I was recently sent on a fun assignment for Virgin Atlantic, which had me try to be a tourist in my hometown of Chicago while wearing Google Glass. I wrote a little thing about the experience and they featured some of it on their blog. You can read my version below.
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We checked in to the ACME Hotel on a frigid Thursday afternoon, excited to make the best of it. The hotel offered us the option of checking out a pair of Google Glass (Google’s future-glasses) for the night, which I’ve been interested in trying out. I was curious how my experience with photography would translate to the wearable camera embedded onto my face and was hoping for the ability to take some awesome, incognito street photos. After fumbling around for an hour, I managed to get the hang of it and set out with my girlfriend to explore the city.
It was almost immediately that Glass was put to the test: just a few blocks from our hotel, Chicago Bulls’ rookie Spanish-import Nikola Mirotić was exiting a restaurant. My initial urge was to ask for a photo, however, wearing the camera on my face and not yet used to its operations made this an almost impossible task (Imagine: “Hey Nikola, big fan. Look into my eyes while I take a photo of you, yeah? — OK Glass. Take a picture! — Thanks buddy, good luck on rookie of the year voting.”). I ended up maybe getting a photo of him getting into his car, while kicking myself for not setting up the Glass option of taking a photo whenever you wink (Imagine: me winking at a 6’10” man for no apparent reason).
Moving along, mostly to not freeze, we made it to Michigan Avenue and the Chicago River crossing. This is easily one of my favorite spots in the city. The gorgeous architecture is all around you, both modern and classical, as the river slices thru the center of the city creating a canyon of steel, glass and water, spanned by a dozen or so bridges. If this was the summer, we would’ve taken an architecture boat tour to take it all in.
We made it to Cloud Gate (commonly known as “The Bean”) in beautiful Millennium Park, figuring it would be a cool spot to get Glass photos of the reflections of the city and myself wearing the contraption. Cloud Gate offers countless vantage points and angles, juxtaposing the park, city, sky, people and pigeons. Just as the bitter cold was getting to us, Glass decided it had enough and quit functioning altogether. Chicago winters are known to scare off many; apparently technology is not immune.
To warm ourselves and my future-glasses, we headed to the nearby Art Institute of Chicago. While wandering the gorgeous new modern wing of the museum, the Glass slowly started operating again. We strolled past Renoir, Monet, Cézanne, Hopper’s Nighthawks, all while a security guard wondered what the hell I was wearing on my head and younger tourists stared at me in amusement and possibly jealousy. While sitting on a bench in front of American Gothic, I had the odd moment of realization that I was surrounded by stunning works of art and was taking it all in thru the screens of my iPhone and Google Glass; an unnecessary and experience-altering barrier between myself and the object I came to see. It was time for some fresh air.
We bundled back up and headed towards the brand new Maggie Daley Park, cutting thru Millennium Park and past the beautiful Frank Gehry-designed Pritzker Pavilion which sat lonely, covered in snow on this cold winter night. Our destination was the ice ribbon, providing a continuous loop of ice skating fun and the occasional wipe out. I took it easy, all the while remembering the waiver I signed back at the hotel taking responsibility should anything happen to my probably-very-expensive future-glasses. Aside from the cold weather, ice skating was a great opportunity to use Glass and take photos more in the moment and from my own viewpoint, while my hands remained free (or at least it would’ve been had the cold temperature not made the Glass nearly impossible to use). After a few laps we decided to call it a night and get the Glass back home to safety.
The next morning, after a tasty “knock & drop breakfast” and tour of the ACME Hotel facilities (sauna! hot tub!), we hopped in a cab, drove past the iconic Marina Towers (most notably featured on the cover of Wilco’s 2002 album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot), to the Willis Tower (formerly and most widely known as the Sears Tower) to check out the 103rd floor Skydeck. We were surprised to see a 90 minute wait and worried about getting back to the hotel before checkout time. Thankfully, we were able to charm a manager with the future-glasses and cut much of the line (we still had to pay, unfortunately). Be sure to get here first thing in the morning if you don’t want to wait, or else you can head to the other side of downtown and try the John Hancock observation deck, which offers equally stunning views closer to the lakefront. The likely reason for the long queue at Willis was the recently added Ledge attraction, which lets you stand inside a glass enclosure 1,353ft above the city. Glass on glass. Terrifying.
After the Skydeck and some elevator selfies (is it a selfie if it’s a Glass photo of yourself in a reflection?), we wandered around downtown a bit, under the famous El train, down LaSalle St. where Batman was filmed, to Calder’s beautiful Flamingo statue as seen in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and eventually to Garrett’s popcorn for a tasty snack.
At this point, we had only seen a tiny portion of what Chicago has to offer, however, our Glass sidekick was due back and we were forced to enjoy the remainder of the day as regular, analogue humans beings, wearing our practical boring-glasses which only allow for improved eyesight. I winked at my girlfriend and merely got a kiss in return.