I LOVE POIDA

Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved sketch comedy. Full Frontal was my favourite and I adored Eric Bana’s Poida. I might be the only woman alive who found Eric Bana more attractive before he was a big Hollywood star when he sported a blonde mullet on Australian television.

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Eric Bana as ‘Poida’, c. 1995

When I was in high school my friend Loz and I made our own sketch comedy show. My favourite sketch was when Loz interviewed me as Dr Miriam Stoppard, who was the author of a sex education book Santa had pointedly given me that year. We filmed it sitting fully clothed in an empty bath with stockings on our heads and we thought we were hilarious. That’s probably why we called it The Funny Show.

After The Funny Show went into permanent hiatus, I moved on to watching Saturday Night Live, devouring anything any SNL alumni went on to make and reading memoirs of all my favourite performers. And time and time again this same place kept popping up as a training and breeding ground for almost anybody who’s ever said anything funny: The Second City in Chicago. It’s been a dream of mine to see something there ever since. So here we are.

And did I mention there’s also a touring Saturday Night Live exhibition that just happens to be here right now as well? I love my life.

But first!

We started our stay in the Windy City with a food tour.  I learned was that Chicago is known as the Second City because it burned to the ground in 1871 and was completely rebuilt, not because it’s second to New York City, which is absolutely what I assumed. Apparently they get a little tetchy about that common misconception too. It’s their koala bear, evidently. Whoops.

And then onto Saturday Night Live: The Experience. Honestly, if there were a Make a Wish Foundation for adults in full health, it’d be my wish to spend a week at 30 Rock seeing how SNL is put together, which is exactly what the exhibition was. It was split into days and detailed outlines of what takes place on each day and it was absolutely incredible.

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This epic day was capped off with a visit to Jack’s Pumpkin Pop-Up which was essentially one giant, orange Instagram opportunity but super-fun, whatever the case. (Sidenote: do Americans have a problem with obesity because they see vegetables as decorations? Hmmm. Food for thought. Get it?)

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Friday saw us split up for the day because honestly, it’s been a long time since we’ve spent an extended amount of time together so we are pacing ourselves. I did a tour of the iconic Chicago Theatre and Hoff went to this sports museum where they something, something, home run, something, something hall of fame, something, something, World Series. I swear I was listening.

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We reconnected in the late afternoon for a Prohibition Bar Tour, which was great because if you can’t find a tour where you get to eat and learn about a city, surely a tour where you get to drink and learn about a city is the next best thing, if not better.

I’ve recently discovered that I have Scotch whisky distillers in my family tree and not so recently discovered that I really like alcohol so I’m always interested to learn more about its role throughout history. Predictably I learned much more in the first few stops of the tour than the last few. The basic take away was that Prohibition was doomed to failure from the outset and the whole thing was an exercise in futility but now we have themed speakeasy bars so it’s not all bad.

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And then finally, on to Second City which did not disappoint. We saw the 107th Revue on the Mainstage with a cast of six pretty great comedic performers and if one or two of them aren’t famous sometime in the next decade, I’ll be very surprised. Hoff and I laughed our heads off and it wasn’t just because of all the cocktails we’d had at Club Lucky before we arrived.

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The last few days in Chicago saw us live out a few more of our Windy City goals – I did a deep dish pizza making class and Hoff spent college football Saturday sitting in a bar with about 63 televisions watching half a dozen different football games, drinking beer and eating BBQ chicken wings.

We also spent a second night at Second City seeing a completely improvised musical based on an audience suggestion, which happened to be “Flying Covered Wagons”. It was one of the cleverest things I’ve ever seen on stage. I tried to hide in a broom closet in the Second City training centre at the end of the night so I could sneak into some classes come Monday but Hoff found me and made me come back to the hotel. We’re off to Green Bay next to see the Packers play Monday night football and apparently he’s not keen on missing it.

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In the meantime, thanks for the memories Chicago. We had a ball.

 

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THE SUM OF ITS PARTS

On Wednesday morning we bade farewell to St Louis and drove to Chicago.

