Friday, June 30, 2006

You're crowding my fabulousness

Last night marked the second birthday of a very cool club that I've been to a few times already, MaxBar. Ladies were invited to turn up for free massages and manicures between 8pm and 10pm, and knock back free martinis made with Effen vodka. Who was I to turn down such a beautiful and tempting party invitation?

In the past, I've been fortunate enough to enjoy the hospitality of MaxBar's VIP area, but at last night's event, most of the action was had in the front bar. So we made sure to arrive early and grabbed a booth. Irene and me had already agreed to meet Courts at the club, so Kate and Shylee raided my closet for 'going out' tops (aww it's just like having my sister back with me), and Emma and her sister Liz came along too. We made quite an eye-catching group of girls, if I can say so; all dressed up and ready to party. And right from the outset, we were clearly intent on having a great time. Kate and Shylee took full advantage of the free manicures, while I gave the vodka martinis my early attention. Massages were out - you all know my strict 'no touch' policy.

At one point in the evening, some official-looking guy with an earpiece and microphone had the audacity to interrupt our Bon Jovi air guitar tribute to inform us that we would have to vacate our booth. Clearly not interested in surrendering our precious piece of real estate, I sought clarification from Mr Earpiece. I was told that "some VIPs coming in need the booth". Well we weren't having any of that. No siree. I instructed Mr Earpiece (who was by now regretting coming to talk to us at all) that he should ask people in the OTHER booths to shift, and that the VIPs can have THEIR booth, not ours. Emma went one better and told him a long story about the restaurant she works for (very fancy, do you mind) and that she would simply spread it to the staff and all her patrons that the MaxBar evicted paying customers from booths for no real reason other than to satisfy the whims of wannabe VIPS. We love Emma. And with that, Mr Earpiece skulked off into the crowd, never to be seen again.

But everyone knows that the real reason this upstart tried to evict us was because we simply weren't buying enough drinks to keep us in the booth. Or perhaps it had something to do with our Bon Jovi tribute. Who's to say?

As the clock struck 2am, Kate started to pole dance in the bar out the back of the club, and it was at that point that I decided we should probably head home. VIPs or not, in a booth or not, we all had a great time at one of the most fun birthday parties I'd been to in a long while.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

When it's okay to eat vomit

Yes friends, I'm here to tell you that it's okay to eat vomit.  This is only as long as it is expelled exorcist-style from the chests of Blue Men.

Confused?  Well so were Kate and Shylee until last night, when I treated them to second-row tickets at the hilarious Blue Man show in Chicago.

I bought the tickets as soon as I knew the girls were definitely coming, because I suspected they'd enjoy the unique theatre experience.  And then, just for my own wicked amusement, I had been teasing Kate and Shylee since they arrived about the 'special surprise' I had planned for them.  Being the wily young rascals that they are, they kept trying to trick me into revealing my secret social plans.  Foolish girls.  Everyone knows that you've got to get up pretty early in the day to fool a ninja, and I kept them guessing right up until we walked up to the theatre.

Taking our seats in the second row of the industrial theatre, we were invited to don a plastic poncho.  Now doing this ahead of a theatre production would befuddle ANYONE, but the girls took it in their stride.  And I was grinning like The Cheshire Cat when The Blue Man Group took the stage and wowed the crowd with their various talents.  I could hear the girls laughing and carrying on as the three actors stuffed countless marshmallows in their mouths, blew paint all over a square canvas (declaring it 'art'), and splashed water on drums to create a colourful sound spectacular.

But the truly funny part of the show came when the boys ate a Twinkie and then 'vomited' out of a hole in their chests, covering the first three rows of the audience in sprays of MASHED BANANA.  Ewww it is revolting.  I'm sure most parents know what that feels like to have mashed banana pitched at them with full force, but it was a new experience for me and the girls.  We were picking globs of banana out of our eye sockets and off our forearms and jeans for the rest of the show.  But it was an utter blast and we all loved it.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Say Cheese, Blogstar!

At Chicago Aquarium
Originally uploaded by Kate is in Paris.
Okay this is a photo of Kate during her April visit to Chicago, but it was taken by yours truly, hence its appearance here.

And it's also a shameless plug for Katie's site and her latest collection of photos. Click on this photo to be sent to her online album.


The Aussie onslaught continues

Every morning when I come through the doors of the Consulate, I step onto classified Australian soil.  Surrounded as I am by my Aussie colleagues, I am still constantly reminded that the REAL homeland is so very far away.

So it's been a real plus for me to welcome Aussie friends travelling around the world into my home and my social life for however long they can stay with me.  They bring news of home with them, and let me know what pubs and clubs have opened, closed, or exploded (!) since I left.

Yesterday I welcomed Kate and Shylee to Chicago and I managed to talk my boss into giving me a 1/2 day off work so I could get them settled in.  Of course like all travellers, they brought with them a suitcase full of dirty laundry (literally, not metaphorically), so we set about taking care of that first.  Then last night we grabbed a cab up to Southport for some Thai dinner and a drop-in to the Scottish bar next door.  And later on, we walked down to a pub near Wrigley Field to see my new room mate Emma and her sister for a quick pint and then a leisurely walk home in the balmy air.

And I was so tired after yesterday's efforts that the 3am screams and carry-on of the evil girls downstairs didn't even phase me.  I do hope, however, that they did not disturbe my new guests, or Gab's gonna have to unleash the ninja.

Monday, June 26, 2006

It's Raining Men

I awoke early yesterday morning to a miserably grey day in Chicago. The rain was softly falling and the sky was all clouded over. Weather-wise, it was not a very promising start to Pride Parade 2006.

