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Chicago Diary #1: Time for You to Meet "The Bean"

February 28, 2009
by Mark Hagland
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Copyright city of chicago I moved to Chicago in 1981 for graduate school, and have never regretted it. Indeed, though I had spent 21 years of my life living elsewhere, whenever I'm asked where I'm "from," I say immediately, "Chicago." I'm glad to explain further my earlier life, but as far as the present is concerned, I'm a Chicagoan through and through. So I'm thrilled that the HIMSS Conference will take place in Chicago this year. And even though I'm guessing a majority of HIMSS attendees will have visited Chicago at least once, this is a city with endless opportunities for sightseeing, restaurant dining, shopping, cultural indulging, sports and outdoor activity, and so on. So, even if you've been here before, there will always be more of Chicago to explore. Did you know that Chicago has....? > More than 200 theaters > Nearly 200 art galleries > More than 7,300 restaurants within the city limits alone > 552 parks > 26 miles of lakefront > 19 miles of lakefront bicycle paths > 15 miles of bathing beaches OK, so you'll probably not choose to try to sunbathe here in early April...! But you might decide to try to include in your visit one or more of the following: > a visit to the world-famous Art Institute of Chicago, which, among its 33,000 works of art, contains the greatest collection of Impressionist art outside France, and is home to a huge post-Impressionist (both French post-Impressionist and German Expressionist) collection as well, including "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" (1884) of Georges-Pierre Seurat, the painting that inspired the Broadway musical "Sunday in the Park with George" > a concert at Symphony Center, home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, considered one of the top symphony orchestras in the world > a stroll through gorgeous Millennium Park, a section of Grant Park downtown that includes the spectacular, Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion, as well as the enormously popular "Cloud Gate" sculpture, known to everyone by its nickname "The Bean" (and which is rapidly becoming a new symbol of the city) > a quick zip up to the top of the John Hancock Center, the 1,456-foot skyscraper from which, on a clear day, you will be able to see four states (Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan) and fully across Lake Michigan (the Sears Tower, at 1,707 feet, is slightly taller, but for my money, the view is more spectacular from the Hancock)

> a walk up Michigan Avenue, one of the country's best shopping streets, towards the old Water Tower, one of our greatest landmarks; built in 1869, the Water Tower was one of the few buildings to survive the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which devastated most of the city in that year, and became a symbol of the city's renaissance in the post-Fire years > a walking tour (the "historic skyscrapers" tour is phenomenal) of the downtown area from the Chicago Architecture Foundation, whose terrific docents will give you a fascinating glimpse into the birth of the skyscraper here (yes, that's right, Chicago, not New York, was the birthplace of the modern skyscraper) > a quick taxi ride up to the North Halsted Street jazz and blues clubs on the North Side, just 10 minutes' drive from downtown, which regularly attract the best jazz and blues artists in the country And of course, a nice meal in a nice restaurant. Chicago has restaurants reflecting the cuisines of just about every country and culture in the world, in every price range and setting, from terrific little storefront ethnic restaurants in dozens of neighborhoods, up to the most glamorous dining palaces downtown and elsewhere. I'll write more about eating in Chicago in a future blog. And by the way, while Chicago may be one of the more wind-whipped cities in North America, its nickname "The Windy City" came not from its meterological character, but from the pen of a newspaper editorialist who complained a century ago about the blustering of its politicians. One thing I love about Chicago is its people. In general (and of course, who can really generalize about 8 million people??!), Chicagoans are known to be solidly grounded Midwesterners, practical, hardworking, but also friendly. The trendiness of New York and Los Angeles has never caught on here, and though this is a sophisticated world city, putting on airs is highly frowned upon here. We're a down-to-earth, sports-loving, unpretentious bunch. But we're also ambitious. After all, it is the great Chicago architect and urban planner Daniel Burnham, whose famous quote "Make no little plans," probably best describes the aspiring spirit of this great city. Burnham's motto might well come to mind as you trudge through the enormous (2.6 million square feet of exhibit space alone) McCormick Place convention center, one of the world's largest indoor meeting places. In short, I couldn't be prouder of my adopted city. I had nothing to do with the construction of any of its great buildings, nor was I around to help lead the preservation of its wonderful lakefront from commercialization over a century ago; but like all adopted Chicagoans, I take pride in its achievements, and am quick to defend it from detractors. I hope you'll be delighted to visit my city and imbibe its atmosphere when you come for the HIMSS Conference in just two months. Consider it an enjoyable "two-fer" as a HIMSS attendee. And

take that, Orlando!!! ;-)

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