Kathleen Norton

Travel articles by Kathleen

Chicago: Not Manhattan, and just as fun

By Kathleen Norton

When it comes to other major American cities, plenty of New Yorkers have this attitude: Manhattan is the center of the universe. Why bother with anyplace else?

And that’s especially true of Baby Boomers like me. For much of my life, the name “Chicago’’ meant something other than a city.

It was, first and foremost, one of the best rock bands ever.

Second, it was the place where comic Bob Newhart practiced his hilarious brand of psychology as ‘’Dr. Bob Hartley’’ on the “The Bob Newhart Show’’ in the 1970s.

But boomers can pay homage to both of those if you go to Chicago today.

There will be more about that later because what every visitor should know is that Chicago’s as fun to visit as the Big Apple – plus much easier to handle and navigate.

As middle-aged empty nesters looking for variety in our weekend getaways, we found Chicago had a lot to offer. Its beautiful lakefront beaches are literally steps away from the downtown. It has wonderful museums and nightlife, zoo, botanical gardens, restaurants, theater, shopping, sports venues and the bonus of a mid-western friendliness.

There are convenient daily flights from Albany and you can be on the ground in Chicago in just about three hours. There are some good, reasonable hotel/air deals to be found online on the popular travel web sites.

Chicago wowed me with its scenic perch on the southwestern tip of Lake Michigan. There is the added attraction of the Chicago River flowing through the downtown, as well as a full menu of big-city attractions and activities.

If Boomers want to put a decidedly generational twist on a visit, they should head to the Chicago area in late August of this year, when “Chicago’’ will play in nearby Highland Park as part of its latest tour.

Highland Park is about 28 miles from downtown Chicago. Go to the band’s web site (see below) for more information.

You can also go to the Chicago History Museum, which honored the band on its 40th anniversary several years ago with a special exhibit, with many objects becoming part of the permanent collection.

When you go to the historic and rebuilt Navy Pier – a premier tourist stop just blocks from Michigan Avenue – don’t miss the life-sized bronze statue of Bob Newhart in his chair, mimicking his character on the 1972-78 CBS sitcom. Visitors can lie down on the bronze couch and “chat’’ with Dr. Bob.

One of the highlights of any trip should be the architecture and historic boat tours that leave from North Michigan Avenue and take on the Chicago River. The boats glide past modern, steel skyscrapers and brick structures from generations past.

Plan carefully because the architecture tours close for the winter.

If walking is more your speed than you are in luck because Chicago is a great walking city.

People can literally see and walk to the beach from the impressive downtown or stroll along the Navy Pier and through the beautiful parks along the lakeshore.

The pier, built nearly 100 years ago for port use, was renovated in 1990s at a cost of $200 million. Its grounds encompass more than 50 acres and feature food kiosks, a ballroom, convention exhibition halls, shops, a concert stage, ferris wheel, movie theater and stage theater and a children’s museum.

In a single afternoon on foot, we window-shopped for blocks along Michigan Avenue, the “Magnificent Mile’’ – a stretch that begins at 900 N. Michigan Ave., and ends at the Chicago River.

The foundation of the Magnificent Mile is the historic Water Tower, which was one of the few structures standing after the Great Chicago Fire in 1971 and was seen as a symbol of resilience as the city began to rebuild.

Today, Chicago has all of the high-end retail stores found in Manhattan, but on a smaller and more manageable scale.

We also visited the historic Chicago Tribune building, also on Michigan Avenue, got to Millennium Park and “The Bean,’’ a giant and unique piece of stainless steel sculpture that delights visitors young and old who want see their reflection with the Chicago skyline in the background.

Later, we went up to the Chicago Skydeck in the Willis Tower, formerly the Sears Tower. There, we stepped out into the Ledge’s glass-bottomed boxes, which are 1,353 feet in the air and extend 4.3 feet from the Skydeck.

This is not an experience for those with weak stomachs, or a fear of heights and our queasiness lasted a while.

On our list for the next visit are the Chicago Art Institute, which has a huge collection of French impressionist paintings, the Lincoln Zoo, which boasts 1,200 animals, and the Field Museum, where the campus includes a planetarium and aquarium.

As far as food goes, we found ourselves with a huge list of fantastic restaurants to choose from that reflects the city’s diverse history.

