“So there was another secret attack that happened on 9/11. Someone hijacked the airwaves in Chicago so that they only ever play 90’s music.”
E and I were sitting in Little Goat (Girl and The Goat’s diner) enjoying a kimchi omelett pancake thing and a salmon salad while listening to Steal My Sunshine, which had been preceded by Summer Girls. This was after dinner the night before where we listened to two live performers cover Nirvana, Sublime, Bush, Alanis Morissette and Meredith Brooks, and also after having been in four or five other public places blasting songs we actually knew the words to. I still listen to pretty much the same stuff I listened to in junior high and high school, but it was a little uncanny to hear it in stores and cafes. I was just about to comment on the weird time warp Chicago seemed to be stuck in when E offered up his explanation.
The timing of his remark illustrated what became a theme for the rest of the trip: We’re still on the same page. We had been talking for months about how, if we were going to spend another year apart, we wanted to shell out the money and carve out the time to see one another more often than during scheduled breaks. As is often the case, other trips and plans got in the way and we never actually did anything about it until I had a bit of a meltdown and told E that despite the fact that there was no good time to take off for a weekend, I didn’t want to go six months without seeing him. So, after a long day of travel made longer by numerous flight delays (I’d forgotten that I never fly through O’Hare on my way to and from California for a reason), we finally found ourselves in Chicago, poorly attired for the freakishly cold mid-April weather. Our plan was to take it easy – the first night we grabbed a burger and a beer and then went straight to bed.
On our second day, we did what we do best – take a long walk in search of food. And that is how we ended up at the Little Goat Diner. We walked around the city some – Chicago has some amazing architecture. Maybe it’s because of the flatness, or maybe it’s because of the sprawl, but Chicago seemed a lot more vast than any other city I’ve ever been in. It’s hard to explain because plenty of other cities have a lot of skyscrapers and big buildings and urban sprawl, but something about Chicago felt a bit vertiginous. But that could have been because my allergies had rendered me unable to wear my contacts and I was wearing my glasses out and about for the first time in…years.
That evening, we went to The Second City, which was a comedy club in another part of town. I’d never been to a live comedy performance, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. We were all seated on the same level, sharing a table with a few people in front of us. The server came around to take our drink order and then we spent the rest of the evening enjoying the ensuing hilarity.
The next day we took another of our long walks and had some pierogies and borscht for lunch. On our way to the pierogies, we passed by a bao shop and promised each other we’d stop there on our way back (it was like a miniature version of the dumpling tour of the world that I one day hope to take). After lunch we spent some more time walking around Chicago, this time meandering through Grant Park. We snapped a few cool pictures of the amphitheater and the weird mirror orb thing and then tried to walk to the Navy pier. We couldn’t figure out how to get around the river, so eventually we just went back to Millenium Mile and our hotel. For dinner, we walked over to Publican, where the food was delicious and the dessert drink was phenomenal (bourbon and maple syrup! Yes, please). After dinner, we tried to find a good bar for a nightcap, but ended up walking all over the place for a couple of hours instead. It would have been nice to have found a cozy bar, but I couldn’t have been happier just walking around and talking. It was some nice reassurance for the summer, when we’ll be doing quite a bit of walking and talking through Spain.
On Sunday morning we had some breakfast and reluctantly said our goodbyes. We spent most of the train ride back to the airport in silence. At some point I mentioned that I felt like we should say something more, try to fit just a little more in, but that really there was nothing that we could say that would make that time any more meaningful. When we first met up on this trip, E said something about how this trip felt significant because it was the first time since I’ve been away that we really decided to prioritize our relationship. To do something proactive, rather than having the distance be something that was happening to us. I responded that it’s funny how, despite all the the knowledge and skills I’ve gained while in school, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that none of it is as important as the people you love and who love you in return.