Friday, April 06, 2007


Chicago is AMAZING. I was excited to be going anywhere, but especially a big city like Chicago. There are two things you notice when you fly in to Chicago: Lake Michigan, which looks more like an ocean, and the buildings. It’s hard to contemplate how tall even one of those buildings is, and in downtown Chicago they're everywhere, building after building, as tall as mountains.

We (a large group of relatives and I) and I had only two days to spend in Chicago after my cousin's wedding in South Bend, so we had to choose our activities wisely. Sears Tower and Wrigley Field sounded cool, as did the aquarium and the natural history museum. But for me there was really only one must-do on my list: go to Harpo Studios where the Oprah Winfrey Show is taped. I mean, I watch the show every day, and after that I read O magazine, and watch my Oprah’s 20th Anniversary DVD…well, you know what I mean. How could I go to Chicago and not visit Oprah?
But Harpo Studios seemed out for the first day, since we got there in late afternoon and the family had made plans to go to Navy Pier.

Below, the view of Downtown from Navy Pier.

After that my dad and my sister and I went walking on our own down Michigan Avenue. The stores on Michigan Avenue (aka the Magnificent Mile) are world-famous, they’re huge, and the lit-up window displays are fantastically stylish: Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Louis Vuitton, Saks Fifth Avenue, a huge Borders store. It seemed like every store I could ever imagine wanting to go into was there, selling anything I could ever want. I had never seen stores like these--well, only on TV and in movies.

But my eyes lit up most at the Ghirardelli chocolate store, which turned out to be right across the street from the Hershey’s store. Ah, I had stumbled across the chocolate corner of Chicago. It turned out that the Ghirardelli store sells chocolate, of course, but it’s also an ice cream parlor selling the most delicious-looking chocolate sundaes I’ve ever seen. Too bad I was so full from dinner that I couldn’t even contemplate eating one. An employee was handing out samples of dark chocolate with caramel filling, so I munched on that instead. The place was packed, and we waited in a long line for my dad to order a strawberry malt (who orders a strawberry malt in the Ghirardelli chocolate store? Go figure). Besides being packed, the store was heated to the point that the chocolate started melting in my hand.

As we stood around waiting for our order, I glanced around the store. The employees were making sundaes behind a wooden counter in an extremely efficient manner. I looked at the couple in front of us, the woman carrying a baby in one of those Baby Bjorn contraptions. There was a small area of tables in front that was completely full with people laughing and talking in the very warm store. And something hit me. These people aren’t tourists--they’re just ordinary Chicagoans out for some ice cream on a Sunday night. They can go down to Michigan Avenue anytime they like. Instead of the neighborhood Baskin-Robbins, they go to the Ghirardelli store on Michigan Avenue. Wow. Just one of the benefits of living in a world-class city.


After a night’s rest, I woke up determined to see Harpo Studios. My father and my sister and I took a cab ride through the city and arrived in a nice neighborhood at what turns out to be a rather non-descript building. It wasn't what I expected. Surprisingly to me, it’s not a tourist destination—there’s not even a gift shop inside. But still, I was *so* excited thinking about Oprah Winfrey herself walking down the same sidewalks and possibly inside working on her next show. There was a guy in a ticket booth in the entryway who gave me a card so you can call for tickets to a show. Outside, I took pictures in front of the sign and my jaw dropped when I recognized the parking lost where Oprah gave away cars to the entire audience. Here's a picture of me and my sister at Harpo. Check out my smile of pure joy:

I suppose the real highlight of the visit came when I spotted two Harpo employees standing outside smoking cigarettes. I tried to make small talk with them. They seemed nice enough, not too annoyed by me the super-fan. We ended up talking about the weather, but they had to go back inside before I got to ask them what I really wanted to know, things more along the lines of “What is Oprah really like?” But at least I can say I met some people who know Oprah, which is quite possibly the closest I’ll ever come to actually meeting her.

My mission accomplished, we headed to Millennium Park, which has the Cloud Gate sculpture, basically a bean-shaped mirror sculpture. The underside is particularly fascinating. You can see different views of the people around you, sort of like looking at different camera views: one far up overhead, one close up, and one that looks like everyone’s mashed-up together. Very post-modern. I loved Millennium Park, so much so that I took about a million pictures of it:

This is the amphitheater at Millennium Park:

*Sigh* I think I’m in love. Obviously, I was very impressed by my day and night in Chicago, to the point where I sat in the hotel Sunday night and contemplated packing up my things and moving there. Seriously. It didn’t seem like much of a stretch to see myself occupying some tiny apartment, walking to the El station in my wool coat and leather boots, having lunch at one of those hot dog stands, strolling through Millennium Park on weekends. There must be tons of stuff to do in Chicago, sports events and concerts and museums to visit, great shopping, restaurants to try, but honestly, those things don’t even appeal to me that much. Even walking down the street is exciting in Chicago. Just being there right in the middle of so much energy, absorbing it all, must make you think differently about yourself. Like you’re a citizen of the world, you're able to shape your own destiny in a place where just about anything can happen.

The trip was way too short. It was difficult heading back to El Paso so soon, knowing that world is out there. As much as I love this city, it’s no Chicago. Our attempts at sophistication seem quaint in comparison. El Paso’s Downtown has about two tall buildings, neither of which is really that tall. There’s no El train, there aren’t people from every nation in the world walking down the street, there’s no Ghirardelli chocolate store. I do love El Paso and I normally hate when people are down on the city and whine about how “there’s nothing to do here,” but going to a city like Chicago I can understand why they say that, and I can understand why so many young people leave El Paso in search of bigger and better things. It just made me realize more so than ever that El Paso is not the center of the universe. But I guess that’s why people travel, to gain perspective, which I definitely did.

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