Monday, June 21, 2010

Chicago Part 1: From 3-4 Stars

There are two sides to every story and in the case of our trip to Chicago there are two parts. Part one consists not of all the fun and exciting things we did, but of the wild goose chase we were sent on in search of a place to lay our weary heads.

Danny always picks the hotel we stay in when traveling. He picks someplace near downtown so we can walk to most of our destinations. The particular hotel that Danny picked for our trip to Chicago was the
rather fancy InterContinental. With a 4 star rating, a prime location on North Michigan, and a building full of interesting character and history, he made an excellent choice.

We arrived at the InterContinental rather late. Our flight had been delayed due to a storm passing through Chicago. I was not prepared for the storm. I must have looked fairly silly in my flip flops and tank top as the rain was pouring down on us. I knew that something really good or something really bad was going to happen, when we went to check in and the lady at the front desk said, “Oh Lehr? There is a note for me to get my manager.” The little blonde manager broke the news that, “A contracted party had to stay two extra nights at the hotel.” This left us little Lehrs out of luck. Kind of. The InterContinental has another property on South Michigan called The Congress Hotel. We would be sent there. The two nights we had paid for to stay at the InterContinental would be reimbursed. We were offered a free breakfast, money for a cab, and an upgraded room when we returned to the InterContinental. Danny explained to the lady that we had planned on walking everywhere and this would be rather inconvenient. She offered an extra cab fare.

Danny was to put it kindly, a little upset. I felt a little sorry for the little blonde lady. I was upset, but more tired and hungry than anything and just wanted to dig into some Chicago pizza. There really was nothing we could do about it besides bargain for more cab fares, but I feel like we got an okay deal. The lady did tell us, “Well to be honest, the Congress Hotel is not a four star hotel. It’s a three star.” I could care less about star ratings at that point, just give me a pillow and blanket and I would go sleep on the park bench.

So off we went to the Congress Hotel. The outside was nice enough, but the inside was a different story. Anyone that knows me knows that I love old buildings with character. I have been known to get pretty excited over crown molding. The inside of the Congress Hotel is old in all the wrong ways. Sure there is crown molding, chair rails, and chandeliers. But as most old buildings are, it had been renovated. But this renovation was best described as a hasty one….with a 1980s flair.

Our room had two full beds. And although it was rather tempting for each of us to have our own bed, we decided to share one little bed. As I was falling asleep, which is testament to my pure exhaustion, because the mattress was ridiculously uncomfortable, I thought about deep dish pizza…and how maybe I should only have one slice, seeing as we both had to fit in the tiny bed. The bathroom wasn’t much to look at either. The sink was leaking and there was moldy caulking around the bath tub edges. Danny described the shower pressure as if someone were peeing on him. I just hope he doesn’t really know what that is like.

The next day after we had ventured out across the street to the park, we noticed a giant balloon rat in front of our hotel. We also noticed some people gathering holding signs. With our two heads combined, we decided that a protest was going to occur outside our hotel. We had to laugh at our misfortune. I secretly wonder if the InterContinental manager knew this was going to occur, but failed to mention it. Neither one of us knew what they were protesting for, but Danny and his silly self, pumped his fists and yelled, “YEAHHH!” We later asked a police officer what the picketing was about. He told us that it was the hotel workers union, fighting for better wages, benefits, and immigration issues. I later learned from the local Chicago news, that the hotel workers walk out against the Congress Hotel was the longest standing protest in Chicago. How long to be exact? 7 years.

We were able to check into the InterContinental two days later. Danny made sure to mention that we had to cross picket lines. He may have stretched the story a little and said one of the protesters yelled, “SCAB,” as he crossed the line. A different manager reassured Danny that we would be taken care of. Our room was a nice enough room. It had a comfortable king sized bed and an extra lounge area with a TV and desk. While we were freshening up, a man brought up an artfully displayed tray of fruit, a fancy glass bottle of Evian water, and a gift certificate for a free coffee at the Starbucks downstairs. I think the manager was trying to give us a nicer view than what we originally would have had, but his attempt failed. Although it was a corner room, with two windows, the view was of the air conditioners on the roof tops below, and the second window looked directly into the living room of someone’s apartment next to us. Perhaps he thought we liked to people watch or are interested in air conditioning?

Here are some of the items that I believe differentiate a 4 star hotel from a 3 star hotel. The InterContinental placed a robe out every evening for “Mr. Lehr,” with a card on top saying what the weather would be like the next day. I guess they didn’t care about Mrs. Lehr. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t the one doing all the complaining. There was a scale in the bathroom, which I avoided at all costs. When I did my makeup and hair in the morning I left all the little brushes and bottles on the counter, but when we came back for the day they were neatly arranged on two wash clothes. The hotel maid also dared to fold Danny’s sweaty workout clothes, which were hanging on the back of a chair. There were classy magazines like Town and Country, left on the desk for my perusing pleasure. Every evening we would return to our room and the ice bucket was filled. The towels were soft and amply sized (unlike the Congress Hotel towels which barely wrapped around my ample rear). A newspaper was also delivered every day. However the Chicago Tribune is next door, so that doesn’t impress me that much.

The InterContinental hotel used to be a men’s athletic club. It has some pretty impressive architecture, design, and history. A regular at the athletic club was Olympic gold medalist and Tarzan star Johnny Weissmuller. During our stay I did not see any celebrities or Olympic gold medalists, but I did see many important looking business people. Some of them were from Panera Bread and others from Mobil. I was tempted to listen in on the Mobil meetings to see what they had to say about BP's mess.

Our little Hotel mix up turned out to be okay. The Congress Hotel was closer to many of the museums we wanted to visit. I suspect at one time the Congress Hotel was quite grand. It was briefly owned by Al Capone, so it too has had its share of famous people. It is currently listed as one of the most haunted hotels in the nation, a fact that I am happy to have learned after our stay there. The Congress Hotel also had elevator music that Danny danced to during the ride up and down, which made me giggle. Whereas the InterContinental did not have elevator music, it did have small televisions so all the important business people could get caught up on the news. The InterContinental was closer to the river, Navy Pier, and the Magnificent Mile. It too had history and character, but with the bonus of softer sheets. Either way both hotels were experiences I enjoyed just in different ways. In the grand scheme of things 3 stars vs. 4 stars doesn’t matter too much. Both were adventures worth having and they were places to rest our tired feet.

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