The end of my time in Chicago was near. My foot was feeling better, I had received my maps and, most importantly, everyone was rolling out. Dave was preparing for a return trip to DC and Erica had her sights set on NY. I knew that I didn't have to go home, but I did have to get the hell out of there.
Having stayed in the home of so many gracious hosts already, I learned how important it was to show gratitude. Many of my hosts opened their doors to me without even knowing who I was. The least I could do was say thanks. Much of Wednesday and Thursday was spent obtaining gifts for my two hosts who had sheltered me for the better part of a month.
Friday was a pretty intense day. Not so much for me, but for Dave. He was moving out the following day, still had a final paper to complete, was hosting two more friends from DC and still had his bum-biker-friend dilly-dallying on his couch. Honestly, Dave deserved some award for keeping his shit together despite having so much going on.
So Lea and Becca arrived Friday around noon. We were all excited to see them, not just because they're lovely people, but because they had recently gotten engaged. To be in the presence of two people who are so happy together is uplifting. These two can't help but to leave a trail of smiles behind them. They spent their first few hours in Chicago telling us all the details of this exciting time in their lives.
That evening, nine of us met at Lou Malnati's, one of Chicago's better known deep dish pizzerias. Everytime I go to Lou's I swear that I will eat half a pie to myself yet I somehow never manage to get past the second piece. That is what happened to me again on this evening. Well, it didn't just happen to me, it happened to everyone. We were all so stuffed after Lou's that we struggled to keep our eyes open at the trendy Haymarket Pub & Brewery that we went to after dinner. Everyone was struggling with the "itis", causing us to had in at a decent hour.
Saturday was dizzying. In the morning Becca and Lea departed for the wedding they were to be guests at. By noon Dave had packed up all of his stuff into a uhaul truck, leaving me bed and TV-less. That afternoon I met him at the uhaul storage space to pack away the belongings of him and his two future roommates, Reeves and James. By 9:00 pm the job was done. I don't mean to belittle the packing experience by neglecting to provide a full description, but, in all honesty, it was so tedious and monotonous that I would rather not relive the experience. My main takeaway from this event is that if Dave gets bored with law, he would sure as hell be a good mover.
Dave and I went straight from the uhaul storage facility to Ping Pong for dinner. We met with Erica and her mother for a great asian fusion meal. Erica and her mother, Shea, looked lovely, both wearing summer dresses and with sparkles in their eyes. Dave and I looked like, well, like we had been lugging shit around all day. Thank goodness we were accompanied by two very understanding women.
After dinner it was our final outing with Dave. Erica guided us to Kingston Mines, a legendary blues venue. This place was off the hook. The main act was an artist named Joanna Connor. Joanna, a 53 year old guitarist, had the audience in a trance. She plucked the strings of this guitar with such fervor that you would have thought the strings would catch fire. During her rendition of Jimi Hendrix' "Little Wing", I turned around to find Erica, Shea and Dave's jaws all on the ground. Joanna had blown everyone's minds. You really can't understand it until you experience it. All I know is that I'm no longer the same man I was before I heard Joanna perform. Sorry, that's a bit much. It's just that she was a truly masterful musician, and good live music can do that to you.
Consistent with the dizzying pace of everything else that had been going on in Dave's life, he all of a sudden turned to me and said, "I gotta go." We followed Dave outside, said our goodbyes and *poof*, he was off. I was bummed to see such a good friend roll out, but also excited. Excited because I'm sure the next time we get together will be as fun as every other time we got together. I guess that's just how friendship works.
The nextent day it was Erica's turn to begin making her exodus. Much of Sunday was spent packing up all of her belongings in preparation for the move. It was during this process that I learned two important details about Shea. Number one, she is a machine. Her organizational skills were impressive, on par with Dave's uhaul performance the day before. Number two, she was a physical therapist! When I discovered this I pounced on her (not literally). Given the doctor's previous diagnosis, Shea recommended a few light stretches and exercises to help strengthen my bum foot. It was a huge relief to get a bit of guidance from her. Her insights gave me faith that I'd be able to get back on the road again with a fully functional foot.
