Happy 2024!

2024 Calendars are still available at lotsasmilesphoto.etsy.com!

In an effort to tackle some of my monstrous backlog, I’m going to try to post about some older adventures from time to time.  This one hails from 2011.

I learned from my father many years ago one very important lesson: take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way.  After all, you never know when you might look back on a “no” and wish that it had been a “yes.”  I strive to live every day by the mantra of “no regrets,” and thus far, it has served me well.

Chicago River at dawn | LotsaSmiles Photography

When Aaron’s company decided to move its headquarters from Portland to Chicago, they offered him continued work in the new city, along with a relocation package.  To help convince us, they would fly us (both) out to Chicago for a weekend, show us some apartments and the city sights, and wine and dine us – all on the company’s dime.  We’re quite happy living in Portland, and Aaron hated his job at the time, so moving wasn’t even a consideration for us.

Chicago skyline at dawn | LotsaSmiles Photography

Aaron almost told them no, outright.  I thought he was crazy.

Free.  Trip.

Chicago skyline reflected in the bay at sunrise | LotsaSmiles Photography

Regardless what we had already decided, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to spend the weekend in a fun city on corporate funds, even if we weren’t terribly genuine with our appearing to seriously consider the move.

Tops of the Chicago buildings, in sepia tone | LotsaSmiles Photography

We totally lucked out.  Presidents Day weekend in Chicago is historically cold and miserable.  We had unseasonably warm weather, temperatures in the 60s, and beautiful bright sunshine.  I brought my camera (of course), and while we had to abide by a set itinerary, we had plenty of free time as well.

The elevated train tracks winding through Chicago skyscrapers | LotsaSmiles Photography

The first day consisted of a tour of the city, a look at the new office space, and lunch at a local pizza joint, Gino’s East.  Honestly, for all the hype surrounding Chicago-style pizza, I was somewhat disappointed by this restaurant, but it was fun to write on the walls.

We took a slight detour to hit the famed Magnificent Mile, stopping in to appreciate the Lego marvels.  Having seen it from our tour, we also explored Millennium Park.

The amphitheater in Chicago's Millenium Park | LotsaSmiles Photography

And this is where a certain photographer ran into trouble.  I discovered…. The Bean.

The Bean in Chicago in front of the Crain Communications Building | LotsaSmiles Photography

Bearing the official name of “Cloud Gate,” this sculpture was the highlight of my trip.  As a photographer, I am absolutely transfixed by the alluring power of reflections.  What better, then, than an oblong, rounded mirror, warping patrons and skyline alike into a convoluted, ever-morphing spectacle?

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2011

I became obsessed with this simple object, experimenting with the many ways I could capture the reflections.  From the side, with people, without people, underneath (where reflections shrink to a point), peering from under an overhang.  I simply couldn’t get enough; it was a photographer’s playground.

Reflections from the underside of Chicago's Bean | LotsaSmiles Photography

However, we were due at dinner, so I grudgingly departed.

Dinner was an event.  We had a private room at the Signature Room in the Hancock Tower – almost a hundred stories into the sky – passed hors d’oeuvres, and an open bar.  They really wanted to impress us, it would seem.  I was just glad for the lofty vantage from which I could procure some nighttime cityscapes.  I only lamented that I didn’t have a tripod with me.

Despite a late night, I was determined to let my inner photographer dominate; we were up well before dawn to catch the sunrise from Navy Pier.  Once again, I wished I had a tripod, but I was fairly satisfied with the handheld shots.  Cities are simply stunning at first light.

Next came the dreaded timeshare portion of the trip.  We were assigned an agent who would show us around to various apartments.  Sadly, the most memorable part about this segment was our agent, who seemed woefully inadequate.  From being late picking us up and getting constantly turned around (despite the GPS blaring directions), to illegally parking and taking us to a building whose office was closed for the day, it was a bit more of an adventure than we intended.

Chicago skyscrapers from the Marina City apartments | LotsaSmiles Photography

Finally free, the rest of the day was ours with which to do as we pleased.  On a recommendation from our tour guide from the previous day, we sought out real Chicago pizza – where the locals go for a good pie.  And this time, we were not disappointed!

The sign for the Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder restaurant | LotsaSmiles Photography

Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder is a bit of a hole in the wall (like all the best restaurants), and the most characteristic part about the place is the owner.  He has a magical memory with faces, so he simply asks how many are in your party, tells you how long the wait is, then walks away.  No, he doesn’t want your name (and he’s offended if you ask).  He then personally seeks you out when your table is ready.

Mediterranean flatbread spilling over the sides of the plate at the Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder | LotsaSmiles Photography

The pizza is well worth the wait (and you can munch on the spilling-over-the-plate mediterranean bread in the meantime).  It comes out in a bowl, upside-down like a mushroom.  Flip it over onto a plate, and you’ll discover all the “toppings” and gooey cheesy goodness inside.

The two halves of our upside-down pizza in all its gooey glory | LotsaSmiles Photography

I still drool over this pizza.

Afterwards, my inner photographer had us naturally gravitating back toward Millennium Park and that hypnotic Bean.  I took another round of pictures, sniping a group jumping in front of the reflective surface.  I was also intrigued by the Crown Fountain – a giant display of rotating faces.

Our wandering took us south through the park, miles of meandering added to what we had already logged from our Navy Pier excursion.  At the time, it was the most we had ever walked in a day.  We easily passed that distance most days in Japan.  Exhausted, we decided to catch a cab back to the hotel (which was surprisingly difficult near the aquarium).

A fountain in Millenium Park in Chicago | LotsaSmiles Photography

We rounded the night out with a visit to Second City – a fun conclusion to a spontaneous trip.

Ice collected at the bottom of a metallic slope in Millenium Park in Chicago | LotsaSmiles Photography

Signaling our impending departure, the rain returned the next morning.  I begged for one more visit to The Bean (what does it look like with rain droplets on it?) before we caught a flight back home.

The Bean in Chicago at dusk | LotsaSmiles Photography

My photography habits have certainly changed.  Why – why – did I need to take 15 pictures of every shot??  It’s a sorting nightmare.  Why didn’t I pay more attention to horizons?  My style has also changed somewhat, and the overall quality has improved, but the photos still make me smile.


Looking back now, the trip was a fun opportunity.  Partway through, Aaron even asked if we’d possibly regret not moving to Chicago.  That could have been an adventure of its own, true, but I believe we would have regretted the move.  Sometimes, the best opportunity is right at home.

Silverware glued to the wall and painted in red and white, then graffitied with names of visitors to this local Chicago pizza joint - including my mantra of "no regrets" | LotsaSmiles Photography


[googlemaps https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/embed?mid=1LdvWi354ZwAKPEKlPi_YXrK_86s&z=14&ll=41.882702,-87.623257&w=400&h=300]
Follow LotsaSmiles Photography

Recommended Articles


  1. Why do you mean? There’s a like button 🙂 I figured you would be the first to comment. My post today seems aptly timed. Though I assure you, I was already writing it before I heard of your own opportunity 🙂

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons
error: I\'m glad you like my content! Please don\'t steal it :)