DAY 3: SUNDAY, JUNE 9 - BACK INTO CHICAGO
I stumble out of bed in the morning, roused by an unhappy stomach. I'm unsure if I want to consider eating anything heavier than saltine crackers today, but the story must go on. We pack our bags and point the Cruze Diesel south, in the direction of the Windy City.
Like we did in Milwaukee, we opt to lead with dessert, and seek out Hoosier Mama Pies, an unassuming little shop in the Ukranian Village district. Squeezed between stores and devoid of any large, boastful signage, first-time visitors are apt to drive right past it, as we did. Twice.
Hoosier Mama prides itself on its old-time, country-style approach. And indeed, standing in line to place my order, I feel as if I'm in a farmhouse kitchen somewhere near Terre Haute, not in a modern bakery. There's little room for more than a half-dozen eat-in customers, so I quickly order a slice of apple pie, a glass of milk, and take a seat at a small table near the front door.
After two days of outstanding pie, I'm not expecting to be blown away by anything but I couldn't have been more wrong. More than anything, Hoosier Mama's pie envelops you in a cinnamon-rich embrace, and doesn't want to let go. Merritt says his slice of pie, a cream-laden concoction of some sort, is also amazing, but I can't pay much attention to what he's saying -- I've already reached pie-vana.
Despite our previous day's Hot Doug's visit, we were not done sampling hot dogs in Chicago. "Oh, we have to do Superdawg," Merritt insists, and I have no objection. Sure, it may just be a drive-in fast-food joint, but ever since I fought my way through a snowstorm to make my first visit several years ago, I've been hooked. The combination of unique atmosphere (which hasn't changed much since Superdawg's inception in 1948) and incredibly tasty food makes it hard to beat. We both go with a Superdawg itself -- a proper Chicago-style hot dog (all-beef frank with pickle, neon relish, onion, and hot peppers) placed in a box and hidden beneath crinkle-cut fries. It's an old tradition, but it's amazing every time I visit.
Speaking of old traditions, it's time to head to Wrigley Field to catch the afternoon Cubs game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Wrigley is by far the oldest stadium on this tour, and it's also the oldest stadium I've ever been to. Time advances slowly here: there's a live organist, for starters, and even the scoreboard is operated by hand (although a new high-definition electronic board will replace it in time for the 2014 season). The building is a bit grimy thanks to nearly a century's worth of use, but it's not the cesspool Cubs haters will have you believe. The atmosphere created by a charismatic building and an equally charismatic (and sizable) audience is unlike any other in the Midwest.
The game is fairly evenly matched for the first three innings. No runs are scored until the top of the fourth, when the Pirates' Andrew McCutchen doubles and is then driven home by a single hit by Garret Jones. The Cubs finally get a run of their own in the bottom of the sixth inning, then come alive in the seventh when Cody Ransom hits a home run, allowing Julio Borbon and Darwin Barney to round the bases and score. Those three runs were enough to earn the Cubs a 4-1 win, and their lone victory in a three-game series against Pittsburgh.
Merritt says goodbye, catches an L-train home, and I fight post-game traffic before finally making my way to the Skyway and then back home to Michigan. I get in just before midnight, and make my second and final fuel stop of the day. After 508.5 miles, the Cruze Diesel takes on another 12.8 gallons of diesel. Mileage this time works out to 39.7 mpg, a mild decrease I blame mostly on stop-and-go driving. On the bright side, it's still far better than the EPA's combined rating of 33 mpg. And for an even shinier silver lining, we averaged 40.3 mpg for our entire trip.
I enjoyed finding new and amazing places for pie and hot dogs in two of my favorite cities, but I also came away from this trip impressed with the Cruze Diesel. Is it as entertaining to drive as the Camaro SS? Heavens, no -- I would have loved to soak up the sun on Lake Shore Drive with the top down -- but it proved a composed and comfortable travel companion.
And there's also the matter of the fuel economy. It's an apple to oranges comparison, certainly, but we drove 305 miles further with the Cruze than I did with the Camaro two years ago, but used only 25.8 gallons of fuel. The Camaro, on the other hand, drank 37.6 gallons of premium gasoline. Had we used the Camaro SS this time around and gotten the same 19 mpg average as last time, we would have consumed close to 37 gallons of gas, and spent nearly $212 filling up -- $100 more than we spent to fuel the Cruze Diesel.
Perhaps you may not have room left for another $100 worth of pie or frankfurters, but that money would easily buy a seat or two at any of the games we attended, and that's entertaining in its own right. Play ball.
TRIP LENGTH: 3 Days
DISTANCE TRAVELED: 1040.8 miles
GALLONS OF FUEL CONSUMED: 25.8
HOT DOGS/ SAUSAGES CONSUMED: 11
SLICES OF PIE CONSUMED: 6
ANTACID TABLETS CONSUMED: 4
NUMBER OF GAMES: 3
NUMBER OF HOME TEAM VICTORIES: 3
AVERAGE MPG: 40.3 mpg
TOTAL FUEL COST: $105.74
CRUZE DIESEL BASE PRICE: $25,695
CRUZE DIESEL PRICE AS TESTED: $26,595
TOTAL GAME TICKET COST: $347.90
TOTAL FOOD COST: Can you really put a price on culinary happiness?