I’ve been wanting to travel lately. Well, I’m always wanting to travel. So when two of my buddies had a break in their schedule and ambitions of a short road trip I was excited. A couple days in Delaware and Maryland, or maybe north to Massachusetts would be a nice break away from Asbury.
The plan is to head out from Wednesday to Sunday. It’s Tuesday night and we’re out for a birthday party. We start discussing locations since we don’t have the trip planned yet. Kind of out of the blue Jesse throws out Chicago as a destination. As soon as he says it I agree. I’ve wanted to go to Chicago for some time now. Sure, it’s probably too far for a four night trip. But distance has never really been an issue. Scratch Delaware. Bring on Chicago.
The party wraps up and we swing over to Wal-Mart to grab supplies for the trip. There’s the usual suspects. Water, Gatorade, Mountain Dew, Rockstar, Monster, beef jerky, Chobanis, hummus, crackers, deli meats, cheese, bread, mustard, tangerines, granola bars, and almonds to provide for fast meals and snacks on the road and save a couple bucks from paying twice the price at gas stations.
By the time we all pack up clothes and gear we’re left with about three hours of sleep since we have errands to run in the morning. Laundromat, bank, rental car. All stuff that probably could have been taken care of the night before. The plan is to drive straight out to Chicago and try to do a bit of hanging out for the night. Then recharge and spend the following night in Chicago. Then swing up to Milwaukee for a night. And out to Detroit for a night on the way home.
30-Mar Chicago, IL
Jesse wants to drive the first leg. I tell him I got it. I love driving. I could probably drive for the rest of my days. Twelve and a half hours on three hours of sleep is nothing. I think it’s the longest distance I’ve ever driven straight through. Regardless we grab a couple pork roll, egg, and cheeses and zip off for the midwest.
The ride out includes a ton of music. One of the favorite songs ends up being Subway Crush by Erin and Her Cello which somehow only has 150 spins on SoundCloud in the last 5 years. It’s a song I first heard on thesixtyone, a website that has a lot of pretty cool music.
Much of the drive is open space and farmland. There’s a lot of open space and farmland in this country. Hours and hours of open space. Eventually we get about an hour outside of Chicago. It’s still farmland. The sun is only just going down. Slowly there are signs of civilization. A bit of concrete. A couple buildings. Lights. With every minute passed, more and more of civilization. Eventually all of the grass and trees and open space are replaced with concrete and buildings. You can see the transition from what nature has made to what mankind has made.
We eventually arrive in Chicago. The plan is to grab some deep dish pizza. Yes, it’s cliche. It probably won’t even be all that great. And yes I’ve heard how people in Chicago don’t actually eat the stuff, just like people in Philadelphia don’t eat the cheese steak. But it’s what’s been decided upon for the night. Googling around reveals Pequod’s Pizza is probably the place to go. Either that or Lou Malnati’s. We decide on Pequod’s.
Jesse grabs a personal plain and Mikey and I split a medium with half pepperoni. I’m pretty pumped to see 3 Floyds on the menu. That’s a brewer that we don’t have back in New Jersey. The pizza eventually comes out and it is spectacular. The ingredients are all individually delicious. The ratios are all appropriate. The cheese melts into the side of the dish and crisps up to form a crispy cheesy crust. The pepperoni is quality and it adds a spiciness and pleasant fattiness that elevates it above the plain slice. This is a magical meal and I recommend it. There’s a lot of Chicago locals eating here, and throughout our time we find out that people from Chicago do in fact eat deep dish pizza. I’m glad we didn’t try to be too cool and pass up on this gem.
We hear Wicker Park and Logan Square are good places to check out after pizza. We swing over to the Logan Square area. It seems pretty busy. Parking is a bit rough. We’re a bit tired. We’re between heading out and heading to sleep. We decide on sleep. I would have loved to sleep in the car because that’s one of my favorite things in the world, but we agree a night on a bed would probably be beneficial after the late night last night and the long drive today. We grab a Hotwire and it ends up being the Holiday Inn in Skokie.
