I’d never been to Chicago. Yes, that’s a confession. One time I went to Edwardsville, in Illinois, but I was told that’s not much like Chicago.
I didn’t want to go to Chicago because I had heard it was windy and cold all year. In the summer the wind blows 50 mph on calm days and it’s in the low 20’s. The ice never melts and everyone spends their free time watching the local pro sports teams, the Icees hockey team, the Cubs football team, the Bears baseball team, and the Red Sox who play baseball there.
Of course I’m a huge sports fan, obviously, but I knew I couldn’t stand the weather.
Still, it was September and I needed a break from all the huge miles, intervals, and intensity I’d been doing in the off-season, so I scheduled a trip to Austria which isn’t close to Chicago very much. But if you want the double-economy reduced midget legroom middle exit row seat and can fly at midnight, you can get to Vienna for about $76, round trip. Down side is that United only allows you one-half a checked bag on the flight.
I booked the trip for me and Mrs. WM and after paying for the non-refundable tickets I checked the itinerary. Turns out that the midnight flight wasn’t really to Austria but to Chicago. We would arrive at 5:00 AM and then go on to Austria at 4:00 PM, so it was only an 11-hour layover.
Ms. WM had a small disagreement about what to do during the layover. I suggested we cancel the trip.
“You onna crazy? We spendin two hundred dollar for tickets and not refunding?”
“I admit it sounds like a bad deal but when you add up the money we’ll save on not buying food, lodging, souvenirs and transportation by staying home, it’s a pretty good deal. And I’ll take you to In-N-Out to make up for it.”
I dodged the 8-inch iron skillet but thought it made a good point as it cleared the glassware on the kitchen counter, shattering everything.
Then I remembered how my son Hans had quit eating pizza when he was twelve. He traveled around to chess tournaments with his grandpa and one weekend they went to Chicago. “How was the trip?” I asked.
“It was okay but I’m not ever eating pizza again,” he said.
“What happened? Pizza is your favorite food?”
“I finally had a real pizza in Chicago. I’m not ever eating the pasteboard orange stuff here in Texas again. I’m done.”
“Oh, come on. Chicago pizza can’t be that good.”
He looked at me with sadness and pity and never ate pizza again.
Now, pizza is my second favorite food after coffee. And I never could believe that Chicago pizza is really THAT good. I mean, the pizza in Texas is so awesome. It’s got cheese and pepperoni and crust and Domino’s even gives you two extra packets of cracked red pepper. Pretty much as good as it gets, IMNHO.
But seeing as we had eleven hours to kill in Chicago, I proposed pizza for lunch downtown. Swartzendruber said it was Lou Malnati’s or nothing, and although since he was from Chicago I immediately doubted his recommendation, I figured I would take a chance.
There was a big Chicago Cubs football game at noon, so the restaurant was empty. “How many people will this deep dish pizza for two feed?” I asked.
“Two,” the waitress said.
“Reallly? We’re really hungry.”
“Have you had one of our pizzas before?”
“Okay, we’ll take that one.’
Thirty minutes later the waitress brought out a dinky little pizza that wouldn’t have filled a small child. We looked glumly at the small pizza and mentally counted out the two pieces we would each get.
Our depression deepened after the first bite, because it was truly the best thing I had ever eaten, and rather than floating on the symphonic harmony of cheese, tomato sauce, sausage, cheese, buttery thick pie crust, and cheese, all I could think about was how inadequate the serving size was and how ravenous I was going to be.
“Excuse me, misss,” I said.
“I’m afraid this isn’t going to be enough. Can I order another one?”
“Sure, but you might want to wait.”
“Until you finish that first piece.”
I waved her off after ordering the second pizza. Then, one bite into the second piece, a funny thing happened. I realized, or more accurately, my stomach realized, that each bite had been the equivalent of filling myself with a half-pound of sand. What had looked like a wholly inadequate serving now appeared as a great unbroken expanse of cheese extending all the way across Lake Michigan like a massive cheese floe.
Ms. WM, who was still on her first piece, looked like she was being waterboarded. “I’m onna full,” she said about the time that the waitress brought the second pizza with the world’s biggest side order of “I told you so” on a separate plate..
We stared in dismay at this second pizza while all the local Chicagoans politely appeared not to notice yet another foreigner trapped by the incredible expanding properties of a Lou Malnati’s pizza. “Can I, uh, have that to go?”
“Of course, sir,” said the waitress.
At least I wasn’t going to have to eat bad airplane food on the way to Austria. And I didn’t.