Archive for the ‘traveling’ Category

Two days on the Cape.

September 7, 2014

Squinting at my screen in the morning light, I noticed specks on my sunglasses, a fine dust of sandy dust and salty sea spray from yesterday’s trip to the beach. The water was almost warmer than the cool, heavy air; we stayed for about 20 minutes, until the whipping wind exhausted us.

Rains came across the Cape last night while we slept, taking the oppressive humidity and angry skies with them. A cool breeze blew through the open windows around 7 a.m., waking me only long enough to pull the quilt up over the chambray sheets and just under my chin; I hunkered down under the covers for another blissful hour of sleep.

When I gave up on sleeping, the house Mark’s family has rented for years was still quiet, though everyone was awake — probably had been for hours. I padded down the hall to say good morning, the wood floors still tacky from the lingering dampness in the air.

The kitchen was already clean, despite the disaster we’d left in our wine-buzzed wake the night before: Mornings in Harwich Port keep the Dish Fairy busy with dozens of dishes from dinner the night before — including too many wine glasses to count, even for just five of us.

 

Yesterday afternoon, after three dozen Wellfleets — fresh from the harbor across the parking lot, shucked on the raw bar next to us moments before they arrived on our table — and two bottles of sparkling wine, we floated across the street to Mac’s seafood, where we bought day scallops, tuna belly, swordfish, salmon, all fresh that morning.

Mark, his dad and I were in charge of dinner, with Barney on the grill and the almost-weds working with our haul from the Provincetown farmer’s market that morning: a plum, balsamic and ground cherry sauce for the scallops; ears of grilled corn slathered in butter, salt and pepper; an arugula and heirloom tomato salad topped with fresh goat cheese sliced like mozzarella di bufala.

As we prepared and feasted, we opened bottle after bottle of wine, each more special than the last. Mark’s parents now drive each year from Illinois to Massachusetts, a most precious cargo of cellar stowaways in the backseat of their minivan.

Every night on the Cape is some version of this parade of indulgence, with a rotating cast of characters both culinary and human. A couple of days from now, another couple will join us; when Mark and I return from our long-awaited overnight on Martha’s Vineyard, his brother, sister-in-law and their daughter will be settled in to finish out the week.

 

The skies over our home for the next week are clear this morning, with a few cotton-candy clouds drifting aimlessly past the tall trees of the backyard.

The real calm before the storm precedes this afternoon’s Bears season opener, which we’ll spend huddled over a single television at a sports bar in Yarmouth. For now, we sip cups of coffee and read our Kindle books silently, sports highlights blinking and murmuring on low across the room. I came outside to eat breakfast, enjoying as few minutes of solitude and dipping into another chapter of Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential.” (I’ve been reading it for the past year and a half or so, and I’m determined to finish it during this trip.)

In a few minutes, we’ll pile into the minivan and head to Pirate’s Cove for a pre-game miniature golf match. I will lose, handily; Mark and his father will duke it out for another year’s championship title. The trip will be filled with traditions like this.

It’s hard to believe this is only the third year I’ve joined my future in-laws on their annual vacation. Cape Cod feels just as familiar to me — as much like home — as Door County does from many childhood visits with my own family.

Leaving Chicago. (Leaving Chicago?)

April 6, 2014

SuperdawgSunglassed and stubbornly coatless, Mark and I sat today at a blue plastic picnic table at Superdawg, surrounded by the Chicago-est of Chicagoans, watching the northwest-side traffic go by and trying to block the sound of the yapping Chihuahuas two tables down. The cheese in our little plastic cups was quickly going cold, so we munched quickly on our crinkle-fry nubs, trying to keep up with the chill.

This past season was the kind of winter that made a 55-degree Sunday like today a godsend.

Despite the hometown love affair this weather should inspire, between bites of all-beef hot dog, nestled in a poppyseed bun and crowned with yellow mustard, neon-green relish, sport peppers and strangely salty green tomatoes, I was anywhere but Chicago.

I’m not sure which soul-numbing snowstorm brought on this yearning, but for the first time ever, I’m ready to think about leaving Chicago. For France.

