Friday, July 1, 2022

Chicago vacation recap (with cards and a contest)

I spent a few days in Chicago recently and here's a recap of the trip (There will be cards). I consider it my "ancestral homeland", as my mother's side of the family is from Chicago. I've visited a few times over the years-- my grandparents still lived there when I was young before moving to Florida-- but I had never really experienced the city as an adult.

But yeah, my wife's dad's side of the family likes to do a family reunion thing every year, and this year it was decided to be Chicago. When my wife mentioned the Cubs would be in town and we could catch a game at Wrigley, I was interested. When I found out the Padres would be in town, that basically sealed the deal for me and though I'm not a big traveler, I signed off on the vacation. And I'm glad I did because it was a lot of fun and really helped clear my head and pull me out of a mental health rut.

This post will be a bit of a travelogue-- honestly for me as much as my readers because my memory isn't great and it's easy for me to lose details and basically forget trips I've taken, and it's nice to sometimes read my old blog posts and remember fun trips I've taken, as corny as that may sound. So yeah, I'll show some photos, talk about my trip, and also show some cool cards too, so feel free to skim down to the cards if you don't care about my Chicago vacation. We're all busy these days, I get it. This post gets kinda rambly, so just roll with it and forgive the run-on sentences.

As I was hopping out of town, caught a cute bunny pic on my walk to the Max train to the airport.

Here's a pic waiting to board at the PDX airport. I had a bag of cards with me in case I was able to meet up with my cardbloggin' buddy Dimebox Nick. I like the fact that Andrew Benintendi was giving a thumbs-up to anyone walking behind me while I was wearing my travel backpack.

The last time I was in Chicago for more than a layover was twenty years ago for my grandfather's funeral. That wasn't really a "vacation" and I have zero memories of that trip besides one memory of a relative I never knew very well crying while thanking me for spending so much time with my grampa during his final years, and another memory of standing at my grandparents' gravesite. I didn't get the idea until halfway through this trip that I would like to visit it again sometime, though didn't get to it this trip. But I think next time I'm out that way, I'll make it a priority.

The first two nights of our stay were at the Hampton in downtown Chicago. It was noisy-- big city ambiance plus there's a fire station one block over-- so I wouldn't want to live there or anything. But it was a cool hotel (I got to swim for the first time since covid; that was nice) and it was kinda neat to spend the night in the heart of a big city, something I don't think I've ever done that I can recall, rarely if ever laying my head for the night in anywhere other than suburban residential districts, and you know, like the once in a blue moon camping trip or something (I don't like camping, much to my wife's chagrin; I love nature, but not more than I love sleeping in a quiet, dark bed). So it was a life experience to check off. Above is a view of my wallet card looking out our room's window. We didn't do much that first night other than walk around the area looking for a place to grab dinner, eventually settling on a popular hot dog chain. I got a large vanilla shake and damn if I could only finish half of it, and I pride myself on being a Hall of Fame-caliber dessert eater. So that was a fun failure, so to speak. Then I think we just hung out at the hotel and watched a Simpsons before bed.

The next day was the red letter day as far as I was concerned: THE BALLGAME!

The previous MLB game I attended featured Barry Bonds going deep at Petco, so that tells you that it's been a long time! I did tour Fenway last year, so that should give me partial credit, but there were no players on the field so can't count that. But I have seen minor league baseball and collegiate woodbat summer league games over the years, so I've craned my neck at pop flys in recent years, but not on the Major League level since lucking into a spare ticket to go to a Padres game with my buddy Chris' then-wife one evening circa mid aughts that I wish I could remember but don't think I ever had a ticket stub and thanks to my aforementioned bum memory I don't think I recall enough details to piece together the specific game I was at. I would like to collect the "Home Run History" Topps card corresponding to the Bonds longball I witnessed live, but alas I'm sure he went deep a lot at Petco in those days.