In that respect, it was much like New York. One night, we settled on Topo Gigio Ristorante near North Side, which has the feeling of a small, family-owned Italian eatery, and we were not disappointed in our meals.

As for nightlife, we were just a short distance from Second City Comedy Club, which has shows every night of the week but advance tickets are needed. Again, no disappointments.

The cast and skits were hilarious. And though many were about Chicago politics, we could follow along.

The city is renowned for its music scene; especially the blues and we only wished we were in town for the open-air Chicago Blues Festival, this year to be held June 10-12 in Grant Park and Millennium Park.

Over half a million blues fans descend on the city and it is believed to be the largest free blues festival in the world.

Among the performers this year are guitarist Dave Specter, Nick Moss and the Flip Tops. James “Super Chikan’’ Johnson and vocalist Shemekia Copeland.

But any time of year, you can hear some great blues at the following:

  • Artis’s Lounge on 87th Street
  • B.L.U.E.S. on North Halstead Street
  • Blue Chicago on North Clark Street
  • Buddy Guy’s Legends on Wabash Avenue
  • Lee’s Unleaded Blues on South Chicago Avenue

Whether it’s day or night, Chicago’s a city that will not fall short – no matter where you are from.

Why Windy City?

Chicago’s most popular nickname is the “Windy City’’ though historical references indicate there’s a double meaning to that moniker.

The city’s location between the Great Lakes and the Great Plains does lend some believability to the idea that the nickname comes from the weather conditions.

And in the late 1800s, the city promoted itself as a place of breezy respite because of its location on the shores of Lake Michigan.

But as tour guides like to point out, the city’s weather records show its windy conditions are pretty average.

The real meaning behind the name appears to be in the metaphorical use of “windy’’ as boastful or long-winded, a reputation gained by talkative 19th Century city politicians, according to the Encyclopedia of Chicago.

As importantly, was the city’s reputation for self-promotion as it sought to become the metropolis of the west, a claim that other cities were making as well.

They were all competing to secure investments and a part of national projects like the building of railroads and contracts for Civil War Supplies.

References in newspapers in cities like Louisville and Cleveland suggest that Chicago’s rivals coined the phrase initially.

But Chicagoans later adopted it with pride.

Online resources

Chicago – the band


Chicago tourism


Chicago Tribune


The Rock Hall of Fame is a must for Baby Boomers

By Kathleen Norton

When you enter the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, you’ll bump into Baby Boomers with graying ponytails, young adults who were born long after Elvis left the planet and backpack-toting ‘tweens’ on school trips.

But they all have one thing in common – they’re having a rockin’ good time at this larger-than-life, 150,000-square-foot world-class exhibit on the shores of Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland.

It’s unlike any other museum you’ve ever been to and, like we did on a recent trip, you will find yourself wishing you could come back again to make sure you did not miss a single thing in the seven levels housed in a unique, geometric, glass structure.

That’s right. There are seven levels to the iconic collection that trace the roots of rock in gospel, country and blues, honors its stars and pays homage to the social significance of the genre. There are countless costumes, musical instruments, sheet music and record collections on display.

But that is just the beginning.

With state-of-the-art technology and plenty of interactive features, some exhibits take visitors on a journey through important music cities like Memphis, Detroit and San Francisco. Other exhibits are devoted to pioneering rock artists, protests against rock, the soul movement of the 1960s and interplay between fashion and rock.

“You simply cannot understand Western culture without taking a serious look at this music,’’ the museum’s promotional material says of rock, and we found on our visit that the extent of the exhibits of costumes, instruments and memorabilia housed in this one location can’t be overstated.

Example: You’d expect to see Elvis’ famous white jumpsuit in all its ‘bling’ glory. But you wouldn’t expect to see a fading copy of his Graceland mortgage, or his football helmet from he organized with friends at Graceland because he Mama never let him play as a kid.

They are both there, behind glass, along with thousands and thousands of other items that give visitors a real education not only about the timeline of the music, but about the lives of contributors as well.

Featured collections are those from stars, or estates, that have generously donated, or have loaned, significant items. These include a wonderful cross-section of performers from different eras. Metallica, Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson and The Who are just a few who have contributed to the featured collections.