Indoors, Lexie and Emma and myself had agreed to host a pre-Parade get together for our friends for 10am. I bought a lot of rainbow decorations including beads, to help give the apartment a more festive feel. I did buy a face mask with feathers all over it, but given the rain outside on the day, I chose not to wear it. Instead, I made a rainbow necklace of all the different colours of beads and that worked nicely. The apartment looked great though, and we think we might just leave the decorations up for a while.

Lexie's work friends arrived first and we all sat around just laughing and drinking. Of course I was not quite ready to face beers at that time of day, so I settled instead on mimosas, and made sure I had adequate supplies of champagne and OJ to keep my friends happy. But as it turned out, only Irene turned up, and she was such a trooper. She'd only had about 3 hours sleep, and somehow rather impressively kept up the pace until the early afternoon.

The Parade itself was such fun. The floats were colourful and so was everyone that marched. The dance beats that were coming from the floats were deafening, but all really contagious and I was grooving along from the side of the road as everyone travelled by. Not quite the same calibre as Sydney's Mardi Gras of course, but it was fabulous all the same.

And then to cap off the day beautifully, Ems and me joined Lexie and her work friends at a house party. That's right friends, I went to my first kegger. I felt so American, for the first time since I arrived here. I didn't know the boys hosting the party, but it didn't matter in the least. We imbibed cheap beer pumped straight from the keg, and convened outside in the front yard to chat well into the early evening. Everyone was mixing really well and the vibe from the Parade kept the party going strongly.

By 9pm though, it was all over for us, and Lexie and me took ourselves home while we were still having fun - certainly the right time to leave any party. And all in all, it was a wonderful weekend. Our apartment had survived its first party and my only regret was that the evil girls on the ground floor weren't around to hear us.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Tribal Council has spoken

eviction up close
Originally uploaded by popvulture.
Finally, we've been vindicated!

Remember me telling you about the evil girls on the ground floor of our building whose excessive mid-week partying keep us up at nights? Well both Lexie and me wrote them separate (but very polite) notes asking them to please keep the noise down past 11pm during the week. Last night that notice was thoroughly ignored.

I didn't get to sleep until 3.15am.

So this morning I got straight onto the landlord and told him in no uncertain terms that I would not put up with that. From Lexie's perspective, it even seemed the girls were vindictive in last night's effort. They were jumping up and down to wake Preston and, when he started barking, they would stop. Then they'd start again just when Lexie had settled the puppy down.

Our landlord has given us full licence to ring the police and given them his cell phone number if their behaviour gets out of hand again. Plus he's not renewing their lease beyond August. What's the bet they'll trash the place before they're dragged out? But the point is that they'll be gone, and that makes me very happy indeed.

I'll get the next round - she'll be right, mate

The Consulate stopped yesterday as we piled into the Conference Room to watch Australia take on Croatia and ultimately advance to the next round of the World Cup.  What a match!  I was on the edge of my seat, then I was on my feet, then I was shouting and swearing and generally carrying on right up until the game was over and the poor ref couldn't work out who to red card first.

It has been a real delight to watch the video footage on the day after the big games, seeing Aussie fans "going off" in pubs, clubs, and even public squares all around Australia.  

We were talking yesterday about whether we feel more patriotic when we're outside of Australia, and I think I do.  I mean, I get behind Aussie football at home, and I am vocal about my love of all things Australia.  But when I'm away from home, I think my patriotism is much more obvious and I cease to think it's daggy to don a green and gold shirt and smear on the face paint to cheer as an Aussie team does the country proud.

And what makes me even happier, if not a little surprised, is the ease with which the Socceroos have been welcomed with open arms.  Now that the USA has been eliminated, my US friends have noticed a real shift in support to now concentrate on Australia's efforts and join our chorus of cheers.  It's all pretty fabulous if you ask me.

So I will be watching next week when we take on Italy in what is no doubt going to be a really tough match.  But I know that all around the world, Australian citizens and adopted Aussies alike will be behind the boys and keen to see just how well we can do.  She'll be right, and I can't wait.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Towards Domestic Bliss, to be sure

At the end of the very hot and steamy day yesterday, I wanted nothing more than to recline and chill out.  I couldn't think of anything worse than joining the roller-bladers and joggers along Lake Michigan, even though the view (of the Lake and the athletes both) was very inviting.

Taking Preston for a walk around the block, up to the shops for a Diet Coke, then back towards the apartment, we encountered two very young children standing outside their apartment with their dad.  On seeing Preston, the squeals of delight began, and they waddled up to him, with their pudgy fingers outstretched, ready to commence patting him (aka smacking him on the head).

I don't know whether Preston had ever encountered young kids before, so I was very wary.  But I made sure the Dad thought it was okay, and I kept a tight hold on Preston just in case.  But the lazy slob just laid down, rolled over, and exposed his belly for a big scratching.  The kids happily obliged.  As I was crouched down to position myself well enough to scoop Preston up if he misbehaved, one of the kids even sat on me and held my hand, while he smacked Preston "gently gently" with his other chubby hand.  And Preston smiled and wagged his tail all the while.

I dragged the reluctant puppy inside the apartment, put on my pyjama pants, and settled in for the night on the sofa.  Our new Irish room mate Emma hungrily agreed to our suggestion for "Oodles of Noodles" (or "Ooda of Nooda", as the lady at the shop calls it on purpose when I ring now).  And so it was that we sat at home, stuffing our faces with take-out and watching "Old School" on DVD, in front of two fans blasting semi-cool air all over us.  This is the life, to be sure.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Red and yellow and pink and green...

Somewhere over the rainbow
In Chicago's Boystown, the lamposts on Halsted are permanently adorned with gay (and I don't mean happy) rainbows and coloured lights. Elsewhere in the windows of the more adult establishments, mannequins are bedecked in all manner of leather, feather, and fur. The neighbourhood is friendly, happy, and safe. And this Sunday afternoon, the streets will erupt as Chicago celebrates Gay Pride.