After the long day of packing we wandered about the neighborhood a bit to run a few errands and get dinner. Somehow we stumbled upon a street festival at the intersection of Sheffield and Belmont. Shea was up for it so we said "What the heck." Several streets were blocked off and packed with street vendors, young people and a large stage. We rocked out to an all-female cover band as the daylight dissipated. Chicago in the Spring is so full of pleasant surprises.
This Memorial Day eve would be my last night going out in Chicago. Back at the boxed up apartment, Erica and I discussed our options. We ultimately decided to go to a party that Sara was putting on that had an overnight camp theme. Well, that was perfect, because the last two months of my life have been the adult equivalent of overnight camp. I filled my Osprey bag with water, grabbed a flashlight and threw on my rain jacket. Perfect, I was ready to camp, er, part, er, whatever.
The party was great. Sara had done a nice job with the theme, decorating her apartment with summer camp slogans and setting up a ten person tent out back to really drive it home. I appreciated how nice everyone was to me despite the fact that i didn't totally fit in. I was attending a DePaul undergrad party so I had a comfortable six years over the next oldest person. Despite the age gap, I really enjoyed hanging out, and actually got a lot out of my interactions with these young Chicagoans.
I got to talking with a group from Des Moines, Iowa. They were so excited to tell me about how great their hometown was. They did it had beautiful women, an amazing sculpture garden, ONE tall building...they loved Des Moines! As we spok, one of the guys turned to the other and asked, "Hey man, where are you on the scale?"
His friend responded, "On a scale of one to ten? I'm like an eight point five."
This comment peaked my curiosity. What was the unit we were measuring here? I presumptuously interjected, "Sorry. Ten point scale? What is this, the 'How wasted I am' scale?"
They gave me a confused look. The 85 percenter responded, "Uh, no man. It's just the 'How good of a time am I having' scale." Oh! That was great! It was refreshing to be at a college party where the sole objective wasn't to get inebriated. They just wanted to have a good time and understood that there isn't a direct linear relationship between alcohol consumed and enjoyment. Man, these kids from Iowa sure were reasonable.
Later in the night I stumbled upon something else which called my attention. A young white fellow had taken over the cellphone that was providing the party with tunes. What was his music of choice? Soulful R&B. Not what I expected. He played D'Angelo and Eric Benet, the latter of whom I had never even heard of. This caused me to reflect on a convo I had with my father when he had told me that Chicago was the home of R&B. I thought to myself, Damn, even the white boys in Chi-town are bumping R&B! Chicagoans must really love this music! I then looked over to find the Spotify DJ belting out the lyrics to the song, banging his clenched fist against his chest with every painstaking word. I didn't need any more convincing. Chicagoans of all backgrounds had soul.
Memorial Day finally rolled around. I woke up on a half-deflated air mattress in Dave's room. Erica's father, Steve, had arrived with the cargo van. Within an hour the van was packed, leaving the apartment with one bed, one (deflated) air mattress, some clothes, some toothpaste and two people in limbo. Once Erica's parents left we had no choice but to go outside. The living space had become the hollow shell of a home. It was a bit depressing to be in there. Luckily, the streets were overflowing with giddy young Chicagoans, all excited to celebrate this sunny holiday. Erica and I passed the afternoon at the Lakefront, reading, chatting and being part of the city's springtime vitality. This was my goodbye to Chicago.
I spent a couple of uneventful days in Chicago before my departure on Wednesday. The weather was bum and I was coming to grips with about 1,400 miles in my near future. I spent a lot of time thinking about the Chi. I would soon be leaving the city with a smile on my face. Despite the fact that my stay was accidental, I had an unforgettable experience. I had the unique opportunity to be purposeless in Chicago for a solid month. It was fine for my full energies to be dedicated to reading literature, solving puzzles, taking pictures, watching NBA playoffs and, most importantly, enjoying the company of my friends. I pondered if perhaps Chicago was the right place for me to reside.
Alas, there was some part of me that knew not to get my hopes up. I couldn't live this carefree lifestyle indefinitely. My money will shore up pretty soon and I'll have to get back to work. Plus, I have greater responsibilities to fulfill than just piecing together 1,000 piece puzzles. I accepted that this is, and will always have been, a special chapter in my life. Chicago had been good to me, and it was time to move on.
On my last day, as on my first day, the erupts of Frank resonated through my head, "This is my kind of town, Chicago is..."