So for anyone who was following for awhile there, I would like to seriously apologize for seemingly falling off the face of the Earth. A slight and unexpected twist occurred, and it most definitely threw a wrench in the six month road trip agenda, and by extension, this little travel blog….
To pick up somewhat where I left off, I had spent a really wonderful few days catching up with my family in Michigan. I had not been able to get up to see everyone in three years because of a stint working in Little Cayman, followed by two years slaving as a restaurant manager for Hilton and Wyndham luxury hotels. Needless to say it was a long overdo visit. I may have been tempted to stay even longer if it wasn’t for the fact that Essexville has to be one of the most laid back and unexcited places I have ever spent any length of time in. I apologize if that is offensive to anyone, but it just is not for me, mostly because I have one of the most obnoxious travel bugs imaginable.
After Toronto, Nichole had dropped me off at my grandparent’s house to visit my relatives as planned. On the way there however, she bluntly explained that she made a last minute decision to skip Michigan to visit her friend Amanda in Ohio. She had waited until just a couple of hours before dropping me off to inform me of her new plan, and even proceeded to ask me if anyone in my family could later drive me to Ohio so that she wouldn’t have to come back to get me in Michigan… even though we were supposed to head to Chicago before Ohio. Don’t worry if you got lost there; I was quite lost and confused myself. It was all very fishy, but I went with it and told her she unfortunately would have to pick me up due to her last minute notice.
After her stint in Sandusky, she scooped me back up, and I must say I was feeling pretty damn refreshed from the quality family time. We had a six hour cruise through the most uninteresting parts of Michigan, but at least we weren’t passing through the old factory towns of the once prosperous state, or cowering through an area like Saginaw township. I will be including one story from my time in Saginaw, that was absolutely nuts, later…
When Nichole and I eventually reached Chicago, we took the scenic route through the ghetto to avoid paying the “Welcome to Chicago” stiff of a bridge toll. It started out as a pretty sketchy endeavor, but ended quite grand. In the many times I had been to Chicago with my mom, I had never gotten to take in the beautiful spring scenery that was the waterfront parks and views of Lake Michigan.
Growing up, my mother had a sister, Karen, who lived in South Bend, Indiana with my uncle and cousins. Because South Bend was about as exciting as Essexville, we somehow managed to convince the crew to take a trip to Chicago a couple times. Other than that mom and I would fly there to really get down on our cravings for deep dish pizza and the big city life, as we were living in beach town, USA my entire childhood (Definitely not a bad thing). Some of my fondest vacation memories were the Taste of Chicago food festival, scaring the crap out of my mom by playing in the glass box that hangs off of Willis Tower, and walking around with my head cranked back, trying to see high up along the endlessly towering skyscrapers. I always thought of Chicago as the cleaner, friendlier, tolerably paced version of New York, and I was beyond stoked to be back.
We would be crashing with my friend Devin, who had moved to Chicago a couple years prior for a new job opportunity. She and I met when we opened and worked front desk for an enormous Hilton hotel, attached to the Orange County Convention Center, during my time attending UCF. We had an absolute blast at work, consistently making fun of the various groups and their oddball conventions. It was easy to develop a great bond as a couple of fun loving non-sensical individuals in this sort of environment. Whether it was checking in (or checking out) all the surfers coming to the DEMA dive conference, or attempting a one thousand person check in of Japanese folk who didn’t speak a lick of English, we always made the best of it and shared some laughable, good times.
On the way to Devin’s, I was instantly reminded of the coziness and friendliness of this gem of a town as we passed by the beaches and parks along the beautiful Lake Michigan. It in no way, shape, or form has the feel of being the third largest city in the U.S. We sat in traffic for a bit, eventually driving past Soldier Field, the art and science museums, the aquarium, and bunches of schooners and sail boats parked along the beaches of the lake. Eventually we came across an overlook of Navy Pier, and took in the stunning scene of the Ferris wheel spinning amongst a bustling crowd, against a settling sky. Devin lived right in the gayborhood of Chicago. While this delighted Nichole for other reasons. I enjoyed that the gayborhood always meant a well kept area with nummy hole-in-the-wall restaurants, fantastic people watching, and an overall sense of safety.
After searching for a small eternity for unpermitted parking, we finally planted the Corolla, and headed up to Devin’s adorable studio apartment. As it was getting to be dinner time, the three of us headed down to the oddly named grocery store, “Jewel Osco,” to pick up the makings of a yummy chicken dinner, as well as some accompanying vino and Jameson. There was girl bonding and lots of laughs, and later that night we headed out to a couple local bars.
We began our adventure at a tropically themed karaoke bar, where Nichole would immediately be taken on stage by a stranger to sing “Summer Lovin” by Grease. I was tickled pink at discovering a bumper sticker behind the bar that read “I ❤ the Caymans.” From there we went to an obnoxiously loud dance club ,where we befriended a group of seriously goofy dancers, and celebrated our first night in Chicago quite properly. It looked like the makings of another great visit to the windy city.
The next morning, Nichole woke up early to move the car, and came back tickled by a Baptist church sign that you would only find in Chicago. It read “If you can’t live you dyin’. You can’t rewind. Keep it movin’. Keep grindin’.” Nothing like trying to combine Kanye West analogies about ambition, gambling, and drugs with the word of God; Hallelujah.
After getting ourselves together, we began the touristy day by picking up a Subway pass and heading to Wrigley Field. After a failed attempt to scalp tickets for the New York v. Cubs game, we took to meandering around the stadium to take in the sights. Every scalper we had talked to was trying to sell us tickets for more than what they were charging at the box office; Apparently they did not understand the concept of competitive pricing whatsoever. As we strolled past the swarm of drunkards in blue, we came across a tent where National Geo promoters were advertising for their new nature show, and Nichole and I ended up taking a green screen shot, involving running from a herd of Buffalo; Who knows where that ended up.