Bluebirds Fly
I have only been to Sydney's Mardi Gras once. I should have gone twice of course, but I am not going to dwell on the circumstances that prevented that, am I, Kate? Build a bridge, Gab. But I remember being on Oxford Street and perching myeslf on three stacked milk crates to watch the fabulous parade, only to get down 4 hours later and realise that my knees had locked together making walking very difficult indeed. A repeat performance of such pain will not be necessary this year. I only live one street away from all the action, so no milk crates will be required. As a citizen of the area, I'm going to use my elbows and muscle into position at the front of the crowd to claim a section of the sidewalk just for myself.

There's a land that I heard of
The funniest part about this year's Parade is that I was actually invited to participate in it. I've only ever been in one parade before, and then I was anonymous - dressed as a clown and riding a tricycle. It was Christmas, by the way. But this year, the Human Rights Commission's Chicago Chapter has invited me to take 'pride' of place on its float! Of course they're asking me because I volunteered some time with them last weekend for their big annual gala. But I wonder whether they realise that I would perhaps be the only straight girl on the float? If I got to wear a tiara I would think about it. But really, I have already committed myself to hosting a cocktail party on Sunday in advance of the parade, so I had to politely decline. Instead, I've agreed to stand on the sidewalk by the IHOP and wave enthusiastically when the HRC passes by.

Once in a lullaby
The Gay Pride parade only happens once a year in Chicago, but the spirit of the neighbourhood doesn't seem to realise it. And sure Boystown may not be the easiest place for a straight girl to find the loving she's looking for, but it makes it vastly easier to find capable dancing partners and guys more than ready to sing the John Travolta part in "Summer Days" karaoke. And sometimes that really is what a girl wants.

So to the boys and girls marching this weekend, best of luck. I will be out there (but not "out" there) waving my hanky at you with one hand, and holding a champagne cocktail in the other. Solidarity, brother (I mean, sister).

I've got s-s-steam heat

Best Before Expiration Date
Originally uploaded by javajive.
In the night hours, something happened to me that defies the laws of both science AND nature.

I have somehow time-travelled to the tropical rainforests of Central America. The weather here today is drizzly rain, but a steamy 27 degrees Celcius. All this has combined to frizz my hair, and hurriedly ruin my good mood.

So when Mr Business Suit on the bus this morning smacked me with this leather man-bag, I almost threw the satchel - and its owner - straight out the window.

No actually it's not all that bad now that I'm safe at work in the pleasant air conditioning, and nursing a Venti Starbucks. The Coffee Guy even called me "Baby Girl". Would normally have made my skin crawl, but when one someone's outstretched hand offers me a delicious hot coffee, I can overlook just about anything. Tramp!

Remember that, people.

Oh and PS, thanks to "The Dodgy One" for depleting his Monopoly set to wire me stacks of cash. I will bring you home something extra special at Christmas. The rest of you - lumps of coal all round.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The world of high finance

Feeding 3 quarters into the washing machine last night, I got to thinking about the number of times I've had to change currencies since leaving Australia. It's hard to believe but in 16 months, my purse has contained money from seven different countries (I'm cheating a little when I include the Euro here, as everyone knows it is legal tender in more than one country, but just go with me on this).

And then I realised how long it has been since I've seen Australian money. Now that I've got the hang of the nickels, dimes, and quarters in the United States, will I slip easily back into Aussie consumerism when I return home in December? Or will I instead fumble with the coinage and become confused by the rainbow of Aussie notes?

So I'm putting out a call to my Australian readership to send me all your money, so I can get the feel for it again. I do remember that $100 bills are a beautiful green colour, so perhaps you can start there and work your way down to the smaller denominations. In order not to discriminate, I would invite my international readers to send some of their currency over too. Preferably in unmarked, non-sequential bills.

Monday, June 19, 2006

When Cinderella went pub crawling

Saturday night presented me with one of the more surreal series of events I've ever been involved in.

The evening actually began around 3pm when Irene and I volunteered (yes, you read that right) for a Human Rights Gala (yes, you read that right too). Wearing hideous black tshirts that you could easily fit 2 people into, we sweltered in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Chicago directing Gala guests to the registration desk and VIP reception. The Hotel was an absolute dump and reminiscent of a resort in Miami Beach, in terms of both decor and patronage. Our well dressed guests all looked absolutely lost and very grateful to see our smiling faces at the top of the escalator. Unbeknownst to me though, I actually sent several people to the wrong room for the VIP reception before the event. But no one complained about that. Everyone was too busy whining about the general dodginess of the venue. I know that was what Irene and I complained about.

Admittedly the Grand Ballroom was well decorated and much cooler than the sauna/lobby, and by the time all the guests were seated, Irene and I had sore feet and sore backs and we were ready for a very stiff drink. Fortunately the event was particularly well represented in terms of volunteers, so we got to hang out in Volunteers HQ for a while, chatting to the Volunteers Coordinator. Rather craftily, Irene and me let it slip that we had 2 birthday parties to get to that night, and the Coordinator released us early. Before he'd even finished his sentence, we were out the door and down the street, casting our jumbo tshirts off as we fled.

Pausing for a restorative margarita on the way to the subway, we reflected on the good karma of volunteering, versus the bad karma of bailing early. Realising that the two probably cancelled each other out, we downed our margaritas and jumped on the train bound for the groovy Wicker Park bar that our friends were already at.

Once we got off the train, Rene and I were feeling grossly under-dressed, given that we were both wearing the national costume of the Volunteer (white top, black pants). Fearing someone may mistake us for a waitress at some stage during the night, we raced into "American Apparel" and bought a tshirt each. I ripped the price tag off, threw myself into the fitting room and donned my new purple top without even thinking twice. Within about 3 minutes, we were back on the sidewalk and taking a short diversion to Salud, a neat little tequila lounge where Irene's pal works.
From the relative comfort of Salud's outdoor seating area, Rene and I assessed our situation. We were feeling better about our clothes, and starting to love life all the more as our drinks worked their magic.

