Thursday, September 16th - Day 75 - Steel in the Sky

Wisconsin Rapids Travel Blog

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On the way out of London, I toured through the Western University Campus. One of Canada's oldest and most prestigious schools, it had some amazing buildings onsite. Thanks to my buddies Aaron and Martin for suggesting I see it.
The landscape from London westward was again, breathtaking. 
The border crossing, Not so much. Actually it took my breath away how thorough or rather anal they were being. I take security pretty seriously. Smuggling of illegal fruit, less so. I waited in the queue (and there were about 5 agents working lines) and it still took about 40 minutes. Nuts. However, after all that, watching other people opening trunks for the scrutiny of border patrol, I was asked a series of moronic questions to make me nervous including "Have you ever been fingerprinted for the purpose of criminal charges or similar reasons?" "Umm.. not that I know of?" "How can you not know or not." "Well, I'm just generally a good person." She must have seen the sincerety in my eyes because she gave back my passport and waved me on. Phew! No questions about my need for speed!
Even so, I've really curtailed the speeding. Not interested in any more potentially negative consequences.. although DAMN it's so bloody fun!
I neared Grand Rapids. After this I could go even farther west and hit Grand Haven where I was to meet up with a dude from Powerslide. However, that would make my trip to Chicago the next day even longer. Checked my powerslide messages via the celphone... NOTHING? Gee whiz, thanks MDubStyliez... So I cut my losses and stayed in Grand Rapids. I mean I'd been told Grand Haven would be a lot of fun, and I had somewhere to stay, BUT now I had nowhere to stay (except a motel) AND I had developed a case of the sniffles from Saturday night on the packed, body-to-body dance floor at Jack's in London. So really, I just needed some rest anyway.
Hunkered down in a Motel 6, and had a nice long nap. Woke up and looked up a gym, maybe I could sweat it out? My uvula was swollen like a cow utter and my nose was quickly clogging up. Nasty business. Ran over to the gym after a healthy late night supper of gas station food, lol, then got myself a 14 day free trial at the gym.... lol! Finished up the last of my couch requests, now all settled all the way to Edmonton, the last stop before home. Wow, to have come this far, this long, so many great experiences.. I have been so blessed. Oops, while wondering why the trip was so long today, and while planning out the next day, it dawned on me that I was supposed to have gone to Detroit that night, and Grand Haven the next. Ah shucks, now I'll have two days in Chicago rather than one!
Lucky too, as Chicago proved to be a great city worth spending more time in. And apparently Detroit isn't that entertaining anymore. Shame. I wanted to go freestyle and have a 'battle' like I'd seen on that M&M movie, 8 Mile. I mean I have this bombing ass hoodie from Gap that really hasn't been properly utilized yet.
The ride through the remainder of Michigan and into Illinois was also gorgeous. The country side, all the corn, everything, it's lovely. Wish I wasn't just wearing flat spots into the center of my tires but what choice do I have. Oh that reminds me, finally got low enough on my bike to touch boot to pavement. Thank god for zinc sliders... I was taking an on ramp, one with a 20mph limit, but I was going a great deal faster, down in 2nd gear, and had the bike right over. Sure my foot positioning wasn't that great and was out a bit far which is probably why I hit pavement, but it was still nice. I think I'm gonna take my bike to the track a bit next year, get better at handling and get some of the demons out of me so I don't feel like speeding around on the highways so much.. Although maybe it'd only be feeding them to get better on the track?
Checked into the Hostel International building right downtown in an awesome 7 story building. It was practically a university dorm, so clean, 4 bunks to a room, a shower, a bathroom, sink, so sweet! And free tours and activities most days and nights! Best hostel ever! Not to mention I didn't get any parking tickets for just leaving my bike in the alley. Massive bonus points.
I took so many pics in Chicago. Apparently it's the city of architecture. Well, I'm no historian, but I really liked looking around.
That night I met up with a coffee host over in the hippster area of town on Milwaukee at a Costa Rican restaurant called Irazu where all the good stuff was pointed out, and I was introduced to plantains.. ya know, the cousin to the banana? Always seen those funny green looking banana things in the produce section but never knew what they were about. Well, grill those up, and WHAM, you've got a great starch side (I think starch...) It was like a cross between a sweet potatoe and a banana, so delish!
