Chicago Trip – 8/23/15

Sometimes a thing happens that’s totally unexpected. Sometimes it’s wonderful, like a surprise marriage proposal or an extra taco in your lunch carryout. On the other hand, sometimes it’s dreadful and takes the breath out of your whole body, leaving you wondering what just happened and gasping for air. I suppose that’s why they call it a tragedy.

This week, the latter of those two somethings happened, and I found myself in the middle of an exciting work day, grief stricken and in shock. I sat at my desk, staring into my computer screen for over an hour, not sure what to do. Luckily for me, my boss was able to break through the confusion and sent me home. Afternoon traffic is hard to navigate with tears in your eyes.

I spent the next day and a half, fighting through fits of panic, violently throwing up and sleeping whenever I could. I had planned a fun trip to Chicago to be with some friends for the weekend, and very nearly cancelled, but realized that behavior wasn’t going to help anybody, so at the last minute, I got my bags packed, kitted up the motorcycle and headed out.

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I took mostly back roads all the way there, running into a few construction snags along the way, but my 6 hour ride was exactly what I needed to clear my head. Great weather, just me and Betsy on the road. I pulled into Andersonville to my friends’ flat, dropped off my gear and rested my butt for a few before turning around to jump back on the bike and going exploring.

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At first, I was thinking about getting touch with another friend in Wicker Park, but she unexpectedly had to work, and I just wasn’t in the mood to go bar-hopping anyway. Besides, this trip was about the journey, riding the Triumph in the sunshine, getting out of my element at home and making adjustments to my touring setup before taking any longer treks. So, I just explored. I went to northside neighborhoods that I usually didn’t frequent and ended up having a nice afternoon. I got a text in the evening that my buddies were back at home, so I decided to go and hang out for a nice night in at their place.

Maybe it’s the time difference, or maybe it’s because they had just finished a really rough work week, but I wound up rousing a few hours before they did, and did my very best to keep from making creaking noises as I got dressed and ready for the day. Originally, we had planned to go out for bloody larrys for breakfast, but in a quick decision, I decided to make brunch for them at their place instead.

Now, before I get too far, I need to explain a bloody larry. I can’t for the life of me remember the name of the BBQ rib joint, but it’s amazing and famous and divey and delicious. As the tale was told to me, one of the long time staff members who went by the moniker of Larry was habitually hung-over on Saturday mornings from late night shenanigans, and would frequently make himself a “hair-of-the-dog” cocktail while he performed wonderful magic to the day’s fine meats in the smoker. Essentially, this drink was a Jack & Coke with lime…and a squirt of barbecue sauce…and a pork spare rib. Sounds gross, right? Wrong! It’s weirdly delicious – but the secret is in the sauce – don’t try this at home.

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I hopped on the bike and went to Mariano’s grocery, which is amazing. It’s not expensive like you’d think, but is every bit as fancy and well run as any Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. Better, even. We wound up making steak and peppers and potatoes and cheese for us and a few more friends, and it was delicious (although my bike felt like it was riding a little low afterwards, so maybe I overdid it). They wanted to hit the beach, but I was in more of a mood to go exploring, rather than relaxing, so I headed off to my favorite place in the world: Chicago Music Exchange.

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I did what I always do, and head right to the awesome selection of rare and vintage acoustics, and just started playing. I was so excited, I could think of anything to play! I wandered around for a while, and realized that the next guitar I should think about buying (because 11 isn’t enough) is something fast and sharp to contrast my other electric. I liked the idea of a Gretsch, so I started talking to the sales guy and he set me up with a small soundproof room so I could try a few out and see which one stuck. I went through a few models, rocking out everything from Chuck Berry to Chet Atkins in my private little studio. I settled on the PowerJet Firebird, and kicked up the volume and really smoked that ham good for a solid twenty minutes. I came out and had some questions, so I found the fella and mentioned that I really liked the PowerJet because I play a lot of rockabilly stuff. He replied, “Yeah, I can tell”. I figured he was talking about my shirt, but as it turns out, my private room wasn’t so soundproof after all. Apparently I had just spent the better part of an hour, putting on a bitchin’ show for the entire, completely-packed store. I got some compliments, so at least I was only 80% mortified.

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I met up with the gang at the Albany Park World Fest. The neighborhood is famous for being the most culturally diverse area in America, boasting that over 70 different languages are spoken within only a few blocks. If I wasn’t still full from breakfast, I would have ruined my budget on all the amazing cultural food vendors. There were a few rides for the kids, but the real attraction was the main stage with a bunch of different world music acts. The guys browsed through a few art booths before we headed out to meet up with the rest of the gang.

I don’t know how they do it, but native Chicagoans are ALWAYS eating. It’s probably because the food is incredible. We met up at an awesome little Mexican place for mole fries and burritos, where I met an awesome taxidermy artist who makes these great jackalopes, and after chatting for a few minutes, we came to the conclusion that I was going to go back to the leather shop and start making tiny saddles for them, of course. (Keep your eyes peeled for that post, soon!) Everyone piled into their rides, and I followed a Vespa with a sidecar to the putt-putt place.

I didn’t stick around for too long once we got there, because I was pretty exhausted, and I got some distressing news as well, and chose to head out and crash. That’s something else about Chicago – they stay up way past my bedtime. Of course, everyone thought I was leaving to meet up with a Tinder date, because I was conducting an experiment while I was there, and I should probably explain that before I forget.

Being a single guy in my 30’s, full time job and an inordinate amount of hobbies and interests, I don’t do too much in the way of socializing, so I’ve tried out Tinder. (Don’t judge me!) I’ve found that the ratio of “likes” to “not interested” is about 2 out of 5, and of those, I get a response from about 10%. If I check it a couple times a week, I’ve found that I’ll average about 2 girls that I’ll send a nice message to. About 1 out of 5 times, I’ll get a message back. In reality, I’ve ever only actually met someone in person from the app 2 times, both disastrous. In Chicago, however, I found that the ratio was much higher, about 4 out of 5 seemed really interesting. Mostly because they had pictures of themselves doing interesting things like playing the cello or riding horses, not just a collection of vacation photos. What was more interesting was that I received responses from probably about 90% of them, about half taking the first step and contacting me first. Some were asking me out for that very night!

In my opinion, to which Selena heartily agrees, the main difference between the mentality of people in “destination” cities, and in places like Indianapolis, is that they typically are from somewhere else, and have chosen to take a risk on a new place, following an adventurous spirit to chase down a dream. They don’t wait for something good to happen, they go and seize it! I’m not knocking Indy, and if you’re looking for a wonderful place to go and raise a family, it’s wonderful! However, for single divorcees who have been in the public eye, it can feel a little too much like being back in high school when the girls start to gossip. All in all, the experiment was a success, if the result was to build my confidence a little bit.

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I headed out for home and was fortunate to just barely outrun the storm. It was nice to get in, kick off my boots for a minute before hoofing it over to my wonderful friend Loreal’s house for an insane dinner. Having a celebrity chef as a best friend is rough work!

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All in all, it wasn’t the weekend I had envisioned, but was exactly the type of low-key, relaxed couple of days that I needed to get my head clear, add a few more squished bugs to the growing collection on the front of my jacket and take a big step away from all the things that have been weighing me down. It’s been a while, but I’m not feeling tired and achy from stress anymore – I’m tired and achy in a much better way.