But back to this game, what amazing luck that as we walk to our seats-- which by the way, shout-out to my wife's co-worker Andrew for hooking us up with complimentary tickets!-- not too close to the action, but it was a 90 degree day with the city in the tail end of a heatwave, and we were just thankful our seats were in the shady stands way behind third, not out baking in the sunny bleachers.-- what amazing luck that I see the starting pitcher for the Padres is Joe Musgrove, a kid-done-good from my very own hometown of El Cajon, California! He'd been pitching like a Cy Young front-runner and I was thrilled that, hey, if I couldn't see Tatis in person, I'm blessed to see my other favorite current Padre and a guy I've collected since back before he even came to San Diego.

I didn't really get much in the way of interesting baseball photos, but here's Joe tossing a pitch. He got off to a rough start when the leadoff guy took him deep on a very windy day (had to hold onto my hat while out ordering a dog and beer on the concourse), but thankfully he settled in after that and did El Cajon proud with a quality start. On the opposite end of the spectrum was clean-up hitter, DH Luke Voit, who embarrassed himself at the plate every at-bat, usually with men on, picking up nothing but a golden sombrero. I guess I've got a least favorite Padre now, LOL. I would have rather seen Musgrove batting for himself in the 4th spot.

The home crowd wasn't happy about being swept at home, but I was among the smattering of Padres fans smiling over the game's outcome. The win lifted the Padres into 1st place and things were sweet, if but for one glorious afternoon. (The squad went on to hit a rough patch and my boy Joe Musgrove got covid.) Sadly doesn't look like the game featured a moment deserving of a Topps Now card, otherwise I'd'a grabbed me one for sure.


But here's a sweet Joe Musgrove pickup I'd been meaning to show off on the blog for a few weeks. Scored myself a printing plate from his 1st Bowman card. I wanted to add a little oomph to my modest Musgrove PC and this piece of sheet metal does the trick. I'm thinking this would be a fun one to get signed one day since it's got all that blank space anyways. (This card is from 2011 but he didn't have autos in Bowman that year; Joe's 1st Bowman auto didn't arrive until 2016.)

Another highlight from the game was watching Nomar Mazara have a solid day at the plate, knocking a homer and a double. He's a guy I collected a little when he was an up-and-comer with Texas, but had lost interest by the time he ended up on the south side of Chicago. San Diego then signed him to a minor league contract, and after tearing up AAA, he made his way back up top. Above is what's left of my Mazara PC, condensed into a page in my "9-pocket PC" binder. If he keeps excelling for the Padres, I may have to promote him to being a full-fledged PC guy, but we'll see.

But yeah, very cool to catch a game at Wrigley! That was sort of a "bucket list" thing for me. That plus the Fenway tour last year puts me in a good place; I'm definitely not one of those "visit every MLB park" guys (I hate to travel). I guess a game at Yankee Stadium might be something to think about checking off someday should I ever find myself kicking around NY. I'd also like to check out Dodger Stadium someday, striving to hit more of the active old ballparks, but my wife promptly shot down any talk of a future Los Angeles / Disneyland vacation (She hates L.A.).

Whilst in Chicago, I watched Chicago (2002) for the first time, with my wife who said it was one of her favs. In other synergistic entertainment choices, I listened to my two favorite Smashing Pumpkins albums (my favorite band from Chicago [MCIS, SD]) on headphones walking around the city. Oh and on the flight there I listened to a Pearl Jam live show from Chicago 2000 on Spotify and another from Chicago 2003 on the way home. I did not listen to the band Chicago while in Chicago, but I did listen to Chicago while typing some of the earlier part of this post, for what it's worth.

Then Friday we hit the street and took a train to the Art Institute of Chicago. I thought Portland drivers were questionable, but man, Chicago drivers are nuts! I'm thankful I didn't have to drive at all the whole trip, getting around just by walking and utilizing the Chicago Transit Authority.

I took a ton of pictures at the Art Institute, but I'll just post a few.

