The Science Museum and Cousin Jackie

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May 13th 2018
Published: May 13th 2018
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Part of the Museum Building
Hyde Park, Chicago, IL

We’ve been using our current campground as a home base while we explore two very different areas - the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the City of Chicago. Mostly it works, especially for the shorter trips to the Lakeshore areas for beach walking and hikes.

I have to admit, though, that managing our Chicago experiences has been difficult at times, mostly because of the logistics. There are just two ways to get to Chicago - commuter train and car. The Train is cheaper, but you are bound by their schedule and on the weekends, that schedule can really be difficult to work with because there are many fewer trains running. Driving takes less time and works on your timetable, but, including gas and parking, ends up being expensive. The frustrations of finding a parking spot can end up eating up some of your time advantages. What we sort of worked out was a compromise where we would use the commuter train if we were headed to a location close to stops the train makes, otherwise we would drive and just deal with parking.

Yesterday, that compromise didn’t work so well and, unfortunately, we ended up wasting a good chunk of time and money. We also probably had too much on the plan and ended up short-changing ourselves.

We had previously planned to meet up with my cousin Jackie and her family for lunch. I haven’t seen Jackie in decades, although she has been a Facebook friend for several years now, so we know a little bit about each other’s lives. She is a cousin on my Dad’s side and our families used to get together between Wyoming and Missouri on a fairly frequent basis. After I went on to college, though, my stubborn streak of independence took me more or less away from family (hell, I even went to New York to live for many years), and we lost contact.

Jackie has had changes in her life too, and just recently moved from Cincinnati to Chicago. So when I realized we would be in the Chicago area, we decided to get together at least for lunch. Since our schedules here didn’t seem to mesh real well, it turned out that the weekend was the best time. Looking at our Chicago wish list, it seemed that the Museum of Science and Industry might be something Joan and I could work in on the same day, so the plan for yesterday was to do the museum and meet Jackie, her ex-husband (also named Michael) and her son Ben at a nearby restaurant for lunch. And since the museum is at Hyde Park, which is one of the stops on the commuter train, we decided to train in for the day. The weather also conspired to literally put a damper on the day as it was overcast, chilly, damp, and occasionally sprinkling all day. That would make for a great day inside, but not so good when we had to be outside.

We probably should have gotten our act together and made the 9:00 AM train, but I was ‘in the flow’ writing yesterday and, probably because it was Saturday, neither of us were real anxious to get moving. So instead, we drove to the train station in time to make the 9:50 train, bought our tickets, and boarded with no problems.

It takes about an hour to get to the city proper from our site, and so we got off the train around 11:00. Once off the train, though, it took some more time to orient to the right direction and, using Google walking directions, we headed out for the museum. Finding the museum is not real hard - it is simply huge. Housed in the main building that was constructed for the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, the stone structure is a behemoth that is probably half-a-mile long. Although the original building is only three stories tall, they have excavated under and around the building to create an immense museum that, I am sure, dwarfs most other museums in the world. (I’m not sure but I wouldn’t be surprised if there is more square footage than at New York’s Metropolitan Museum.)

No, eyeballing the museum is not the problem, it is getting to it and finding the right entrance. We had to walk at least half-a-mile from the train station, which also took up some time and was uncomfortable in the wet weather. Then it took some more time to find the proper entrance. Once you enter, you have to spiral DOWN three flights of stairs to the ticket line. After getting your ticket, you climb two flights of stairs, or use escalators to get back to the museum exhibits. Then, just as at any big museum, you have the bewildering problem of what to go see because there is no way you can see it all in one day, and, if you are like Joan and I, most everything is interesting, so you are torn in every direction with no real guidance on what to see.

Oh, and this is NOT a cheap museum. The ticket sales agent talked us into seeing two special attractions. One was the WOW tour which was an hour long guided tour through some of the highlights of the museum with some ‘behind the scene’ demonstrations of how they do things there. He recommended that for first-timers. And the other one was Joan’s choice, to see the ‘coal mine’ exhibit. Both of these cost extra and had appointment times that we had to meet. We carefully chose the times so as not to interfere with lunch, or so I thought. It doesn’t help that they do not offer senior discounts. The total bill came to more than $90 - like I said, this is not a cheap museum.

