Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Caped Crusader, You Ain't

Originally uploaded by opk.
Some people are very inconsiderate public transportation patrons, don't you think? I've already commented a few times here about The Sniffers, those irritating people whose sinuses react badly to the cold Chicago air, but who still don't have the forethought to carry Kleenex. Yes, you know who you are.

But on this morning's bus journey, I encountered a different breed. Yes, I met Batman. Not the Caped Crusader, he of underpants on the outside of his trousers (though I'm sure I'd meet someone like him on a 3am Saturday morning bus trip!). No, this 'gentleman' was reading his novel, with his elbows sticking right out like bat wings! And when I sat down next to him, he refused to stick one of his 'wings' back in so I could read too. So my book stayed in my bag, and I enjoyed his elbow sticking into my ribs for the entire journey.

I didn't say anything because I was too aghast that he didn't even notice he was doing it. Who doesn't notice when they're jabbing another person in the guts? I hope his book sucked.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Not an ugly duckling amongst them

Originally uploaded by jaki good.
Chicago truly is a city of cultural contrasts. On the one hand, you've got outdoor ice skating and paintball skirmishes, and then on the other hand you've got fundraiser benefits and ballet. And it was the latter, slightly classier outing that I took over the weekend.

I had never been to the ballet, and when I saw that "Swan Lake" was being performed at the theatre around the corner from my work, I thought I'd grab a ticket and check it out. I didn't know the story either and now having seen the production, I'm still not sure I actually "got it". Was I reading too much into it to think there was something kinky going on between the Prince and the Swan? Probably. And everyone around me was too much of a ballet afficianado for me to ask.

And what set this production apart and made it exceed my expectation was the fact that rather than frilly tutus and Billy Elliot wannabes bulging around in tights, this production was modern dance but set to the traditional Tchaikovsky score; it was really beautiful. The lead male dancer wore leather pants for pity's sake - and no shirt either, which made me disappointed I didn't bring my binoculars. Actually, most of the male cast played swans, so they spent much of the show topless. Why was I such a groundling and resisted springing for more expensive seats in the Orchestra section of the theatre?! Damn me and my cheapskate ways.

But now I can say that I've been to the ballet and actually enjoyed it. The Joffrey Ballet was performing "Romeo and Juliet" a few weeks ago, but that was at a smaller theatre, and took the more traditional route of hair tightly pulled back in buns and lots of tulle netting and pointed toes. Nah, that's not for me.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

What a load of Bull

Originally uploaded by Dave Gorman.
At the risk of dropping a bigger bombshell than a bulimic Lindsay Lohan, I am not a particularly sporty person. Actually, to be fair to myself, I like sports - I just know that I'm no athlete. But I'm a great one-woman cheer squad. So perhaps it's not such a big surprise to me that since arriving in Chicago, I've acquired a taste for baseball - courtesy of a triumphant World Series team - and now I can turn my attention to a new interest, basketball. One trip to the United Center to see my home team play was all it took.

Biggsy pulled his finger out and organised a block of tickets for a bunch of crazy Aussies, way up in the nosebleed section, to go along and cheer the Chicago Bulls. I went along out of curiosity, and so I wouldn't miss out on anything. Plus we were all keen to check out the new recruit on the opposition (the Milwaukee Bucks), cause he's an Aussie too. No freebie tickets though - maybe I should have cheered for Milwaukee??

The United Center is also used for ice hockey games, and even concerts, so it is a pretty impressive venue. The game was true sensory overload. Flashing lights, lots of movement and colour; it was awesome, in the true sense of the word.

And the Luvabulls - the Chicago Bulls cheerleaders - were not your garden variety "Oh Mickey, you're so fine, you're so fine you blow my mind, hey Mickey, hey Mickey" types either. No short skirts and sneakers, no ponytails. These girls wore spangly pants and boosomy tops, with their long hair that they flipped around and made me thoroughly dizzy, and exhausted just watching them. The boys didn't mind though. And then some male 'cheerleaders' called The Matadors (flabby blokes with man boobs and cut-off tops EWWWW) came out to bust a move performing some dance numbers. But it was hysterically funny and loaded with energy.

The fact that I could see how the stadium erupted with a Bulls victory only added to the experience. Even I was on my feet by the end of it, a little unsporty blob up there in the rafters. But I was there, and that's what counts.

Go Bulls!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Law and Dis-Order

Yesterday was President's Day in the States, and I enjoyed a lovely public holiday to celebrate...uh...Presidents of all shapes and sizes. At least I think that's what it's all about. I'm sure that's what half of the Americans sleeping in yesterday think it's about too, so cut me some slack.

In honour of the day off, Comcastic (the cable TV ubernetwork to which we subscribe) screened a "Law and Order" marathon. It was old-school L&O, complete with Jerry Orbach - Baby's father in Dirty Dancing - and the delicious Jesse Whatshisname. And the terribly intelligent Jack McCoy tried to right the wrongs in the courtroom, sometimes joined by husky Angie Harmon, and other times by Serena The Blonde Lawyer.