The eight days of May 2009 I spent in Paris were lonely and melancholy, even a little scary, yet when I think about leaving the city I never imagined I’d leave, France is where I see myself. Six months from marrying a man who’s a few tests away from being a full-fledged sommelier, it makes more sense than ever.

Browsing the shelves

So I went to the bookstore this afternoon — slaloming through a course of strollers and leashed dogs — in search of a book I wasn’t sure how to ask for, though I had a feeling I’d find it. The Book Cellar has three whole bookshelves stacked to the ceiling with travel books, and two more little shelves of what an employee called travel narrative.

The Book Cellar didn’t have them in stock, but as it turns out, there are countless “yes, you can!” guides to leaving America: The Expert Expat: Your Guide to Successful Relocation Abroad, Getting Out: Your Guide to Leaving America, The Grown-Up’s Guide to Running Away from Home: Making a New Life Abroad.

The Book Cellar didn’t have them, but becoming an expat, living and working abroad.

These books are filled with chapters about getting there legally, soothing culture shock, navigating overseas health care and other messes. (I wonder if there’s an appendix in any of them that covers the anxiety and anticipation in the two years before you actually get there.)

ParisLa vie quotidienne

I don’t want this to be a pipe dream. Neither of us want to look back — after buying a house, having two kids and realizing we’re cruising toward complacent middle age — and realize we put off something we once wanted so badly. So we set our hearts on a date: spring 2016. That’s our vague do-or-die time, the window we have to prepare ourselves for a move that could be life-alteringly sweet — or a spectacular, epic failure that would still somehow seem amazing in retrospect.

Our honeymoon to France next April will be part newlyweds’ getaway, part research expedition. In the meantime, Mark will start learning French; I’ll begin researching what it’ll really take to make this move happen.

To begin: a bottle of rosé from Provence. I’m sitting on the back deck for the first time since we moved into our apartment, listening to jazz and sipping an overly large pour of barely-pink wine.

There are few things in ordinary life that I don’t find hopelessly, oddly lovely. A mother and her son who live in the single-family home next door are outside playing catch, counting the number of times each one catches the pink plastic ball they’re tossing. When it gets dark, there will be a long line of blinking lights in the sky from the lake, planes coming into O’Hare from points east. The rumble of the train, the traffic on Western Avenue, the smell of Thai from across the street.

La vie quotidienne speaks to the deepest parts of my heart. I just think my heart may be ready for a taste of something new — even if it’s not forever. I would miss the cheese fries, though.

 

Superdawg photo: Flickr

Vacation: all I ever wanted.

March 28, 2013

Mark is next to me — practically on top of me, actually — in the window seat. He’s given up on reading his book, a hardcover by Jay McInerney full of essays about wine. The book’s been sitting by our bed for months, a shiny jacket concealing pages set unevenly, like a glass of wine had been spilled on them just after the first chapter.

He closed last night, and I woke him at 6:30 with stories of a dream I’d had. Now his head rests against the curved wall of the plane carrying us from O’Hare to La Guardia, his Ralph Lauren peacoat now a pillow.

The woman next to me, in 22D, is laboring over the USA Today crossword, and I want so badly to lean in and whisper, “The answer to 1 Across is ‘DAFT.'”

But I won’t. Because even after a couple of drinks, I understand that crossword completion — even the USA Today crossword — is a sacred, solitary act.

I saw that we were departing today from Gate K4, which happens to be right next to Rick Bayless’s airport restaurant, Tortas Frontera. And just beside the line where underpaid workers sling chips, salsa and warm Mexican sandwiches for overpaying customers, there’s a cozy bar always staffed by someone seemingly far too friendly to be working in an airport.

Mark and I rolled our bags — nearly matching gunmetal roll-aboards — to the window and found seats. After wrestling with our coats and carry-ons, we settled in. He ordered a bloody mary, and I asked for a margarita (on the rocks with salt, just as my mother takes them).

We sipped our cocktails, glanced idly at the TVs playing ESPN on mute, and caught up; we’ve been ships in the night recently, between my early meetings and his late nights closing the restaurant. Finally. Six days together, just the two of us, really.

First up: three days in New York City, my first time there with someone I love. Even after living there for a year and a half, my time there was spent mostly alone — and stressed. That city life didn’t suit me. In all my other visits, I’ve returned to wander Manhattan by myself, revisiting old friends for decadent meals and remembering all the while why I eventually chose to leave: Too fast, too expensive, too many people…too lonely.

