Like most New Yorkers, I hate tourists. Actually “hate” isn’t really an expansive enough word. In addition to loathing them I mock them as well. All of this negativity comes at a high price to my mental health. I have fantasies of tackling the groups of clueless wanderers walking four abreast down the sidewalk, preventing me from achieving my usual 3.5 mph pace. Then I see how huge they are and know I’d just wind up flat on my back from the impact.
What’s a tourist-hater to do when she becomes a tourist herself? That’s what happened to me recently when I finally traveled to Chicago. I’ve been curious about the Windy City ever since Bob Newhart brushed the snow off his coat before saying, “Good morning” to Carol. So when my friend and I were trying to find a place to explore that neither of us had been to, Chicago seemed to fit the bill perfectly.
You know when you have one of those great flying experiences that give you amnesia for all the times you’ve been delayed, cancelled, turbulent or otherwise miserable? That’s what happened to me on departure Friday. After panicking that I wasn’t allowing enough time to get to the airport, I arrived in record time and was even able to get on an earlier flight. When does that ever happen? Flying time was less than two hours, shorter than the trip suffered by all the poor souls heading out to the Hamptons on the LIE, and because I got in early I was able to meet up with my friend at the airport and not have to take the train into town by myself.
My weekend was off to a great start.
You probably think I’m now going to talk about how it all went downhill from there. I’m not. It was great. Not surprisingly I tend to get snobbish about every other city in America in terms of how it rates against my Big Apple. I do a lot of eye rolling and “nice try”-ing. But I felt very generous towards Chi-town, and humbled. Why humbled? Because I had no idea where I was, where I was going or how to get there. Yes, I was that person on the street holding a rapidly disintegrating map against the wind (and at one point, torrential rain) trying to understand North, South, East and West. Yes, I have an iPhone, and yes, there is that little map thing, but for the life of me I can’t figure it out. Just ask my sister who almost pushed me out of her car two weeks ago when I directed her a quarter-mile past the movie theater we were trying to find. (Please don’t tell Nieces One and Two that it was probably my fault Madagascar was sold out by the time we got there).
Anyway, I knew I had only one choice and that was to embrace the role of La Touriste. No, I didn’t gain 50 pounds and buckle on a fanny pack. But I did look up at tall buildings and say, “Wow, look at that!” And I didn’t care who saw me and I didn’t care what I would have thought of me if I didn’t know me.
Some weekend highlights:
Saturday afternoon: The architectural boat tour along the Chicago River (the one given by the Chicago Architecture Foundation )—well, at least the first 60 of the 90-minute tour. It poured for the last half hour and we had to seek shelter down below. Comfortable but hard to see the rest of the buildings the perky tour guide was desperately trying to discuss while getting drenched up top.
Saturday night: The tagliolini nero with crab, sea urchin and chile at Balena. Just typing that dish made my mouth water.
Sunday morning: Reading the paper on a bench by the beach (!) in the middle of a city.
Sunday afternoon: Seeing Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte at the Art Institute. I have loved this painting since I first studied it in art history class. But it was the 1984 Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George that infused it with real meaning for me. At the end of the first act the painting comes together and the music swells and for the first time in my theater going life, I burst into tears. Seeing that work of pointillist genius up close and personal was thrilling.
After the museum we did a quick tour of Millennium Park and it was off to the airport. I had a weekend that was just busy enough. It was a little taste of what the city has to offer but it successfully whet my appetite. Except…there were a few things I didn’t actually taste. that certainly fall under the “tourist” category. I didn’t have any deep dish pizza because I live in New York and nothing beats our thin pies. There was no more Marshall Field’s in which to pick up a box of Frango mints, just like my mother used to bring back from business trips. And there would be no Garrett popcorn because I don’t willingly stand in line in the blazing sun for anything.
The gathering of hot and bothered looking Garrett people reminded me of the crowds you see milling outside of Serendipity on East 60th Street waiting for their name to be called. Usually in the dead of winter and all for a foot long hotdog and some frozen hot chocolate? I would imagine about as many Chicagoans actually buy popcorn at Garrett’s as New Yorkers crowd into Serendipity. None.
But between the excessive heat and all this tourist business I couldn’t stop thinking about that damned frozen hot chocolate. For those of you who haven’t experienced it, think of a really icy, giant Frappucino, but instead of coffee, make it chocolate and then smother it with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Oh, then pour it in a goblet big enough for four people, stick in a few straws and slurp. Yes, it is that good. And the last time I had one I think I was nine years old at my friend Emily’s birthday party. But here’s the thing, you don’t have to wait outside in the heat or cold to dive into one of these venti haute-Slurpees, you can make one yourself in less than 10 minutes! Which is exactly what I did. And if memory serves, it tasted just like I remember.
You see, I’ve conquered my hatred of tourists—as long as they (and I) are in other cities. But once you cross that bridge into my borough, sorry Buster, my rage starts bubbling up. So to protect us both I will stay indoors, planning my next trip to a place I’ve yet to go and sipping my frozen hot chocolate.
Note: This recipe comes from Todd Wilbur's Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3. He is famous for deconstructing your favorite treats and converting them into home made formulas. Although he picked the below cocoas as the closest match to the Serendipity flavors, I used what I had in the house -- 3 tablespoons of Droste and 1 tablespoon of Hershey's--and it was great.
No Need to Be a Tourist Serendipity-ish Frozen Hot Chocolate
from Top Secret Restaurant Recipes 3, Todd Wilbur 2010
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1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup nonfat dry milk powder
2 tablespoons Ghirardelli cocoa powder
1 tablespoon Hershey's cocoa powder
1 tablespoon Scharffen Berger cocoa powder
1 cup milk
3 cups ice
Whipped cream (buy a can. It's more fun.)
Chocolate Shavings (take a thick piece of chocolate and scrape away at it with a vegetable peeler. Voila, shavings.)
In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar, dry milk powder, cocoas and salt until completely combined. Set aside.
In a blender, pour in milk, then add the cocoa mixture, then add the ice. (Do it in this order).
Make sure the lid is on securely and blast the blender until the ice breaks down into slushy bits
Pour frozen hot chocolate into 4 tall glasses, or one mega goblet. Top with whipped cream, sprinkle on chocolate shavings, stick in a straw and start sipping.
Yield: 1-4 servings