Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Post #2 (or The One Where Gab Leaves On A Jet Plane)

Mrs Gump may have maintained that life is like a box of chocolates but for my money, you never know what you're gonna get when you pack a suitcase a) drunk or b) hungover.

After the Boxing Day birthday lunch, I returned home to finish the last of my packing and then watched “Sister Act” on TV. I cried whenever Whoopie Goldberg and her choir of nuns sang, and again when Harvey Keitel finally got arrested. I have seen that movie thousands of times and never cried, so I’m totally blaming the red wine and general holiday gluttony for this one.

To be honest, I really should have known better than to over-indulge on this particular occasion, because I had been looking forward to the next morning (December 27) for ages. Not only did that date herald a move to my new sublet situation, it was also the day I was leaving for my US holiday.

On the day in question I got up quite early and was mercifully spared anything resembling a hangover. That said, I did enjoy a breakfast of Nurofen and Diet Coke, so perhaps that helped.

After a quick shower and a last cleanup of the bedroom, my car service turned up on time to take me to my new (albeit temporary and sublet) home. Lugging all my suitcases down the four flights of stone steps and into the car represented the only cardio exercise I have done in months, so even though it nearly killed me it was probably worth it. While my fledgling biceps were still warm (or at least momentarily stunned), I then dragged a couple of suitcases UP three flights of stairs into my new place, before locking the door behind me and driving off.

The car then took me out to Paddington Station, where I paused for a coffee before taking the Heathrow Express out to the airport. I arrived 5 hours early which I’ll admit was not really my plan and in retrospect was both unnecessary and kind of ridiculous. I am not really sure what was going through my head when I booked the car so early. It was probably a combination of fear that the car wouldn’t show up (or else show up late), and my worry that the airport train would be late (or not running at all), which would all ultimately result in my being late to Heathrow and potentially missing my flight. Totally irrational fears when you lay them out like that, but when you’ve had a couple of madcap weeks like I have, perhaps I was really sensible in the long run.

Things weren’t so bad once I actually got to Heathrow. I was one of the first people to check in for my flight when the gate opened and by that time, the thunder & lightning storms in London had blown themselves out, leaving us with grey – but very clear – winter skies. As a result, boarding happened without incident and we actually took off on time. Whee!

The flight was uneventful, for which I am of course grateful. I didn’t sleep a wink because I was so excited to be visiting Chicago for the first time in nearly two years and instead, I watched a bunch of movies that I can’t remember, and started reading a new book I’d bought at the airport.

Once I arrived at O’Hare I was shocked and annoyed to be part of the longest passport control & immigration queue I think I’ve ever seen. It took me nearly 90 minutes to get to the front, all the while three Italian tourists behind me invaded my personal space every time the line moved. They poked me with their jackets, kicked my ankles a few times, and the guy even tripped over my roll-along suitcase in his haste to get as close to me as he could. And just when I got to the front of the queue, a customs official appeared out of nowhere and opened a brand new line that the Italians rushed to join. Turns out they got to the front of that line and cleared passport control a good 20 minutes before I did. Bastardi.

Once I was through passport control and customs, I caught up with LH in the Arrivals Hall at O’Hare – she was so good to wait for me that whole time! We drove to Target to pick up some supplies and then headed back to her place where the adorable Preston was waiting for us. I don’t know anything about dog memories, but Preston had not seen me for nearly two years and he still remembered me like it was yesterday. Every time I sat on the couch, he sat right on top of me – almost as if he wanted to pin me down and not let me leave him again. Adorable.

The allergy tablets I’d picked up at Target helped me coexist with the two Persian cats that populate LH’s apartment. The cats (Simon and Norman) belong to LH’s room mate who was visiting his family in California at the time of my visit. They are friendly enough as far as cats go, but they are used to sleeping on room mate’s bed (where I was) so I didn’t want to be attacked by nasty allergies or pink-eye or something because of them laying on the bed and shedding all over me.

Tuesday morning, after a wonderful sleep, we got up and headed into the city for lunch with my friend, Courts. We met in this little Lebanese diner in the Loop, built at the back of a jewellery store. You actually have to walk THROUGH the jewellery store to get there; it’s a weird concept. We had a really lovely lunch, though it wasn’t a long one just because Courts was on her lunch break. Since I left Chicago I had been keeping up with Courts’s life through her blog so I was across all her major news, but that’s not the same as seeing her in person and catch up properly, you know? Lovely.

