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The Urbanologist to the Chicago Sun-Times: “Your Hoosier Coverage is Weak”

Friday, September 28th, 2007

As all our regular readers know, all too well, the CT complains, ad nauseum, about the East Coast-centricity of the travel media. (Please see “Hamptons Watch” for further elaboration)
Last week, after reading yet another travel section article on fall color in New England, which came moments after digesting a Fall Guide to Cruises, and a new “ideas for Halloween in Florida” story, the Alpha Contrarian had a revelation.

Could Midwestern Dailies Hold the Mother Lode of Contrarian Travel?

I called Lael Powell-Rushing, who had just returned from an extreme-car-camping weekend in the Siskiyou Mtns of Southern Oregon, and posed the theory.

Perhaps…if we look beyond the orbit of the New York-DC-Boston megalolopolis media, if we steer clear of Slate, Salon, the LA Times and all Friends of the East Coast Media — in brief, if we avoid all of the publications that we read.. If we instead read shitty newspapers — dailies, in the Midwest, hum-drum workingman’s tabloids. Small-town rag.

Could we get a glimpse at another kind of travel? Places never before visited by Upper West Siders, and Northsiders, and NW DC people.
Powell-Rushing, a devoted reader of zines, was often skeptical of the mainstream media. He initially balked at the foolishness of this idea. Yet, he suggested we, at least, give this a few tries.

So last week, I asked Young Grinnell to try Experiment 1, a test of this thesis. His task: Read the Chicago Sun-Times travel section. The Second City’s Second Paper, the Sun-Times has great sports coverage, great coverage of celebrity gossip, and does an unparalleled job of covering crime in Chi-town and suburbs. It also does a great job absorbing grease from a large beef burrito. I have never, ever read the Sun Times travel section. It was the great unknown.

This is a 2002 photo, of Grinnell, also known as The Urbanologist, just seven miles from the Illinois/Indiana border.

Two Major FindingsĀ 

I was breezing through some of the recent Sun-Times travel pieces, and it wasn’t too encouraging, and it damn sure wasn’t contrarian in the least. Something on Nicaragua’s volcanoes, a review of Conde Nast Traveler’s 20th anniversary issue, and so on. I was almost about to click over to when I came across this intriguing piece on one of my favorite destinations, Indiana.”"The first sentence basically sums up this entire article: “A vacation in the Hoosier state? Not likely if you’re a Chicagoan”.

First, the Urbanologist Sets the Sun-Times Straight on Indiana

In all honesty, the best things about Indiana can be found within about twenty-five miles from the Illinois state line. They include the famed Purple Steer diner, Schoop’s Ice Cream and Burgers, and the Hoosier Theatre , which is a gem of an classic movie palace (They also have a warm-up show that includes live piano music on weekends. Truth be told, Gary (aka the “GI) represents the Holy Grail of urban contrariandom in the Middle West, but that’s best left for another article.

The rest of the piece in the Sun-Times goes on to quote a number of travelers and hospitality “experts” on the general undesirability of Indiana for Flatlanders. Of course, such a piece would be incomplete without mentioning what Hoosiers do come to Chicago to seeā€¦.the list is truly unfortunate, but not surprising. What does it include? Ah yes: Wrigley Field, shopping (of the hoary Michigan Avenue variety), the “legend of Al Capone” (visitors note: You can’t actually see any of his old haunts), and the “legacy of Muddy Waters”. The last one is a bit odd, as I assume they mean blues clubs, because it’s damn sure hard to find his “legacy”, tho’ you can look at his rapidly deteriorating home on South Lake Park Avenue.

With the taste of that article still leaving a not-so-good taste in my mouth, here’s a few contrarian type suggestions for those visiting from French Lick and other parts:

2. When Hoosiers are In Chicago, the Urbanologist Recommends…

1. International Museum of Surgical Science As far as I know, this is the only surgical-type museum in a house designed by Howard Van Doren Shaw, so that makes it worth a visit. The Museum sits cheek and jowl by a bunch of tony old piles of brick in Chicago’s Gold Coast. The one distinguishing element of this particular mansion has a bunch of spectacles from ancient China, 17th century surgical tongs, and Peruvian skulls. It’s worth a trip, and the CT factchecker is still trying to see if they have a cafeteria or Turkish bidet on site.

2. Manny’s Deli In the heart of the old Maxwell Street area of Chicago, there stands a cafeteria-cum deli that could be the official landmark to Chicagoans’ love of cholesterol, coffee, and cronyism. Manny’s Deli has been holding sway near the corner of Jefferson and Roosevelt for almost seven decades, and their pastrami is quite fine. Take a ticket, get in line, and forget about the Cheesecake Factory, for the love of Mayor Daley.

3. Cal’s Liquors If you have a strong constitution, you might be able to walk from Manny’s Deli to Cal’s Liquors in the South Loop for a postprandial drink or twelve. With its rather grimy exterior (and come to think of it, the interior is fairly filthy as well), Cal’s is a holdout against the rapid appletini-fication of the Loop’s drinking scene. Locally known as a “trader bar” (it’s across the street from the Chicago Board of Trade), it is both a bar and a package good store. Bike messengers, the unemployed, and swarmy traders all gather here, and they even sponsor their own annual battle of the bands.

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