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Chapter Six – Chicago

After speaking with Ernest Borgnine, we tied up in someone’s spot who was out cruising Lake Michigan and wasn’t expected back for a few days.  We learned that the person in charge of the yacht club was Gloria and she didn’t start work until ten.  We were advised that there was nowhere really to eat except at the Rabida Hospital.  We were warned severely to not go more than three blocks south of Jackson Park because it was the beginning of “the Neighbourhoods”, a very poor and violent place.

Dennis and Nick went for breakfast and I tried to get some sleep.  Unfortunately, the waves, although we were in a very protected harbour, kept me awake.

When the guys returned, we set out for the nearest museum—The Museum of Science and Industry.  We used our Science North pass from Sudbury’s Science Centre and were able to be admitted free of charge.  We then spent the rest of the day in awe.  The museum was better than excellent!  It was perfect for Nick, because he could touch everything and play with many of the exhibits.  There was so much to see, we had to return the next day.

In the meantime, we settled into Jackson Park and met up with various yacht club members.  Don and his wife Pat of Starlight was about to embark on a similar trip but would be leaving two weeks after us.  He was most helpful and took us to West Marine and introduced us to Jon who had brought boats up from Florida through the river system a dozen times.  Dennis sat down with him for two hours and leaned as much as he could.  Jon though, drank beer continually, starting at eight o’clock in the morning, so the most information Dennis found useful was for us to tie up outside the Joliet Police Station.

Dennis had the mast unstepped and spent two days securing it.  Jon kept telling him that the mast would fall off the boat, so Dennis kept adding more cradles, wood, ropes and screws.  Finally, he was satisfied although Jon kept up a steady stream of dire predictions.

One morning while we were getting ready to go sightseeing for the day, a boat called Stars of Noon came in.  John Becker and his partner, Sharon, were also going down the river and wanted to have their mast unstepped.  Dennis and John immediately became friends and traded charts and information.  The couple seemed very nice, although quiet.  They began their trip in May from Virginia (?)  and had already cruised the Erie Canal, Georgian Bay and Lake Ontario.

We spent the rest of the week touring museums but because Jackson Park was quite a distance from downtown Chicago, we took the transit buses.

John said, “Nobody in Chicago takes a bus!”

We paid no attention to him and happily used Chicago Transit.  We’d wait at the bus stop with everyone else (we were the only white people) and Dennis or I would ask one of the people waiting which bus to take.  Everyone we spoke to was very helpful, especially when they learned that we were from Canada.  It was fairly obvious we weren’t from Chicago!

We’d get on the bus and nobody bothered us, not even the vicious looking people at the back who dressed as though they were going to a hoodlum convention.  As we got closer to the downtown, a few more normal people did board the bus.

The Children’s Museum at Navy Pier was another freebie (the Science North pass) but it was really more for smaller children.  Navy Pier itself was spectacular if you liked McDonald’s—the merry-go-round and ferris wheel, were owned by the hamburger giant.

The biggest museum we visited was the Field Museum.  We could have spent days wandering around.  We saw enough dinosaur bones and skeletons for a lifetime!

The best place that I visited was the Chicago Art Institute.  Dennis and Nick went to the Lincoln Park Zoo and I rode my bike along the fitness path to the Art Institute.  I spent the entire day looking at all the art.  The work of Rodin, Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir and countless others was on display.  I remember thinking to myself that the best day of the whole trip was at the Art Institute.  It was worth the waves, seasickness, freezing temperatures and plagues of mosquitoes to see these masterpieces!

After staying at Jackson Park for a few days, we were forced to venture south and get groceries.  On foot, all three of us picked our way cautiously to the grocery store which was on “the Neighbourhood” fringe.  It was a good experience for us to learn about racism and how difficult it would be to live as a minority.  It was a tough walk.

We were at Jackson Park for five days and undoubtedly outstayed our welcome but we were reluctant to leave because we knew that the rivers lay ahead.  On Sunday morning though, we motored the few miles to Burnham Park Marina.  We were almost in a panic over the mast and kept expecting it to fall off the boat.  It held tight though.

We stayed at Burnham Park Marina for three nights.  It was within walking distance to downtown, so we made the most of our sightseeing and visited the Chicago Planetarium, the Shedd Aquarium, the Public Library (huge!) and the downtown core.  We also made our final trip which would take us down seven rivers, 26 locks, descending a total of 1000 feet and travelling 1250 miles to the Gulf of Mexico.

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