This time, we’re staying in Park Slope with Mark’s brother, Matt, and his wife, Jaime. They’re expecting a baby in June; they’ve told us we’ll be carrying the mattress and bed frame from the room we’re sleeping in, down the stairs and out to the curb, so they can finish furnishing the nursery for their baby girl.

We don’t have many plans. We’ll drink wine at a nearby bar tonight, explore Manhattan tomorrow — the High Line? Chelsea Market? Rainbow Falafel? Shake Shack? — and return to Brooklyn to make dinner Friday, stroll the borough together on Saturday before our tasting-menu dinner that night, and find brunch somewhere in the neighborhood Sunday morning before catching our next flight that afternoon.

To New Orleans.

Which…

Wow.

I am so excited I can barely talk about it. I haven’t been somewhere truly new, for pleasure, in years. This will be an early celebration of my 30th birthday, and an even earlier celebration of Mark’s and my one-year anniversary.

Mark is in charge of our plans there. Drinks at the Carousel Bar, grilled oysters, a Hurricane on Bourbon Street, walks through the Garden District, lazy poolside sunning on the roof of the Hotel Monteleone, where we’ll stay for three nights.

Temperatures are expected to rise into the mid-70s while we’re there, and the Chicago girl in me who hates heat and loves a cool lake breeze is ready to bask in the glow of the Southern sun.

This is my spring break.

 

But for the next hour and a half…I’m sitting bitch.

Seat 22E belongs to my thighs and me, the only space that’s mine on this cramped airplane, a flight apparently equipped with wi-fi that I’m forcing myself not to purchase. Trying to unwind myself into vacation mode is harder than I thought: Now that I’m a business owner, I barely know how to do it anymore.

But the next six days are mine. Ours.

And I also won’t stress out about not stressing out. That would be so me.

So minute by minute, hour by hour, I’m just going to…live.

RVSX: Short one rider.

March 11, 2013

Change of plans: A couple of hours ago, I stepped off the plane that brought me back home to Chicago, a full three days early.

Exactly when I decided to leave, I’m not sure. But I do know that I had a South by Southwest day pass on Sunday and scarcely knew what to do with it. I waited in line for a few T-shirts, stared blankly at a few exhibitors’ booth literature on the trade show floor, and wandered aimlessly through a few lounges packed with people.

I flipped through the “pocket guide” of panels, sessions and workshops in a blogger lounge sponsored by Samsung, where I snacked on free popcorn while a Streamy Award–winning vlogger (!!!!) yammered on about god-knows-what up on the stage.

I ran into a friend from Chicago, and we made our way to a meetup for freelancers at an office just off the beaten path. We drank Miller High Life and ate Doritos, and I handed out more cards in that hour than I did the entire rest of my time there.

I may have decided I’d had enough as I walked down Sixth Street and saw an impromptu dance battle between girls in neon leotards and guys with three-foot-wide hot pink mustaches around their necks. (Keep Austin Weird.) I think they were working for a brand but can’t be sure.

I couldn’t quite shake the feeling, from the beginning, that I didn’t have a reason for being there, and the feeling only got stronger on the day I actually had access.

IMG_3853The real reason

But if I’m being honest? Mostly: I missed my cats. I missed my boyfriend. I missed my privacy and personal space. I missed working.

And the thought of spending another day downtown with throngs of brilliant, driven strangers — thinking about work but unable to focus on it, all the while wondering what the coming months will have in store for me — then packing up our campsite 45 minutes from the city and getting back on the RV, which now smells like six men who drink constantly and shower far less, for another three days of driving…

Dear. God. No.

So as I sat on the floor of the only panel I attended (“How NOT to Suck at Presenting Your Work,” which was standing-room-only and could only have been more elementary if we had been finger painting), I fought the spotty wireless signal, cashed in my credit card points and booked a flight home.

RobThe end

And after dinner with a college friend beyond the borders (and madness) of the conference, I returned to camp, where the rest of the crew had just wrapped filming a segment with a CNN crew.

