Mancation 2011 (Days Two and Three): Guitar Center on Halsted, John Hancock, and Carson’s


Guitar Day

Four months ago, my son started taking guitar lessons here. We’d been renting a guitar for him to use, not willing to commit to a full purchase until we were convinced that he was going to stick with it.  Months of enthusiasm and daily practices later, we became convinced.

For MANCATION Day Two, my son and I went to the Guitar Center on Halsted.  I think the last time I set foot in a Guitar Center was to emcee a sad and underattended in-store performance by Sponge.  It had been a while.

Just walking into Guitar Center made me wish that I could play an instrument–any instrument, really.  I walked up and down every aisle of every room, wondering how I could justify the purchase of an electric bass, or even ukulele (which they happen to sell there).

Buying an electric guitar for a new player isn’t as simple as buying the guitar, of course.  We also had to buy:

-10-pack of picks

-Guitar stand

-Gig bag to carry the guitar to lessons from home

-Tiny (and I mean tiny) Marshall practice amp

-10′ mono cable

-Metronome/tuner combo.

Regarding the latter, technology is an incredible thing.  With absolutely no musical aptitude, I perfectly tuned my son’s guitar with the metronome/tuner.  I was totally full of myself after that.

As for the guitar, I wanted it to be practical but ultimately affordable.  After salivating in the designated Fender room, we stumbled upon a clearance/floor model Squier Stratocaster.  Squier Strats are dependable “first guitars,” and they look cool, too.

After some inquiry, I learned that the guitar was marked down for having a few nicks and dings.  The store clerk plugged it in, tested the pickups, checked the neck and body, and found it all to be in perfect working order.

The price was a very reasonable $119 (though I did add on the extra $25 warranty, just to be safe).

GUITAR CENTER (2633 N. Halsted)

I asked the clerk if we should buy strings, and he said, “It’s a given that a kid will break a few strings within the first 30 days of owning a guitar.  When that happens, bring the guitar in, and I’ll show him how to string his guitar.”
“Really?” I said.
“Sure. It’ll only take 20-30 minutes, and it’s easier to show him how to do it when there’s an actual need for it.”

I was impressed that he made the commitment to help my son learn how to string his guitar. That single gesture totally sold me on Guitar Center.

Since the guitar came home, I’ve been treated to stirring renditions of “Hot Cross Buns,” “Twinkle Twinkle,” and “Tom Dooley.”  It’s not “Spirit of the Radio,” but it’s a great start.,+Chicago,+Cook,+Illinois+60614&z=14&ll=41.930307,-87.648817&output=embed


One of my son’s favorite foods is ribs.  I’m sure that part of the appeal is the mess that ribs make.  The other part, obviously, is their delicious awesomeness.

I bought a Groupon for Carson’s in River North a few months back, and MANCATION: DAY THREE was the perfect time to redeem it.

The room was empty during the lunch rush, which wasn’t surprising, given the economy and the going price for a slab of ribs.

I’ve always appreciated Carson’s for its history and “Chicago” vibe.  The walls are adorned by local and national autographed celebrity 8x10s (we were underneath Chicago the band and Mark Buehrle; go Sox).

I ordered rib tips, forgetting how totally gross they are to look at.  I ate around the twin pieces of cartilage and then devoted the majority of my focus to potatoes au gratin.

My bib-wearing son finished his half slab in the amount of time it took you to read this far.

Here’s the lunch breakdown:

Half slab of ribs

Rib tips



Diet Coke



Minus the Groupon amount:


Add 20% to the total bill:




And we found street parking on Grand, too.  Totally affordable lunch visit for two.

CARSON’S (612 N. Wells),+Chicago,+Illinois+60654&z=14&ll=41.892912,-87.634491&output=embed
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From Carson’s, we drove over to the Hancock.  It was a clear day out, and I thought it would be fun for both of us to see the city from high above.

Just as with the Carson’s trip, I had no problem finding a street spot one block away (I’m not sure if this means Chicago’s outsourced, credit card-friendly, meters are a win or not).

The last time I went to the proverbial “top of the ‘cock” was when I was in high school (lo, those many years ago).  Since then, the Hancock building operation has been enhanced to be even more of a tourist trap (photos taken before you hit the elevator, exclusive “skywalk” access, overpriced cafe, souvenir shop).  It was all just noise; we just wanted to see the view.  And the view was as jawdropping as I’d remembered:

Factory smoke from Gary could be seen to the south, Wisconsin could be seen on the horizon to the north. To the west, we saw O’Hare and what seemed like half the planet.

Sure, the JHO is a tourist trap, but it’s hard not to be impressed by the enormity of this mighty city and everything around it.

Furthermore, it’s hard not to be impressed by the fastest elevator in North America.  40 seconds to the top!

Back to MANCATION I go…


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