It’s kind of a massive hotel with a Bar Louie inside. I’ve never heard of Bar Louie before but we notice them throughout our trip. Apparently there’s about 85 of them throughout the country. Bar Louie is a casual America dining bar thing. You can get such annoying things as Bavarian pretzel sticks, Thai chicken flatbread, or the voodoo sandwich and drink some generic beverage off of a list. I probably shouldn’t complain about having food and drink available at a Holiday Inn on the outskirts of Chicago, but it’s frustrating that a concepts like Bar Louie can continue to be successful. It’s mediocre. I guess it gets the job done. A bucket of beers for $10 and everyone is happy but I can’t recommend these things to anyone.
31-Mar Chicago, IL
The plan for the morning is to check out Millennium Park and take it from there. But first we make a stop at Binny’s Beverage Depot on 3000 N Clark St to check out the beer selection. I like to pick up beers to throw in the fridge from when I travel as there is a lot of brewer’s that are not available in New Jersey. I grab the pair of 2014 Old Stock aged in rye and wheat whisky and the Bomb! by Prairie Artisan Ales.
On the way to Millennium Park we drive along Lake Michigan. Surprisingly we see water that is a gorgeous hue of blue. We decided to swing by the Navy Pier to get up close and personal with it and snap some pictures. I had no idea these lakes could look anything like this. The water here is nicer than some Caribbean islands. Apparently the color changes and it looks like this sometimes after the lake has unfrozen and the winds stir up sediment.
Here’s a view of it with a bit of Chicago in the background.
After a quick stop we swing over to Millennium Park. The area has a lot of cool things to check out. The most famous is the Cloud Gate structure, which goes by the nickname the bean amongst people because of it’s shape. I can definitely see people not liking the sculpture but I really think it’s a gorgeous piece. If I lived in the area I would try to make a visit to it late night or during a storm to try to get some alone time with it. Even with the mass of tourists I was impressed by it. The smart curvatures allow for some great scenes and the reflective material really makes it a living piece that changes its appearance based on the world around it.
Here’s a picture of the three of us with a reflected Chicago in the bean. I believe it’s the only picture of the three of us from the trip. We weren’t the best at taking pictures of ourselves, so please take time to enjoy our beautiful mugs before proceeding because there won’t be any more.
Walking under the bean transports you into a different dimension.
We walked around the park a bit more snapping pictures and checking out the sights. As you can see from this picture that Jesse took the park provides great views of the city.
We only have two total hours on the meter so by the time we explore the park we’re in search of a quick bite. We decide to grab a couple Chicago hot dogs from Max’s Take Out on 20 E Adams St. We ask for six dogs with everything which includes mustard, relish, onions, tomatoes, pickles, peppers, and celery salt. There’s a lot of stuff on these dogs and we joked throughout the trip about taking ordinary food dishes like the hotdog and putting a garden salad on it, because that’s kind of what a Chicago dog is. Apparently it’s a crime to order ketchup on your dogs here but the guy in front of us did. He apologized to the owner but the owner seemed pretty easy going and let it slide.
The dogs were alright for a quick bite. They didn’t provide the same magical experience of the deep dish pizza.
Since we have to move the car we decide to head over to Bloomingdale Trail. Someone (Jesse) suggested it based on pictures that they saw. It was supposed to be a urban hiking trail along old railroad lines. We pull up to the trail and spot a shop called Donut Delight and so we fuel up on donuts and coffees. We walk up the ramp to the trail and pretty much for as far as the eye can see it’s a straight line with nothing but bikers and joggers. So yea, Bloomingdale Trail is great to exercise on if you’re a local but otherwise it doesn’t serve much of a purpose.
However it’s around this time that we discover one of the most ear bleeding songs on the radio. If you have a sense of humor feel free to check out 1Night by Lil Yachty but I would be totally fine with you passing on this one. It has about 19 million spins on SoundCloud. Apparently Lil Yachty played Webster Hall back in February. Guess we just missed him.
Oh well, we decided to figure out a place to hang out and book a hotel next to it. A buddy we plan on meeting suggests either Old Town or River North. We drive through both and decide on the Hubbard Street area of River North. We check in to the Hotel Chicago Downtown where the parking is almost as expensive as the room. They want $70 to valet. That’s the same price as direct flights from O’Hare to Denver for that day. We knew the price to fly out to Colorado because we’re always down for an adventure.
We meet up with our buddy at the hotel. He’s going to be our tour guide for the night since he lives in town. He ends up taking us to a several places, one of which was Three Dots and a Dash, an underground hidden tiki bar. There are a lot of speak easy type establishments in Chicago so if that is your style you should look into some of them.
