Monday, January 19, 2009

An Ill-fated Journey

Given the past seven months I’ve spent living in Chicago, it’s fitting that my first blog about life here will be a story about Ted and my latest road trip.

Ted, some friends, and I went to the Skylark Wednesday night for food, beverages and conversation. On our way there, Ted received a call from the friends we were planning to stay with on our way home from New York. We took a trip out to visit Chris, Catherine and Finley a couple months ago, and it was an amazing time. Chris and Catherine moved to a community in the woods of Pennsylvania a few years ago to work with the challenged individuals that reside there. Over one year ago, their son Finley was born. Their community has its own cows, goats, hens and gardens. They have a weavery/sewing studio, a kiln, a printmaking studio, a bakery and café. It was like a little bit of heaven, and we were really looking forward to going back. However, to our deep, multi-leveled sadness, the Clother family was calling to tell us that they would be flying out to California the following day for a week to be with Catherine’s grandfather as he steadily approached the end of his life.

This was the first of many sad happenings to befall this trip.

After the Skylark a few of us returned to Ted’s and watched a movie, it was good and we savored it over tea and conversation. Feeling happy, sleepy, and excited for our trip, I headed home with a hint of sickness creeping in.

Thursday morning, I woke up (late) packed my bags (as quick as I could) and headed to my car (feeling a little sicker than the night before). I put my key in the ignition, turned it and turned it some more, but the engine never turned on and all the dashboard icons turned off. I took the key out, put it back in, turned it with a little more gusto, and nothing happened. I began to freak out. I called Ted and he suggested that maybe all I needed was a jump. I walked home, enlisted the help of my neighbor and he manhandled his frozen hood open to expose his battery and attempted to jumpstart my car. Meanwhile, it’s negative seven degrees outside and I am not dressed appropriately. That is to say, I am dressed appropriately for a twelve hour car drive – thin tights, thin sweater, comfortable skirt, covered in my parka – but not to be outside for this long in this weather. My neighbor apologizes, but he can’t get my car going and he has to head to work. He tells me to go three blocks up to a mechanic on Western. I say OK and start walking.

By the time I get there, my legs feel like they are being jabbed by a billion needles and I want to cry. I open the door and there are two men sitting in chairs, speaking in Spanish. They stare at me and I can barely get out the words, “I’m sorry, do you work here?”
“My car won’t start and my neighbor told me to come here.”
“We don’t fix cars.”
I look up and see the sign that says “Muffler Repair”, but nothing about fixing cars and my eyes start to tear up. One of the last things I want to do is walk back the way I came and five blocks in the other direction to the mechanic I usually go to. But, the very last thing I want to do is stand there and cry in front of these guys, so I turn and open the door and the wisdom of my decision is confirmed as I hear one of them say “You OK, Mommie?” I keep on walking, worried that my face is going to turn into a salty ice cube.

I get to my usual mechanic and they smile when I walk in, “How are you?” I tell them what’s going on and I cry a little more. They assure me that they’ll get it fixed as soon as possible and they put me straight into the tow truck and we go and get my car. The guy driving the truck kindly fills the air with small talk, telling me about the frequent car troubles of Chicagoans in winter. Misery loves company and I start feeling better. I go home while they work on my car. I talk to Ted, and he feels terrible for being too far away to walk over and bring me tea and hugs (although he offered, I refused).

A few hours and a lot of money later, my car is as good as new . . . almost. I’m driving over to pick up Ted when I realize my radio won’t turn on. Together, we head back to the mechanic. They look at it for a while, but can’t figure out why it won’t turn on. So Ted and I run into Walgreen’s and buy the cheapest boom box we can find.

Ignorantly thinking the worst is behind us, we climb into my car and start heading east for Philadelphia. Ted offers to drive the whole way because my morning had been so troubling and I gladly allow this act of chivalry. And then, I start feeling really sick. First my shoulders and back, then down my legs, into my arms and ankles and wrists and fingers and toes. My head is throbbing and my whole body feels like it’s burning even though I have the chills. I was sneezing and coughing and it was awful.

At one point, brace yourself, this is disgusting (I wouldn’t share it accept for the fact that I was so astonished I kept talking to Ted about it for the rest of the trip), I coughed and a booger the size of a very large raisin came flying out of my throat onto my tissue. I had to look at it twice to believe it myself. Sorry, I know that’s disgusting, but I can’t get over it.

According to Ted I moaned a lot and when he asked me what he could do to make me feel better and I whimpered “many small kisses” and he did his best to administer them to my hand and forehead whilst driving. An hour outside of Philadelphia Ted started falling asleep, so I took over the driving. What should have taken us one hour to get to Kristin’s took four. Thank you Google maps.

Sickness tainted the pure joy and excitement I had been looking forward to experiencing upon seeing the new Kristin in her new home. It is good, however, to know that some things never change, and the same sweet, kind, generous Kristin offered me tea and timidly apologized for what Ted and I considered to be more than adequate accommodations.

In the morning Kristin took us to an adorable coffee house and I tried really hard to eat a bagel. We dropped her off at her bus stop on our way to New York. I started feeling even sicker saying over and over, “My parents are going to be so bummed when they find out I’m dead in New York.” Eventually, we made it to Rie and Blair’s lovely apartment. Shortly thereafter, I slept away our first night there and Ted went to Jen’s going away party. Jen is one of Ted’s oldest friends and is the reason for this winter visit.

My fourteen-hour slumber worked like a charm, and the next morning, I was ready to face the big city. We met up with Jen and had brunch at a delicious diner. She headed home for a bit while we went to the Guggenheim and the Natural History Museum. We met back up with Jen and her friend Brianna and consumed an amazing meal at Red Bamboo. Ted and I met up with Blair and headed over to the bar Dumas works at (which happens to be a block and half away from Rie and Blair’s place). Dumas was quick to fix us up with three fancy cocktails before we could think twice about it. With the lingering sickness, although it was quite nice, I could hardly get mine down. Just after Blair went back to the apartment to get some work done, Nate Rose and his girlfriend, who happened to be in town meeting up from their respective cities (London and Austin), arrived to join us. Rose, the gentleman as always, got up to get us more drinks. I requested hot tea, but Dumas denied me saying I would have to “suck it up and drink some more booze”, I then asked if I could have hot booze at least. I remember it had an orange slice spiked with cloves floating in it, and that just smelling it made me feel woozy. I also vaguely recall saying, “Whoa, hot alcohol goes straight to your brain.” Then I remember saying, “I think I need to be in bed right now.” Shortly thereafter Ted and I got up to thank Dumas and he gave me a sad face because I was leaving without really hanging out (I wanted to tell him it was his fault, but I didn’t want to seem ungrateful), I gave him a hug and Ted says he heard me whisper “I can’t really see”. and Dumas told Ted to get me home. Ted also says I whimpered the whole way, leaning on him and saying that I could barely walk.

Our last morning in New York, we got up and had breakfast with Rie and Blair, before Rie had to go to work. Unfortunately, the time, as always, flew by, but it was lovely while it lasted. We then had one last meet up with Jen and Brianna at a super cute coffee house. We sat and talked for too long, Jen and Ted reminiscing about years long gone, Ted and I filling Brianna in on how we met. I overheard Jen telling Ted not to screw this one up and she hugged us goodbye and made us promise to take care of each other.

Having vowed never again to travel any other way, we tried to find a place to stay on the way back via couchsurfing, but emailing people the day before arrival proved not to be successful. We ended up staying at a hotel somewhere eight hours from New York and seven hours from home and it was worth every penny.

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