But before long, we were off and walking to Iggy's to reunite with our friends. The rooftop cabanas were fabulous and the United Nations of Chicago (aka my friends) were all in fine form.

Fast forward a few hours, and you'll be none too surprised to find Irene, Pete, and myself stumbling down Lincoln Avenue after a rather confusing taxi ride. It was at that point that I got the heel of one of my brand new Anne Klein shoes stuck in a grate on the pavement. After some rather awkward manoeuvering, I freed my shoe, but not before the little heel fell through the grate to the dankness below. I cursed and shook my fist at the grate, much to the delight of some patrons sitting at a nearby pub. Smug sober people.

With my newly-acquired wiggly walk (a la Marilyn Monroe), I made it to MaxBar, shimmied up the stairs to the VIP area (naturally), and took up residence on a couch where I pretty much stayed until I took myself home a short while later. It was a fabulous night but if I'm going to reprise it, I will need a "disco nap" in the afternoon, and perhaps someone to carry me across grates.

The World Cup and the Globe

I am not a pub snob by any stretch of the imagination, and it's a good thing too because the Aussies took over The Globe Pub on West Irving Park Road to view Sunday's World Cup match.

While we weren't entirely confident of a win against Brazil, every Aussie in the room knew we stood at least a fighting chance, and we were willing to cheer the team on loud and strong.

Unfortunately Peter and I had to do this from the seated position, owing to a very large hangover and heightened sleep deprivation. Pete's birthday celebrations the night before were entirely to blame. Fortunately Courts and her "Certain Someone" leaned on each other for support but I think even they passed out at some point during the game.

I was really pleased to see so many Aussies there, and I just wished I had have got to the pub earlier to hang up my Aussie flag (that is actually taller than I am....I know, "that wouldn't be that hard" yes very funny haha you're all comedians).

But when the siren sounded and we'd lost 2-0 (although I was quite adamant that the second Brazilian goal was offside but no one asked me anyway), I was really proud of the boys. However I was also rather perturbed that no one thought to mention how good looking our Socceroos are. Where have I been all these years?!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Can you count to 90?

I have so many clothes and nothing to wear.

From tomorrow and stretching all the way into next week, the mercury in Chicago will be pushing 90 degrees - and that's over 30 degrees Celcius, for those of you playing along at home.  I haven't endured such consistent heat since the beef vindaloo buffet on Belmont Avenue.

But seriously, my wardrobe and my body are grossly unprepared for this incoming heatwave.  I haven't refilled the ice cube tray, I have no idea how to speed up my archaic ceiling fan, and I only own one pair of sandals.  And those are stiletto sandals, that I can't possibly wear to work.  The girls will know what I mean.

In this weather, public transport is even more unbearable than usual and it makes me wonder why I can't kayak to work.  Because if I could, I probably would.  If I had a kayak, and knew how to manoeuvre it, that is.  Fortunately I don't think it's possible to be washed out to sea from Lake Michigan, so the worst that would happen is I'd end up rowing around in little circles.  And maybe have to be rescued by a handsome millionaire out for a morning sail on his 100-foot yacht.

Well, the weathermen are wrong 90% of the time anyway and therefore have the world's most enviable job.  Perhaps they'll also be mistaken about the length of the heatwave and I'll be spared the indignity of bearing my flabby white limbs at a bus full of Chicagoans for the next few days.  Here's hoping, anyway.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Chicago - good times to be had

The Beer Wench
Originally uploaded by Miss Gab.
Now that Josh and Tristan are safe and well back in Australian airspace, I can post the photos I've been stockpiling of the fun we had while they were in Chicago.

If you click on this photo of yours truly (a cheap advertisement for Mayfest 2006 if ever I've seen one), you will get access to a new set of photos I've created for my online album.

Spring Benefit photos included....

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Sundayfest, not a day of rest

Whoever said that weekends are for resting never lived in Chicago during the warm weather.  At the first hint of sunshine, every neighbourhood group, civic society, and sporting club booked a weekend date in the calendar to host a festival of some sort or other.

Obviously it's just not physically possible to make it to every event on offer, but on the Sunday just gone, we had every intention of doing just that.  The weather was beautiful on Sunday and so the boys and me jumped on the train to attend the second day of Midsommerfest, a festival held in Andersonville, a suburb about 10 minutes north of my house.  There is apparently quite a strong Swedish connection in the suburb but aside from one or two street vendors selling Swedish meatballs (much to Joshua's delight), you could be forgiven for thinking it was just another neighbourhood party.  Taking up 4 blocks, the street festival allowed local businesses and artists to hawk their wares, and gave onlookers like me the perfect excuse to buy cheap silver jewellery, artistic photographs of Chicago, and big jumbo banana splits with hot fudge sauce.

We had every intention of heading Downtown for the second day of the Chicago Blues Festival too, but our bodies just wouldn't take us there.  So we headed home, cooked dinner, and headed out to Sidetracks for a few hours of show tunes.

Given how I felt on Monday morning, I can safely say it was fortunate that no photos were taken to chart the progress of our night as we moved from Sidetracks to Roscoe's, to the adult store, to the 24-hour diner.  But it is equally safe to say that I was an absolute HIT at Sidetracks, and the only female in there under 50 years of age.  Rock on.

I don't know anything, I just live here

It's the home of Richie Cunningham and "Laverne and Shirley" but, other than those little diversions, Milwaukee is not a very exciting town. Clearly I will not be writing a guide book about it any time soon. But life is not about the destination, it's about the journey. And the experiences we had on Saturday made for one very interesting journey.