My wife and I lost each other pretty early on after entering the building, which made for a fine bit of vacation time apart for us anyway, and upon reuniting back in the lobby an hour or two later, turns out we had basically each seen about half of the exhibits, more or less getting a full run of the place between the two of us.

Here's a big one to see.

Dimebox Nick and I had talked about maybe doing a meet-up at the Art Institute, and I had visions of having my own Ferris Bueller-like day off, with my wife as Sloane and Nick in the Cameron role. But alas, Nick had to work on the days I was available and our paths didn't cross on this trip. (We had previously met a few years back when he worked at a bookstore in O'Hare and I was passing through on a layover.)

Just a couple more shots from the Art Institute. This scene detail reminded me of home and our stubborn sweetie-pie Ruby who was staying with friends while we were out of town. 

It's a beautiful building and the AC was refreshing on another warm day.

After that, we walked over to Millenium Park and checked out the Bean, which is a big metallic sculpture thing. Kinda reminded me of one of my favorite childhood movies, Flight of the Navigator. In the above photo, you can see my reflection at the end of one of the light flares (yellow hat).

From there we walked a few blocks over to Buckingham Fountain. I knew the name of it-- impressing my wife by doing so-- because it was the answer to a cardblog contest Jedi Jeff ran a few years ago from which I won a Dwight Gooden buyback auto. I just remember that it's something to do with Fleetwood Mac and then I remember the name from there, LOL. (Speaking of contests, if you haven't noticed, I've been trying to give away a few cards in my Refractor Fridays posts happening over the course of this summer. Glad I was able to kick those off without a hitch by scheduling them in advance, as my blog anniversary post and first Refractor Friday post were published with the blog "set to autopilot" while I was out of town.)

While it's an impressive fountain in its own right, what made it a must-see for me is the fact that it's prominently featured in the Married... With Children opening credits, a show I enjoyed during its original run and have been rewatching on Hulu lately.

This was about the time a vertical Katey Sagal autograph popped up on eBay in the price range I had in mind, and after thinking about it for a day or two, seemed pulling the trigger on it while in Chicago was fitting, seeing as the show took place there n' all. 

The card arrived shortly after I returned home, and allowed me to complete a little 4-card project I had been working on.

Boom! Bundy Family "1989 Pro Set" autograph card project finished! Worthy of clicking the pic for a closer look, if you ask me. The "Al Bundy" is a real Leaf card and the other 3 are real auto cards wearing matching custom Pro Set overlays I made for them. Very satisfying to see them laid out together. I want to get a nice display thingy worked up for the quartet someday-- like, I want to show this off to anyone who stops by the house!-- but might not be for a while. Regardless, feels great to have this hobby side-quest completed, and it's nice that I could work the Chicago trip into the backstory.

Saturday it was back to the big hot dog joint, Portillo's, this time with the fam in tow. Here's a picture of a signed Jordan jersey (or if you look closely, there might be some shenanigans afoot combining a jersey with a separate Jordan autograph). This turned out to be an unpleasant experience as it was packed, our order took forever, and at about 30 minutes into the 45 minute wait there was a crazy dude causing a scene and the police had to come and arrest him. Big city action! By the time we finally got our food, we had to take it to-go because we had a river cruise booked.

Here's one of the few photos I took from the boat. The weather was much cooler this day, which I probably should have checked before leaving the house because I was chilly most of the day in my shorts and t-shirt despite being sunny still. (They don't call it the Windy City for nothing!) But yeah, the tour guide (an old-timer volunteer) was interesting enough, sharing the stories behind the architecture of the many fascinating buildings erected along the city's river. The cold hot dogs weren't great, but filled us up for a while.