It’s not the first time Hoff and I have hit the two-lane blacktop in the States. In 2011 we spent about three weeks driving from Dallas to Los Angeles via Amarillo, Albuquerque, Monument Valley and Arizona. It gave us a taste for seeing the US by road and now we love it.

This country was made for driving. Wide roads, lots of lanes and in our experience, no slowing for road works every 20km (I’m looking at you, Queensland). Plus the billboards alone are enough to amuse you for the vast majority of the trip.

It was amazing how quickly we fell back into our old driving routine of 7 years ago. We have a very clear division of responsibilities.

My responsibilities are:

  • Plotting the route
  • Finding cool/interesting/wacky/weird stuff to see along the way
  • Taking photos of said cool/interesting/wacky/weird stuff seen along the way
  • Administering drinks and snacks
  • Music selection and volume control
  • Climate control
  • Manager, coach and captain of Team Hoff for the License Plate Game

As driver, Hoff’s responsibilities include:

  • Staying on the right side of the road and trying not to endanger our lives.

So the License Plate Game. This started back in 2011 and on that trip we managed to see license plates from 44 states, including Hawaii and Alaska, and we are determined to go one better this time. I don’t remember how it started that trip but I do know that for a while I thought I invented the game. I’ve since learned that I didn’t, and in fact, I probably heard about it at some point in my childhood when I read Babysitters Club Books exclusively to the exclusion of any other written material. I’m quite sure some of those girls’ shenanigans have fused with my childhood memories in more ways than one.

Hoff gets quite into it and at more than one point I’ve been concerned that his competitive nature in license plate spotting is encroaching on his ability to do his one job: get us where we’re going safely and in one piece.

Our first stop for the day was the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge and vantage point for the St Louis Arch down the Mississippi, which turned out not to be a stop at all because we missed a turn. Not to worry though, we drove parallel with the bridge for a good few hundred metres, which was the next best thing.

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Our disappointment at missing the bridge was somewhat assuaged, however, by our next stop: the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle in Collinsville, Illinois. I love giant roadside architecture (their words, not mine). This particular piece was saved from demolition by a preservation group back in 1995 and subsequently restored to its former glory and I just love the idea of a group of people getting behind something simply because they know it’ll make people smile.

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Next stop was Springfield Illinois and the Cozy Dog Drive In, apparently the home of the hotdog on a stick and definitely an enduring landmark of the Old Route 66. We stopped here for some soup and not surprisingly, a hot dog and then headed over to Abraham Lincoln’s home and neighbourhood. The whole town really hangs their hat on being Abraham Lincoln’s home, which is not surprising really because it seems to me like there are about 45,000 towns called Springfield across the US (plus one notable fictional one), so the place needs to distinguish itself from the crowd somehow.

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Post-Springfield we hit a bit of a quiet patch so we amused ourselves by marveling at the flatness of the terrain, commenting on how eerily the distant weather patterns looked a lot like those in Twister, trying not to become too concerned that said weather patterns did look a lot like Twister and spotting each town’s water tower marker.

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I really feel like this town has something to hide…

Eventually, we pulled off the highway at Gardner, Illinois next to see a preserved two-cell jail, which is another classic Route 66 pit stop. Apparently it was more often used for drifters, to give them a roof over their heads, not hardened criminals, but Hoff and I just used it to get some super-cool photos.

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Finally, we stopped in Wilmington at the Gemini Giant, which is essentially a giant robot statue outside a diner that may or may not be open anymore. I’ve actually walked past the place and it’s still not clear. But it’s a giant Gemini statue, so, you know.

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And it was after this stop that Hoff said to me for possibly the fifth time that day, “so, what is this, again?”

*Frustrated sigh*

It’s a giant robot, Hoff. It’s a tiny two-cell jail. It’s a 170-foot catsup bottle. It’s the home of the hot dog on the stick. Each and every thing in and of itself is a little nutty and certainly not a reason to re-route your entire trip, for example. But on the whole, it’s a pretty fun day. It’s the sum of its parts. It’s weird, kitchy and iconic. You’re welcome.

So next, on to Chicago. Can’t wait to toddle around there.