Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and singing…proud to be a Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.
– Carl Sandberg, American writer, poet, and editor
When I was still packing at 11pm on a Friday night, knowing that I had to get up at 3am the next morning to leave the house at 4am, I told myself that yes, it was worth leaving that early for my flight from Oakland International to Chicago. I was going to be working Sunday through Wednesday for my company’s annual conference, and the only day I had to explore the Windy City was Saturday afternoon. I slept on my flight, and by the time I was in the cab heading into the heart of Chicago, I knew I had made the right decision.
Armed with Google map on my iPhone, I found the Blue Line (actually by asking locals since I’m useless with north-south-east-west directions), got myself in the right direction, and was reunited with my favorite neighborhood of vintage goods – Wicker Park. For those keeping notes, that would be heading to Forest Park and getting off at Damen. I immediately found my way to Eskell (1509 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, 60622, 773.486.0830), where I first discovered Laura Lombardi’s industrial-vibe jewelry years earlier. Unfortunately, Eskell was out of stock of her jewelry, but they carry a wonderful collection of their own label earrings, necklaces, and bracelets. Better still, their label is reasonably priced. Surprisingly, the first thing that caught my eye was their selection of sunglasses. I tried on a pair that was part Western, part Hollywood, and it seemed destined to be worn by me, walking out of the store and into the warm late afternoon – with a very spring temperature in the upper 60s.
I didn’t have to go far to hit Vintage Underground (1507 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, 60622, 773.384.7880) and see if owner Carlos and his assistants, Ada and Ellen, were there that Saturday. Indeed, they were! I wasn’t sure if they would remember me, but with a little prodding and immediate recognition from Ellen, they did all remember. I told Carlos that my blog post about his borrowed paraphrased advice: “Plant a tree, write a book” was the most viewed blog post for me ever (not that I have legions of people following me or discovering my blog, but that blog post still reigns supreme). The full quote is “Plant a tree, have a child, write a book.” Since my last visit to the shop in December 2013, I learned that the original Vintage Underground, which was housed in the basement of a building several blocks away, consolidated with its other shop on N. Milwaukee Avenue, which is now where you’ll find heaps upon heaps of vintage treasures.
As you can see, combining inventory of two locations results in a shop overflowing, dripping with treasures. I could have spent the rest of the day poring over the jewelry in the glass cabinets. I checked out the vintage rhinestone and crystal necklaces and earrings. I tried on the statement sterling silver necklaces. As Carlos rang up my purchase of a 1970s sterling silver necklace made in Mexico, I told him with a heavy heart that my parent company is no longer going to have its annual conference in Chicago. He mourned with me, but responded with a smile, “So you’ll have to come here just for pleasure.” Indeed.
I had a great, though grueling, conference, reuniting with my colleagues and getting to know our clients during dinners and events. But what I really enjoyed was walking around Chicago. Everywhere I turned, I found architectural gems. I think that is what I love the most about this city – its unique and abundant architecture and also the Chicago River.
I don’t know when I’ll return to Chicago, but as it is one of my favorite cities, I know it won’t be too long a time in between. Only next time, I’ll be on vacation and spending my days and evenings soaking in all the Windy City has to offer.