For those of you who get the literary reference of 'Project 42', you'll appreciate that this sign was the last thing I saw before hailing a cab and heading back to my hotel. 42 is as we all know the answer to 'life, the universe and everything', and this trip has been about rediscovering the things I love, and giving myself the time to figure out how I can make a life out of this approach. Here's to trying.
My last night of the trip got a bit lubricated, as some friendly Chicagoans felt it was their civic duty to introduce me to a liquor named Malort. The taste is akin to a more bitter Jaggermeister, and even that description doesn't come close to capturing one of the more bizarre flavour experiences I've had. When the bar finally shut down, and it was time to stumble home, a miracle occurred. The existence of a 24 hour Mexican restaurant. I am now a firm believer that Horchatta solves all problems, but especially hangovers (and hangovers to come).
Jack Danger of 'Dead Flip' is currently the most popular and well-known pinball streamer, which is apparently a 'thing' (and considering over a million folks watch his streams, I guess it is). We had a good chat about pretty much anything other than Pinball, and it turns out he's a fellow biker as well. One of the things I appreciate most about the pinball community is that the folks within it are incredibly diverse and often are doing other really interesting things with their time on this planet as well. Jack is also a voice actor and seems to lead the kind of life that most people dream of. Good meeting you Jack.
Walking through Logan Square on my way to play a few last games of pinball and drink a few beers, I passed by this bridge. Not much to say other than life remains pretty amazing.
The best deep dish pizza I've ever had came from Lou Malnati's, and when you are eating the equivalent of a brick of melted, gooey delicious cheese swimming in handmade sauce on a perfect crust while looking at a cherry blossom tree in bloom, you realize that life is pretty damn amazing if you take the time to soak it all in and appreciate it.
As Chicago is the centre of pinball manufacturing, I got to play the new Pirates of the Caribbean table from Jersey Jack before it was actually released. The depth of the game, as well as some really unique design touches made the game a real treat to play, and also an opportunity to let my wife know that I was thinking about her, and couldn't wait to get back to Toronto to see her.
The folks at Stern told me to swing by this barcade as 'test' machines will occasionally surface there, and they were not lying. The massive lego Pacman in the front entrance was also pretty cool.
I wormed my way into a private tour of the Stern Factory, which for a pinball obsessive such as myself was pretty neat, albeit significantly less excited than actually playing Pinball. Still, it was a very neat experience, and I even ran into Steve Ritchie, my favourite pinball designer on my way out the door. Probably the most star-struck I've been for a good while.
This was 'The Rock Show'(TM), every bad rock band cliche was on stage and you know what? It absolutely ruled. If you told me that the lead singer, Luke Spiller was the reincarnation of Freddie Mercury, I would absolutely believe you and Mercury is one of my all time favourite front men. Do yourself a favour, if the band is coming to town, go see them. You'll have a blast.
Of all the places that I stayed on this trip, I enjoyed the 'boutique' hostel/hotel Urban Holiday Lofts the least. Gentrification isn't really my jam, and Wicker Park is a 'hood in Chicago that I'm ok if I don't visit again. That being said, I met Jessie while we were doing our laundry, as her and her girlfriend were getting ready to head out to Kansas City on a trip of their own, following the band HAIM around the country. Originally from New Jersey, Jessie grew up in her words 'about the most white trash family and place you can imagine', and her sexuality was not warmly received initially. 'Over time my family mostly came around, but it was tough trying to come out and also fit in at the same time.'
Route 66 referred to as 'The Mother Road' was once the centrepiece of the United States highway system running from Chicago to Los Angeles. Immortalized in countless songs, stories and films, this road helped to usher in the era of the automobile, and still maintains a romantic fascination for travelers to this day. Although you can't go back in time, riding down Route 66 on a vintage Harley Davidson is pretty damn close.
I know that they are just objects, they don't have feelings or thoughts, but you spend enough time with something and you start developing a relationship with it. Bertha, I love you; here's to many more miles together.
As the wide-open sky, and twisty roads stretched out in front of me, I spotted this truck, sitting in a field in front of an equally worn barn. Despite being left to the elements, it amazed me that the quality and durability of things made long ago allowed this vehicle to still hold up after all these years.
After miraculously avoiding the rainfall, I was getting bored of the monotony of the freeway, so when I saw a sign that said 'Lincoln's New Salem' I took that as a message to get off the interstate in search of something. Unfortunately, the historical site was closed, but I was able to get to this statue of the great emancipator. It struck me as symbolic, that on a journey through the heart of the Confederacy, that I would eventually end up in front of a statue dedicated to the man who defeated it and by extension abolished slavery. While his party seems to have drifted quite far from his ideals and vision of the United States, I'm hopeful that that one day, our better angels will remind us that we all share a single fellowship of human kind, regardless of race, religion or creed.
To describe the vibe in the Denny's as being 'red state' would be an understatement, yet my server Tim was possibly the most flamboyantly gay dude I met on the entire trip. When I told him where I was from, and why I was on this journey, without hesitation he said 'take me with you'. I had to decline, but he was a nice guy, who you could tell really wanted to be anywhere other than hucking plates at a Denny's on the side of the freeway.
I left St. Louis early, and it seemed the moment I left, I was trying to outrun the first real storm of the trip. When the clouds finally got too close, I pulled off the Interstate and into a Denny's for some much-needed breakfast and also hopefully to wait out the storm. After getting off my bike, I looked to the left and this photograph pretty much took itself. Although frayed at the edges, with storm clouds overhead, America; you're still great, you don't need to be made great again.
After the show, I was riding back to my spot and rolled past The Courtesy Diner. Although these places always seem stuck in time, with elements of the 50's through to the 80's permeating the cracked vinyl stools and pitted chrome table caps, the food usually disappoints even if the aesthetic is perfect. As I was heading out, I saw Brian checking out my bike, and we got to talking. He'd met Christy at work "after he got out" and they've been together for a few years now. You can't help but smile when you meet a couple who seem genuinely happy with each other, and in Brian's words "every day with her makes me want to be better than I was." I liked these folks.
I've always maintained that one of the neatest experiences that you can have as a concert goer, is to catch a band that is on the cusp of significant success in a small or mid-sized venue. There's an electricity in the air, as you know that this is probably going to be the last time for a while that you'll experience this in such an intimate setting, and at the same time, the cynicism of success has yet to affect the optimism and connection between the band an audience. Catching Mt. Joy at the legendary Blueberry Hill was just such an experience, and I'm glad that I got it.
I booked my Air BnB close to this joint, as the reviews were stellar and it did not disappoint. One of the better collections of tables, meticulously maintained by Steve, who is also the owner and a very solid dude. We had a great chat about music and the connection between pinball and creative folk. An ex-roadie, he seemed to know every band that I mentioned, and I just wish that I had had more time to spend working my way through some great tables I'd never played before.
After "experiencing" St. Louis style "pizza" (seriously, it's like you are trying to ruin pizza guys), I checked out the City Museum, which is one of the most unique spots I've been to. Effectively a sprawling collection of repurposed industrial refuse turned into interactive art-installations it was well worth the visit, and a very cool example of how art, design, and sustainability can be compelling, interactive and accessible for everyone. Seriously, check it out. Also, this particular installation that I photographed had pinballs, so this post is even somewhat 'on brand'.