Tag Archives: Chicago

Allergy Incident on Vacation: That’s Not Sunbutter

If you have food allergies, dining out is always a risk. We had a close call our first night in Chicago on a family vacation last month.

After a long day of travel, we got settled into our hotel room and went down to one of the hotel restaurants for a late dinner. It was a Sunday evening, around 9:30, and while the front desk had assured us that the restaurant was open until 11, that turned out to only be half true. The restaurant entrance was blocked off, but the kitchen was serving the full menu to a shared seating area that you entered through the bar.

We’d been concerned about finding food for our not-quite-two-year-old son. Kids’ menus are awfully limited these days, and very heavy on cheese, which he can’t eat. Chicken nuggets are fine once in a while, but only go so far on a ten-day trip. So we were pleasantly surprised to see a Sunbutter, jelly and banana sandwich on the kids’ menu. Because of my severe peanut allergy, we keep peanuts out of the house, so Katie goes to sunflower seed butter and almond butter for toast and sandwiches, and J loves it so much he’ll demand a taste if she’s eating it. Score!

After a very long wait, the waitress finally brought the sandwich, dropped it off saying, “Here’s your PBJ,” and left.

Wait, PBJ?

Katie tasted it, and it was in fact peanut butter.

Red alert mode engaged!

As I mentioned, I’m severely allergic to peanuts. We don’t know yet whether J is, but we didn’t want to risk finding out in a hotel in a strange city thousands of miles from home.

The waitress seemed a bit confused by the issue when we finally got her attention (all the while trying to find other things we could feed an increasingly-cranky toddler who thought he was finally going to eat), and we had to point out that yes, the menu specifically said Sunbutter.

They did take the sandwich off the bill, and replaced it with a plain jelly-and-banana sandwich. But it put us on alert for the rest of the week.

The really disturbing thing was that it wasn’t just any sunflower seed butter listed on the menu, but a specific brand, one whose purpose is to be a safe alternative for people who are allergic to peanuts. That’s like telling a diabetic that you have Clemmy’s sugar-free ice cream and handing them Ben and Jerry’s. Or giving someone Everclear to help with their dehydration.

We lucked out, because Katie caught it before J could eat any of it. Really, the restaurant dodged a bullet too: They could have served it to a family with a confirmed allergic child. Imagine how blindsided they’d be when someone silently replaced a peanut-free food with peanuts. Continue reading

Chicon 7: Something for Everyone at Chicago’s Worldcon

Chicon 7Our family vacation this summer was a trip to Chicago, partly to sightsee, partly to catch up with my brother and sister-in-law, and partly to attend this year’s Worldcon, a.k.a. Chicon 7.

What’s a Worldcon?

I grew up going to sci-fi/fantasy conventions, but over the last decade I’ve mostly been going to comic cons of one sort or another. The World Science Fiction Convention is a more literary and, in some ways, academic con than the glitzier media cons like Comic-Con International, or the celebrity-oriented cons like Wizard World. The guest list is more focused on writers than on actors or media personalities, and panels tend toward discussions rather than announcements.

Worldcon itself travels around from year to year, essentially a convention franchise where members of one year’s convention vote on who gets to put on the con two years from now. Last year it was in Reno. Next year it’ll be in San Antonio, Texas, and in 2014 it’ll be in London. Certain elements remain constant — there’s always a masquerade, an art show, a Regency Dance, and of course the Hugo Awards — but the tenor of the con can change wildly from one year to the next.

Chicago River at Night

Lead-Up to the Con

We flew into Chicago the weekend before the con, met up with my brother and sister-in-law (who were also attending the con), and spent the next few days sightseeing before the convention started on Thursday. We explored the nearby area, took day trips out to the Lincoln Park Zoo, Museum of Science and Industry, had some real Chicago pizza (this is important, after all), and made a point of getting up to one of the tallest buildings’ observation decks. (We picked the John Hancock building over Sears Tower, mainly because it was closer when we decided to do it.)

There was an allergy close call the first night there, which put us on alert for the rest of the week. And we all picked up a cold: I got it first, on Tuesday, then J on Thursday, then Katie on Friday, then Marti. You’re supposed to get the con crud after the convention, right? Continue reading

Four Travel Lessons Learned at Chicon

Lobby

A few lessons we learned the hard way on our recent trip to Chicago for Worldcon/Chicon 7.

#1: Don’t count on laundry being easy. The hotel we stayed at didn’t have a laundry room, but they did have a laundry service…for $8 a shirt. Fine for the business traveler who needs one outfit cleaned, but a family of three could spend hundreds of dollars on a single load. No problem, you might think: find a laundromat. No such luck: As near as we could find, there are no laundromats in downtown Chicago. I ended up spending $12 each way for a taxi out to the suburbs so we could have clean clothes for the second half of the trip. The most expensive load of laundry I’ve ever done, but an order of magnitude cheaper than the hotel laundry service.

What do people who live in Chicago do if their washing machine breaks down? Or do the high-rise buildings have extra laundry rooms for residents?

#2: Having your toddler’s own car seat on the airplane is great. Lugging it around the airport, hotel, shuttles and taxis? Not so much. J slept through the first ⅔ of the flight out and the first ⅓ of the flight back. Despite the unfamiliar circumstances of the plane, he was in a familiar, comfortable seat, and I’d recommend it for any parent who can afford to buy their toddler his/her own seat. But it’s still a pain to drag it around. Update: We’ve since picked up a tiny folding luggage cart. We can roll the seat all around the airport, then fold up the cart and put it in a carry-on bag. I think it cost about $15-20.

#3: Remember to factor in parking when evaluating the cost of car rental. Since we were bringing the child car seat anyway, we figured we’d rent a car and just snap it in. It worked well enough, but when we got to the hotel we were faced with a $52/night parking charge. Over 9 days, that added up to more than the cost of renting the car! And the first place we drove to, Lincoln Park Zoo, cost $30 for parking – more than cab fare would have been.

It became clear that most of what we wanted to do was going to be within walking distance, and it would be cheaper to return the car early and take taxis to the places farther out. That’s exactly what we did.

#4: How much Internet access do you really need? Our hotel had a nice setup: A) $12.95 for 24 hours for up to three devices for in-room wi-fi. B) Free wi-fi in the lobby. C) Convention areas were paid for by the con. Over 9 days we pulled out the laptop maybe three or four times, and we used the tablet every day.

The thing is, my heaviest online use of the tablet was in the convention, not in the room. In the room, I was mostly checking email/social networks or playing offline games, or one of us was reading (either to ourselves or to J). These are low-bandwidth activities where high latency isn’t a problem, and it would have been fine to fire up the phone’s mobile hotspot for a few minutes or even read email offline & let it sync the next time I was in the lobby. (I caught up on email on the airplane on the way back, then let the changes & replies sync up after when we landed.)

Obviously this will depend on how connected you want or need to be, and what other devices you have. In our case, we paid for 7 or 8 days of internet and probably only needed 3 or 4.