Four weeks and nearly one thousand miles into my trip and I had made it to Chicago. My body rushed with excitement as the Metra train carried me downtown. I was eager to reacquaint with the city, but even more eager to reconnect with the great friends I had living there. The first one I would visit was my high school friend, Samira.
I hopped off the train and lugged my packed panniers to her place in Ukrainian Village. The character of the city was on full display as I passed through this homey residential area. Chicago is on of the few cities I have known where you can look down an avenue and see clear to the horizon. As I peered East my sight slipped past the enormous Hancock tower, nearly reaching the shores of the Great Lakes. Chicago is one-of-a-kind. A completely hill-less city covered with architectural marvels, all resting at the foot of beautiful Lake Michigan. If you couldn't tell already, I was really excited to be here.
At Samira's address I encountered a family hanging out on the stoop. I lowered my three panniers and greeted them. A woman amongst the group asked me if I was making a delivery. I responded by informing her that I was Samira's friends. Her eyes lit up. "Oh! You're the one riding your bike across the country! Come on in! This is my husband and my mother and our friend..." It was certainly a warm reception. I learned that Samira had a room in this shared three-story row home. There was such a variety of people residing here that I couldn't help but to feel like I was visiting the lead character of Hey Arnold.
So here was Samira. I hadn't seen her in about two years and, quite franky, we had been distanced from each other for at least the past decade. Regardless of the time and space between us, it felt like just yesterday when we were playing ball at the park and her little brother was screaming about how bad my acne was. To me that's the sign of a true friend, time and space don't bear on the relationship.
Samira's fun personality and Baltimore grit were all still in tact, but now she was doing her thing as an entrepreneur. I don't have time in this blog post to report on the line of amazing/pioneering/strong women that she is a descendent of. I think it would require a several hundred page book to document her inspiring family history (Oh wait, I think that book may already exist). But, anyways, I got the sense that she is trailblazing just like her predecessors. It was really exciting to hear about all the interesting things she was doing as a culinary entrepreneur, nutritionist, translator and Persian cultural ambassador. Among her biggest successes thus far was a collaboration with her grandmother to translate the work of a revered Persian philosopher and doctor, Avicenna. For me it was truly motivating to see my friend pursuing her passions and working for herself.
Samira's new "family" was celebrating a birthday, so we chatted while she prepared a few hors d'oeuvres for the get-together. This was a clear perk of befriending a culinary entrepreneur; any food she prepared was amazing. She basically took some junk from Trader Joe's and turned it into a masterpiece. We were soon joined by her boyfriend, Hozaifa. As if Samira wasn't interesting enough, her man was a globetrotting basketball player. I don't know if there is a continent on which this guy hasn't played ball. I spent some time getting to know this globalized couple as we prepared for dinner.
Dinner was great. I got to know some real Chicagoans, enjoyed excellent food and listened to Frank Sinatra through the sunset. Before I knew it people were waltzing to Sinatra in the living room. Wow. This was life.
I excused myself before it got too late. My host, Dave, was awaiting me at his apartment. If my first night at Samira's was any sign of how things were going to go in Chicago, then I may not be able to leave this place. As I passed out on Dave's couch that evening, Frank's words resonated loud in my head, "This is my kind of town, Chicago is..."