And just as I'd made a proper butt-sized dent in the couch, there was a knock at the door. So much for building security. And as the TV was turned up relatively loud, there was no chance for me to pretend I wasn't at home.

Well thank god I answered the door because who should be there, but two detectives from the Chicago Police Department - shiny silver badges and all!

Turns out a hapless fellow who recently met a grisly end had used my apartment as a previous residence, and the detectives were doggedly following up the outstanding leads. I was hoping for a Detective Gorran-style grilling, but then I realised that I didn't seem guilty enough for that. So I was going to narrow my eyes to slits and start looking around from side to side, but then I figured that might make me look mentally unstable.

So I simply answered their questions as honestly as I could (which was pretty easy, since I knew nothing), and they took their leave. But for the rest of the night, I couldn't help but wonder just what the ex-tenant had done to arouse the suspicion of the local constabulary. In the course of our 'interview', one of the detectives repeatedly referred to the man as "a victim", so my imagination was working overtime as I'm sure you can imagine.
And just as an aside, it was Lexie's birthday yesterday, but I promised her I had not arranged the visit from the detectives. If I was going to organise "a policeman" as a birthday gift for her, he would have appeared on the doorstep in uniform WITH his own tape recorder. And the expectation of cash payment before he took off. I think she was disappointed.

Anyway, when the latter episodes of "Law & Order" offered no help unravelling the world of detective work, I switched to the Food Network and learned all about the evolution of the bagel.
NOW who's the victim here?!

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Peek-a-boo President

Lincoln's Admirers
Originally uploaded by PhotoFlyer.
I have returned to FREEZING Chicago after enjoying some fabulous sunshine in Washington DC. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised and really impressed with the beautiful city.

Washington is truly cosmopolitan and a city that presents an international community with no shortage of cultural and social good times.

Once my meetings at the Embassy were over, I enjoyed a Moonlit Monuments Tour by trolley car (though Biggsy gave me grief for not walking). For over two hours, I trolleyed (!) around the city, admiring the city's glorious landmarks - including a seated Abe Lincoln - spotlit and fabulous. The Korean War Memorial was a particular highlight, with ghostly sculptures of soldiers standing guard in the flower beds, frozen in time but looking ready for combat. It was beautiful and haunting at the same time.

I had just about overdosed on War Memorials during that tour, but still I went out on the Metro to the Arlington National Cemetery the following day. I saw the gravesites of the Kennedys and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. It's hard to believe that 300,000 servicemen, women, and their families are buried there. Until you see the rows upon rows of simple white headstones. Then you truly get a chance to appreciate just how many lives have been lost in conflict over the years. And even more alarming, I think, is that 25 funerals take place there every work day. Now don't you think that is an alarming statistic? I was surprised. I may have been the only foreigner on the Cemetery tour that looked around in shock at that figure. No one else batted an eyelid.

But Washington is a city that's all about celebrating national pride and achievements. The Smithsonian Museums are chock-full of inventions, exhibits and displays intended to celebrate American innovation. And most impressively, the monuments and buildings are elegant, respectful, and really welcoming.

I thoroughly enjoyed Washington DC and I can't wait to go back. The fact that I also met some great Aussies at the Embassy means that next time I jet into town, I won't have any problems finding someone to enjoy a cold beer with.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Going to Washington is a Capital Idea!

White House
Originally uploaded by The Anti-ZIM.
Thanks to those true friends (and one crazy Granny) who sought to buoy my Valentine spirits by reminding me about fabalooseness.

So with my happiness restored, I'm heading to this nation's capital this afternoon, and staying until Saturday. I'm saying this to herald a break in blogging proceedings, but a post-visit summary will be forthcoming. Maybe even some photos too.

Ciao for now!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The burning sensation that is VD

valentine rose 2
Originally uploaded by Skip Hansen.

I know, I stole that header from a local journalist here in Chicago whose column in last week's paper commented on the sham that is VD, or Valentine's Day. The 24-hour period that is the scourge of singles everywhere. And the one day of the year when I most feel like staying home with the doona over my head.

Now I'm a romantic from way back. I love soppy movies, moonlit walks, love songs and the whole lot. But now having seen the way this country flips out over Valentine's Day, I'm willing to agree with the local columnist that VD really is over-the-top. Candied hearts, gooey chocolates, and more plushy stuffed toys than you can poke with a stick. And really, you should poke them with sticks whenever you can.

[Okay so I'm also grouchy that no one remembered to ring the florist and send me roses. But let's move on, shall we?]

This post is less about my own lack of lovin' and more an opportunity to muse about the genuinely romantic gestures I've observed today:

  • A woman held the bus doors open for a man laden with his work bags, and struggling down the bus's centre steps this morning;
  • A man in my coffee shop was buying his female friend a coffee, and taking great pains to make sure he got the order exactly right; and finally, and most importantly for me
  • Biggsy and Penelope (my colleagues) each gave me a heart-shaped biscuit with pink frosting.

So while I am sans Valentine this year, I am still hopefully that John Paul Young was right and that love is in the air. Or all around. Or whatever. Perhaps it's just me, over here and mellowing ungraciously in my old age.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Once more, with feeling...

