The outstanding St. Louis crowd from last night’s show made me write the last blog entry with such passion that I didn’t even bother looking at the clock. Bad mistake considering the fact that we had to leave early today, in order to make it to Chicago before the Friday rush‐hour begins.
I should also say that freaking out due to Colin’s stories about ghost‐hunting also served as a truthful hindrance on my path to sweet sleep. By the time I finished chatting with Hadar over Skype, I was totally and utterly exhausted.
Looking at the clock… 2:30am. Just under 5 hours left to sleep. Great. Put my head on the pillow and I don’t even remember trying to fall asleep. I was so exhausted that even Colin’s ghosts wouldn’t be able to wake me up (hey Colin, I’m just kidding. Do not send those upon me).
Waking up just after 7:00am I looked outside and saw grey. Grey, grey, grey skies. Packed quickly and went downstairs for breakfast in the hotel. Industrialized eggs and toast—the only warm dish that looked reasonable for me to eat in the morning—and then some bran‐flakes with milk. Breakfast of kings—kings of very small and esoteric countries.
Didn’t take much time before we hit the I‐70E again en route to Chicago. I was dead tired; Jeroen wasn’t the most alert individual in the world either. I was already predicting lots of seat switching during this relatively‐short, 5 hours drive.
Jeroen took a picture of the (apparently) famous St. Louis Arch as we left. He mentioned that the arch has some unique mathematical properties, which is just what I needed to hear when I was already dead tired. Here it is:
But what happened about 2 hours after we started driving, sort‐of woke us both up. I guess some of the best things in trips like these are the small, incidental things that are out of the ordinary.
The road from St. Louis to Chicago is not very interesting, unless flat farmlands give you the kicks. Checking the GPS for Starbucks along our route, we found the closest one being 250km from us (when you use your GPS to search for things “on your route”, it searches for establishments that are no more than about 1–2km from your route. It doesn’t necessarily mean that there is no Starbucks around; there might be, but it’d require you to do some driving to get there).
As Jeroen was driving and I just happened to be awake, I noticed a Starbucks sign on one of those big blue signs showing you what’s up at the next exit.
“Lets stop there”, I said.
“Cool”, replied Jeroen.
Of course, us being not really alert, we both completely forgot to take the exit. “Geee”, I thought. Who knows when the next Starbucks is going to pop up. Lo and behold, within a couple of minutes—another one. We both made sure we actually take that exit. It was in the Springfield, IL area—not the most exciting place in the universe.
So we drove up to Starbucks, parked and entered the store. Jeroen asked me to buy him something as he went to the restroom. I’m in the line.
In front of me, there’s a tall guy wearing a hat.
“I’m so tired”, I’m thinking to myself. “What drink should I have?” I continued pondering, while shifting my body weight from one leg to another.
The tall guy with the hat was soon joined by a lady wearing jeans and a black shirt.
“Interesting. Hats like that are rarely seen in Illinois… as far as I know Illinois, that is.”
“But I’m so tired.”
Then the guy turns towards me, then turned around again and went to his table. “Hey, this face looks familiar… hmmmm.”
Well what do you know. Of the very few Starbucks stores along the St. Louis—Chicago drive, we happened to stop at exactly the same location, and at exactly the same time, as Pieta Brown and Bo Ramsey, who together play the opening act for Mark Knopfler’s tour in North America. I approached and introduced myself to Bo, who found it a little bizarre and impressive that I am following the entire Get Lucky tour. Jeroen then joined us and the three of us had a very interesting discussion. Shortly after, Pieta was called to join the bunch.
Good chat! and one hell of a freakish coincidental gathering, don’t you think?
We then bid Bo & Pieta goodbye, and went back to the car to continue our journey. Thanks to that rather coincidental encounter, as well as the extra‐strong espresso, I was no longer tired.
The ride from St. Louis to Chicago is not interesting at all; very flat, green on both sides but really no road challenge at all to keep you awake. “Very similar to The Netherlands” pointed out Jeroen, and quite rightfully so—BORING. I couldn’t wait to get to the hotel already—the Hilton Conrad hotel in downtown Chicago, about 10 minutes walk from the Chicago Theatre and 10 minutes walk from the headquarters of the organization whose representative I was going to meet later.
The boring road made me sleepy again.
The Hilton Conrad Hotel is located right downtown Chicago; I wouldn’t call myself a hotel connoisseur—my experience in above‐average hotels doesn’t add up to much—but this is one of the nicer hotels I’ve seen. It’s not flashy or glamoury in any way but the rooms are great, large lobby, nice bar (where I’m sitting at the moment)… and a grand piano which is unfortunately reserved to boring guys who come by playing like robots and boring the living sh*t out of everybody else.
Quick shower to unwind from the ride and I left the hotel to meet with Nancy; I had a couple of hotdogs in Portillo’s, which are considered a Chicago “thing”—a good thing, I should say. Their beef hotdog is very good, comes with lots of goodies in the bun.