After working up a sweat, and an appetite, the three of decided that it was the perfect time for Lou Malnati’s deep dish pizza and mimosas. I am not really sure how mimosas came to be relevant, but it turned out to be a damn good idea. It seemed since my last visit that Lou’s had created a personal sized pizza, which would have saved me from a serious tummy ache a few years prior, after I single handedly tried to take down a normal size one. After some great people watching on the patio, and our fair fill of deliciousness, we made our way to Lincoln Park Zoo, only to discover it was closed for a private event.
Feeling sleepy, Devin went back to her house to rest, and Nichole and I hopped a bus down the “Magnificent Mile” shopping district. As we passed the American Girl store, I pondered fondly over how my cousin Alyssa used to obsess over the ridiculously expensive collection of beautiful figures, and their darling dresses and accessories. After sympathizing with the poor bus driver as he dealt with crazy and obnoxious tourists jumping on and off his place of work, we hit Millennium Park to check out the displays of multicolored tulips and the “Bean.” Looking at, and taking pictures of, the skyline through the historically insignificant, but altogether funky and entertaining silver sore thumb was as fun as I thought it would be.
After trying to understand the point of an array of multicolored life size bear sculptures in the park, we passed the Chicago Theatre, and jumped the metro back to Devin’s house to get ready for a night of bar hopping… after playing dress up of course. Devin’s collection of fun clothing was blast to go through. My favorite piece was a white jean bedazzled half vest that she most definitely was able to pull off. I flashed back to the five year old version of myself running around in my mother’s high heels, floppy hat, and boa scarf, and laughed out loud without explanation.
Earlier in the day, Devin and I had declared that we simply wanted to have some nice looking, pleasant guys to hang out with for the evening. I was tired of the club scene, gay bars, and over the top hipster hot spots, and just wanted to walk into a down-to-earth bar with some attractive eye candy, less expensive drinks, and music playing at a volume where I could actually hear what the person two feet from my face was saying to me. We started the evening at one of Devin’s hipster bars, and although the craft cocktails were enjoyable (and overpriced), I couldn’t help but notice and dislike the air of snootiness present.
Nichole and Devin gave me the opportunity to pick the next spot. This is a pleasure that had rarely come my way on the trip, and I quickly peeked into a series of bars, until I finally spotted one with the atmosphere, and pleasant company I was looking for. We made our way to the bar and squeezed in between a group of pleasant looking guys enjoying each other’s conversation. Devin immediately was lured in by a nice guy she insisted looked like Blake Shelton, and I am became intrigued by a seemingly shy gent, Matt. Nichole on the other hand, decided to circle the bar searching for some female company. There was respectable dancing, pleasant conversation, and lots of laughs for everyone… or so I thought. For some reason, Nichole was choosing to be stand offish, and I didn’t quite get it.
The party continued back at their friend’s place where about ten of us mingled and continued drinking. After losing track of time chatting on the balcony, I realized Devin had passed out on an air mattress next to Blake Shelton. Nichole was unhappy and wanted to leave, but seeing that it was four a.m., and not willing to leave Devin at the house solo, I insisted we stick with her, offered Nichole the couch spot, and agreed we would catch a cab first thing in the morning; I was not going to leave Devin there alone.
A few hours later, I woke up at about six to the sound of my phone ringing. In a tipsy and completely sleep deprived state, I located and answered my phone, only to hear Nichole saying that her and Devin were in a taxi downstairs waiting for me. Not quite sure where my shoes or clutch had disappeared to, I was beyond frustrated and told them I would meet them at the house in a bit. Why they didn’t wake me up before managing a taxi, so that I could gather everything as they did, I was not sure, but it agitated me royaly.
Pissed off, I slept an hour longer before going downstairs to hail a taxi myself. Upon arriving to Devin’s, I found Devin crashed in bed and Nichole sleeping on the floor. Wanting to decompress before talking to them, I assumed a position next to Devin and we all slept for several hours. Upon awaking and packing our belongings to prepare for our next venture to Cedar Point, I decided it was not worth fighting about and put myself back in a joyous and excited mood by thinking about how we would be riding the best roller coasters in the country, by that precise time the following day.
As we loaded up the car, I gave a huge hug to Devin. I loved that she was the same person she had been a few years prior and I was so pleased to have spent time with her. I was very much looking forward to our next stop at Cedar Point. I had been dreaming of going to since I was a kid, but for some reason my Midwestern family never made the trip while I was there. After we assumed our positions in the car, I turned to Nichole to see if she was amped, only to find her looking at me with a welling, pathetic look in her eyes.
She simply said “I don’t want to do this anymore.” Not knowing if she was joking or serious, and in a slight shock, I asked her if she could explain and elaborate. She responded with “I don’t know how to put it into words, but I am done; Can I drive you somewhere?” Feeling a well of emotion and taking all the strength of my inner being not to explode at my lack of understanding, and even more so at her inability to communicate, I asked her to take me back to Michigan to my family. For the next six hours I was consumed by peaks and valleys of emotions and thoughts, but on the outside I was simply listening to music on my IPAD, absolutely disgusted with the person I was locked in a car with.
We arrived to my grandparents at nine o’clock at night, and still having my manners, I invited Nichole to spend the night in their spare room, as I retreated to the basemen to drink and make some venting phone calls to several very wonderful friends. In the morning I would unpack the car, with barely a word, and would simply say “Bye Nichole” as she embarked on her journey back to Amanda’s house is Ohio. Quite the unexpected twist.
How Very Ironic to be Reading About Kerouac’s Moriarty,