Originally uploaded by reggiebrown.
The US immigration officer viewed my passport with interest. "So, a bit of a globetrotter are we?", he mused in my direction. I suppose that catching 4 planes in as many days will give you such a reputation.

And so it is that I have returned "home" to Chicago after a whirlwind (extra) long weekend in Glasgow. You might recall I blogged a little while ago about the bizarre fact that it was cheaper for me to fly back to Scotland to collect my last piece of luggage personally, than it was to outsource such collection to an international movers company. Strange, but true. So I boarded a plane last Thursday afternoon, was delayed for what seemed an eternity, reached Heathrow with precious little time to spare to breeze through customs, and make my connecting flight to Glasgow.

Seeing Batreg's smiling face at Glasgow International Airport was just wonderful. I hadn't realised how much I had missed her, and once I got over squealing about how much her hair had grown, I babbled the whole way home about how flat and green Scotland is from the air. Bless her heart, she didn't even comment on how much crap I talked in such a short car ride.

Must be used to it by now - or something.

Returning to Betty & Armand's place was great. Their house looks very different to the flowery and evergreen place I left three months ago. Winter has obliterated all the flowers in the front yard, and the trees are all bare and ghostly-looking. A brown, desolate atmosphere, to be sure, but nevertheless a really beautiful one. But enough of the nature talk.

After I'd enjoyed a restorative shower, Reg and I motored into Paisley to enjoy a cheap lunch and a catchup talk. It was great to realise that in a crowded city like Chicago, at least the locals respect personal space and give you time to groove. In Paisley, I had forgotten that personal space is a luxury to be enjoyed. And even then, the locals want to share that luxury with you, to a degree that sends one positively barmy. I had also forgotten how damn ugly the men are there. Sorry, I know it's not polite but boy, the dental work on these locals has to be seen to be believed!

By 7pm Friday, I had hit the proverbial wall, and had a strong desire to sleep forever. But I didn't need to, because Reg woke me up at around 10.30am the next day, so we could make good on our promise to each other to tour Glasgow city centre in the double-decker tourist bus.

What fun that day was! The weather was cold, but clear, and the tour bus took us on a great circuit of the city. We saw cathedrals and colleges, and George Square right in the centre of the city. It was hard to believe that the site of such splendid architecture used to be a place to hang laundry! And did you know that the Glasgow City Council Chambers are used whenever films want to feature the Vatican? Apparently the marble work and the art inside resembles the splendour of the Vatican (where you're not allowed to film anyway, so don't even ask). A quick Aussie beer at the Walkabout Pub completed the day's events. Ahh bless the Scots - bad teeth, great architecture.

Saturday night was a write-off, thanks to copious Black Russians (the beverage kind) and there may have been top-up vodka and lemons to follow. There was nothing to envy about our condition on Sunday morning, let me tell you. Between me, Reg, and Betty, the concept of a decent 'technicolour yawn' is no longer a foreign one. Oh well, as they say "one in, all in".

Sunday afternoon's flight back to Manchester was uneventful, and the overnight accommodation even more so. But by Monday morning, my hangover had worn off, and I was ready to return to the Windy City.

Reg heads home later this month, and is looking forward to soaking up the sun (given that the northern hemisphere hasn't seen much of that recently). I will not enjoy knowing that she's no longer in this half of the world, but I'm hoping to tempt her back soon enough.

As I went through the motions of bag searches, passport checks, and long check-in queues, I had to admit to myself that it's a bit tough to be back at work. I mean, it's one thing to have a great job and good friends, but I must confess that I do miss the jetsetting lifestyle I enjoyed for the last 8 months or so. Oh well, I'm sure my time will come again and when it does, there'll be no stopping me.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Sorry, I got Sidetracked

Originally uploaded by DORM'd.
I forgot to update you on a fantastic night out that I enjoyed recently. I've mentioned before that I live in Boystown, a suburb of Chicago so called because of its high population of gay men. Lots of handsome eye candy, none of whom look twice at me. But that's okay, I can deal.

In addition to its high population of attractive residents, another thing this suburb does well is party. And "Sidetracks" is one such gay pub that just knows how to show its patrons a good time.

Lexie took me along to her (gay) boss's birthday party at "Sidetracks" the other night. Monday nights are Musical Sing-a-long nights at the bar, and my god it was so much fun!

It took me two frosty vodka drinks to warm up, but by the end of the second drink, I was joining in with the boys singing Julie Andrews numbers, and doing bad impressions of Liza Minnelli. It was a riot.

I did "Grease" duets with a guy named Patrick, and danced to Moulin Rouge numbers with a dreadlocked black guy. Oh it was so much fun.

And if any Broadway producers are reading this, you need look no further than "Sidetracks" in Chicago to find your next musical theatre talents. These boys may be amateurs, but inside each one of them is a stage diva waiting to bust out. They can sing, and they can dance, and their breadth of musical knowledge just left me star-struck.

And given that Lexie's boss and his friends have adopted me, I get the feeling I'll be going back to tread the boards soon enough.