1-Apr Milwaukee, WI
Morning comes and with it more pizza. We’re a couple minutes walk from Lou Malnati’s, which is the other pizza place we were considering. We sit down at the bar and strike up conversations with people around us and with the bar tender. We have a half hour talk while waiting for our pizza to be made from scratch (they have pre-made pizza available if you’re in a rush, gross). We’re thinking of where to head to next. The plan is either take a nice leisurely drive up to Milwaukee for the night and then spend the following night in Detroit or try to swing all the way around Lake Michigan. Supposedly there is some pretty beautiful parts up north. We decided to head into Milwaukee for the night as the recommendations for the town aren’t terrible. No one’s really recommending it and no one’s saying not to go.
It’s raining in Milwaukee. It’s been raining off and on during the trip. There’s not really too much to do in town but the Milwaukee Art Museum seems pretty highly rated. We decide to check it out.
We park in the underground deck and head to the museum. As we get out of the car a lady asks us if we can help her. She says they’ve been trying to get a baby seat out of the car so that they can fit all five people in the car. I guess the group of four at some point got tired of the baby and traded it for a full grown adult. This is a great trade as a baby is only going to slow down your travel plans. Of course the difficulty is that you still have a baby seat in your car that you have to get out. The lady asks if there’s an engineer in the group. Mikey says I’m an engineer. I deflect. I might be able to do some math and science but baby seats are designed to never be able to go in or out of the car. I’m an engineer. I’m not a wizard. I’m a mortal. I’m not a superhero. What this group needs is a hero. Mikey gives it an attempt to try to get the seat out. It’s a bit dark so I shine my flashlight on the area that he’s working. After about a minute he says I’m doing a useless job and grabs my phone. A couple seconds later and he’s got one of the straps unlocked. Another second and the other lock has been unloosened. The group breathes a sigh of relief. They will be able to carry on their adventure. And so will we. It’s nice when your friends are superheroes. It makes the whole journey a bit easier for everyone.
Apparently the first Fridays are free so we luck out with free admission and avoid having to pay the $17 a ticket. There are a lot of really great things to see in the museum. I really liked this infinite reflection piece.
The exhibits are all pretty diverse. There’s a lot of detail that can be missed. The woodwork on this piece was rather fantastic.
The art building itself is a piece of art. The architecture incorporates a lot of natural lighting, which leads to some tremendous views. This dandelion room is beautiful. If I had the money I could see myself building a room like this for the only practical purpose being to stir the soul and provide temporary seating. It sits on Lake Michigan and overlooks the Michigan Bay.
The diversity of paintings is rather large. There are the usual suspects, Wisconsin native Georgia O’Keeffe, Norman Rockwell, Claude Monet. One piece that stuck out to me was this 1883 painting of The Two Majesties by Jean-Leon Gerome. It doesn’t look that old. I can see this being painted much more recently. It’s easy to see how someone can look at this painting and get inspiration for something in their field of study. I don’t believe this was in any way inspiration for The Lion King, but it’s not a stretch to see how it could have been.
There are a couple exhibits that you can immerse yourself in. I didn’t have time to do the Walk-In Infinity Chamber because the line of high schoolers was on fleek. But right around the corner was an installation featuring a projector that was projecting a sine wave on a wall and a smoke machine in a dark room. This resulted in a beam of light and smoke that would take on different shapes. It was pretty neat. I was in the room for a few minutes watching different groups of people coming and going and seeing how they interacted with the piece. Some people put hand puppets on the wall. Some people put their hand over the projector to make the room go dark. A little boy was with his mom and he was putting his hands up and disrupting the beam of light. His mom told him to stop. If he was closer to me I would have told him not listen to his mom and carry on. Eventually I had the room to myself. I moved through it and snapped a couple pictures. Each picture individual and impossible to recreate. Here was my favorite.
It was getting late and the museum was slowly starting to clear out. I was able to grab a shot of one of the hallways without much disturbance. I love how the evening light makes this otherwise white room appear bluish gray.
The museum actually connects to the city via a bridge that was built by architect Santiago Calatrava in 2001. Here it is photographed by Jesse.