Setting off at 8.15am on Saturday morning, the boys and I met up with Irene on the slowest 151 bus EVER to take us all the way into town to Union Station. Starbucks in hand, we reached the station in the drizzle and tried to make sense of the traffic jam of buses all destined for different cities of the Midwest. Our bus tickets were only $10 each (return), but I didn't exactly want to find out I was on my way to Cleveland instead of Milwaukee, although such a thing would not have come as a complete surprise!

But we caught the right bus and Josh and I spent the 90-minute journey trying to explain the rules of AFL to Irene, who was a little befuddled anyway because she thought we were taking the train to Milwaukee.

By the time we reached Wisconsin the weather had fined up and we set off exploring the Art Gallery, a little put out that the train station was so far out of the centre of the city. Milwaukee on a Saturday morning was a virtual ghost town, not at all the buzzing metropolis I was expecting. I counted three cabs. Slightly better than Ballarat, but not by much.

Our attention was diverted by a neat little blue motorboat put-putting along the river that bisects the city. It was akin to a paddleboat like you'd find on the River Torrens back home, but the fact it was motorised made it all the more attractive to the boys, Rene, and me. Naturally. So we stopped a local and asked where we could rent one. She looked at us like we were from Mars. And she clearly had no idea what we were talking about. Had we all hallucinated the motor boat after all? No, surely not. So we asked the tourist trolley driver. He was clearly a tourist who had hijacked the trolley, for he didn't have a clue either. By this time I was exasperated beyond measure. Two locals in the space of ten minutes had absolutely no idea where to hire a bright blue motorised boat to navigate the major river in their own city. What kind of place had we come to?

There was some debate about how long it would take in a cab to get to the footy oval - was it 15 minutes? 30 minutes? Irene graciously offered to hire a car and get us there in one piece as best she could. But we walked to two separate car rental places. Just like Goldilocks, the first one was closed and the second one was all booked out. I nearly put my head through a wall at this point.

So we got in one of the three cabs in Milwaukee, driven by a very large man with earthworms in his back garden as big as the fat finger he wiggled at me from the front seat. And we proceeded to drive, and drive, and drive, to a football oval as geographically removed from downtown Milwaukee as you're ever likely to find.

And to top it all off, the Chicago team lost.

Just when fate was smiling on us and we were offered a ride back to Chicago with one of the footy boys, an absolute nutter of an American player decided to ride shotgun and then proceeded to talk about nothing the entire way home. I think he might have taken one too many hard hits in the head, because his conversation made absolutely no sense, and he didn't seem to realise we were all talking about something completely different around him.

It was a very long day in Milwaukee, and an even longer 90 minute return journey to the Windy City, with no ejector seats in the back of the car.

Mamma Morton, the Carniverous Diva of Chicago

I have been on the move ceaselessly since Friday afternoon and I am actually having a hard time keeping the events of those few days straight in my head. So I'm going to do what the twelve-steppers do, and take it a day at a time. What follows is an overview of Friday evening, when I was still in command of all of my senses.

Mortons Steak House on State Street is tucked away in Newberry Plaza just a step or two away from Michigan Avenue. I'm sure that most people frequenting that part of town in the evenings don't even know that the restaurant is there. In part this is due to the fact that Mortons is located in the famed area of Chicago known as "The Viagara Triangle", where very old men pick up very buxom women in very dodgy bars.

None of that holds any interest for me, as I was much more concerned with filling my stomach with delicious dinner. And at Mortons, I was not disappointed in the least.

The dinner started with some pretty impressive theatrics. The waiter came to our table with a selection of props on a small trolley, and then proceeded to demonstrate the virtues of that evening's menu. First, a live lobster was wiggled in our faces, the smiling waiter revealing that lobsters that night were all about 4lbs in weight, charged at $24.99 per pound. Clearly my bank manager recommended I pass on that, and the crustacean breathed a sigh of relief. Next up was the meat tray, and this was not the sort you'd see fetch the first prize at a RSL raffle either. This meat tray was positively brimming with the different cuts of meat that were on offer, and the waiter confidently worked his way around the tray, each meat cut sounding better than the last. I did stay away from the double porterhouse steak, because even though it "usually" serves two people, it was bigger than my head and therefore not appopriate for me to attempt eating it (at least not in public anyway). Finally, the waiter pointed to an array of fresh vegetables to explain that the side orders on the menu serve at least 2-3 people per serving. I have to admit, the whole menu was pretty confronting. So much choice, but what to choose?

We all took the easy way out and chose the menu special, which still gave us way too much food each. The meal was served with the best fillet of steak I have had in Chicago to date, a small fillet of seed-crusted tuna with a spicy soy sauce, grilled asparagus, and two jumbo grilled shrimp. For dessert, a hot chocolate cake and a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. The Californian red wine that Josh selected only served to complement the meal further. It was all so good, but my stomach hurts at the memory of it.

Walking off the effects of dinner, we shot up to the 96th floor of the Hancock Building at about 10pm to have a coffee and enjoy the night time view over the Chicago cityscape. I wanted to undo my jeans, but the Hancock's conservative dress code wouldn't allow it. And given that the Signature Room at the Hancock is essentially a cocktail bar, it was rather 'interesting' to drink coffee (or "warm dishwater" as Josh accurately christened it) out of a daquiri glass.

Notwithstanding the 'pleasure and pain' I was experiencing at having made a complete glutton of myself, I thought the view over Chicago at that time of night, from the birds-eye view of the Signature Room was just magical. This city sure knows how to make a girl feel well fed and right at home.