Speaking of lovely, LH and I spent the rest of the afternoon just wandering down Michigan Avenue, before we jumped on the bus and headed back to her place. Packing an overnight back, we drove back into the city (with Preston this time) to spend the night at the Peninsula Hotel. In 2009, LH and all her work colleagues had each been given a gift voucher from the hotel to thank them for their work and partnership during the year. The gift voucher was about to expire, so LH cashed hers in to treat us both to a night’s accommodation. It was AMAZING. We actually had a suite with two of the most comfortable double beds ever. The room overlooked Michigan Avenue and we had a great view of the John Hancock building, the Water Tower, and even NoMI at the Park Hyatt a block over. The suite we had is valued at $950 a night, and I’m not sure whether that’s cheap or expensive by Chicago five-star standards, but I was well and truly spoiled rotten, it was wonderful. Preston was a little angel too and seemed to know that he was in a fancy-pants place and needed to be on his best behaviour.

For our evening meal I decided I wanted to have a traditional Chicago deep-dish pizza and when the line up for Giordano’s proved too long to bear, we crossed the street and ate at Pizzeria Due instead. The pizza was amazing and the pomegranate margaritas were too. The combination of those two dining choices put me in a delightful, if not a little bit drunken, food coma.

The next morning we were up early-ish and I had coffee with a friend Downtown while LH drove Preston back to the apartment. We met up again at the Lucky Strike bowling alley in the city, where my friend LB is the Sales & Events Manager. A delicious lunch followed and it was lovely to see LB again and chat about the plans for her wedding later this year. My good friend LA joined us for lunch too, and it was great that my friends got along so well together and we all chatted freely during lunch.

Afterwards, I went along with LH and LA to see “The King’s Speech” at the cinema that is part of the bowling alley building. Hmm perhaps the bowling alley is part of the cinema building. Ugh whatever, you get the idea. The movie was fantastic and we all really enjoyed it. Funny because only the week before at Christmas, Gus the Wonderdog’s parents had asked me whether I thought Colin Firth was hot. I replied that I was certainly in love with him as Mr Darcy (in “Pride & Prejudice”) but I fell out of love with him when I saw his dodgy kissing in “Bridget Jones’s Diary” – good kissing is a selling point, you see. Having seen “The King’s Speech” I can certainly tell you that I’m back in love with him, kissing prowess aside. I think he is amazing in that film and I don’t know whether acting ability wins Oscars anymore but in Colin’s case it certainly should.

It was really nice to just hide out and do relaxing things in Chicago, without the added pressure of seeing tourist attractions or museums etc. It was great to be able to revisit my old haunts and see the city as I used to do. It was a shame that I wasn’t in Chicago on a Sunday night, because I had really wanted to get back to Sidetrack for Sunday showtunes. I especially wanted to enjoy a vodka slushy (single colour of course, as history has proven that the rainbow coloured ones are totally deadly). Sadly the calendar was against us, but LH came up with the alternative option to visit a showtunes bar in her neighbourhood. So after a delicious pasta dinner with LH and her cousin, we met up with our Sidetracks staple boyfriends at the proxy showtunes bar. It was great to see the guys again and catch up on old times. The only down side was that in addition to having show tunes that evening, the bar was also hosting a very amateur awards ceremony for very amateur local theatre. There were probably about 30 people in the bar in total, and I reckon we were the only people in the bar NOT associated with the awards. Lame. It was equally lame that we had to politely stop talking every time the music stopped and another award winner was announced (and made their inevitably lame acceptance speech in praise of their cast, crew, and God). Once I’d caught up with the boys, and enjoyed one watery Cosmopolitan, we were all ready to head home and the night came to a bit of an abrupt end and we went our separate ways, vowing to catch up again soon, though next time I will insist that we wait until Sidetracks Sunday when we can have a proper do-over.

Sleep came very easily that night and I remember getting up the next morning so relieved that the day’s social engagements did not start early. We headed to Ann Sather's in LH’s neighbourhood for a delicious brunch, including a takeaway order of the famous cinnamon rolls that I had been mysteriously craving for days. They did not disappoint.

In the afternoon we drove to the South Loop for a catch up and dinner with RG & LZ at their house. It was also the first time I got to meet their baby boy, who is now an utterly gorgeous 9-month old. I gave him some Harrods toys and a Chicago counting book, so that he knows his Aunty Gabs loves him. In return he devoured my cheeky with his gummy, slobbery mouth and it was the best thank you I’ve had in ages. Equally fabulous was the delicious pizza and red wine we enjoyed, and our shared stories about Christmas, old times in Chicago, and the new adventures that 2011 promised to bring.

Early the next morning it was time to farewell my sweet home Chicago. I said a hasty goodbye to Preston, all the while trying not to let on that I was leaving him again. LH drove me back to O’Hare and I hugged her goodbye before boarding my flight to New York.

But hey, that’s a story for another time. Or at least for Post #3.

3 comments:

Batreg said...

I'm ready for the next installment, thank you :)

coco cooks said...

Was great seeing you again. Time flies.

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