Hot Dogs and Science - a Perfect Day!

Aren't these tulips great?!  They're outside my pal Trent's house and he made them out of sheet metal with an oxy-fuel torch which is a lot of damn work, let me tell you.

I met and befriended Trent in the late 90s when we worked together at AMD and then we got to know each other better years later when we ended up taking several welding classes together at ACC.  Trent and his wife Carly moved to Chicago a while back and this was the first time I'd gotten to visit with them in person in a good long while.  The two of them were nice enough to arrange for time off Wednesday so we could spend time together and hit the town running.

Our first stop of the day was legendary (and I don't use that word lightly) Chicago hot dog eatery Hot Doug's.  At left, is what the line looked like around 10:15 a.m. when we arrived.  That's right, 10:15.  That's where the legendary part comes in! Trent is the tall guy 3rd from the end of the line and Carly is right next to him.

It wasn't the least bit unpleasant to wait, though.  The summer day was mild and  it became obvious that Hot Doug's is one of those places where waiting in the line is a significant part of the exercise. Of course in the end, it's all about the food because it's so darn delicious, but the building of the anticipation (and an interim community of sorts) is something that's easy to embrace rather than disdain if you simply see that it has an important role in the experience.

Interestingly, every single person in line funnels down to a pinching point at the counter where Doug, waiting affably and patiently with an order pad in hand, acts as if you're the only customer he needs to attend to all the day long.  It's obvious he houses a huge personality and has developed a devoted following over the years.  Admirably and unusually (and to the extreme vexation of Hot Doug devotees), Doug has recently announced his decision to close the restaurant in October because he just doesn't want to mess with it any more. I think there's so much to be said for going out at the top of your game and not trying to peddle off what you created to keep it going when you're no longer interested.  Good on Doug, too bad for Chicago.

The menu made it tremendously difficult to choose, but in the end I opted for a corn dog, a classic Chicago style dog complete with dayglo green relish, and an exotic dog featuring a Chinese sweet sausage with hoisin mustard and Asian slaw.  I topped it all off with a Green River soda which is the greenest tasting thing I have EVER sipped out of a bottle.

After a short wait, our order arrived and I first attacked what I considered to be the most ephemeral of the three dishes: the corn dog.  And oh boy, it was my fantasy of a corn dog come alive - a thin crispy layer of dark brown batter enrobing a high quality frankfurter, squiggled with yellow mustard, all conveniently located on a stick.  Yum!  I ate half the Chicago style dog (also delicious) and then realized I had to start doing stomach math.  I definitely wanted to at least taste the Chinese sausage dog, but Trent had left left me half of a dog I was really wanting to try: the fois gras dog.  The sausage of this dog is comprised of foie gras, duck and Sauterne, the bun is spread with truffle aioli and then the whole shooting match is topped off with slices of foie gras mousse. Trent and I both agreed that the interplay of the flavors far exceeded our expectations and it made me think of what fun the Hot Doug R & D sessions must have been.  I'm so glad Trent and Carly thought to share this with me before it is gone.

After sating (perhaps oversating?) our collective hot dog joneses, we headed to the Museum of Science and Industry.  Trent and Carly are both serious nerds, with the three of us being cut from essentially the same geeky cloth.  Since they're both members and frequent visitors to the MSI, it was mostly me that was walking around doing lots of wide-eyed wowwing.  The museum is enormous and massively interactive so there are kids pushing buttons and guessing and trying and making in every direction you look.  My favorite area was the Science Storms exhibit which demonstrated with P.T Barnum scale dioramas weather concepts like avalanche, vortex, tsunami and light bending.

I was very excited to see the 40 foot high vortex generator designed by Ned Kahn.  Kahn has done a number of installations using different materials (in this case water vapour) to give a physical shape to sculpted air and I really admire his concepts.  My friend Nate had talked about this piece admiringly when he was working on his fire vortex project so I was happy to finally get to see it in person.
There were several other things I really loved in the Storm section: how about this gigantic revolving petri-shaped dish that contains garnet and regular sand, turning in a clockwise motion at a speed controlled by an eager child at the joystick.  It was mesmerizing to watch.

Another thing I really liked (new sconces for the back yard idea!) was a simple demonstration of dichroic glass.  Dichroic glass was invented by the electronics industry and it is glass that is coated with an ultra thin layer of metal that both reflects some wavelengths of light, but allows others to pass through, making all sorts of astounding visual effects.  This is the scientific principle behind the iridescent plastic called Radiant Light that I use so extensively in my work.  The museum had mounted two differently coated pieces of glass on the wall with a simple armature that moves the pieces up and down like a butterfly's wings so you can distinguish what it was that the filter is doing to the light.  It was absolutely gorgeous!

This overhead display had four absolutely ENORMOUS prisms - best chandelier ever!

After the Storm exhibit, we participated in a vinyl cutting class in the Fab Lab and then I went on the Coal Mine tour.  I went dashing off to see the U-boat just before closing and they were sweeping up behind us as we left.  Whew! What a lot to see!  And I didn't nearly see all of it.  I'll definitely be going back next time I'm able.

We stopped for some dinner on the way back to Trent and Carly's place to let some of the rush hour traffic dissipate and when we got back to their place, we amused ourselves chatting and watching Tweety the iguana.  Trent peeled and chopped up an apple for Tweety because that makes them both very happy.

Isn't Tweety beautiful?  Somehow, even as low energy as iguanas are, they entertain me immensely.  I enjoyed interacting with Tweety even though I'm not sure what he thought of me.  Iguanas are plant eaters and I'm pretty sure my hair must have looked like a tasty giant flower to him, but Tweety exhibited model manners and I did not have to try and pry my hair out of a lizard's mouth.

What a fun visit.  It was so great to spend a day catching up and fitting fun things to do in between.  I had to get up early the next morning for a drive to East Moline, so I made an early night of it. 

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