Wednesday, August 30, 2000 - Chicago, Illinois

Another day in Chicago - out and about, never a spare moment…It started well with actually a breakfast…of sorts…I was able to finish off the pizza from last night (with the temperature in the room it was as if it was in a fridge all night). I did have to leave my room early though because of the cleaners – I don't know what it is with cleaners in hotels, they always want to do your room at ungodly hours (anything before 10 am is ungodly in my book, specially on holiday). It does not make a lot of sense to me considering that check out time is around about noon.

After last nights haze, this morning the windows in the hotel room were all fogged up and it was very humid outside. Evidently it will be in the 90s for the next little while.

Last night, reading through the literature from the convention, which is surprisingly complete and good, I learned about the free Michigan Avenue trolley that operates all along Michigan Avenue (hence the name) downtown to the Aquarium, Planetarium and Field Museum which are all a good 1/2 mile or more down the road in an area called the “Museum Campus” which, I understand, is fairly new – a whole park land area connecting the three attractions (and Soldier Field - the NFL stadium). The trolley is run by the same company that operates the tour I did the other day except, it seems, paid for by the city. There are other free trolleys offering services to other areas of the city (north, for example, and the Navy Pier to the east on the lake).

I continued working my way through my City Pass starting my day with a visit to the Shedd Aquarium. The thing about all of the museums and such that I have been visiting is that they are all in these monstrous old (looking) “classical” stone buildings. Many of these buildings were built, I believe, for the World's Fair which was held here in the beginning of the last century (I believe – the Columbia Exhibition). The insides are equally impressive with massive open areas, marble floors, painted ceilings, the whole nine yards…

The Aquarium is quite well done with a large number of smaller tanks (including a great exhibit on the Amazon on during my visit) and an “Oceanarium” area that contains only a few, large, tanks. After visiting the aquarium for a while (remembering when I used to own many of the exotic tropical fish from, I learned, the Amazon river – don't get too excited, I am just talking about Angel fish and tetra's - small aquarium fishes) I headed over to the Oceanarium to see the Marine Mammal Presentation which was the best of it's kind that I have seen - concentrating on not having the dolphins on display do tricks but rather showing the audience how they treat the animals and train the animals to keep up mental stimulation - sure, a few jumps in the air and what-not, but no full-scale show by any stretch - a very natural exhibit. They really pushed the conservation side of their work and emphasised how they tried to keep the environment the animals live in as natural as possible (surrounding the largest tank with a fake forest - to my eye this being more for the people, to add atmosphere, but they said…).

I visited a great small exhibit on sea-horses and similar such animals, then I heard a brief talk on penguins (many of which were looking a bit said because they are moulting this time of year - a bit rough for wear).

Last month they had a birth of a Beluga whale, so many people were crowded around two large windows to look while a member of staff explained and answered questions. It was interesting to note that there was also another scientist there taking behavioural notes - evidently this is done 24 hours a day during the first few months of the Beluga's life to see that everything is al-right with the baby and also to perhaps learn a bit more about their behaviour).

After briefly watching the sea otters I headed out and walked along a spit of land to the Adler Planetarium which is right out on the lake (with tremendous views of the city - not that I could see them with the haze today). My entrance included one show (they have a virtual reality theatre and, of course, a planetarium theatre) so I decided to opt for the planetarium show (hey, virtual reality you can see in more places than you can see a planetarium show) about the images found by the Hubble space telescope. Waiting for the show, though, I wandered through the somewhat small (and VERY basic) exhibits, only finding out near the end of my wait that there was a display on the floor below - though still pretty basic. The show was good, I always enjoy seeing the projection of stars onto the large dome in a planetarium - really does give you quite an good impression of the real thing. The information about Hubble was quite good but, again, quite basic and did not get into too much technical detail which did disappoint me but then the presentation was for the public and not for someone perhaps as knowledgeable as myself (not that I AM knowledgeable, you understand, but I did know a bit more than they told us…).

I caught the trolley right outside the Planetarium and headed back to the hotel. Relaxing for a few hours (in front of the TV if you must know) I headed out at about 8:30 to Grant Park, which is only a few blocks south of the hotel but it is quite large (extending all the way to the Museum Campus), to the Buckingham Memorial Fountain which is a large Versailles-style fountain which puts on a music and light show every night (every half hour starting from 9 until 11, I believe). I managed to get one picture before my camera refused to take any more since it had very little battery left.

What really upset me about the fountain was nothing about the fountain itself but rather what someone did to me while I was there - which is a shame since it detracted from the show. While I was standing there a lady approached me and muttered something about postcards - displaying them to me and saying how she was selling them for a “shelter”. When I offered her 75 cents (all I had in change) she said, “They sell for $2” (she must have REALLY got ripped off, wherever she bought them) but said, “I will take the 75 cents as a donation though” and I foolishly let her take it. I felt really used and tricked. It really upsets me things like this, it has happened a few times to me, I have to learn to be much more cynical and strict with these types of people…I am SURE she was collecting for herself rather than any charity - trying to make a quick, easy buck. I could have asked to see her credentials (or the address) of her “shelter”…

On the way home I was planning on simply picking up some fast food (from a chain they do NOT have in England - probably for heath reasons) but rather stopped at the “Artist's Café” which is right opposite the fountain on Michigan. I had read a bit about the café and been told that the sandwiches were good so I availed myself of their “Buckingham Club” (after the fountain NOT the palace), moving tables a couple of times on the sidewalk as the air-conditioners in the building above were raining down on us. As I sat there on the sidewalk we actually were treated to a fireworks display north at the Navy Pier (well, could see part of it through the trees and buildings). As I was sitting there (perhaps it was the time of night and the location?) I was approached by one person VERY emphatic about my purchasing a magazine (to help the homeless) which I declined (simply because of his “in your face” attitude“) and another who said he had lost his wallet and needed money to get home. I suppose I look like I am 1) a tourist or 2) stupid (I prefer to think 1). Oh, great cheesecake with (tinned) strawberries and whipped cream (the cheesecake was NOT sweet, VERY rich).

I slowly made my way back to the hotel to end a very full day, but with tomorrow being the first day of the convention, I should think I will busy then also.

⇒ Continue to Thursday, August 31, 2000 - Chicago, Illinois The 58th World Science Fiction Convention - Chicon 2000