Brett had a week off from work, from Christmas to New Year's. That, plus the weekends, gave us about 10 days of playtime to do with what we pleased. We thought about our options. Lying around on a Mexican beach seemed liked a nice way to spend some time, but it seemed as though that would just be a continuation of our Hawaiian honeymoon. We just got back from Arizona for Thanksgiving with my Mormon family (which I promise I will write more about that soon), so that wasn't really appealing, either. Then Brett suggested a trip to the Midwest, a mythical land to a desert baby like myself. His hometown of Chicago, in the wintertime... I'm simply not a well travelled person, so I was excited by the prospect of seeing the Windy City. As we packed for the trip, I popped a DVD of Chicago in, so that I could brush up on the history of Chitown and work on some Fosse moves at the same time. I pondered the prospect of actually meeting a real live jazz baby!
We flew into Chicago at night, the day after Christmas and were met at O'Hare by Brett's ex-boyfriend MK, who had volunteered to pick us up. I was apprehensive about meeting the ex, but felt rather beholden to Brett's wishes and trusting that he would not place our new relationship into a difficult position. MK was nice enough, driving us through Downtown and then out to Lakeview, where we planned to stay with another old acquaintance of Brett's, PT, who turned out to be quite a character. We all went out for a drink and a smoke, since you could still light up in a Chicago bar back in 2007. But I was exhausted from the flight and feeling awkward as Brett and his friends reminisced about things I couldn't possibly relate to.
PT, a self-described "recovering art dealer", was a gracious host and happily let us take over the spare bedroom of his brownstone apartment. His home was full of interesting art, books and chachkis, indicating an eclectic and fascinating life. I felt very comfortable at PT's place. He took us to a local restaurant for brunch, delicious, and then we walked down the the station, where we waited to board something called the "brown line," which despite my initial disturbing thought, turned out to be the name of the above ground train that ran through his neighborhood. The Brown Line took us through the city towards Downtown around the Loop. I have never ridden a subway or train of any kind before, so I was thrilled to be in a position to view the city from that perspective. I love the "L" train experience and PT was able to describe various times when the "L" provided him the opportunity to meet people, network, and even the occasional romantic interlude. We do not really have a similar social system in Los Angeles.
We arrived Downtown and PT took off through the streets, saying: "Trust me about the traffic thing, Chicago invented jaywalking..." Tentatively, I followed, feeling like Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy. We visited the Water Tower, discussed the idea that the city was rebuilt "one story up" after the fire, admired the architecture and ended up at the "top of the cock" for a drink. From the 95th floor of the Hancock Building, I could see farther than I had ever seen before. The lights of the city leading up to the edge of the enormous blackness of Lake Michigan was breathtaking. Also, the fact that PT jokingly jarred me as I leaned towards the window to look down, took a few years off my life as well. I don't like heights.
Like true sophisticates, we popped over to the Four Season's for yet another drink and some nosh before PT left us to our own devices as he had business to attend to. Brett and I boarded the "L" and went back to visit some of his old haunts. Probably not the best idea, since we had plans to meet MK later that night, but we drank from the well of Brett's past to the point of no return. We arrived at MK's that evening and I was taken aback by the lifestyle he lived. MK deals in antiques from China and is apparently doing well for himself. Being 10 years my senior and the previous lover of my husband placed me firmly in a paranoid mode. Like I said before, MK was nice enough, but I could sense a feeling of uncomfortableness in him as well. Brett did the wrong thing as MK started a DVD of Phantom of the Opera to show off his flat screen TV and surround sound system. Brett curled up on the floor with MK's dog and fell asleep, leaving me to watch the sordid love triangle Andrew Lloyd Webber designed for just such occasions. The parallels between the lives of Raoul, Christina, and the Phantom and the present situation were not lost on me. In the end, I was all too glad to leave, waiting to hear no more warnings from my predecessor.
Back at PT's, the next day, we awoke to a gentle snow fall. It was absolutely beautiful and such a rare sight for my Arizonan eyes. We had slept in quite late and had to regroup quickly to meet Brett's parents at Union Station before boarding our own train out to Michigan. Brett's mother and father had taken a train in from Naperville to see their son while we was in town. They weren't keen on leaving the station, due to the snow, so we settled on lunch at the food court. His parents were so cute in their concern that we get on the correct train to visit Brett's mothers sister, Aunt G in Michigan. Once boarded, we found ourselves in a car with several young boys who were at the stage where "Why?" seemed to be the only word they knew. The parents were well prepared with portable DVD players and video iPods to occupy their young inquisitive minds. As the boys watched, I experienced my own Polar Express, watching Chicago disappear behind us as we made our way around the lake.