Friday, June 09, 2006

I'm not fat, I'm a gourmande

If you've been keeping up with my blog posts over the last two weeks, you should almost be convinced by now that all I do is eat and drink.  And you'd pretty much be right.  But trust me when I say that I am on the lookout for a detox health spa, and I have convinced myself of the merits of drinking wheatgrass shots for the next two weeks in order to clean out my system.

But in the mean time, I made a return visit to the Beer Bistro last night to catch up with my friendship circle, affectionately known as the United Nations of Chicago.  With the exception of Antarctica, all the continents of the globe were represented there last night, and our merriment proved that beer is the universal leveller and that the world's problems can really be settled over a pint.  I will make a point to raise this with Kofi Annan if ever our paths should cross.

I have a long weekend ahead of me (God Save The Queen) and me and the boys are going with Irene on the bus up to Milwaukee on Saturday to watch an AFL match.  It's an important game for the Chicago Sharks, so I'm keen to cheer the boys on, as they battle the Milwaukee Bombers.  Never having been to Milwaukee, I am also interested to generally sight-see.  I wonder if they'll have any "Happy Days" merchandise?  

But what I do know for a fact is that there will be cheese, given that it's Wisconsin, and most likely a lot of bratwurst and other German goodies, but my liver and kidneys are pleading for mercy.  So I'll content myself with a sample of the good old Aussie BBQ and a diet coke after the football game, and then roll myself back onto the bus for the return trip to Chicago on Saturday night.

That's Amore

When the moon hits your eye, like a big pizza pie...

Now that I've got you all humming along with that old boozehound Dean Martin, stop to think for a minute. Have you ever actually had a real pizza pie? After dinner on Wednesday night, I can now proudly identify myself as a card-carrying member of the Pizza Pie Eaters Club. And I've been singing about it ever since.

Back at Easter time, I watched a TV show on The Food Network starring my favourite TV chef of the moment, Ms Rachel Ray. As luck would have it, Rachel was filming her show in Chicago and was zipping about the city sampling the best food and drinks that Chicago could offer. One place she visited was the Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company on North Clark, a short bus ride from my home.

Aside from the curious name, you might wonder what makes this pizza joint worth posting about? Well the place doesn't take reservations for one thing, and yet it is always packed to the rafters. The line up for a table is quite often right out the door, and I can now agree with Rachel Ray and tell you with some authority that the pizza pot pie is the sole reason for it.

The Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company makes two different sized individual pizza pot pies - the 1/2 pound, and the 1 pound. Both sizes are made to order and, unless you order the vegetarian option, both sized pies contain whole mushrooms, tomatoes, meat sauce, lots of cheese, and bell peppers (capsicum). A little ceramic bowl is lined with cheese, filled with the ingredients, and topped with pizza crust and baked. Then it all starts getting theatrical, because the piece de resistance is that the pizza pot pie is delivered to your table upside down and then inverted right in front of you. The waiter takes the ceramic bowl off the top, allowing the ingredients to settle and the oozing cheesy topping to sit like a crown on top of the delectable pizza goodness underneath. Oh man, it was sooo good.

As much as I hate to admit it, the individual pizza pot pie at "The Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company" is much better than anything that D'Agostino's has to offer. Well worth the 20-minute line up outside, trust me on that.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Doesn't that sound familiar?

I can see a movie more than once, or read my favourite book a number of times over, but for some reason I can't seem to see the same musician or band more than once.  I don't know why that is, but I have just never done it.  

Last night was different, because I joined a very strong Aussie contingent for Missy Higgins's second visit to Chicago.  For those of you paying attention, you might recall I met Missy when she played here back in October, and I was only brand new to Chicago myself.  [Of coures, if I ever get around to scanning the photo taken of us, you might actually believe that I met her in person].

I played it cooler this time, and sat at the back of the steaming hot pub where she played, and it was a fabulous concert.  She performed all the hits from her album, "The Sound of White", which I have pretty much memorised anyway.  But then she also sang some new material that she'd written while on a recent sabbatical in Broome, Western Australia.

The best thing about last night was the response from Aussies who had just discovered Missy for the first time.  Biggsy, Josh, and Tristan had never really encountered her before, but they all came away with signed CDs and were raving about what a great performer she is.  The huge queue for merchandise and autographs afterwards was also a pretty good indicator that the rest of the crowd had a good time, too.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Craig's Lonely Hearts Club Band

When Kate and I used to live together in Adelaide, we spent a lot of time giggling over the personal ads in our regional newspaper. We never laughed at the person who placed the ad; rather we sniggered at the very specific list of criteria that those unattached hearts were seeking. On many occasions, singles were searching for someone with a particular hair colour, or eye colour, or musical taste. Others were merely looking for women with a pulse. Or not – sometimes the pulse was entirely optional. Whoever you were, or whatever you were into, it seemed there was someone in Adelaide’s regional newspaper who would love you. And it was at once a satisfying and terrifying thought.

So I’ve come to Chicago and am now equally addicted to reading the online personals on Craig’s List, a catch-all website on which you can find absolutely anything you’re looking for – an apartment, a fish tank, concert tickets, even true love.

My favourite part of the site is Missed Connections, where lovestruck Chicagoans post messages to the object of their desires, seen fleetingly from a bus window or someone with whom they shared a three-second conversation at the local supermarket. I particularly enjoy when I find a post that comments on someone from my bus, or from my local area, and I always wonder whether I have noticed them too.

If you get a few spare minutes, you should check out “Missed Connections”. I think that posting there is possibly braver than placing a generic personal ad. In the case of the latter, people are just seeking someone they can make happy, or who can make them happy too. These Craig’s List posts specifically identify a person and pin them down to a precise location when they made someone’s day.

