A few months back my friend JMac and I got an email from our friend Brady asking if we wanted tickets to the Taste of Chicago in DC. Homesick for Chicago-style grub, we both readily said yes please!, and on the appointed day trekked over to the Library of Congress for the event.
I don’t know what I was expecting, walking into the event. I think I expected that it would be a lot of people originally from Chicago or the surrounding Midwestern areas coming together for free food from the homeland. Maybe all our accents would spill forth more than usual, and eventually we’d all start yelling, “Oh my GAHD! Yous guys won’t believe this. I gotta go call my ma and tell ‘er. Holy craep! Grandma Wojaliaczck is gonna flip her Newports right inta tha kielbasa pit! Aw craep!” Or something like that. I don’t think I was expecting it to be quite so network-y and schmoozy as it was. Because instead of Grandma Wojaliaczck what I got was a bunch of Hill Staffers and other muckety mucks with name tags like displaying their name and who they worked for:
descending on the Library of Congress for free food and shaking hands and kissing babies. Not that there’s really anything wrong with that. The food part, anyway. God knows JMac and I were there for the free food. But only the free food. Convenient networking set-ups like this make my skin crawl. They are unavoidable sometimes, especially in this 4-quadrant bubble, but they still make my skin crawl. I’m not one to often (or ever, now that I think about it) attend the schmoozy, networking events that run rampant in DC. I don’t work in politics, I don’t work anywhere near the Hill (hell, I don’t even work in the District, my office is in Bethesda), and my job isn’t one where people really want me to come to their events because they think I can give them or get them something. I cannot give or get anyone anything, unless maybe you are looking for a clever new way to button your shirt or make a sandwich after you’ve had a stroke or are driven to distraction by the tags in your shirt. Then I can probably hook you up. But beyond that, I’d simply rather just eat my food and drink my cocktail in peace. I really don’t care who you work for. And most likely, I don’t even know the person you work for. He or she could slap me on the ass and call me pumpkin, and I’d yell, “Hey! Watch it, man!” instead of knowing to instead say, “Hey! Watch it, Congressman!” (Or woman.)
Despite my aversion to events like this, and discovering upon entering that it was just such an event, I really did want to go be at the Taste of Chicago in DC, for no other reason than I needed some Chicago-style pizza and I needed it bad. There are two places in the DC area that boast having “Chicago-style” pizza. One is Uno’s. The other is Armand’s. For those of you who know Uno’s you do not need me to tell you that it has been franchised within an inch of its life and no longer qualifies as true Chicago deep dish. And Armand’s…Armand’s really is Chicago deep dish pizza. And I am really serious about that and NOT banging my head on the keyboard AT ALL over the deceptive lies on their restaurant sign proclaiming as much…….
Set up along the perimeter of the second floor was the food, long lines stretching from each table. From Chicago, Rick Bayless and his Topolobampo crew were there to represent with some tasty and spicy treats, as was Vienna beef, Eli’s Cheesecake, and some others, and there, in the far corner with the longest, stretchingest, curvingest around itself line, was Lou’s.
I will be honest with you, Interneters. Lou Malnati’s is often said to be the best true Chicago style deep dish, but on my list, it barely squeaks into the Top 5. (It depends on the day, really.) I think Pequod’s does a better job, and Gino’s and Giordano’s is awesome, and then there’s Eduardo’s, and were I to leave out Connie’s Pizza I would be shunned to death by my own family. And those are just a few. We haven’t even begun to touch on the mom & pop pizzerias that dot the suburban landscape. There are countless others. You simply have to go to Chicago to find them, and unfortunately, none of them came to the Library of Congress. So Lou’s it was. JMac and I hopped in the lengthy line and waited our turn for a slice (or two). And while it was cold and a bit limp by the time we got it, it was still pretty good. At the very least, it was neither Uno’s nor Armand’s, and that is all we were really asking for.
Licking the final pizza crumbs from our fingers, plates, napkins, and random passersby, JMac and I decided to do another lap around the hall to find another Chicago morsel to tempt our palates.
“J,” I said as we shuffled our way through the crowd, “if we see Richie, we need to have our pictures taken. I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to be That Girl.”
