Where to go when perfect early September weather presents itself on a Sunday and there are no commitments to either the weekday boss who pays the bills or the boss at home who spends the paycheck? It used to be that one could fly to the grand metropolis known as The Windy City and land at an airport conveniently located right on the downtown lakeshore, but as we all know, Meigs Field is no longer the pilot’s gateway to Chicago. We would have to settle for Gary, Indiana, and beg a ride from a local resident.
Gary is located at the very bottom tip of Lake Michigan, just outside of the complex airspace surrounding Chicago, and is a relatively easy flight to make from Central Ohio. As I was looking at charts and maps of the Chicago airspace during my preflight planning, I noticed something: with the departure of the controlled airspace around Meigs, it is a simple thing to fly right along the downtown Chicago skyline absorbing the spectacular scenery.
And so it was decided: we would land at Gary, but only after making a detour to the north along the shoreline. And as we would be flying in a quick little bird known as a Van’s RV-6, it wouldn’t take much longer than 90 minutes to get there.
That, folks, is a bargain!
Just past Gary, we picked up our first glimpse of the big city.
We were lucky enough to arrive just as a cloud layer was pushing down from the north, creating some of that spectacular scenery we had been hoping for.
While pretty to look at, those clouds weren’t something that I was anxious to wrestle with, so we made an ignominious retreat back to the (almost) clear skies over Gary. The runway at Gary is one of those humongous things like they have at big airports, and as such I did what I normally do: hunted and hunted and hunted for the runway in the flare, the RV’s talons extended in anticipation of touching the runway, eventually. The runway was so wide that by the time we actually touched down, the unfamiliar sight picture in my peripheral vision had me absolutely convinced that we had tunneled below the concrete surface.
We taxied over to park at the Gary Jet Center uneventfully, got the plane parked, and made an on-time rendezvous with our resident travel guide.
Off we went for our adventure in Chicago!
Our first stop was to visit the remains of Meigs Field, the scene of a brutal crime perpetrated against the society of pilots. And, to the utter consternation and disgust of all affected, the perpetrator got away with it. In the middle of the night, the Mayor of Chicago at the time, Richard M. Daley, had illegally ordered the destruction of the single runway at Meigs Field, an airport known and loved by millions of pilots and virtual pilots all over the world.
It’s hard to understand why Daley would want the airport destroyed. The contemporaneous explanation was at best transparently disingenuous: Daley claimed that safety concerns required the closure due to the post-September 11 risk of terrorist-controlled aircraft attacking the downtown waterfront near Meigs Field. No moderately sentient being could be fooled by such a ridiculous statement, especially one who had just flown right in front of the downtown area in airspace left uncontrolled after the wanton destruction of Meigs.
You can see how much more convenient it would have been to be able to land at Meigs:
The terminal building was still standing at the time of our visit, as was the control tower:
Frustration at the loss of such a fine airport notwithstanding, we proceeded to have a very enjoyable day in the city, the highlight of which was riding a water taxi to Chinatown, where I had hoped to solve a year’s long problem.
So what was the problem I hoped to solve in Chinatown?
Well, I love egg rolls. More specifically, I love egg rolls which I use as a socially acceptable means for transferring a tasty condiment from the plate to my mouth. It’s the hot, HOT Chinese mustard. You know, the stuff that you can feel burning all the way up into your sinuses. I’ve tried numerous times to find mustard like that in a grocery store so I could enjoy it at home. Unfortunately, the ostensibly “hot” mustard they sell in grocery stores is far too tame. Bland, even.
It simply doesn’t cut the mustard, as it were.
Now that I was in Chinatown, I thought that I would be able to get some of the real stuff simply by visiting a Chinese grocery store. That proved to be not all that simple. The aisles were packed with things I had never heard of. Secondly, the stores were so authentic that no one working in any of them spoke English. My futile attempts to ask the grocer were met with looks of complete and abject confusion. They had no idea what I was asking them.
I finally hit upon what I considered to be a brilliant idea. We would go have lunch in a Chinese restaurant, order some egg rolls, and ask the (presumably) English-speaking waitress to write a note explaining what I was looking for. I’d then hand her note to one of the grocers and we’d be done!
I think that idea would have worked, except for one little detail that had never even entered my mind: when I asked the waitress where I could buy the Chinese mustard that she brought out with the egg rolls, she said, “It’s not Chinese mustard. Chinese don’t use mustard with egg rolls; that is an American thing.”
“We buy it at Costco.”