After getting our bearings and looking at the museum map for a while, we realized that we had just a half-hour before our WOW tour. We headed for a couple of things that looked interesting to see in that time. But the distances are simply overwhelming. We spent nearly fifteen of our thirty minutes just trying to find the exhibits we wanted to see. Then, Joan with a pained expression on her face, we dashed for the meeting place for the WOW tour because it was just minutes before noon, our tour time.

And, of course, nothing starts at the time they say it does. Although we made it to the tour on time, we waited another fifteen minutes for everyone else to show up. Supposedly over at 12:45, it didn’t even start until 12:15. Once we got started it was moderately interesting. We saw how the miniature trains for the scale models of Chicago and Seattle are managed, and a behind-the-screen tour of their dome theater. I suspect the highlight for me were the concentrated berries they had us dissolve in our mouths. Once done, they gave us slices of lemon. The effect of the berries was to completely confuse our taste buds, so the lemon tasted sweet instead of sour -

The Museum from Hyde Park
a very strange experience.

Anyway, the tour ends, and who the hell knows where we are - so I ask the tour guide, who also does not know where 57th street is - the street where I’m supposed to meet my cousin for lunch. What I DO know is that it is now ten minutes past 1:00 and I was supposed to be at lunch 10 minutes ago and had no idea where to go. Joan, of course, trying to follow me is getting increasingly pissed off.

So, walking fast, I get lost twice more trying to find the exit. After telling a museum guide that I needed to find 57th street, he decides it is easier to show me than explain it, but his legs aren’t as long as mine, so I have to slow down while he winds his way to an exit, goes outside, and points me to the right direction. And Joan and I head off to meet my cousin for lunch. Google says its a mile away and we are already fifteen minutes late. I get a text message from Jackie saying that they are waiting for a table. Still, we have a

Part of the University of Chicago
mile to hike to meet them.

We finally got there, although Joan was not a happy camper because, honestly, her legs are quite a bit shorter than mine and she doesn’t like cold damp weather. Anyway, lunch was good, but when you haven’t seen someone in decades, there is just so much to talk about. Plus I wanted to meet Ben, her son, and Michael, her ex - both of whom were fun and interesting people to talk to as well. Bottom-line, lunch was too short and dragged on and on.

Although Michael and Jackie decided to drive us back to the museum, which at least saved the walking time and energy, it still took forever to find the place to let us off. By the time we got back to the museum it was 3:15 and we had definitely missed our coal mine tour. Needless to say, that did not make Joan any happier. Oh, but my sad story was just about to get even worse. There we are deciding how to spend our remaining time, and I look up and see that the museum is closing in 45 minutes - 4:00 PM. So, we have 45 minutes to try and squeeze some value out of our $90 investment! (Why a museum closes that early is a big unknown!)

Faced with the same problem as at the beginning of the day, we didn’t know what to do. Dashing for the nearest exhibit, we see wall-size videos of glaciers in-retreat. Extreme Ice is a series of photographs over a decade of several different glaciers showing how climate change is altering our earth in desperate ways. Very uplifting way to end the day.

Giving up on the museum, we retreat to the museum store and Joan buys a couple of postcards and a coffee mug before everyone gets thrown out the door. I suppose I should have known the closing hours of the museum, but probably because I was focused on getting together with my cousin, I didn’t. So now, we have the problem of what to do in the next hour before our train home comes in. We locate the proper train platform and toy with the notion of finding a bar for a drink to calm Joan’s nerves. Unfortunately, the nearest bars are at least four blocks away. With our luck for the day, we would end up barely having time to finish our drink before rushing back to the platform and missing our train anyway.

So instead, we sat on the platform for an hour. Joan was seething and I could tell I was in deep doo-doo. I tried to make light of it, saying something about how that’s urban life. She said something about where I could put ‘urban life’, and turned to a distraction on her phone. I decided the better part of valor was to keep quiet.

After arriving back at the Dunes train station, I found a liquor store and bought her a nice bottle of red wine. She enjoyed a couple of glasses, and by bed time was speaking to me again.

Lesson learned: be careful about packing too much expectation into a day unless you are in full control of all the parameters.

(I haven’t even talked about my wonderful reunion with Jackie. But this post is already long. Suffice it to say that it was really enjoyable and we promised to keep in better touch. It is probably indicative of the stress of the day, but no-one remembered to take any pictures of the reunion. Big disappointment.)

Oh, and Happy Mothers’ Day to all the Moms out there.


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