Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Road Trip Recap - Part I: Sweet Home Chicago


One of the truly great American locales, the Windy City has so much that appeals directly to my core: great food, amazing architecture and original six hockey.

Is there any movie that
captures the Windy City any better?
It's also the backdrop to two of the all-time greatest comedies ever made: The Blues Brothers and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Not a day goes by in my life where I don't make a reference to or quote a line from one of these films.  I fell in love with these movies at a very early age and they helped define my sense of humor ever since.

I'd been itching to hit Chicago for a long time., having been there twice in the past. The first time was in 1998 during Senior Week in college as part of a 'baseball across the midwest' trip I took with a couple of my good friends. We took in a Cubs game at Wrigley the only way it should be done: on a weekday afternoon in the bleachers.  The Cubs lost to the Phillies 10-5 despite two Sammy Sosa home runs, but I had an absolute blast.  The bleachers were general admission seating, the sun was shining on a perfect 80 degree day, I was drinking afew beers and I had the best hot dog I'd ever had in my life - a kosher dog with mustard and sauteed onions on a poppy seed bun.  After the game we did some walking (Grant Park, Michigan Ave., Navy Pier) and then we grabbed dinner at Harry Caray's (the original steakhouse) where I had the best veal parmigiana of my life.

My second trip to the Second City was in June of 2009 for a United States National Team World Cup qualifier against Honduras at the renovated Soldier Field.  The US came from behind to win the match 2-1 as they continued their march to the World Cup finals in South Africa.  We had spent much of the pregame at Fado, an Irish pub downtown, but after the game a bunch of us wanted to sit down and get some real sustenance.  As we exited the subway at the Grand St. stop on the Red Line, we literally bumped into the Weber Grill. Now, for those of you who know me, I am a complete and utter Weber slut.  Besides owning four of their grills, I also own two of their cookbooks, two sets of their utensils and various pieces of weber-branded apparel.  My day could not have ended on a higher note - sharing some absolutely fantastic barbecue with some great friends at the Mecca for the Weber lifestyle.

Way back in 2009, when the NHL schedule came out, one date stood out right away: December 18.  That was a Saturday.  The Bruins were playing the Blackhawks in Chicago.  I called Heather right away about a possible road trip.  Unfortunately, it just wasn't going to work out.  My son's first birthday was on the 17th and there was no way I was going to miss that nor was I going to miss his party we were going to have on the 19th.  Due to the way the NHL schedules inter-conference matchups, a trip to Chicago would have to wait at least two years.

The silver lining to that was that we were able to celebrate my 35th birthday in Toronto for Hockey Night in Canada in 2010, a trip that I blogged about extensively here.

I'll go. I'll go. I'll go
Fast forward, then, to last June.  The NHL schedule came out on the 24th and almost immediately Heather and I got together on the phone.  The date was set - Saturday, October 15.  The Bruins were going to play in Chicago.  After we checked in with our respective spouses, it was a go.  And as an added bonus, a bunch of our Section 307 family wanted to go as well.

Now, my first rule of road tripping is to never book flights or accommodations before having game tickets in hand.  Being a Saturday night (one of a very few home Saturday night games at the United Center) against an original six team who only makes an appearance there a minimum of every two years, I knew that this was going to be a tough ticket to get, never mind that we needed to get seven of them all together.

I signed up on the Blackhawks website for advance single game ticket sales to get in on any presales they might have.  Alas, when tickets did go on sale through the Blackhawks website, the only thing I could find was standing room only.  That just wasn't going to work for our entire group.  We had called in a big favor through a friend with connections for our tickets in Toronto last year, but we didn't really want to go that route again so soon.  That meant going to the secondary market.

Rather than going to a bunch of sites I'd never heard of before, I went to StubHub and was able to get 7 tickets in section 307 of all places.  Perfect.  Tickets in hand (or on the way), Heather and I booked flights.  Because of work commitments, Heather and I had to work all day Friday, but the rest of the crew (The Barrys, Paula, Patty and Tricia) was going to fly in early and do some sightseeing beforehand.  I was able to get direct flights out of Logan to Midway via Southwest for a pretty good price. The only drawback being that we'd have to catch an early flight back on Sunday.  Oh well.

Heather was able to line us up a hotel along the Magnificent Mile via Hotels.com.  Prices for rooms were somewhat high, perhaps due to the Bears playing at home on Sunday night.  Nonetheless, we got a fairly decent price and we were going to be close to the rest of the crew and near a bunch of places we wanted to see while in town.

With all the logistics lined up, all we had to do was wait for the season to get underway.

Next up: Part II - We're on a Mission for Dogs

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