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The BG News
BG24 Newscast
November 30, 2023

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Gettin’ the heck out of Dodge

It all started early Saturday afternoon when my roommate put down a map he was looking at.

“Hey. Want to go to Chicago?”

I was watching a tape-delayed high school slam dunk competition. My eyes, still bleary from rising at 11:30 in the morning, were gravitating toward LeBron James and friends much like a plant does toward the sun. That’s where the most light was emanating from. My brain finally processed what he had said, and I turned to him.

“Uhhhh … what?”

“C’mon,” he said. “We’ll get back by five tomorrow at the absolute, absolute latest.”

His friend from high school was living out in the suburbs and had been asking him to come out there for weeks. Even sent him an application for a free plane ticket. But that would have necessitated driving to Detroit and paying for overnight parking. The better option, from a simplicity and college road-trip standpoint, was to drive.

I never have been a big road-tripper. Too much remembering to bring stuff and forgetting not to leave stuff and not totally knowing your showering or sleeping accommodations for the next night. But I took a look around at our apartment, in need of cleaning, the slate-gray sky outside and my countdown to graduation (read: find a job deadline), now inside five weeks.

Yeah, I could stand to get the heck out of Dodge for a day or two.

Pack overnight bags, get some money out of the ATM and leave.

We cut a straight line through Indiana, living off Funyuns, pretzels and pop for the afternoon. Sturgis. Elkhart. South Bend. Gary. Across the state line into Calumet City, Illinois. A wrong turn here and there. I tried to find street names on a map that could have been fully printed on the head of a pin.

I quickly found out the biggest drawback to being a Chicagoan besides traffic jams: toll roads. Every other stretch of road in the city has a toll gate at its origin or end. The official symbol of the Chicago transit authority must be a change basket with 50 cents going into it. Pack a roll of quarters if you go.

We got to our destination in Naperville, Ill. in about three and a half hours. We got a whirlwind tour of the surrounding area in an evening and a morning. Naperville is practically its own metropolitan area at 133,000 people and a bustling downtown area filled with shops and restaurants. Naperville, like Chicago, is so populated there can be a fast-food restaurant on a main street and the exact same restaurant a mile and a half down the road. Both get good business because there are so many customers to go around.

And what’s a trip to Chicago without deep-dish pizza at 11 p.m.? Never let any Pizza Hut chain joint tell you they have Chicago deep dish. The real stuff costs $19 for a 10-inch and an Olympic shot-putter would have a hard time lifting it. The bottom crust itself isn’t much thicker than a heavy piece of poster board. It’s the layers of cheese, peppers, sausage and pepperoni on top that give it its depth, usually over two inches.

Sunday morning, we had to leave after breakfast. Way too soon, but skipping classes in the final weeks of the semester to spend an extra day in Chicago probably isn’t a good idea.

We decided to go downtown on the way out. I hadn’t been into downtown Chicago before, but luckily my roommate had driven in the city. I was familiar with skyscrapers before living in Cleveland, but not these super-giants. The Sears Tower, still the tallest building in the western hemisphere, is visible from at least 20 miles away. We pulled off the highway, eastward up a street for just over a mile, and made a left onto Michigan Avenue.

Want to feel like the crust on the bottom of a deep-dish pizza? Go down Michigan Avenue in a car. There are few buildings under 100 feet in height, and most exceed that by plenty. We stayed on Michigan long enough for me to have the highlight of my trip. A red light.

Stuck behind a bus on Michigan, I looked up. We were right next to the Hancock Building. Darn near 100 stories if not over. I was right there, looking out of the sun roof up to this giant. I mean, straight up. This huge, famous building I had seen in photographs and on TV for years was right next to me. I don’t know if I blinked for the whole light. I had to take in every second.

Some people are humbled when they look up at the nighttime sky. Some are humbled when they exchange glances with a jet black steel-and-glass celebrity that has an observation deck capable of seeing three states.

We shot up Lakeshore Drive past the Field Museum and the renovated Soldier Field, back onto the interstate and past Comiskey Park, where the White Sox were in the process of routing the Tigers. (It is actually called U.S. Cellular Field now, but if that name appears in anything besides a White Sox program on a newspaper story, heads need to roll.)

We blasted back through Indiana, back home to Ohio, and almost ran out of gas when we decided to take a route home that included Wauseon and Napoleon. But we made it.

I don’t have any pictures of the weekend. Right now, I doubt that I’d need them. All I have to do is sit back and close my eyes to get a good picture. Riding through downtown Chicago with the sun roof open on a cool April afternoon, Bowling Green and daily business hundreds of miles away. And I think I’m still digesting that deep-dish pizza.

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