Absentmindedly munching on birthday cake Oreos, I watched Rob, a loveable social media guy who’s also a sideshow performer, ease a steel spike and a meat thermometer up his nose, then snap his bottom lip in a tiny mousetrap with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle drawn on the back.

I watched the crew roar with laughter at jokes I only halfway got, feeling more isolated knowing I was the one who had created the distance there, choosing sleep over partying and often earbuds over conversation during our journey down.

After most of the rest of the crew left for a night of parties downtown, there was a shouting match between the British guy and me — we both sort of knew we’d eventually come to blows. I cried.

I packed my things, leaving most of what I brought on the RV, stuffing only what I absolutely needed in the Vera Bradley zipper duffel I knew would fit in an overhead bin, and finally fell asleep. The rest of the crew got home around 3:30 a.m.; I didn’t wake up.

Paige at YahooWould I…again?

Would I go back to South by Southwest? Maybe. (If I went, would I plan it a lot better? Absolutely.)

Would I do it in an RV? Hell no.

Will I remember this trip — and the people I traveled with — for a long time to come?

Yes I will.

 

Back in Chicago now, I’ll try to make up for lost — well, not lost exactly — time and do the writing I couldn’t find the focus to finish, get back on the Weight Watchers wagon I fell off when I boarded the RV, and flip through the business cards I collected in Austin to start, y’know, looking for the ROI of my SXSW experience.

If I don’t get a dollar of business from anyone I met, though, I know I can see this as a learning experience — even if everything I learned was just about myself. Some good. Some bad. 

RVSX rolls on.

March 7, 2013

IMG_3768The last licks of sunlight are lapping at the horizon as we make our way west on Highway 40 in Oklahoma.

Today, the RVSX crew spent the day in Arkansas: We toured the Wal-Mart Corporation Headquarters, filmed a short movie at Collective Bias’ office in downtown Bentonville, visited a coworking space called the Iceberg in Fayetteville and shot footage of a Rube Goldberg that knocked over a series of books and ended by flipping on a reading lamp over an open book.

Our stop tonight is at the Choctaw Casino Resort. I don’t know why. But I’m guessing this may at least mean a shower on this leg of the trip, so I’ll throw a few quarters at a slot machine and play along.

 

Hell is actually cold and loud

Last night will live on in my memory as the night I found my personal hell.

The bathrooms at the Hide-A-Way Campground were locked, and the boys were drinking just about the last remaining wine we’d secured from our only booze sponsor. I was grouchy and had made myself sick on s’mores and Birthday Cake Oreos, then I retreated, stomach churning and altogether pouty, to the lean-to masquerading as a “cottage” that we’d arranged to sleep in for the night.

No thanks to a tiny space heater with nondescript buttons and nondirectional knobs, it was roughly 24° F in the Sleep Shed. After trying for 15 minutes to fall asleep on a still-folded futon draped with my flat sheet and doubled-up blanket, I was so cold I couldn’t breathe.

The RV was parked, plugged in and heated about 50 yards away, so I dug out a spot to sleep and passed out until the boys returned, literally falling-down drunk — one has the scrapes to prove it — to pass out.

I didn’t know who was sleeping next to me until about 10 minutes after I woke up this morning. But I know I will never again chastise Mark for a little heavy breathing next to me in bed. Because I have never known such snoring.

This morning, I was still wearing my make-up, clothes and jewelry, and had a crick in my neck the size of [something very large] from cocooning myself in my corner of the bed, as far away as possible from the snoring beast beside me.

What I was expecting from this trip, I’m not sure, but I’ve certainly cemented my role as the high-maintenance Miss Priss in residence. Which I need to be okay with, because that’s my life — really, it’s who I am. There are all kinds of jokes to be made about what “roughing it” means to me, but suffice it to say I’m terrible at it.

 

803327_10151560496654612_1344157086_nThe silver linings atlas

But Rob has a rubber horse head that he wears at the most inappropriate times. We’ve discovered our shared love of YouTube clips of goats yelling like humans — to Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” and Queen’s “We Are the Champions.”
There are bags full of homemade cookies on the table from the barbecue restaurant where we gorged ourselves earlier today.
We picked up our ninth crew member, Jeannette, in Fayetteville. We’re finally beginning to even out our X-chromosome count.
And before we left the Cherokee Travel Plaza in Roland, I bought a pair of sunglasses with a mustache attached by two tiny chains.
Things are looking up.