This, my Interneters, was my other stipulation for attending the Taste of Chicago – meeting Richard M. Daley, mayor of the City of Chicago. It was not, per se, on my list of Things To Do Before I’m 30, but it really should have been. Because why not make it an adventure to meet the man who has ruled over the place from whence you came (or, okay, its suburbs), the third largest city in the United States of America, for the past 19 years and who, a few years back, did not like the way the City Council was dragging their feet and being all floopy on his idea of turning Meigs Field into a park and concert venue so he illegally sent bulldozers from private crews in the middle of the night to dredge deep Xs across the landing strip of Meigs Field so planes simply couldn’t land there and it then had to be turned into a park and concert venue?*
“J! There he is! Come on!” JMac and I hustled over to the spot where Daley was standing with other adoring fans, smiling incessantly at the camera. There wasn’t so much a line as there was a circle of people hovering around him, so JMac and I got in the hover and eventually inched our way up to the front, taking our cue and moving forward until we flanked Daley on either side.
It was then that I realized that Da May’r (or Da Mare, whichever spelling you prefer) is really, really short. He was right about JMac’s height, but standing next to me, he may as well have been a damn garden gnome. Even if I hadn’t been wearing heels. He was very pleasant, though, and turned to me to shake my hand.
Now, Interneters, I will have you know that a few days before the event, I called my dad in a panic. I knew that Daley would be at the Taste, and I was indeed hoping to meet him, but I was worried that I would say the wrong thing if I did.
“Dad! DAAAAD!” I yelped. “If I meet Richie, what do I call him?”
Dad, in a very calm voice said, “You call him Mr. Mayor.”
“I don’t have to call him Your Honor, or anything?” I shrieked.
“You could. Or you could call him Mayor Daley,” Dad replied.
“Dad, I don’t think I could call him Your Honor, because I keep getting that confused with Your Excellency, and for God’s sake he’s not a clergyman,” I explained.
“Then just call him Mr. Mayor.”
“Can I say, ‘Heeeey! RICHIE! How’s it going!’?”
So shaking the man’s hand it was all I could do to remember what to say. Which I believe came out as, “It’s nice to meet you, sir. I’m Molly Strzelecki.”
At which point Mayor Daley said, “It’s nice to meet you, too,” and then turned around to face JMac on his other so fast that it would make your head spin. And all I could do was stand there with my hand still in the air and think, “Well that was kind of rude.”
I snapped out of my confusion in time to hear JMac chatting up the mayor. She was explaining that she was from Rockford, actually, but had been in Chicago just the previous weekend. And then she informed Richard Daley that he was doing an excellent job with the city. And that she had seen his name on an escalator.
There are numerous reasons why JMac is one of my very dearest and favorite friends. These are two of them. We have bonded in so many ways, JMac and I, and those bonds were strengthened as I thought to myself, “J, did you just say that? What the hell are you saying? WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU SAYING TO MAYOR DALEY? Dude, I totally know which escalator you're talking about!”
So that was awesome. My poor friend wanted nothing more than to stop making small talk with Mayor Daley and just get the damn picture over with, Daley probably wanted nothing more than to stop making small talk and get the damn picture over with, and all I was doing was standing there with a stupid, confused smile on my face wondering what the Sister Mary Fudge was going on here.
Finally, as the inane small talk ended, we did finally get the picture taken, and JMac and I said our goodbyes to the mayor and then to the festivities and headed out the door.
“Wait, stop,” I said to JMac as soon as we got outside. “I need to change my shoes.” I leaned on my friend’s shoulder to do so. And all became clear. No wonder Daley could barely finish his sentence before turning his back on me.
He would have been right about level to look straight down my cleavage without even moving his head.
I only recently received this, which is why you’re only hearing about this now, but here, Interneters, for your viewing pleasure – my photo opp with Richie. You can see him in the middle, obviously, but what you can’t see is that my knees are slightly bent and I’m leaning back and to the side in an awkward sort of angle so as not to look gargantuan compared to the other two in the photo.
Too late. But that’s a nice tie, Rich.
*Of all the absurd, illegal, strange, dickhead, smart, stupid, awesome, or awful things Richard M. Daley has said or done in the role of Mayor, this is my absolute favorite. It epitomizes the Chicago attitude of “Fuck it, I’ll do it myself.”