Thursday, October 20, 2011

Welcome to Chicago

Any guesses on how long it takes to drive from Uniontown, PA to Chicago? Yeah, WAY TOO LONG. We decided to break up our drive with an overnight stop in Bryan, Ohio. They have the finest Holiday Inn Select and are so damned nice, but there is nothing to do in Bryan Ohio.

Before we drove approximately 6 million miles we thought we'd go on a hike in the Ohiopyle State Park. Mainly I wanted to do this because it took me about a week to figure out how to say Ohiopyle. I found it fun to say Ohiopyle. And there is a trail that takes you to a place called Cucumber Falls. What's not to love?

I forgot to mention that we had perfect weather for our FLW tour and managed to zoom around the Pennsylvania countryside with Ginger's top down (settle down, she's a convertible, remember.) On this out, Ginger kept her top on but did manage to go offroading when I mistook a sign for a picnic area for the trail sign. Ginger had no business being on that road. She was a trooper. Despite - or maybe because of a series of wrong turns, we ended up driving to Cucumber Falls. Well thank God because a three hour hike to those falls would have been really disappointing.

Turns out that driving from Pennsylvania, through Ohio and Indiana is a lot like driving the 401 from Windsor to Montreal without the traffic. You don't do it for the scenic drive. But we made it to Chicago despite one small incident with a toll booth that decided to konk out just as we arrived. I ended up having to scream out my credit card number to an operator. I assume it was legit because the arm did eventually go up. Half of Ohio knows my credit card number. What could go wrong?

Finally in Chicago we explored. We are the most inefficient route planners on earth. If I drew a picture of our route, it would look like a bad etch a sketch drawing. We did make the most of the rainy afternoon by eating at a diner featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives (the waitress led us astray with what was featured on the show) finding Sears Tower, Cloud Gate, and most importantly American Girl. Oh and the John Hancock Center for drinks with a view.

About American Girl. We love our 10 year old niece. And she loves American Girl. Every trip to NY and Chicago has involved a visit to this frightening store to bring her back a gift. Once I even returnned home with a small horse. This trip did not involve any barnyard animals, but it I did enjoy giving Dave a chance to experience the store. He was great - helped pick out the gifts and even carried the bag the res of the night without fear of being beaten up.

The last (and only other time) I was in Chicago my girlfriend Jaime took me to the 96th floor of the John Hancock tower. It was a real treat to experience it with Dave. The weather was moody but the transition from day to night made for perfect timing.

If only I had brought my camera. Ah well BlackBerry to the rescue!

A view while we enjoyed a drink after shopping at American Girl

Chicago as seen in The Bean

Today we concluded the Frannk Lloyd Wright part of our tour with a trip to Oak Park. It gave us a better understanding of the engineering and construction flaws of Wright's designs. He basically had no itention of having his builds last forever. It was good to get a different perspective on his work. The walking tour in the drizzle satisfied our FLW geekiness.

Lunch at another Diners Drive-in and Dives - at The Depot - satisfied our tummy. Pot roast sandwich with gravy was ridiculous. We have to stop eating like this. But it's added a great subplot to our trip.

The best part of the day was dinner with friends Swaroop and Anya. I love seeing my SIGGRAPH friends more than just oncea year - especially when we didn't talk about SIGGRAPH.

Hoping the rain lets up tomorrow - but even if it doesn't, we'll still have a great day at the Art Institute with Swaroop.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Frank Lloyd Wright tour - Kentuck Knob and Fallingwater

This year's trip is brought to you by Frank Lloyd Wright. Ok, well not quite because we're paying for it. We decided it would be fun to break the MINI in with a road trip. And since both Dave and I think Frank Lloyd Wright is cool, what better idea than to go to Chicago via Southwestern Pennsylvania?

That's right, I am geographically challenged enough to believe my friend Jim who assured me it was only an hour and a half off course to go to Pittsburgh to see Fallingwater - FLW's most ambitious, possibly most insane, design. He wasn't wrong, except that Fallingwater is another hour and a half south east of Pittsburgh.

MINI(whose formal name is Ginger - pronounced Ginga) was up for it so why shouldn't I be?

Here's what we learned about FLW. He was arrogant, bossy and not very good at engineering. No building codes in 1933 apparently.

Because we were so close to another one of his homes, we started our tour with Kentuck Knob. This gorgeous home was built late in Wright's life and luckily by a builder who was smart enough to stand up to Wright about silly stuff like needing steel to hold up the roof. There is not one 90 degree angle in the house. If you are taller than 5'9, too bad for you. A couple of the hallways are barely passable if you've had a big meal.

The grounds offer stunning views of the Pennsylvania countryside. The current owners - a British Lord and Lady, have added a sculpture meadow that include works by artists from around the world and even a small section of the Berlin Wall.

Fallingwater is a whole other story. Built between 1936 and 39, it shows Wright's complete disregard for engineering. Make no mistake, everything about Fallingwater is amazing - including the fact it is still standing. It just appears from the hillside, while a gorgeous waterfall seems to pour from the home's ultra modern for 1937 living room.

Cantilevers are cool. Using enough steel, even cooler. Crazy I know, but maybe you need more than a cool design. Thankfully the Pennsylvania Conservancy has poured millions of dollars into fixing many of the issues and continues to look at ways to help ensure Fallingwater is around for many more years.

We came away from both tours shaking our heads. Wright was never formally trained as an architect. He made lots of mistakes. But more importantly he inspired many others - you can even see his influence in our 1963 Brady Bunch home. Sometimes it just comes down to accepting that even genius can be flawed.

Tomorrow we hit Oak Park to see the earliest of Wright's homes - the place where his career began and was almost ruined by a scandalous love affair (love it!).

Forgive me if the pictures suck... I'm loading right from the camera and this netbook is not the best.

Fallingwater  - you can almost see it reaching for the water

Kentuck Knob - a beautiful blend of man and nature.