The best part: We’ll be in Austin tomorrow night, and that’s really all that matters.

If you’re interested in following along with the RVSX journey, you’ll find us…

 

On the road: between Chicago and SXSW.

March 6, 2013

I’m aboard an RV, on a two-lane highway between Springfield, Mo., and Rogers, Ark., and forcing myself to sit and just. type. words. for the rest of the time we’re on the road tonight.

It’s 9 p.m., and there are seven people illuminated by the horrid fluorescent camp lighting inside the RV. Jason is driving; Jon is navigating in the passenger seat. Tim is sipping a milkshake he picked up at the truck stop; Rob’s face is illuminated by whatever article he’s reading on his iPad. Melissa and Roger are across from me, snuggling platonically. Most everyone’s found the Internet somewhere. And then there’s Phil. He’s from England, and…

Phil has me thinking tonight. About what the hell I’m doing with my life. Not that I needed the help questioning myself.

I wake up every morning thinking, “What’s my motivation?”

Including this morning, when I woke up tangled up in the starched white sheets of a Hampton Inn queen bed — and tangled in the white wires of my earbuds, to save myself from the snoring.

 

Along for the ride

Our ultimate destination — which will be broken up by stops at the Wal-Mart home office in Bentonville, Ark., and a casino at the Choctaw Indian Reservation — is South by Southwest in Austin, Texas.

Mostly, I’m along for the ride: I didn’t buy a badge to the conference, and actually, I know next to nothing about what we’re driving into. It sounded like an adventure, and I needed an adventure. (To my mother, apparently, I needed an excuse to waste money I didn’t really have in the first place.)

And they picked me.

I applied for this trip, called RVSX, on a whim — and they picked me. I don’t even remember what I put in my application. But they thought I was interesting enough, compelling enough, game enough to submit myself to 10 days of shenanigans and cameras in my face.

 

Who would turn down an adventure?

At times this whole trip feels like a recipe for self destruction, endless days on the road with limited power supply and Internet that’s spotty at best. When I have one brand-new client ramping up, another winding down with the entire month’s remaining payment on the line.

In the days leading up to our departure, I suffered near panic attacks that I’d made the  wrong choice in choosing to spend $600 and take 10 days away from Mark and the cats to go on this adventure.

 

Which is silly.

Because $600 for 10 days of shenanigans — and the “free” time to do it — is something many don’t even have the opportunity to do.

And I hear there are tacos there in Austin. Tacos and barbecue. And people to meet. Maybe someone there will know what the hell I’m supposed to be doing with my life.

 

Something incredible

“I’ll do something incredible. I’ll do something incredible…that blows God’s freakin’ mind.”

I’ve been listening to the soundtrack to The Book of Mormon since Mark took me to see it a week and a half ago, and this song, “You and Me (But Mostly Me),” has been on repeat since I sat down to write.

The two main characters are entirely at odds with each other, one armed with this divine, selfish purpose to change the world, and the other with this somewhat hapless, innate, innocent sense of good he doesn’t even know he possesses. You can guess which one actually saves the day in the end.

And I’m stuck somewhere in the middle.

At this point, I’m along for the ride, but lord, I want to find that purpose and actually…do something. Mean something.

Visiting Florida for fun and profit.

January 24, 2013

I’m sipping a $10 hotel margarita, on the rocks, with salt, sitting cross-legged on a chaise longue. There’s red vinyl as far as the eye can see, stretched taut across the rows and rows of painted-metal frames fanned out around the pool.

I’ve been chasing the sun as it drifts westward in the sky, trying to soak up every moment of the fleeting daylight before I leave Fort Lauderdale for Chicago.

Pleasure

When I arrived yesterday, the airport smelled like Cinnabons and sunscreen; everyone was wearing flip-flops and Tommy Bahamas, and I’d left even my sunglasses back home. (It’s 8 degrees, and swimsuits and shorts aren’t really top of mind.)

So, after checking in to my hotel, I set off down the A1A in search of a new pair of shades. I found a plaza filled with kiosks selling neon T-shirts covered in slogans:

GANGNAM STYLE

YOLO

BUY ME ANOTHER CASE OF BEER, YOU STILL UGLY

 

Oh, Florida.