We needed a bite after spending a couple hours browsing the museum. But fist we swung over to liquor store to check out their beer selection. We stop in Discount Liquor on 5031 W Oklahoma Ave and grab a 4 pack of Toppling Goliath’s PsuedoSue. It’s an American Pale Ale that doesn’t show up back home.
As far as food and drink we’ve had some recommendations from some of the locals and from browsing online. Some 19 year old told us to check out Water Street. So we know that’s probably a terrible place to go. We make the drive down it just to see. It looks pretty touristy, so we could probably do better. A Bar Louie confirms we need to get out of the area.
We swing down into Walker’s Point. Since we’ve been eating the prototypical dishes of the places we’ve been, we decided we need cheese. Wisconsin is the known for its cheese and dairy. We hear Camino is a good place to go. We stop in. The bar tender recommends the cheese curds which is a good sign. I grab the kimcheese sandwich with bacon off of recommendation, which is kimchi and three cheeses. The boys grab some sort of spicy sausage with sauerkraut. There’s a lot of good beers on tap. I end up grabbing a Tyranena Brewing Wrath of Rocky. Everything ends up being delicious but those cheese curds were the star. Some of the best fried cheese I’ve ever had.
The bar tender gives us some recommendations. He tells us to stay away from Water Street. He gives us a list of things to do. He mentions music venues. It’s clear to see he’s into the music scene. But he also gives us a list of places to dance if we’re into that. He’s not. But it’s nice that he’s smart enough to realize that other people may be into other things than he is.
We decide to swing over to Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge based on his recommendation. It opened in 1938. A fire in 1971 led to a remodel. I don’t think a thing has changed since. In a good way. I think. The stereo system is approaching 50 years old. It’s playing cheesy tunes that have an overly pronounced baseline. The lighting may as well just be red. There’s velvet. Cramped table seating. There are no menus. You ask the server or the bartender for a drink or you give them an idea of what you’re into and they’ll mix something up. I’m in the mood for a dirty Hendrick’s. Mikey grabs a Ray Gun which is a mix of bourbon, Aperol, and lemon. That leaves Jesse to get the obligatory iced grape drink that’s brought to the table on fire. I snap a picture of a lit up plant in the corner that comes out better than I expected. While it is black and white just put a transparent blood red filter over top and you will have the look of the place.
We swing over to the Hyatt to check in for the night. It has an interesting layout. The middle of the hotel is open and a huge piece of art hangs down the middle of the eighteen floors. Everyone’s front door faces each other and you can see people on each of the eighteen balconies. We drop our bags off, catch the end of a Warriors loss, and head out for a walk to some of the late night bars.
We walk over the Milwaukee River along the Riverwalk Way. It’s a nice walk. We head to Dick’s Pizza & Pleasure because there’s supposed to be music but they are closing up shop. Flannery’s, Plum Lounge, Taylor’s all look like misses as well. The only thing I would probably recommend is My Office which is a dive. The nightlife in this area doesn’t seem to be too impressive. You honestly might be better off checking out Bronze Fonz, Milwaukee’s #21 thing to do. Nah, I’m kidding. Don’t go to see that. Also don’t go to see the Allen-Bradley Clock Tower, the #41 thing to do. We saw it back near Camino and we were not moved in the slightest by it. Apparently it’s called Milwaukee’s Big Ben, but they should call it Milwaukee’s Big Waste of Time. We grabbed a couple snaps and proceeded to the hotel for some sleep.
2-Apr Detroit, MI
The morning would bring a drive to Detroit. It would also bring Kangaroo Court by Capital Cities which is a fantastic song and video.
Before we ventured out we stopped at the Milwaukee Public Market because Mikey wanted to grab some cheese to go. The market isn’t the biggest or best in the world, but has a good mix of things that should provide something for everyone. I picked up some beef jerky for the road and a BLT for lunch because the bacon looked so good. There was an oyster place that looked pretty good but we didn’t grab any.
The drive from Milwaukee to Detroit was a wild one with the weather. It alternated between sunshine, heavy snow, dark clouds, rain, and wind. The weather forced us to drive a little slower than we wanted to but it provided for an interesting ride. About an hour from Detroit we stopped around the Waterloo State Recreation Area to poke around. There are a lot of small lakes in this area that provide for a nice break. The snow made for a nice backdrop.