But the question is, would I ever post a “Missed Connection”? Or would I respond to one if I identified myself in the description? Who knows, but it would make a fun read all the same I think.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Beers and Brats and Boys

To say that Saturday night was surreal is probably an understatement. I recovered quite quickly from Friday night's Zoo Benefit and emerged at a respectable hour on Saturday morning. We took Preston to the beauty parlour for his semi-regular fluff and coiff, and then we took a bus Downtown to see Jen and Vince in "The Break Up". Critics be hanged; I liked it.

After a short disco nap at home, Josh and Lexie joined me on the train to meet Caro and head out to Lincoln Square for the annual "Mayfest" celebration - akin to Adelaide's Schutzenfest beer festival. Having loaded up on food/drink tickets, I sweated it out in the beer tent with Josh to jostle for a stein full of domestic beer.

I must be ageing in light years, because I couldn't read the signage and I couldn't see the beer taps so I had no idea what I was ordering. Plus I'm short, so I was effectively getting trampled, and coming to blows with pointy elbows belonging to tall, drunk people. Not happy, Jan. But once I'd been served and feeling a little less frustrated, I gripped my full beer stein with both hands and made a beeline for the fresh air outside. A brat sandwich later and I was feeling happier. After a second beer stein, of imported German beer this time, I was smiling more and even perked up enough to challenge Josh and Lexie at one of the sideshow alley games on offer. None of us won any prizes, but I didn't care.

Further down the street, the decision not to use the port-a-loos at Mayfest caught up with me and I desperately needed to go. And when you've gotta go, you've gotta go.

Calling into our friendly neighbourhood Macedonian bar (cause every good town has at least one), we had some local brew, mingled with the Mafia, got serenaded by a warbling minstrel and watched two underage dancers strut their stuff around the room.

Having made the very sensible decision to leave, we ended up on Halsted, in the very heart and soul of Boys Town. The pretty people were out in full force at Roscoes and I was having a great time. Loads of very hot men in very little clothing, but with fabulous big smiles all performing for each other. It was nice to know that I didn't have to try and look good - which was tricky anyway given the US, German, and Macedonian beer sloshing around inside of me.

Bidding farewell to Courts and Caro, we continued the walk up Halsted towards home. Stopping, as you do, at a very peculiar adult store. But don't worry - the gifts I bought myself were remarkably PG-rated and not battery operated or inflatable, so we can all breathe a sigh of relief.

So the night was beer, brats, and boys - what a fabulous evening.

I think we're in Africa, Toto

I bless the rains down in Africa
Recognising the glamour of Friday night, Joshua took the very kind initiative to book a car to take us to the 2006 Spring Benefit for the Lincoln Park Zoo. He hadn't counted on the fact that it would be driven by Svetlana the Russian Uber Hag. She was a terrible ambassador for her vehicle company and was almost openly hostile to us on a number of occasions. As we got out of her car at the Zoo, dispatch sent her a message to go to O'Hare airport and greet incoming passengers. Poor things. But I would not allow Svetlana and her evilness to upset my night. I was dressed to impress, and ready to party.

I hear the drums echoing tonight
Stepping into the marquee a the Lincoln Park Zoo on Friday night was unreal. I had been receiving updates from Courts throughout the day as she sweated and strained to establish the African illusion with the other half of the design team. So I had my hopes high that we would be greeted by a spectacular scene. And I was not disappointed at all. The tent looked fabulous and guests arrived in their finery to the soothing beat of African drums.

Hurry boy, it's waiting there for you
The Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the only free zoos left in the US and so its very existence relies on the generosity of benefactors and visitors. Even after-hours, the entertainment continues. Like Benefits guests riding the carousel in tuxedos and ball gowns. Let me tell you, working out how to get on that fibreglass elephant and riding side-saddle was an effort! But it was like being a kid again and we were all smiling and laughing as the carousel went around and around.

Retiring to the jazz band bar in the Lion House to catch our breath also gave us a chance to say hello to a rather irritable lioness who really just wanted to get some sleep, and couldn't understand why all these two-legged creatures had invaded her home. The lion didn't seem to mind, as he balanced like a yoga master across a beam and STILL managed to sleep soundly.

The wild dogs cry out in the night
The musical entertainment at the Benefit was wonderful, and I wasted no time in dragging Irene and Caro around the dancefloor. Josh and Tristan refused to boogie, but I would not be so easily dissuaded. To the strains of Van Morrison and Lynard Skynard, the girls and I wiggled and shimmied around the floor. And I didn't fall over once.

It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
But then, like all things, the night came to a close and Courts dropped us home. My feet and my body were just exhausted but I was so content. And really proud of my friend, who put in so much effort to please so many people. I don't think there was a doubt in anyone's mind that this Benefit was a superb celebration and fundraiser for the Zoo. I am looking forward to the next opportunity to party with these people, that's for sure.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Sass in the City

I need to share a funny story and send a shout-out to the lovely lady at D'Agostinos at Wrigleyville, the store that I think makes the best pizza in Chicago.

Last Saturday night, I was sitting at Guthries Tavern on Addison with my chums, drinking beer way too quickly and losing way too convincingly at Yahtzee, when we got the urge to order pizza.

Grabbing my cell phone, I hastily dialled neighbouring D'Agostinos, knowing they would deliver a steaming pizza of deliciousness into my waiting hands within the half hour.

But when the woman answering the phones recognised my number on her sophisticated phone system she said "oh, so you're at Guthries again. Don't you ever leave?". Right. I don't know sheesh, you drunk-dial a pizza place ONE TIME, and you get sassed every time after.

Well I won't stand for that. I'm making Lexie place our order tonight.

The truth that cuts to the Gore

I've mentioned before that Lexie is a graphic designer and works for one of the coolest ad agencies in Downtown Chicago. One of the perks of Lex's job (that we both enjoy, as it turns out) is that she/we get free tickets to movie premieres because her agency is responsible for designing and printing them, and doing all the promotions work for the new movies coming out.