My new sunglasses were there, a pair of Jackie O–style Dolce & Gabbana knock-offs, and after taking the requisite arm-extension selfie, I made my way to the Drunken Taco, a beachfront Mexican joint with laminated menus and beer buckets full of condiments.

A Hispanic woman in an orange tunic passed me on the street and slowly circled back, telling me I had a beautiful aura. I thanked her but declined the offer for a personalized astrology reading. Actually, I’ve always wanted to get one, but my budget had already been earmarked for a massive frozen banana margarita with an extra shot of tequila. (Really, which would you choose?)

At the table behind me, a threesome squealed as a careless beach pigeon shat on their table. They moved under the awning, leaving me exposed to all the sidewalk characters Fort Lauderdale had to offer: Families, couples, drifters and grifters.  After the first slurp of my margarita, a leathery beach bum with a distended belly barely covered by his tattered tank top walked up to my table. Politely, he asked, “I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m homeless and really hungry, and I was wondering if you could spare anything for me to get a bite to eat.”

So, I don’t carry cash.

Ever.

For specifically this reason, but also because I generally don’t have enough money in my account to be blowing cash left and right. And you do blow it when it’s burning a hole in your wallet. (Remember this article <USATODAY>?)

So I shook my head no and told him as much.

Hello, Mr. Homeless Hyde: “How do you live?” he spewed, flinging spittle on my sand-blown table. “You sit there with your cocktail then lie to my face saying you don’t have any cash?” …Followed by an impressive string of expletives that would upset Google very much. Resisting the temptation to ask him whether he took credit cards, I apologized and wished his back a nice day as he stormed off.

Sheesh. The people you meet.

 

I also met a cab driver from Jersey who never looked back after he moved to South Florida 20 years ago. He drove us to dinner and back and kept offering to take us for a good time in Miami instead, which he described as “Beautiful people, good food, good drink, good tan line, good hangover, happy happy happy.” He said he had a bottle of Patron in the trunk, too, but he never produced.

 

Business

But the reason I was here, my real moment in the sun: a 5:30 a.m. wakeup call to prep for my presentation.

One of my clients, an organization whose mission revolves around providing employment for blind and visually impaired professionals, invited me to present at their sales summit on the content strategy I helped them develop.

I spent 45 minutes clicking through my PowerPoint in a dimly lit conference room that could have been anywhere, as long as you didn’t look out the doors to the outside world. I explained the work we’d done to begin telling the company’s story, the ways we want to help engage potential customers and ordinary people, through blogs and Facebook posts and YouTube videos. We talked about Google analytics and ROI and the relationships that really make me love what I do

Someone walked by on their way out and thanked me for my wisdom, and at that instant, I felt better than I did in my entire afternoon basking in the glow of a sun I haven’t seen in what feels like months.

But not by much.

 

Returning

I waited until 3 p.m. to order myself that celebratory margarita, and my heart breaks to leave this place: I am warm and at ease and happily floating along on my second margarita since I sat down at the pool.

The sun has disappeared behind the jungle of private cabanas, and a fluorescent light just flickered on along the base of a planter. My flight home leaves in about two hours, and even though I know deep down I’ll be happier back home, God, am I craving one more day in the sun.

My dreams, in color: to Cape Cod and back.

August 5, 2012

I will remember the Cape in color.

Blue suitcase, the zipper busted and Samsonite label ripped off by some baggage claim tragedy. Orange Line to Midway. Blush-colored scarf, neon-striped tank, blue jeans and my best silver travel shoes.

Blue skies and a twilight rainbow as we set off eastward. A pitch-dark arrival in Providence.

The pastel cornflower blue Crown Vic we rented the next morning, with Illinois plates and an outdated Chicago city sticker. The trunk barely closed with two sets of golf clubs inside.

Green, green hills everywhere on the course, nestled back in the woods. We left the men behind and spent the afternoon at a beachfront bar with strawberry mojitos and stolen bites of Greek salad.

Matt and Jaime’s brand-new black kitten, along for the ride. Swoon.

