Our custom in our family is that I take the family out for one major “eating out” a month, someplace that’s relatively nice while not too expensive. Sometimes it’s one of the more elaborate buffets. Sometimes it’s a “family style” sit down restaurant. And sometimes it’s some form of ethnic cuisine.
This time, however, my wife wanted to go up to Chicago. We could have a late lunch at a place she had picked out (more on that later). We could go to the Japanese shopping center she likes. And we could also visit the (free: It Says Here. Again more on that later) Lincoln Park Conservatory botanical gardens.
Okay. I’m game.
First off, it’s about a two and a half hour drive just to get to the near side of Chicago. But, Okay. We get to the botanical garden. Apparently there is free parking on the street. I can parallel park. Sort of. I don’t hit anything, when I try but it generally takes several tries to get it right. Sorry, but I’m very good at driving the car forward and have the Autocross trophies to prove it. Backwards, not so much.
Only problem is that there were no spaces available. I drive around trying to find a spot. Nothing. Oh, look, there’s a small parking lot associated with the conservatory.
Wait. What’s that? $26 to park there. Well, given the level of traffic it’s either drive around hoping to pull up behind someone just as they’re pulling out (good luck with that) or park here. Still, the Conservatory is free so it’s not that bad as a total price. I pay and we park. We go to the conservatory. We go through the conservatory. I don’t think we missed anything but in less than a half hour we’re done.
That was…not much for that $26. As we exit I look to the left. Oh, there’s a Lincoln Park Zoo. Also free admission. Since I want to get my $26 worth, I direct the family over there. We don’t see the whole thing and a lot of the animals were in for the colder months (and so not out where we could see them) but by the time everybody is ready to go to lunch I figured I’d gotten a reasonable return on that $26–at least in terms of the time spent.
Back at the car I punch in the location of the place my wife wanted to go for lunch.
20 minutes to go three miles by car? Yep, traffic is that bad.
Also turns out my wife wanted to stop at a beauty supply place a couple of doors down from the restaurant. (Ulterior motive? Imagine my surprise.)
And once again parking. I drive around and around looking for a place. Nothing. Finally my wife suggests maybe just letting her out so she can grab a couple of things and I can just circle around and pick her up out front when she’s done. We can get lunch at someplace near the Japanese shopping center. (Considering that I’d probably still be circling if I’d insisted on finding parking, this was probably wise.)
Between one way streets and “through traffic prohibited” and streets that cut across at an angle rather than a rectilinear grid, getting turned around so that she wouldn’t have to cross the street when I picked her up proved a challenge. She called to say she was ready before I’d managed it. (The traffic did not help.)
I pick her up and punch Mitsuwa Mart into the GPS. 40 minutes. 25 minute delay because of accidents.
Forty. Minutes. Later. We arrive in the vicinity of Mitsuwa Mart and we start circling looking for a place to eat. We’re just about to give up and simply go to the store and get something at their food court (hard for me to make out there given my dietary restrictions–mostly rice and noodle based dishes) we find a Korean place. Yay! We can manage. And I buy the family a very late lunch.
The place is almost next door to Mitsuwa (I started circling the wrong way to see it immediately) so from that point we just hop over to the store where my wife does her shopping (and I buy my daughter Athena a few things that strike her fancy).
From there, returning home is relatively straightforward. No accidents. No insane traffic. No attempt to have to find some damn place to park or navigate streets designed by Escher. Just some tolls and for those we have a transponder.
And so home returns the travel-weary wanderer.