Walked around a bit after that, but my host had to get up at 5am to do a training run for an upcoming sprint-triathalon. They'd come in 13th out of 90 in their age group the year previous with very little training, and were hoping to do better this year after following a better regime. Best of luck to them!
I ventured off on my own in search of some jazz music. I'd done some googling and Tuesday night looked like a slow night. M Lounge looked promising and had a trio playing. Two other places had regular Tuesday night performers going on, but I thought M Lounge seemed the best candidate. It proved to not be. Great venue, very cool, chic, but the music.. horrible. I won't say more, I don't want to offend the vocalist who had a great voice, but the over-dramatic theatrics in the facial expression, over the top. Kind of killed it for me. The fact that it seemed like they were just singing their favorite covers and telling their bassist and pianist what pages of music to play was also a turnoff. Didn't seem like the group played together very often, or even had the same goals in mind. Either way, it was back to the hostel for a good night's sleep.
Oh right, I'd stopped in a CVS Pharmacy hoping to find a wonder drug developed in Canada called Cold-FX. This stuff is an immuno-booster and really helps fight out colds. Well, they don't sell it in the states I guess. The pharmacyst was however able to recommend some sort of drink mix. "And this works?" I ask. "Well, all the college kids get it." Oh my shit, are you for real? I'm not asking for a lesson in pop-culture, bub... I want a professional opinion based on experience as well as the reading of medical literature that tells what will work. I think my dad who is a pharmacy guru will find some humor in this story.
So yeah, I made my magic college-kid juice and drank it and went to bed hoping to clear up a bit.
The next morning I went on a free architecture tour of downtown. We saw a few different buildings, fairly informative, a bit too much for me. Although it was interesting to learn that a skyscraper is simply a building built on steel girders rather than built where the walls support the buidling, which greatly increased the height they could potentially build, some of the minutea of information was too much and we moved too slow and didn't see enough. I'd had a list of buildings and outdoor sculpture art put together from Gentleman Quarterly magazine that I was supposed to see. Of course that was still on my netbook so I'd have to go back to the hostel to get it. Which I didn't want to do. I'd noticed a couple of my fellow hostellers had responded well to some of the jokes I cracked during the tour (haha, I know, I can't help myself though, always have to be the class clown), and we'd chatted intermittantly. So when the tour ended, I noticed they were just hanging around looking lost. So I invited them to join me on a walk around downtown looking at more buildings. Seeing a third straggler travelling alone and knowing what it's like to be on your own and wish you weren't, I invited them too. They also wanted to do the tour of the Hancock building, the second tallest in Chicago, so we ventured off.
We'd stopped and grabbed some cookies from a gourmet cookie store. Really good stuff. One of our party had left to get ready for a train departure at 5pm and another wasn't a big fan of sweets so two of us split a 'Buy 6 Get 2 Free' deal. But I really didn't want 4 cookies. I'd taken nibbles out of all of them before we stopped for sandwiches at Brian's Deli where they serve all kinds of meats on all kinds of breads. Pretty decent. 
After that, I was stuffed... what to do with the cookies? Quickly as we maneuvered downtown admiring the greatness of the architecture, I spotted a homeless girl, her head hanging low over her cup. I pulled out the remainder of my sugar cookie and held it out in front of her cup, she took it and murmerd a 'thanks' as she looked up. I smiled and kept on walking. Then another homeless guy, "Do you like cookies?" "Sure I do!" so he got the double chocolate. The third homeless guy didn't want any cookies. Musta been diabetic. But it wasn't long before the cookies were gone.
The Hancock tour was decent, informative, but narrated by David Schwimmer... *Pukes*... He can't act and he can't do a sincere job of narration. That didn't take away from how amazing the sites were from that high though. So gorgeous.
While down on the 'Magnificent Mile' where all the real snooty shops are, like Tiffany's, we goofed around a bit. Women trembled in fear as I meandered through Victoria Secret with my crew. See I developed a nasty in-grown hair (seemed I just fell apart Sunday with getting sick and having an ingrown hair severe enough to make me not shave for a couple days, haha), so I've got a few days growth, I'm slumming in my cargo shorts, what's now to be referred to as 'my lucky shirt', and a button up, and probably looked like some wierd pervie. Such a laugh!