Brett's Aunt picked us up at the train station in Holland and drove us back to her lovely home in Saugatuck. Apparently, this is quite a hot spot for fun in the sun during the summer months, but during the winter it looked all but abandoned. Aunt G filled our bellies and we stayed up talking about life, families and love until finally retiring for the evening. The next day we drove around looking at the various points of interest in the area, including the first gay-friendly beach that Brett had been to, Chris O'Donnell's house and the touristy shops in town. We ended the evening at a sprawling gay bar that seemed to be very busy. We checked out the dance floor (No!), the pool tables (No!) and ended up at the cabaret with the other couples. It was comforting to know that some things are the same no matter where you are.
We awoke early the following day in a rush to get back to the train station. We were bound and determined to follow the itinerary that Brett had created for our trip. We bid Aunt G farewell and headed back to Chicago. I had known that Holly would be in town for business if she could get out of Pennsylvania, so I gave her a call as she was checking out of her hotel. It was blocks away, so we met up with her to have some deep dish Chicago style pizza and catch up. It was slightly surreal to see Holly in such a different environment, since I had almost always seen her in Arizona. Brett and I ate far too much pizza and discussed many interesting things with Holly before parting ways. Holly had promised to meet us at a New Year's Eve party the following night at Brett's friend Steph's house. I was excited that she would be able to attend, as the party marked the end of our whirlwind trip. But we still had people to see and places to go.
This time, we took a city bus over to the home of another longtime friend of Brett's, GB, who had gone to college with Brett. GB lives with his wife and daughter on the eleventh floor of a building that looks out over the lake. While I admired the view, GB commended me for my tenacity towards Brett and the courage it takes to enter the homes of so many strangers in such a short period of time. His Peruvian wife made a delicious meal for us and I played with their daughter as Brett and GB reminisced about the various adventures they shared.
Finally, it was New Year's Eve and we awoke once again to falling snow. The only things left on the itinerary were one last visit with the ex and the party at Steph's. I tend to be a jealous guy and this last visit with MK proved to be too much for me. I didn't flip out, but I was slow to show grace in the circumstance. MK would not be attending the party and had previously poisoned my mind with predictions of debaucherous events (which proved to be entirely unfounded). With PT in tow, we prepared for the party, which I had told Holly started at 6:00pm. Of course, I was attempting the near impossible to get three gay men ready for a social engagement across town with any sense of punctuality. Fashionably late, they call it? I say it's a recipe for anxiety. We walked from the train, several blocks in the snow to Steph's house. When we finally arrived, I was relieved to see Holly and her guest, happily entertained and taken care of. Steph is to Brett what Holly is to me, so it was quite special that we could all be together to ring in the New Year. I came in out of the cold and was riddled with anxiety and nerves. Steph was troubled as well, since her maid hadn't shown up that day and some of the guests arrived earlier than expected. She had prepared a gorgeous feast for everyone and her husband made sure everyone had something lovely to drink. I gladly ate the delicious seafood soup Steph had made and thought it the perfect food for when you come in out of the snow. Steph's family was wonderful and receptive, I very much enjoyed meeting everyone and for once, people seemed interested in hearing about me and my life in California. I was able to count down the New Year with my love and my best friend at my side. It was a great way to end the year and our little Chicagoan vacation.
We boarded the plane at O'Hare and hoped that the storm would not delay our return. I watched through the window, as an industrious looking young black woman, in full winter airport-employee uniform and goggles, blasted the wings of the plane with a large steam gun and then covered them with a thick green slime. Anti-freeze. I was thankful to her and took a moment to think about how important her job is. I watched her work and I thought about the connectedness of everyone. I thought about how we all play a part in each other's lives, sometimes not even aware of the impact we make. In 2007, my world became much, much larger. I moved in with the man of my dreams, travelled to Hawaii and Chicago, and recently realized that maybe the world isn't such a big, scary place after all. Maybe Holly is right and strangers are just friends we haven't met yet. The roads we've never travelled await our footprints and will gladly lead us into the future.
Happy New Year.