The last bit of driving was a bit dangerous with the snow and wind. The dropping temperatures had adding some ice to the mix. We were about twenty or thirty cars behind a dozen car pile up.
Eventually we got to the city, stopping at Slows BarBq off of a recommendation we got back in Chicago. They have a rather large beer list, which is great. But the bbq isn’t the best I’ve had. It’s ok but I probably couldn’t recommend it. There’s probably a lot of interesting food being made in the city. Hipster stuff like pickled absurdo, obscurata treated with liquid nitrogen, and sauteed radicchio. One of those things is edible, one of them isn’t, and another is a completely made up thing. Hint, don’t eat the obscurata.
Anyways we check into the Westin Book Cadillac Detroit. On the elevator up some lady asks what we’re doing in Detroit. She says we’re tall and asks if we’re on a sports team. She used to be a cheerleader. I’m thinking maybe she’s thinking we’re on some college basketball team. I could almost see that. She says she wants to know what team we’re on and she promises she won’t tell anyone. She asks if we’re on the Red Wings. Sigh, I mean we’ve been getting big out here but I think we all have to toss on a bit more muscle on if we’re going to be playing in the NHL.
After dropping off our bags we head out in search of a bar that’s supposed to have music on Saturday’s. It’s a recommendation from a friend. I can’t find the thing in Google and the address we have doesn’t show a bar or club in Google Map’s Street View. Regardless we head out to the address. The GPS tells us we have arrived and I’m not sure what’s up. There’s no bar here. But we see a building with some lights and can hear some music. There’s a bunch of cars parked down the next street. I guess this is the place. We decide to check it out.
We walk up to the two security guys at the door. The smell of marijuana is in the air. “We don’t need no IDs here. Just $10 cover.” Alright, seems questionable. Let’s do it. Pay the cover and get inside. There’s a DJ spinning some pretty cool dance and hip hop mixes. He’s accompanied by a drummer who proceeded to crush it on the drums.
Looking around you see a really chill group of people. There’s a kid with a wig on, another kid wearing bunny ears I think. There’s a bar with PBRs. People are smoking cigarettes and blunts. There’s ashtrays on tables. There’s a slew of random pieces of furniture, couches, chairs, skate ramps. It’s an interesting environment. I heard Detroit was the wild west, or the wild midwest, but I didn’t expect it to be like this. I’m not sure how many laws were being broken here but it was probably a lot.
I go to order three PBRs and while I’m waiting I notice a guy dressed in a police uniform walk up to the guy behind the counter. I don’t really think any of it. I think he’s just a regular guy until I see how close he gets to the bartender’s face. Ahh. This is definitely a cop. No one seems to really care but the guy behind the bar is freaking out. He tells me he’ll be right back and goes and runs off. Looks like he was ready to boogey out of there.
Eventually we get our brews and get a little dancing in. The DJ and drummer combo are killing it. After a bit of hanging out we decide to make a move to try to catch another place. This place was great but we can pretty much only get into trouble here.
As we head outside we see about ten police cars and about twenty policemen getting organized outside of the entrance. The place is about to get raided. We have nothing to hide so we walk past the police and they don’t bother with us. By the time we get to the car and sit down we see the lights go on in the place. Some people start quickly walking down the sidewalk. As we pull out of our spot and pass the entrance the entire club is out side walking one way or another
I’m not sure if this place will be shut down for good or if it will go on. Regardless I’m sure other venues will pop up around the city to take its place. All you have to do is go out and grab one of the many abandoned garages, warehouse or pieces of land for cheap and you’re pretty much free to do whatever you want with it, even if you’re doing some illegal things. The cities in too much of a disarray to care until you’ve made quite a bit of noise.
I didn’t really want to take any pictures in there. It kind of has the feel of a no picture zone but here’s one that Jesse grabbed.
Since it was getting late we decided to head back to the hotel. It’s amazing how few people are in this city. You drive on three lane roads and you’re the only car in sight. There are abandoned buildings, factories, warehouses, churches, hotels, and schools everywhere. Everything is crumbling, graffitied, or was set on fire. Occasionally you get to a house with a car parked out front where someone lives. Detroit is a wild place.
3-Apr Back to Asbury
Finally the day comes to drive back home, but not before we go strolling about the city. There’s a community garden right outside of the hotel. It’s faced by an old brick wall that is boarded up with some heavily contrasted boards. This picture is courtesy of Jesse.
