My fiancee and I arrived at the Holiday Inn Select Midway at about 6 p.m. on a Saturday evening feeling a bit tired, having walked there from the Midway stop on the Orange line. The hotel offers free shuttle rides to and from the airport 24 hours a day, but making the trip by foot seemed like a good opportunity to stake out the area for later adventuring (plus it was only two blocks).
What we didn't realize was that it was two airport blocks, which were rather sprawling and desolate. Starting out on the west side of Cicero, we walked along side the giant gray metal wall that separates the runways from the street. On the east side sits a giant silver sculpture that resembles a metal bird set among green grass and multi-colored flowers. Instances for serenity blossom every five minutes or so as traffic calms briefly, to be ritually decapitated as airplanes tore through the sky seemingly twenty feet above us.
Once we were past the airstrips, the area looked more like familiar suburban wasteland. Families milled about a Giordano's near the corner of 63rd and Cicero. There was a distinct sadness to the place, like it was having difficulty keeping a grip on its dignity while cocky jets grazed the roof to land 100 yards away; we made a mental note not to come back for dinner. We turned west on 65 th and headed toward the Hotel Center's side entrance. Along the way we walked past two backyard barbeques. Both times all of the merriment and laughter died down as the residents gave us puzzled looks. Undaunted, we cut across the street.
The Hotel Center consists of seven hotels: Courtyard By Marriott, Fairfield Inn By Marriott, Hampton Inn, Hilton Garden Inn, Holiday Inn Express, our Holiday Inn Select and a Sleep Inn. It's a blacktop plaza of parking spaces and hotels, an instance of efficiency and convenience. Though each hotel has its own idiosyncrasies, there's an uncanny family resemblance among them. You can gather, just by looking, that the Sleep Inn is the cheapest (which it is; rooms go for an affordable $100 a night) but it doesn't really look leaps and bounds different than the more expensive Hilton Garden Inn.
Like all the hotels, the Americana mansion decor of the Holiday Inn Select was sullied by the stagnant sea of asphalt and autos. We were surprised to see a bevy of formally-dressed guests out front and in the lobby. It turned out they were part of wedding party that was making full and gregarious use of the hotel's banquet room, swimming pool and Jacuzzi. So already, despite the depressing location of the Hotel Center, the gloom was lifting. There were people drinking and dancing 30 feet from the front desk and kids were orbiting the lobby, running and giggling.
Our room was on the second floor. It was bright and airy with an enormous bathroom and a large-screen TV. As we were discussing where we should go and eat, I opened the windows and looked out over the parking lot. A typically gaudy TGI Friday's was all that I saw. Not in the mood for wings and mudslides, we opted for Dempsey's Irish-American Grill, in the lobby.
The dinner was delicious, and for an hour-and-a-half we were not a mile away from the airport. We ate great quality food while watching a kid in a tuxedo dance like Michael Jackson in the parking lot while his friends watched.
We had planned on getting some drinks at a dive bar after dinner. We had heard of a place called Mr. C's Midway Bar, just east of Cicero on 63rd, a blue-collar South Side bar with Murphy's Irish Stout on tap. The debate lasted about five minutes. We discussed how much fun it would be to drink beer there and chat up locals and surly airline employees. Then we began discussing the walk there and how it would be more relaxing to watch television in our room and save our strength for the next day.
We didn't have a flight to catch, but it was the right decision. We slept like corpses. I don't even remember hearing a single plane fly over the hotel. Had we had a flight going somewhere the next morning, we could've conceivably slept until two hours before departure, a pretty big deal if you find flying as exhausting as I do. We didn't have a flight to catch, however, but it was a good thing that we got such decent rest because there was the Balzekas Museum of Lithuanian Culture to visit the next day. It was only about five blocks away on Pulaski, but we knew how long airport blocks can be.
Guidebook rating: Trading a $40 cab ride at 4 a.m. for a good night's sleep a quick shuttle ride from Midway makes it cool to sleep like a tourist.
Stats: For a detailed breakdown of what the Midway Hotel Center has to offer, visit www.Midwayhotelcenter.com or call 1-888-MID-INNS (1-888-642-4667).
Untrapping Tourism is a monthly feature that pits Centerstage's native and nearly native writers against the city's most stereotypical tourist traps.