After the cruise we walked over to Navy Pier, which is a happening area with lots of shops, restaurants, and some amusement park rides. It was pretty packed and we were all pretty tired, so we ended up not doing much there other than look around for a while. By this point in the trip, my wife and I had checked out of the downtown hotel and moved over to a rental house by DePaul University, joining the rest of the "family reunion" group who arrived in town a couple days after us. It was my wife's dad's side of the family, including her grandparents (both pushing 90) who drove up from Bowling Green. They're all good folks; nice to hang out with everyone for a while, but I'm too much of an introvert to hang out chatting all night, so after a while I slip up to my room and continue binging Ted Lasso since the house had Apple+ and a nice projector TV in the room I ended up in. I suppose it's worth mentioning that I've got some family in the Chicagoland area I was hopeful to meetup with, but sadly they were dealing with covid concerns and we weren't able to get together this trip, though there's a big family wedding happening later this year, so I'll most likely see them then, at least.

Sunday. was our last. full day there. Wait, real quick, my laptop keyboard is jacked up and it keeps putting periods where I didn't type a period. It's really a pain for me to ggo back and delete them (also the "G" key is messed up) and so I might just be a little more lazy about that for the rest of the mammoth post. So please forgive me for the errant periods and extra g's.

But yeah, my wife wanted to go to one of those places where you go in and check out the climate-controlled exotic plants, so that was kinda cool. I believe that was in or around Lincoln Park.

After that, we walked over to Oz Park and checked out statues of characters from the Wizard of Oz.

It was a nice day, and on our way back we grabbed lunch and a tasty piece of tres leches cake.

Most of our party left for home early Monday, but our flight wasn't until later in the afternoon, so we had time to kill before heading to the airport. I'm happy to report that I was able to finish both seasons of Ted Lasso over that span of 3 days. I'm not usually much of a binger, but that's a good show. I might have to pony up for Apple Plus or at least look into doing a free trial when season 3 eventually drops.

Nice view from the sky.

After the required O'Hare delay-- seriously do flights ever leave O'Hare on time?!-- we were officially homeward-bound. Taking a trip is a great time for me to catch up on my cardblog reading. What I like to do is open up a bunch of blogs in new tabs on my laptop before I leave, then I can read them later on the plane or in the airport even if there's no internet connection available. I'm not a big book reader, though I have recently started reading (via free download) The Modern Hobby Guide To Topps Chewing Gum: 1938-1956 and have been enjoying reading about the birth of Topps during my weekly commutes riding to and from work.

Despite the long day, it still wasn't dark by the time we made it back. The walk back home was bizarre for me because everything seemed different, but maybe it was the dusk playing with my mind. I wasn't drunk or high or anything, but I was like "Wow, is that house new? Oh hey, I never noticed that thing before!" and whatnot. Above is a photo I took of some flowers in front of our house on the way gloriously entering my front door for the first time in a few days. It really is a great feeling to be home, even if the house is a little stuffy/stinky from being closed up so long. We both took a "buffer day" off work the next day, so we had time to ease back into regular life.

Ruby stayed with friends while we were out of town. They have a chicken which Ruby obsessed over pretty much the whole time. But she was a good girl and fought the urges of her gray wolf DNA (11%!) to rip that plump hen to shreds. When my wife was leaving to go pick her up, turns out our car battery died while we were away-- somebody forgot to unplug the dash cam-- so Ruby ended up with bonus chicken time while we dealt with the battery. I took advantage of a rare day off work with no dog up in my business to break out the chainsaw and do some tree trimming in the backyard.

The post started with a bunny pic, so might as well end with another. Found this guy maxin' and relaxin' under my window. There's an "Oh, hare!" joke in there somewhere. Still crazy to me that the city of Portland has wild rabbits.

But yeah, it was a great trip. The good vibes continued the next day when back to work, my boss surprises me with a fat raise out of the blue, and then I go in for my first dental visit since 2019, and despite worrying I'd need some work done, I got a clean bill of dental health. That was a load off my mind! (I eat enough sugar in my diet to take down a bull elephant.)

I expect I'll return to Chicago again before too long. Like, if I ever check off the hobby bucket list item of attending the National, it would most likely be a year it happens in Chicago. And hey, I've now already got a Ventra card (for riding CTA) and sorta know my way around. Maybe next time I'll catch a White Sox game... but a place named "Guaranteed Rate Field" ain't no baseball mecca.