We drive over to St. Agnes Church. It’s an abandoned church. It used to be opened for people to go in and view but it’s closed now. There’s fence around it that you may need to scale to get inside. It’s freezing cold so it’s unlikely we’ll run into any trouble in the church. But we do have our car with the Jersey plates parked out front on an otherwise empty street in a questionable area. We want to peak inside but we have to be quick. Between the police and the hood there’s a clock that’s counting down to bad news.
The place definitely has a creepy vibe to it. Luckily I haven’t been playing many zombie video games or I’d probably be a bit more terrified poking my head around some of these corners. Here’s a shot of the church facing the altar area.
And here’s the church facing the rear. There’s abandoned stuff like this all over the city. The scale of the abandonment is massive. Every type of building has been left in complete disrepair in many miles all around the city. Much of the community has picked up and left, and results like this are to be expected.
Here’s a picture of a window along the side that Jesse grabbed.
We decided to check out a bit more of the city. The plan is to drive by the Packard Automotive Plant. On the way we take back roads and end up stumbling upon this ghetto Louvre. There’s a lawn with a group of exhibits that look like they are made from recycled products. There’s a 40-foot dinosaur, murals, and other sculptures. It ends up being the Lincoln Street Art Park on 5926 Lincoln St, established in 2011. It was built as an effort to clean up the area and it’s meant to inspire and bring joy and creativity. I definitely recommend swinging through and checking it out.
We continue onward to the Packard Automotive Plant. As we get closer we pass the Chene-Ferry Market on the corner of Chene and E Ferry St. It looks like a cool shot so we pull into the parking lot. As we’re getting out we see an Escalade pull up. An Escalade in the hood is usually a questionable thing but we want to grab the shot. Almost immediately we see a second car pull up right behind the Escalade. Nope. We’re getting out of here. I do not want to be a white guy with a camera taking pictures with a drug deal going on. We hop back in the car and get the hell out of dodge.
We finally get to the area around the Packard Automotive Plant. It’s unbelievable seeing this completely falling apart. Everything is all tagged up. Here’s a shot at the intersection of East Palmer and Bellevue near the plant.
As we’re taking the picture a security car comes up to us. We explain we’re just taking pictures and she’s says not to go in. We’re only allowed on the sidewalks or the street and that they’re towing a lot of cars that day. She sees our New Jersey plates and asks us if we’re with a gang from New Jersey. She says there’s a lot of people from New Jersey out today in the area. Not really sure who she’s talking about as it’s just us three but apparently there’s a big group from Jersey out here getting into trouble.
We spin around the block a bit more and decided to make the trek home. We have about nine and a half hours to get home and work the next day.
The drive home is fast. Not much wind. The weather is clear and sunny. We zip it home pretty quickly.
We make it back in time to unpack, drop the rental car off and swing out to Asbury for a celebratory beverage. We meet up with some of people in town. We were talking about the trip and how we were just in Detroit earlier in the day. We find out a group of Instagram photographers from Jersey went out to Detroit. Some kid we’re talking to has a friend who went out to Detroit. He’s one of the people that security guard was talking about. There’s zero doubt in my mind. If any of you are reading this, you were making waves out there, ha. Hearing that story brought the whole trip full circle.
So that’s about it. A quick trip out to some great cities. There was a lot of cool stuff that we got into. I’ve wanted to go to Chicago for some time and it exceeded my expectations. There’s a lot to do in the city and there are many neighborhoods to hang out in. Milwaukee is a city that you can definitely spend a day in. The art museum was great. Detroit has more character than any place I may have ever been to. Driving around the hood and gawking doesn’t really solve any problems, but it doesn’t hurt to pump a couple bucks into an economy that has been obliterated. I recommend messing around Detroit. Your fears of the city are probably unfounded. Just keep a smart head about yourself and you should be alright.
I feel like if any community or person has a problem they think they can’t solve that they should go to Detroit. Drive around for a while. When you see that mass disarray and abandonment and see that destruction you can’t help but feel your problem is probably pretty simple in comparison. After driving through Detroit I felt like the hood of Asbury was like Disneyland. There are cars. There are people. There aren’t really any abandoned buildings. There’s businesses, schools, and churches open. There’s people fighting for themselves and for their community. They haven’t given up and left.