Since someone asked:
Drove to Chicago and stayed overnight in Matteson, IL, a southern suburb. I took the ME line into the city the next morning.
I dropped my bag off at my hotel, the W in the Loop. (Hey, I was treating myself.) I went through Hotwire -- if I'd had more say in where I went I'd have chosen a hotel with a pool, but the W was otherwise just fine. And Hotwire got me a pretty good price. Still not cheap, but discounted anyway. Then I walked around, waiting for the art museum to open. I got a flyer from some guy at a street corner that advertised a $5.99 breakfast special, found the place (Ronny's Steakhouse) and had a perfectly serviceable eggs over easy with Polish sausage.
I'm going to fill in my art museum visit in another post. [I probably won't really get around to this, to be honest] I was there from 10 till about 3, including lunch in the garden restaurant (New Mexico sparkling rosé, seared ahi tuna salad over Asian greens with black sesame cream cracker, lemon panna cotta with blueberry compote). I really love going to a museum when there's no time pressure. I must say, though, I was standing in the exhibit of contemporary Chinese woodblock printings atbout 2:45 when quite suddenly my brain became full and I had to flee. I'm not kidding, I went as fast as I could toward the nearest exit. Sunlight! Air! Art-free environment! Help! I went straight back to the hotel and lay down on the bed with the TV on (food network) for a couple of hours.
I went out for another walk, not looking for anything in particular, and then came back to the hotel and had dinner in the hotel restaurant (roasted mussels in spicy tomato sauce, half-portion of oxtail ravioli, glass of white burgundy, rice pudding tart). This time I relaxed and read my book. I paused in the business center on my way up to send a couple of e-mails, went upstairs, and slept the sleep of the mother who doesn't have a baby in the bed next to her for just this one night.
Room service awakened me with breakfast (a six-minute egg, oatmeal with fresh berries and cream, and a big pot of hot coffee). After I channel surfed for a while I checked out of the hotel and walked to Mass at St. Peter's in the Loop, a little marble jewel box, squeezed between two much taller buildings. It's served by Franciscan friars; something about the plain brown robe always soothes me, even (especially?) on a feast day (it was Sts Peter and Paul) when it underlies the festal red.
After Mass I took the subway north to within a few blocks of the north end of Michigan Avenue, walked around, bought some sunblock at a drug store and then went in search of lunch. I was thinking I might try to obtain an Authentic Chicago Hot Dog, but I was too hungry to pass up the French bistro on the corner and so I went in in search of Alsatian flatbread and a glass of wine. This time, when I answered in the affirmative to "One for lunch?" I was even offered a fresh newspaper to read while I dined. Hey, that's service! (And I had the flatbread pizza with roasted tomatoes, grilled shrimp, crème fraîche, and fresh rosemary, by the way. And a glass of Vouvray.)
After eating I worked my way down the Magnificent Mile, shopping. Not just for fun, either, I actually needed some new pants. Pants were purchased. When I got to the other end, I walked two more blocks to the car rental place, signed the papers, and drove out of Chicago in a canary-yellow Chevy Cobalt.
About eight hours later (stops were made to visit old friends and to obtain a cheeseburger from Steak'n'Shake) I pulled into the driveway of my in-laws' house, where my husband and kids had preceded me after they dropped me off at the train station in Matteson. I arrived just in time to dispense bedtime kisses and hugs. All in all, a perfect vacation, just about forty hours in all.
Only one comment: Chicagoans are just about the friendliest urbanites I have ever encountered. Sometimes in big cities people get this sort of dead-eyed thousand-yard stare, and mutter and grunt at each other. Not so, at least in my experience, on this trip. Everybody I met, from cops directing traffic into Taste of Chicago to museum docents to waiters in the fancy restaurants to transit workers, had a big smile, like they really meant it when they said "How you doin?" or "Would you like some more coffee?" Good for them. It would have been pretty hard to ruin my day, I was riding so high on the first-day-off-in-a-long-time thing, but it was still a noticeable bright spot that kept recurring the whole time I was there.