Refractor Friday #3: Ernie Banks 2003 Topps Retired refractor auto

Well it's Friday and I'm aiming to do a Refractor Friday post every Friday this summer, so let's squeeze more onto this already-too-long post!

Last week there were 2 possible winning answers. The Diamond King hit one in the very first comment-- congrats, Kev!-- but the second one went unpicked.

For today's refractor, it made sense to go with a sweet Cubs card, and can't do better than Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks. If you asked what's my favorite Chicago card I own, I think this might be it.

Beautiful, ain't it?! I like how it has rookie Ernie in the main photo and veteran Ernie in the inset. There are 25 of these refractors in existence. Which number of the print run do you think this one is? Take a guess in the comments below if you wanna-- same rules as before [Refractor Fridays label]-- and the winner can pick a PWE from the prize pool. Heck, this was a big post so let's go nuts and say the winner can pick SIX cards from the pool! For a hint, I'll let you know that this isn't the Christmas Card, nor is it #6 (which recently sold on eBay, but not to me). There's bonus consideration in play for anyone who leaves a comment relevant to the non-contest part of this big post in addition to their guess-- essentially giving you a second chance even if you're wrong-- in an attempt to try to dissuade the comments from being nothing but numbers.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the holiday weekend~!


  1. My former company was based in Chicago so I went there a couple of times for work. That beehive building in your first Chicago photo always pops the Bob Newhart theme in my head. (Which I don't mind.)

    I found it funny that from your perspective Chicago drivers seemed nuts. As a New Yorker, my reaction to Chicago was that it was a mellower version of NY.

    Here's my wallet card photo at Buckingham Fountain:

    That Topps publication looks interesting - I bookmarked to read it at some point. I love but never thought to look for baseball card material there.

    For the contest I'll go with the number 2 in honor of the Second City.

  2. I've never been comfortable in big cities, and Chicago isn't a place that I'd ever want to visit. That being said, I could probably spend a couple of days in the Art Institute and still not see everything that I would want to.

  3. I was last in Chicago 30 years ago, but a lot of the photos there are familiar so we probably visited many of the same spots (we also went to the zoo and like 4 pizza places). I agree, driving in Chicago is insane -- try attempting to follow someone in front of you who knows the way in Chicago while you don't, all in the middle of freeway traffic. Good times!

    What's wrong with L.A., my wife loved Disneyland! :)

    I will guess 13.

  4. The coldest mlb game I ever went to was at Wrigley, my one and only time to that stadium. Can't say itching to go back!

    I will guess 11.

  5. It's definitely #24

    I'll share my sad Wrigley Field trip. In college some friends and I went to Chicago from St. Louis for the weekend, had tickets to Sunday's game, but it was delayed by rain. We paid to park, sat in our seats, and waited. And waited. And waited. Eventually, because a few of us had early morning classes we left. As I recall, the game began right around the time we were crossing the river back into Missouri, so it was probably a good choice to leave, but in that moment we felt a little regretful we didn't hang in there another 4 hours.

  6. I went to college in (well, just outside of) Chicago, but I haven't been back since, so it's been a long time. A little sad that you didn't get deep-dish pizza, which to me is the culinary highlight of any visit to Chicago. Always fun to see one's team play at Wrigley, though. Glad you got a win. I never made it to Oz Park, and I don't think I even knew of it. Would have been cool to see.

    The number 17 is calling to me for the Banks.

    1. Oh yeah, I didn't get around to mentioning pizza in the post! So yeah, one night with the full family, they ordered thin crust pizza that my wife and I agreed was among the worst pizza we've ever had. It was basically a Ritz cracker with some cheese n' shit melted on it. Some of the group loved it, while the rest of us were wondering under our breath how you could visit Chicago and not get deep dish when ordering pizza.

      But after we checked out of the rental house, my wife and I stopped by a popular pizza place and got some real Chicago deep dish for lunch before heading to the airport. It was much better than that sad thin crust pie from earlier!

