Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Meat and Tremont

Woffa woffa woffa, as we sometimes say when we are particularly satisfied, as having just been dealt a nice hand of cards in a game of hearts, or having been brought an unexpectedly pleasing plate of victuals.

What a simple-minded outlook we have on the world, to be sure.

After an unusually slow and ordinary breakfast at the Sheraton Midway we drove into Chicago. I was nursing a regret or two. Specifically: Why on earth did we book an airport motel for one night, and a rental car; and then a downtown Chicago hotel for two more nights? Now we're just going to have to park the car for two days -- no reason to drive in downtown Chicago -- and pay for two days of car rental, and two days of parking. We should have booked this hotel for the three days, and taken the car on Friday when we leave town.

Oh well.

The Tremont, where we are today and tomorrow, turns out to be a very nice hotel. It's called "quaint" in one of our Chicago guides -- a cut above "Romantic," a cut below "Chic." Well, that's us, somewhere between Chic and Romantic.

We spent the afternoon at Wrigley Field. I had trepidations: the Cubs beat the Marlins yesterday fourteen to nothing, and I expected today to be Retribution City. And it was, and I have photos of the scoreboard to prove it: 8-0 in the fourth; 10-0 in the fifth; 12-0 in the sixth; 15-0 in the seventh. But then the Cubs scored five runs, so the final score, while terrible and painful, was not a total disaster.

I was excited as we walked into the park. I like San Francisco's ball park, where we watched the Giants satisfactorily trimmed on Sunday afternoon (and where we saw an amazing lost saved home run when an outfielder's glove lost its webbing, and saw an even more amazing rundown between first and second). But however fine these new backward-looking baseball stadia are they do not compare with the two surviving old-school parks, Fenway in Boston -- okay, I confess, I've never been inside it -- and Wrigley Field here.

You get there by elevated. There's a Dixieland band, wearing Cubs uniforms, playing outside. Inside you walk past appetizing hot-dog stands and peanut vendors and up many ramps and out into a truly beautiful venue, no seat impossibly far from the field. There is no nosebleed "view terrace" here, unless it's on the rooftops across the street.

And wonder of wonder we had marvelous seats behind and slightly to the right of home plate, under the roof in case it rains (but it didn't) but not too far back. I could even believe the batter might actually hear me when I call out the new relief pitcher's ERA to him: don't take any guff from him: he's pitching 6.90 ball. But the Cubs lost anyway.

Dinner tonight at Fogo de Chao, recommended by Friend Who Eats Meat. It's a "churrascaria," specializing in the barbecued meats of southern Brazill -- a theme restaurant with a gimmick, one of a chain (other outlets in Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Beverly Hills, Ssao Paulo (where there are three installations) and Porto Alegre in their native Brazil).

We had a reservation for nine o'clock -- I bet they simply don't take reservations earlier. The joint was jammed when we got there, and there were a couple of limos standing at the curb, one a good thirty feet long. I strode confidently to the podium and announced Shere. Two. Nine.

The hostess gave me a small pager and a slip of cardboard. Have a drink in the bar with this credit slip; it'll be transferred to your table. We'll page you when the table's ready.

We found stools at a table otherwise occupying three young men -- there was a surfeit of young men in the bar, most of them drinking Millers Lite and talking unnecessarily loud. I bellied up to the bar for two Caipirinhas, the national drink of Brazil, made I think with secondarily-distilled rum, limes, sugar, and lime juice. Julio, you'll correct me on that; you introduced me to this drink last year.

As we sipped them we were approached by a young man who had detached himself from a group at the bar. He seemed a little drunk, very young, quite polite, immensely engaging. What's that you're drinking, he asked. I told him. I told him a second time. We struck up a conversation. He turns out to be working for an accounting firm, keeping corporate America honest. We talked about Social Security, a little bit. He kept looking at our drinks and at Lindsey. I'm Chris, he said after a while. I'm Charles, I answered, and this is Lindsey.

Where are you from, he wanted to know; and, later, What are you doing here? We explained about the Cubs, and Lindsey's family reunion, and San Francisco, and all that. And then I added that this was a bit of a birthday present for Lindsey.

And how old are you, he asked, clearly aware he was pushing things a bit, but genuinely interested, Fifty-two? No, Lindsey said, I'm older than that, I'm seventy.

The poor kid suddenly looked just a little bit drunker, a little less capable of dealing with input. But he was sweet and congratulatory, and I explained that in fact Lindsey was a little unfair, she doesn't really go around looking like she's seventy. At least not to me.

We were paged. At table we were given the drill: go to the buffet, take whatever vegetation you want, when you're ready for meat turn this little disc green side up. We did so, starting with salads -- a phony Caesar for me, good but lacking anchovies and egg. And then we signaled the meat-bringers, and they brought one thing after another, all of them on skewers from the grill, beef and lamb and pork and chicken, tenderloin and flank and sausage. The Caipirinha gave way to a glass or two of Argentine Malbec. It was a lot of fun.

At the next table I noticed Chris was drinking a Caipirinha instead of the Miller's Lite I'd first seen him with. He was laughing and applauding and throwing his hands up into the air. He was having a lot of fun, seated there with three male friends his own age. They were in training, he'd mentioned at the bar, but training for what God only knows.

And we walked the ten or twelve blocks home through the balmy Chicago night, trees silhouetted against the sky, people still on the streets, and I thought how much I enjoy these romantic nocturnal cities, the ones on this scale, streets only a couple of lanes broad, the occasional stone church or vestpocket park or odd Victorian watertower suddenly singing their old, plain, but vibrant song against the iPods and boomboxes.

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