Sunday, August 13, 2006

97.5 miles, five stops, two clothing changes

When we left the house Saturday morning, it looked like we were heading out of town. Each of us had a little overnight bag. We even had to arrange for someone to let the dogs out. But we were only gone 12 hours.

First stop was a memorial service up in McHenry for a step-great-aunt (or is that great-aunt by marriage?). That, of course, required dressy but somber clothing befitting a somber occasion.

Second stop was my company picnic in Wheeling. That, of course, required picnic clothing. You know, hot-weather, active stuff.

Third stop was a friend's condo in Des Plaines. It was our first time getting to meet his boyfriend from out-of-town. There, we made plans for the evening and changed into - of course - fun, night-out clothes.

Then, it was down to River Grove for our fourth stop for a long-anticipated visit to Hala Kahiki, a Tiki/Hawaiian/Polynesian themed bar that I'd heard about and driven past a few times. As I expected, the place was a kitsch palace (or should that be camp?). But it was so well done, so over the top, that it was charming. (A framed newspaper article near the front door explained that when the bar opened in the '60s, the Polynesian theme was so popular, they could buy the bamboo wall coverings in the Sears catalog.)

We sat outdoors under an umbrella next to an 8-foot Easter Island statue and across from a walnut tree. There were signs around to warn of occasional falling walnuts, which we experienced. There was a loud clang on the rooftop as the walnut rolled into a gutter, and we looked up in time to see a squirrel scurry across the roof, its walnut prize firmly in its jaws.

There was no food available at Hala Kahiki, just a bowl of pretzels on the table, but the menu went on for many pages. Tropical drinks galore. Most of us ordered variations on traditional daiquiris or pina coladas, but the turtle ice cream/alcohol concoction that our friend ordered looked and tasted amazing. In fact, all our drinks were excellent and we were enjoying the evening so much, we would have stuck around for another round, but we were hungry and we had to find some food.

That led us to our fifth stop, 100 South in Elmhurst, for some Chicago-style steaks at a 50s-style supper club. While the restaurant had a really nice atmosphere and the food was good, what I truly enjoyed was being in downtown Elmhurst again.

I worked for eight years practically next door to the restaurant, but I have rarely visited downtown Elmhurst since. It was amazing to me how the downtown continues to change. Giant condo buildings have gone up in former parking lots. Restaurants sprout from every other doorfront (even the first floor of the former Old Kent Bank). And our old newspaper printing plant is gone, the building converted to other retail uses.

Elmhurst seemed to have a public art project going on involving painted train engines all over downtown. Very cute. I could see bringing little kids around to play on them. And it's a perfect tie-in to the atmosphere downtown. (Our out-of-town guest was amazed to see two long freight trains rolling through at the same time. The joys of the Chicago area being a railway crossroads of the nation.)

After dinner and our Elmhurst excursion, our next stop was home, where we parted ways with our friends, unpacked our bags and snuggled with our dogs - 97.5 miles, five stops and two clothing changes later.

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