Last night we went to the premiere of the new documentary feature film, An Inconvenient Truth. The star of the production is none other than the man-who-should-have-been President of the United States, Al Gore, and I thought he was wonderful. Never having paid any attention to American politics, other than what I read about in Michael Moore's Stupid White Men, I don't know whether Al Gore is anything to sing about politically. But as a plain-speaking environmental activist, he was great. He spoke personally, and with passion.

In my previous job back home, I worked on speaker programs for a number of international environmental leaders, most of whom I'd never heard of. But what I enjoyed about each of them was their ability to talk to me about the problems facing our environment in a way that I could appreciate without having to know a thing about the complicated science behind it.

And that's what this documentary did. It distilled the evolution of the earth into a 2-hour movie, and clearly demonstrated that notwithstanding some 65 million years of environmental history, the true environmental problems facing our planet have been ramping up in the lifetime of the baby-boomers. Now that's not to lay blame, it's just stating an inconvenient truth. And helping audiences to understand that we are the cause of the problem, so we should fix it.

Some of the stats and graphs were really quite scary, and I hadn't previously realised just how dangerous the environmental situation is in Antarctica and Greenland. If the ice keeps melting in either of those two regions at the rate it currently is, sea levels around the entire globe will rise by 20 feet. And that's a lot of extra water (understatement of the century). Complicating all this is the movie's revelation, and clear evidence and testimony, that the White House and NASA have been changing environmental scientific data to suit the policies of the current Administration, leading global warming to be considered a myth, not a fact. Scary stuff indeed.

An Inconvenient Truth is hard viewing, because of its relevance to each and every person in the movie theatre. The onus is quite clearly on everyone to identify his/her role in fixing our world, because it's ultimately the only one we've got. The movie doesn't coat the threat of environmental harm in fuzzy language or soft-hearted mush. It's a hard-hitting, crystal-clear look at what we're up against, and I really liked that. I also liked the fact that Gore makes it very clear that politicians are obliged to listen to their constituents for the sake of career longevity, and so Gore presses upon us all that his motivation for speaking to audiences around the globe (and through the film) is to put the environment squarely on the political agenda, and hold politicans accountable for making the policy decisions that will make the long-term changes, not just the day-to-day ones, that we so clearly need. Hurrah.

Check out the movie's website if you want to know more. You really should see this film.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Nobody puts Baby in a corner

Cinderella's glass slipper
Originally uploaded by ©herie.

Tomorrow is the big black tie benefit for the Lincoln Park Zoo, and I've got butterflies in my stomach just thinking about it. I don't know why I'm nervous. I didn't do anything for this event except buy a ticket and an outfit. My only responsibility is to turn up. So why the jitters?

I think it's because of a conversation I had with Peter the other day. Pete is a really good dancer - a proper one, as in ballroom dancing. He doesn't do it anymore, but I guess you don't ever lose your sense of rhythm or your confidence on the dancefloor. But I have a rigid fear of organised dancing.

I can do the "Nutbush City Limits" marathon, squished in with other drunken revellers, but I'm not good at the one-on-one, boy-and-girl, twirly dancing around the floor. I remember going to a wedding a few years ago, and two male friends asked me to dance and all I could muster was a shuffle around the floor. I was really embarassed, I remember, but the boys were good natured enough not to notice. When Marty dipped me backwards and my head nearly hit the floor, I figured it was time to take a breather, while quietly marvelling at my own elasticity and even more quietly hoping I'd be able to move the next day.

When I shared this fear with Kerry at work, she reminded me just then that no one will even be watching me on the dancefloor. That's a relaxing thought. I want people to admire my dress, but pay no attention to my grooving. That is until I've had a few bevvies and can discover (or perhaps even regain) some rhythm in the fantastic silver glitter wedge shoes that Joshua picked out for me.

Dispelling the myths, one by one

sea monkey
Originally uploaded by Genista.
When I was a little girl, we'd visit my Granny once every two weeks and, each time, she would present Jems and me with a new comic book. Pretty soon we had an amazing collection of comics ranging from the Marvel super heroes to Scrooge McDuck.

But aside from being an easy read and a great laugh, the thing that each of these comics had in common was the advertisements page. Those 'old school' types out there might remember those comic book ads for whoopee cushions, or itching powder, or magic kits that looked so amazing. Of course, they were all for American kids, and the application form asked for exotic information like "zip code" that I used to think was just so cool.

As I got older, and started earning my own money, I became interested in finding out some more about those comic book advertisements that had intrigued me for years.

So I went out to the Toys R Us and bought a packet of sea monkies, expecting to "grow" the family of pink wriggly things with crowns on their heads just like I'd seen in the comic book ads. Ummm, no. If you look at this photo, you will see an example of what I managed to grow. And like all living things that rely on me for survival, it died rather rapidly. But at least I got to see what all the fuss was about.

Likewise my trip to the baseball on Tuesday night. I had my first packet of Cracker Jacks. Long after seeing the ads in the comic books showing cute kids with their fat hands jammed inside Cracker Jack boxes, I longed to know just what was inside - and what famous trinket I'd find at the bottom. Would it be a ring? Would it be a tattoo? Well, Cracker Jacks are basically caramel-coated popcorn, with peanuts "allegedly" lying at the bottom of the pack. I found none.

I never did get around to ordering my magician kit or whoopee cushion, and perhaps the world is a better place because of that. But I'm actually glad that I can remember how excited I was to see these exotic ads and want so desperately to know what they were all about. I remember being envious of American kids who could easily send in a coupon and get some x-ray glasses in return.

But now that I know that sea monkies are really a freeze-dried shrimp wriggler with a short life span, and Cracker Jacks are just fancy popcorn, I can stop being jealous of American kids. Until the next time I see a fancy ad in a comic book. At least I have a "zip code" now!