Mark’s and my room’s two double beds, covered with mustard, teal and forest-green bedspreads that we stripped immediately and left in the corner for all three nights we slept there. The air conditioning groaned and strained against the persistent heat and humidity.

A damp bathroom the color of old silk roses. Our towels and swimsuits never quite dried in there, and a tiny black plaque nailed to the hollow door begged us to please place the curtain inside the shower, like that could contain the moisture somehow.

Beyond the hellhole motel: exactly as expected, though I didn’t have a clue what to expect.

The wild raspberries and canaries of the buildings in Provincetown, a cross between a Caribbean island and a quaint European town at the very tip of the Cape. We drank local beer at the Squealing Pig and watched a barback shuck oysters in giant black rubber gloves.

Peeling red nail polish on my toes, my heels perched on the passenger-side mirror out the open windows as we sailed down Highway 6, searching for songs on the radio we could sing at the tops of our lungs.

Hey, I just met you. And this is crazy…

Pink and blue explosions, hydrangeas in full bloom along the bustling back veranda of the Chatham Bars Inn, where Mark and I sat with fifteen-dollar cocktails and basked in looking the tony part but knowing — and loving — how fleeting that moment was.

Clear, perfect turquoise filling the pool of the Platinum Pebble Inn, where Mark, his parents, brother, sister-in-law, cousin and I sat each night for cocktail hour.

Dim, flickering orange candlelight in a different restaurant each night, where we opened bottle after bottle of wine. The faces of my new second family blurred in my half-drunken state but became more familiar by the second.

The Creamsicle cantaloupe polo Mark wore on the miniature golf course this morning, our final stop before making our way back to the mainland. His neon-yellow ball, the only color he can discern through his color blindness.

Whitewashed clapboard. Wooden shingles aged by the sea air. Sand chased by the tides, darker and rippled near the water, studded with broken seashells and dotted with people in bright swimsuits.

I took pictures, at least a hundred, but they won’t mean much to anyone else. A camera can’t capture skipped heartbeats; a memory card captures images, not actual memories. My photos will serve only to remind me that yes, it actually is possible to be this happy. Writing this will be my reminder that no, I am not always so utterly dumbstruck by the fullness of my heart.

There are words.

There will be more chowder, more bisque, more fried clams. There will be more oysters on the half shell, maybe even on the same Wellfleet rooftop playing sleepy reggae from tinny outdoor speakers. There will be more lobster and more bottles of wine in years to come, more moments that catch my breath and aching happiness.

All the colors in my head swirl bright to form a brilliant white. I see white, all white — too soon, but not — and there’s music in my ears, as my flight bumps and roars westward, toward home — back to real life and the next adventure.

 

 

Reunited, and it feels so…

July 23, 2011

“I wish this banana was a biscuit,” I said, scowling at my so-called breakfast as I settled crammed into seat 7A of the Barbie Fun Jet set to take me from O’Hare to Kansas City International.
The man next to me, wearing a red Ohio State polo and tearaway pants, doubled over in laughter. This was going to be a good flight.
TC — shortened from Anthony because he grew up in an Italian neighborhood where everyone was named Anthony — and I became fast friends; before we even pulled away from the gate, we were already annoying the people trying to sleep, our shrieks of laughter bouncing around the tiny plane.
His niece is getting married this weekend in Kansas City, and tonight I’ll be attending my 10-year high school reunion.

Most people I’ve talked to recoil at the mere mention of high school. I’m not like that.
I loved high school. I had incredible friends, liked my classes and teachers, got good grades and will still sing the alma mater. With the exception of a few people who shall remain nameless but will never. be. forgotten. for what they did. — excuse the brief Carrie moment — I’m sort of looking forward to the opportunity to see who shows up, who’s gotten married, who’s had babies, who’s gotten fat, who’s lost their hair.
Sure, it’s a pissing contest. And I’ll show up with a full bladder.
Okay, that was gross.

Granted, I did opt for the banana over a biscuit, passing the airport McDonald’s with a petulant pout, because I’ve put on a few pounds since high school. Okay: I went to college, lost weight, moved to New York, got in shape, put on muscle, softened up when I got to Chicago, got in shape again, and basically feel like I’ve let myself go since then. The process doesn’t matter at the 10-year reunion. The end result is all anyone sees.
And really, in the end, I look pretty good, despite slightly more dangerous curves than I’d planned for at 28. (Which has absolutely nothing to do with the cranberry-orange scone I put away as soon as I got in my mom’s car to head home. Really.)
Big-city style — as far as I can afford — and much, much better eyebrows.