We also learned how it was that the Rock Hall of Fame, as Clevelanders call it, landed in the Midwestern city.

The idea for the Hall of Fame was conceived in the early 1980s, and inductions began a few years later, with no real home. After some fierce competition from several major U.S. cities, Cleveland was chosen as the site of the museum.

Luck had little to do with it – and rock history had everything. Cleveland Deejay Alan Freed popularized the term “rock n’ roll’’ and hosted what’s called the first rock concert – the Moondog Coronation Ball – on March 21, 1952 at the Cleveland arena. A half-century later, in 1993, ground was broken on the Hall of Fame and the doors opened in 1995.

As you walk through each level, you’ll see monitors that replay old footage and our favorite was one that features clips of public figures, ministers and others deriding rock as the devil’s handiwork – a nice ironic twist inside this monument to America’s most prolific musical genre.

The facility features five theaters that show short films, performances, an ongoing series of educational programs, special events and constantly changing special exhibits, like the two-floor “Women in Rock’’ exhibit we saw on our trip.

It highlights 60 of the firsts, bests, famous and lesser-known women who made contributions to American culture and rock music.

It covers everyone from blues trailblazer Ma Rainey (born Gertrude Pridgett) to modern megastar Lady Gaga (born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta) and the exhibit most definitely gives women their due.

Of the small theaters in the Hall of Fame, my favorite was in the Inductees section. It went year by year, showing footage of performances of each person or group inducted.

This year, the performers inducted were Neil Diamond, Alice Cooper, Dr. John, Darlene Love and Tom Waits. Non-performers were Jac Halzman, founder of Elektra Records, and Art Rupee, founder of Specialty Records. In the ‘”sidemen’’ category was singer-pianist Leon Russell.

While the inside of the Rock Hall will amaze you, the outside is almost worth the trip itself. Designed by I.M Pei, arguably the world’s most famous architect, it can be seen for blocks around and sits next to the football stadium where the Cleveland Browns play.

Its bold geometric form and cantilevered spaces are anchored by a tower that supports a dual-triangular shaped tent, which extends onto a 65-thousand square foot plaza, creating a dramatic entry way.

Before or after visiting the Rock Hall, you can keep up online with the Rock Hall Blog, which gives insights about exhibits, events, concerts and more with emphasis on lesser-known facets of rock.

And Cleveland’s contribution to the preservation of rock history isn’t completed. In 2012, the Rock Hall of Fame’s Library and Archive will open its doors to the public. It is touted as the world’s most comprehensive repository of written and audiovisual materials on the history of rock and roll.

If you visit Cleveland (which is about an 8.5 hour drive from Poughkeepsie) I’d recommend building in time to enjoy other aspects of the city and surrounding areas, which have seen a tourism rebirth.

Among the events, venues and attractions are the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Art Museum, the Cleveland National Air Show, Cleveland Beer Week, Bridgestone World Golf Championship in Akron, the Cleveland Marathon, the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, the NASA Glenn Research Center and the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and Rainforest.

And let’s not forget Cleveland’s quirky contribution to the world of movies – it was the hometown of Ralphie Parker, the all-American boy featured in Gene Shepherd’s holiday classic tale, “A Christmas Story.’’

Each year, a cadre of fans gathers in Cleveland for a convention, and to troupe through the restored “Christmas Story’’ house that was used in filming.

A weekend trip or vacation to the Cleveland area will keep you busy, especially if you anchor your trip around the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where people of all generations go to find their inner rock star.

Rock Hall of Fame: At a Glance

 How it began: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions began in the 1980s.

Home: Cleveland was later chosen as the site for the museum, in part because the first rock concert was organized in that city by deejay Alan Freed.

The big day: Doors opened on Sept. 2, 1995

Cost: $92 million.

Economic Impact: $107 million annually to the greater Cleveland region. Total economic impact is estimated at $1.5 billion.

Size: 150,000 square feet total, including a 65,000-square-foot outdoor plaza.

Visitors: An average of 500,000 from 100 countries annually, with 8 million people since the 1995 opening.

Educational aspect: An estimated 50,000 students a year visit the Rock Hall of Fame.

Online Resources

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame


Ohio tourism


Cleveland tourism



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