would like to offer a correction:
    My name is Christopher Jones, not Christopher James. Thank you.

  3. Cynthia Moxley, on August 8th, 2009 at 7:58 am said:

    Thanks for the correction, Christopher. I have made it. What was your favorite part of the conference?

  4. Christopher Jones, on August 10th, 2009 at 1:02 am said:

    This was my first NUL conference and I would have to say that my favorite part was being within a matter of feet of dynamic leaders and respected professionals and taking in what they had to say on a multitude of topics relevant to today’s culture. Some notable remarks for me came from Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, Chris Gardner, Dr. Randall Pinkett, Magic Johnson, Vice President Joe Biden, and even Tyra Banks. I also thoroughly enjoyed the Young Professionals Summit’s sessions on entrepreneurism and recession-proofing your career. I found myself returning numerous times to the massive Exhibit Hall. I definitely plan to go to next year’s conference in DC.

  5. Cynthia Moxley, on August 10th, 2009 at 7:10 am said:

    It was my first NUL conference, as well. I think the one in DC next year will be even better and I can’t wait to be there.

  6. The Modern Gal, on August 10th, 2009 at 10:57 pm said:

    Thanks for the link, Cynthia! Sounds like you had a great time too. What I love about Chicago is you can go many times and have a different experience every time you go!

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