  7. Sounds like you had a great trip, glad you got to enjoy it and it even worked out with a Padres game (the Yu Darvish series lol). Also great bunny pictures. 10/10

  8. Well, that's a long post,and I'm sure itvhook you awhile to write.
    I'll guess #19.

    Good Job. 👍

  9. Been to Chicago once (a day trip back when I was in high school) and visited the Museum of Science and Industry. Had a great time while there. Would love to see the Dodgers play the Cubs at Wrigley and also attend the National while there.

    Love all the pics, thanks for sharing. I'll go with no. 5.

  10. I'll go with 23!

    Looks like a fun trip. I'm actually headed to Chicago for about 36 hours next weekend on one leg of a work trip. I've been there 4 or 5 times, most recently in 2020 right before the pandemic was a thing. Jealous you go to a Cubs game. I took the stadium tour a few years ago in the winter, so while I've been there, I haven't seen a game there.

  11. I really enjoy the travel posts, very cool. I haven't been in Chicago proper but was stuck in Chicago area traffic for an hour and a half on the way back from Mt. Rushmore in May. Did see O'Hare which was kinda cool. Lots of planes taking off that day, seemingly faster than they should have been.

    I'm not a big city type of person and didn't go to NYC until 2018 even though it's an hour away from me. I still find it a little hard to believe that I've actually walked around in Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Staten Island.

  12. Great pics, thanks for the recap! Also glad you got a game in at Wrigley. If you decide to create something big and nice for your MwC autographs you should incorporate your Buckingham Fountain selfie in it somehow.

    Guessing 14 for the Banks.

  13. I'd like to make it out to Chicago one day. Love the photo from the bridge. Combine the Chicago River with two baseball teams, tasty food, and The National (sometimes)... and you have a pretty cool vacation. It would also be cool to meet Nick too.

    Speaking of vacations... I was just in Oregon. Didn't make it up to Portland though. Stayed in Ashland for a week. The drive approaching and entering Oregon is really nice. It's just a shame it was in the 90's the week I was there.

    Not sure if anyone guessed 6. If not... I'll go with that number... since that's how long it took me to drive up to Oregon.

  14. Went to an Industrial convention in Chicago a number of years ago. Got called away early for a medical emergency. I will go with number 7. Thanks for sharing good memory building experiences.

  15. Those are some great pictures! I've never been to Cicago, but would love to catch a game at Wrigley and get some authentic Chicago pizza. Oz Park seems pretty cool too. I'll pick #1 as a guess!

  16. I will say 20

    This is closest to chicago i will ever see. We can't afford to travel and may never. I also refuse to fly as well haha.

    Thanks for taking me on the journey

    1. 20 was the bonus prize number (..the unpicked number from the previous weekly contest), so congrats, SCC/Matt! After Nick makes his selections, it'll be your turn.

  17. Sucks that our schedules didn't align - I'm *way* overdue for a trip to the Art Institute - but looks like you had a grand time regardless! Your Portillo's experience sounds about right - I'm pretty sure I know which Portillo's that is & it never goes smoothly. And you can probably count the number of times I've driven in downtown Chicago on one hand, mostly because the drivers out there are insane. I still love Wrigley and I'm really glad you got to see a Padres-Cubs game. There really isn't a bad seat in the house. Next time, for sure! (Or hopefully I make it up to Portland one of these days.)

    (And as for the contest, let's give #3 a whirl!)

    1. *ding ding ding* The Ernie Banks refractor auto is 03/25.. congrats, Nick! Crazy but fitting that I'll be sending more cards your way! Just let me know which 6 cards you'd like.

  18. I'll guess #21.

    Chicago is my favorite big city (not that I've been to many) to visit. I definitely would not want to live there or have to spend a lot of time, the traffic alone will keep me away. I only live an hour and a half from Chicago so I do make the trip occasionally. Usually for White Sox games but luckily I live on that side so I don't really have to really go into Chicago to get there. I can get in and out without to much hassle.