Then we proceeded to our main destination—a not‐for‐profit organization I was told about (again, by Nancy; the woman happens to know so many people and organizations that do good things), doing something very unique and original. Details will follow in a separate post—there’s quite a few raw material I have to process and put together in a form that may (hopefully) please the eye. For now I will just say that the meeting has been a really exciting experience.
Once we were done, Nancy and I split‐up and I went looking for a coffee. Stepped into a few places but just couldn’t find a place with just the right “atmosphere”. I did, though, get a little more familiar with Chicago’s downtown area. In one word, it is big. There’s so much to see, do and eat (not necessarily in that order); makes sense given the fact that this is the third most populous city in the USA (after NYC and LA). People walk about wearing the same type of look that Manhattanites do—a busy, rushy look.
Two weeks ago, I was in Vancouver; now I’m in Chicago, a stone‐throw from the east coast. It is very interesting to notice the different “types” of people in different places. The laid‐back atmosphere of the west coast has been long gone; Chicago’s atmosphere is much closer to east‐coast than west‐coast.
This appears to have been a day of funny incidents as another one happened to me on my way back to the hotel. I was walking in the mall adjacent to the hotel, and pushed the elevator’s button. Once in, the moment the elevator was about to close, a young couple with a baby went inside. While they were on their way in, I noticed them speaking in Hebrew.
I was thinking of something interesting to say (it’s always nice to encounter “your own people” while on vacation). Within seconds, there came the question.
– “Are you Isaac?”
OK this is strange. I got used to that question while inside venues; but I didn’t see any venue around.
– “Yes I am.”
– “Do you speak Hebrew?”
– “ברור” (that means “of course”)
… which was followed by a fascinating 30‐minutes conversation. Turns out that the couple are quite the Mark Knopfler fans; they are doing a trip in the USA and were able to get a hold of a couple of tickets to the Minneapolis show (on Sunday). Turns out they have been following my Kill to Get Crimson tour two summers ago, and are following this very blog as well. Their baby actually has some past Knopfler experience, as Knopfler showed some affection towards her during the unveiling of the Dire Straits plaque in London a couple of months ago (the couple with the baby were there).
This is a day full of surprises. I love the way this trip evolves; meeting with interesting new people is definitely something I’m always looking forward to. The couple, the baby and myself will catch up after the Minneapolis show, for sure.
Back to the hotel, and a few minutes later Jeroen and I were on our way to the Chicago Theatre, for tonight’s concert. About 10 minutes of easy walkin’.
The Chicago Theatre (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_Theatre) was built in 1921 and seats 3,600. Originally, it was used primarily as a movie theatre; business slowdowns and other reasons led to the building being shutdown in 1985, undergo all sorts of restorations until it was finally re‐opened a year later. Its marquee is a landmark in Chicago’s landscape.
After collecting the tickets (front row, centre), Jeroen and myself split up and I went to hunt for food. There is a deli right next to the theatre. For $5.99 I got a roast beef sandwich that was too big and too messy to even hold. I actually had to resort to knife & fork in order to consume it. The chewing took longer than I had expected and therefore I missed a few minutes of Pieta Brown’s show.
I have been to this venue once before, during the Kill to Get Crimson tour. Back then, I was at the front row as well.
How was the concert, you’re probably asking. Well, first, the crowd. Lots of noise, and not in a good way. A few extremely noisy people thought that they’re giving everyone a good time with their tasteless howls but… I don’t know… there was a difference between the howls of the St. Louis crowd and those of the Chicago crowd. The former howls were full of… well… soul. The latter howls was just noise.
The concert itself also was a bit unusual. One song has been dropped from the setlist, and it seems that in a few songs all sorts of things went a little wrong—most attendees probably didn’t notice anything but I happen to have a very demanding & perfectionist ear and some things just didn’t add up. I don’t know, maybe myself being too tired… who knows. Just my impression.
However, two things have completely balanced things for the good.
First, the performance of Brothers in Arms. For the first time this tour (I believe), I felt that the Gibson sounds a bit deeper, a bit on the “fat tone” side. A quick look revealed that Mark went on stage with the Gibson’s pickup selector on the first position (“Rhythm”)—which gives the tone an altogether “moodier”, fatter tone. It sounded phenomenal (on a side note: the original studio version is performed with the pickup selector in the second position—both pickups active—plus an out‐of‐phase rewiring yielding that brilliant weeping tone. I wish Mark would play that song live with the very same guitar configuration).
The second thing was the last song at the encore. Not even one person remained seated while Piper to the End was performed brilliantly. I don’t know what it was, but that particular performance didn’t really sound like a song in a concert; it sounded, and felt—with all the standing crowd around—like a national anthem; which it kind‐of is, if you think about it.
Concert ended and millions of concertgoers left the venue at once. Way too crowded in Chicago’s sidewalk, luckily it was a short walking distance from the hotel.
Nancy and her friend Kathy went to grab something to eat, so I joined them after the show, at a nearby pub / restaurant. Wasn’t hungry (had you witnessed the sandwich I consumed before the show, you’d understand), so just one beer for me. Shared a few laughs, really good times, then back to the hotel.