Thursday, May 24, 2012

Chicago: Chi Town or Chicagoland?

As is true for many cities, Chicago has more than one nickname. Some people call the downtown area Chicagoland, while others call it Chi Town.

When you visit Chicago, the locals will tell you there are two things you must eat—the first is a Chicago hotdog and the second is a Chicago deep-dish pizza. Both were developed in the city, and its residents cannot get enough of them. The entire city is dotted with restaurants proclaiming they have the best pizza and/or hotdogs in town.

Chicago Dog ... Hold the ketchup!
The first, a Chicago dog, is a steamed beef frankfurter served on a poppy seed bun. The hotdog is slathered in yellow mustard and then topped with chopped onions, a spear of dill pickle, sweet pickle relish, chopped tomatoes, pickled peppers and a sprinkling of celery salt. When placing your order, you simply ask for a hotdog dragged through the garden. And you must, never EVER ask for ketchup on your hotdog. This is a big no-no. In fact, many restaurants will refuse to serve ketchup so that you cannot ruin what they consider to be perfection. 

Do you think this pizza looks like a cake?
The second delicacy, Chicago deep-dish pizza, is sometimes called stuffed pizza. When you think of pizza, you probably envision a thin crust covered with tomato sauce and cheese with toppings added last. But Chicago pizza is a bit upside down from that. In the early 1940s a Chicago restaurateur decided to create a pizza that would require his patrons to use a knife and fork. He used a large cake pan to make the cornmeal and olive oil crust with an edge a couple of inches high. Then he cooked the crust until it was crispy. Deep inside the crust he piled toppings--often onions, peppers, and sausage. Next he layered cheese over the toppings before covering the entire pie with tomato sauce. A finished Chicago-style pizza looks a bit like a cake, and it does require a knife and fork to eat. When I was in Naples, Italy where pizza was invented, I learned that in Italy pizza is mostly about the thin crust with only a smear of tomato sauce and a sprinkling of spices. I wonder how native Italians would react if they were served a Chicago-style pizza.

The late great Muddy Waters
Another Chicago specialty is blues music. You can quickly recognize it because of the strong combination of an amplified guitar and a loud harmonica. It also might include a heavy rolling bass guitar line, piano, drums, and trumpet or saxophone. Singers belt out the sad music whose lyrics are often so forlorn they might bring a tear to your eye. While blues music originated in the Deep South, it was brought to big cities in the north when African Americans migrated there seeking work and a better life. And in Chicago, the musicians put their own spin on it. There were many early important Chicago blues musicians, though the tradition continues today. Chicagoans are well familiar with names like Muddy Waters, Koko Taylor, Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, and Buddy Guy, all of them blue greats. Click on the link below to hear Howlin' Wolf sing Smokestack Lightning.

The Chicago River and canal system snakes through the city.
Another interesting Chicago feature is the river with two branches that makes its way through the city. The river is represented by the letter Y on many city signs. For thousands of years, the river flowed to the east emptying into Lake Michigan. But as people dumped sewage into the river it became polluted. This began to affect the supply of drinking water that was pumped from the lake. The river also became so filled with toxic waste that it actually caught fire and burned during the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Dirty water can carry diseases and such was the case in Chicago. A public health scare arose when citizens began contracting typhoid fever from the public water supply. So, drastic measures were taken. As amazing as it may seem, engineers devised a way to reverse the course of the river so that it flowed west instead of east. This kept the polluted river water from tainting the drinking water extracted from the lake. Today the Chicago River flows westward into the Mississippi River system.

Chicago has the largest Irish population outside of Ireland. For this reason, every St. Patrick's Day, the Chicago River is dyed a bright green. In the photo below, you can see just how vibrant the green is.

Spider Dan climbs the Sears Tower in Chicago
Finally, writing about Chicago would not be complete without mentioning Spider Dan. After witnessing a huge hotel fire in Las Vegas where many people died, Dan Goodwin wanted reforms put in place so that there could be more survivors from skyscraper blazes. But no one would listen to him. So, Dan decided to call attention to the problem by climbing the exteriors of several skyscrapers across the USA. Thirty-one years ago, Dan donned a Spider Man costume and set out to climb the tallest building in the world at the time—the Sears Tower in Chicago. For seven hours he utilized suction cups and sky hooks in efforts to reach the top. The glass was a bit slippery and high winds roared around him, but Dan did not fall. Firemen tried to force him back down, but Dan kept going up, up, up. As he neared the top, Dan pasted a small American flag to one of the windows in honor of his father. Afterward, he was arrested. All in all, Dan has climbed ten of the tallest buildings in the United States. You can read more about his exploits online.

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