The afternoon was getting late and I had to meet a coffeehost, so I parted with my company, exchanged some numbers and facebook contact info and headed off to find my barbershop. Well the first place that I'd seen on my phone's google maps was closed even though they advertised to be open later than this. So I checked the next nearest place and gave them a call. They'd be open. Off to Alfredo's it was.
Turns out Alfredo has been in this place for 50 years cutting hair! The likes of priests, bishops, police, mobsters, and even celebrities such as Francis Ford Coppola! No kidding! A real artisan, my head was looking sexy as ever! He told me some stories and pointed me in the direction of a couple of news articles written about him. At one point he lost 4 customers in one day due to some gang war where they were shot and killed. Not while getting their hair cut mind you, but still, pretty exciting stuff. Check him out if you're ever in the Windy City (named so for the big air promises and dreams of politicians long ago, not for the air velocity) 833 N State Street. Tell him Michael the Touring Motorcyclist from Canada sent you. He'll have no idea what you're talking about. lol
Met up with my coffeehost in the same area as the last, which proves the coolness of Milwaukee street in my opinion. The place was called Wine Bin Cafe. I came in and told them I was meeting someone. They seated me beside a woman sitting at the bar who was in the restroom. Shortly thereafter she comes out. I was not the husband she was waiting for! Whoopsies... The hosting staff really dropped the ball there, and even told a story of a time two sets of blind dates showed up both named John and were seated with the wrong women. One John was a real cool dude. Other John was a stiff-dead bore. At some point it was figured out that there was a mixup but after being so far in the meal, it seemed a bit rude to swap so they continued things, where the one woman had to suffer with Boring John. Cool John even had the class to send dessert over to the table. My kind of guy!
After admiring some art, I received a call from my host. I answered and looked around. They'd been seated on the patio while I was in the restroom! 
We shared an appetizer of bruchetta with a variety of pastes, had entries of fish and watermelon/tomatoe salad (I had the salad.. after a big sandwich and the equivalent of two cookies, plus all the bruschetta I was near stuffed), then split the most amazing sorbetto and gellatto... Decadent. You must try this place if you're in the area. 
I'm reminded that the night before I stumbled into a winery with a really nicely put together interior, including art by the owners wife.
I got a text from my hostel friends. They were about to have some pizza and were then looking for some jazz. Seeing as I too was looking for a REAL jazz experience (mostly to make up for the abomination from the night previous), we decided we'd meet up, and my coffeehost was gracious enough to offer a ride. 
We found them eating deepdish pizza at Exchequer on Wabash. It looked really good but I had to refuse the offer of a slice. On the way, one of the hostellers decided to call it an early night. Also, my coffeehost decided that they should get home for an early morning commute to work. So they dropped off the last hosteller at Green Mill Cocktail Lounge which I followed them too.
This place was... I'm nearly speachless. Formerly a 'speak-easy' back in the old days, and an occassional hangout for Al Capone, filled with deep, dark, colours, and a real sexy feel.. this was what I had been looking for. A latin/classical jazz filled the venue as 4 incredibly talented musicians played for us, occassionally accompanied by a 5th on a clarinet. You could tell often that they were just jamming, just improvising based on the guitarists melody. They all did solos, the violinist, the guitarists, the celoist, it was magical... Any real music appreciater would have loved it, no matter what genre they liked. ALFONSO PONTICELLI and SWING GITAN were the talented people on stage. I guess they play every Wednesday according to the Green Mill Jazz website.
We got up to leave the venue after discussing how to get back. Do I leave my hostel friend on the El Train for 30 minutes back into town at 1 in the morning and meet at the destination stop near the hostel? Or do we ride back on my bike. We both preferred the latter. Outside it had been raining cats and dogs and was now still spittling. Taxi it would be! 
Back at the hostel, i downloaded their pictures from the evening at the Green Mill (their camera took amazing low light pictures while mine sucks a mule's arse), and went our seperate ways. A few hours later, I got up and taxi'd back to get my bike before it would be ticketed and towed. Brutal!
