Wandering Mind

My American girls wanted to make a pilgrimage. A trip to the place of doll dreams. Yes, the American Girl Place — where dolls can get their hair done in a salon, where they can join you for lunch or afternoon tea and where dads are best served documenting every little wide-eyed moment.

So we went to Chicago for a holiday getaway, a Bulls game, the Magnificent Mile and one round-trip Megabus ride.

Now upon return from such a trip, weighed down by an extra bag filled with American Girl loot, it’s customary to re-evaluate your circumstances. Big picture issues: Are my kids spoiled? Why do dolls need their ears pieced? Why isn’t there a Niketown here? We have a lake, why not Cleveland?

All good questions. Ones that probably deserve answers. But several hours on a double-decker bus gives you only so much intellectual fortitude. So here are a few things I learned from Chicago and our trip on the Megabus.

>> The Megabus WiFi is free, but it works only about half the time. You can wait inside at Tower City, but in Chicago you’ll have to wait on the curb. Be prepared, especially in winter. But the ride is easy, efficient and cheap. And if you get there early, snag one of the table seats on the lower level.

>> Cleveland could use a winter festival like Chicago’s Winter Wonderfest at Navy Pier. It’d be something kitschy but fun. Something else to do with your relatives home for the holidays or the start of a winter break tradition with the kids. Think I-X Indoor Amusement Park but for the holidays: tons of lights, trees, decorations, huge blow-up slides, a Ferris wheel, stands selling ethnic cookies, hot chocolate, holiday entertainment and an ice rink. Definitely an ice rink. Not some pseudo rink made out of synthetic crap. Real ice. A real Zamboni every couple hours to keep it smooth. And real appearances by Lake Erie Monster players or maybe even Shaq for a little holiday cheer. (That’d be fun: Shaq Capades.)

>> How about another great barbecue restaurant in town? Sure, we love Bubba’s Q in Avon. And Hot Sauce Williams makes a mean Polish boy. But, lured by Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, we discovered Smoque, a little Chicago neighborhood joint with huge barbecue flavor. The brisket, the beans (with even more brisket) and the slaw may have been the best I’ve ever had. And now I want more. Here at home. Where someone will treat barbecue like Michael Simon treats bacon. The Christmas Ale of brisket. The sacred cow of pulled pork. Yeah, we could use some barbecue like that.

>> It’s colder in Chicago. (Or so says our completely unscientific four-day analysis.) So there are no excuses for hibernating here: Get out this month. We own coats and scarves and gloves and hats. So try something new, like learning to snowshoe in the Cleveland Metroparks. There’s a class at the Rocky River Nature Center Feb. 28. Or venture out to a new restaurant. May we suggest the River Brasserie in Chagrin Falls (see page 50)? Or if you crave someplace warm, head to the Cleveland Botanical Garden’s popular Orchid Mania, which returns at the end of the month.

>> Life without LeBron would be ugly. (See “King of All Media,” page 84) Obvious, right? But when you sit in the sixth row at a post-Michael-Jordan-era Bulls game, the whole missing-icon thing gets thrown in your face like a LeBron fast-break swat from behind.

MJ left the Windy City a decade ago, but I swear Bulls fans are still waiting for him to peel off the warm-ups and get back in the game. Sitting that close makes you realize how empty the game can be when LeBron’s not there. The pre-game intros aren’t as magical. The dunks aren’t as thunderous. And the regurgi-cam isn’t funny at all.

>> Thank goodness for credit cards. And yes, I think my kids are spoiled.
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