I had one more thing to do before leaving Chicago; Burt's Place. Apparently, according to Dan K from Sport, this is THE BEST pizza in the entire country. I had to find out. Way north in a suburb of Chicago, I pulled up to see a sign of operating hours. Didn't look hopeful, but a neon sign said "Pizza Open". I was about to dismount my steed when a dude came out with a pizza in his hands, "Hey dude, is THAT the best pizza in the country or what?" "I don't know" "What do you mean you don't know?" "I've never eaten here before, I saw this place on TV and wanted to try it" "Yeah no kidding! i was told to come here! Do they sell by the slice?" "No, they don't and they're closing soon. I can't finish this whole thing by myself" "Okay, can I buy a slice for $5?" "No, I can't eat more than half, let's split it" So we go back inside. Burt's old lady is not pleased.. "What are you doing?" "Hi I just ran into my buddy Eddy from our old fraternity, Kappa Thi, and we were hoping to sit down" "We close at 1:30, you have ten minutes!" My watch read 1:05. We had more than ten minutes in my humble opinion based on simple math. 
We chatted and enjoyed some pretty damn good pizza. One has to try and suspend their pallette's familiarity to the likes of Pizza Hut or Boston Pizza, etcetera.. That stuff has it's place, and is good, but this was a much more refined taste. Less sweet, more natural tasting, it was really quite good. Best in the country, I don't know... I guess I haven't had enough pizza. Thanks so much to Dan K for texting me the info and instructions. And thanks to fate for enabling me to have some.
Even more interesting, after discussing the fate of the economy, as my new friend was hugely interested in finance and even owned their own website and company (based on what I don't quite remember), it was suggested that I self-publish an E-book via the internet. Genius! Something I'd not even though of! So it looks like that's the best way to go about this, if I do go about it.. But I think I should. During this trip I've been inspired to be more creative when I get home, and perhaps this will be my first creative outlet.
I should also mention that my company was also travelling, one month with Jet Blue airlines for $600, any where you want in North America... crazy deal. They were flying around to different cities taking in the sites and sounds and enjoying different venues, and foods, much like myself. Very cool.
I rode on towards Wisconsin Rapids to stay with a couchhost there. The landscape again was gorgeous. It probably sounds redundant by now, my descriptions of what I see, and for that I apologize... but sometimes things must be seen rather than described. I will say though that the leaves are starting to turn, and I look forward to the time in a week or so when the foliage lining the roads will look like the crayola colourings of wildly imaginitive kindergarten children, all reds, browns, oranges, and yellows... I will definitely be taking pictures then.
My couchhost was great, and enjoying trying different recipes, had even put together some polish food. It was quite good. We're always our own worst critic :) Tried some Czech beer, really tasty stuff. Amidst some very entertaining conversation, we headed out into the town in their Prius Hybrid to see the amazing sites of the area, which included "The Bar-Muda Triangle"... three bards on two intersecting streets. Nice! But still having a bit of the sniffles and in need of finishing the blog for the last few days before a very busy and awesome weekend in Minneapolis and Fargo, we opted to not go out boozing. 
We did however go on to see a grotto (not quite like the Playboy mansions grotto, lol) and meditation area constructed by Catholics. Really creepy in the dark, all the white Mother Mary statues looming in the bushes and trees... but still really intersting. I'm sure it's gorgeous in the day and am appreciative of it.
Even cooler though was coming back out to the parking lot and seeing a massive chalk drawing of the United States by some school kids. It was requested I trace my whole entire journey by foot on this massive map, which I did. As I walked the path I could feel myself going through the different emotions and feelings and being reminded of so much I'd seen and done, and who I'd met.. This put everything in perspective. I've really gone a long way, and have been gone a long time. So glad I got to do that. I couldn't help but linger in some spots thinking back to my exceptionally great times there.
Back at their apartment, we carved their very first pumpkin. I've done it a few times in my day and taught the lesson. Oh this was after seeing a massive toad outside! Okay, not 'massive' but bigger than the frogs I used to try catching as a kid. Then a fellow couchsurfer from the area showed up after a day of picking apples, and brought two, one for each of us. I think I shall have mine now!
Very shortly I'll be departing. I've been left here alone while my couchhost went off to work. A testement I think to the generosity and trust of this CS community as well perhaps to my trustworthiness I'd like to think.
Take care, Ride safe.

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Wisconsin Rapids
photo by: Stelarmod