Mostly, I like myself. I’ve lived since high school. After chickening out and staying in-state for college, I snapped out of it and got the hell out of Dodge. Not because I hated Kansas City or had to get away from my family, but because I knew there was something else out there. There were a lot of something elses out there. God, what adventures I’ve had. And will still have.
It’s not ideal that I lost my job less than a month before the reunion, but I’m not embarrassed. I never settled again after college. Not for long, anyway. Boyfriends haven’t lasted; jobs haven’t lasted; cities haven’t lasted because nothing has stuck that’s made me happy. I know what happiness feels like, and I won’t go without it for long.
I get sad about being single sometimes, but it’s becoming less about my age and how I feel like I “should” be settling down by now and more about…knowing some of these adventures would be better with someone else. (Someone…special. Cringe.)

Back on the plane, somewhere over Iowa, TC and I started talking about receding hairlines.
He described with glee going to his high school reunion and finding that all the boys who carried around combs and groomed themselves incessantly were the ones whose hair fell out the quickest. “Just wait for your 20th,” he said with a smirk.
I think TC is the sort of guy who can take a snark tangent anywhere in the span of about five minutes — like I said, fast friends — but I think the conversation stemmed from my recent revelation that a boy I’d liked in high school, who really wouldn’t give me the time of day, had positively ballooned since high school. He went off to Baylor, drank his freshman 15 and probably ate another 20, and never bothered to take it off. He’s squinty and swollen, and when he crosses my mind every few years, I think, I really dodged a bullet there.
We didn’t have a bullying problem at my high school. That I knew of. As far as I know, kids didn’t get shoved into lockers. No swirlies were given; nerds never had to pre-score their underwear in preparation for mega-wedgies. But if I felt for even a moment like there were kids who were better than me — for any reason, even without physical manifestation — I can’t even imagine the emotional effect high school had on some others.

The Facebook friend requests have poured in during the weeks leading up to the reunion. I’ve ignored them all. People who didn’t want to talk to me in high school don’t need to see my wall now. Or know that I’m writing about them. Still, I’ll look forward to the fake hugs and the perfunctory questions, and the memories I’ll keep for years to come of kids turned grown-ups, drinking themselves into a stupor. It’ll be surreal, looking at them as they are today but remembering them as they were.

They’ll be drinking themselves dumb, digging deep into the past and their glory days, because it’s what everyone else does at high school reunions. They’ve always done what everyone else does.
I’ll sip my gin and tonic, then I’ll come back and blog about it. And drink myself dumb with my real friends — because I want to.

Holiday from real.

July 16, 2011

Lisa got laid off exactly three weeks before I did.

My best friend lost her job after 15 years at the same company; it had been only three months since I joined the company I recently left, and I was…jealous of her. The best break from work I could hope for at the time was a long weekend away from the city.

And then I got my wish.

 

Holiday weekend rental rates in the city were astronomical, but apparently no one in the suburbs needs to travel; they have backyards and grills and municipal pools and dogs and fences, and plenty of family to visit in the next town over.

So we rented a red sedan in Des Plaines for $29.99 a day, threw our bags in the trunk and loaded the navigation app on our phones, and started out toward Door County, where my mother had invited us to spend the weekend.

 

My family spent many summer vacations in Door County, the Midwest’s answer to Cape Cod or the Outer Banks or Lake Tahoe (or so I’d imagine). It’s a peninsula dotted with beautiful, quaint resort towns and flanked by Green Bay and Lake Michigan, connected at the northern tip by Death’s Door.

I know my grandparents’ condo like the back of my hand; I have a favorite spot in each sweet little town. We have our traditions — the buying of the fudge, the eating of the cheese curds, the laughing about “that time Paige sent Holly flying off the teeter-totter in Baileys Harbor” — that are fairly unwavering. But this trip was different. I knew it would be. Once we crossed the state line, Lisa and I became tourists of the lowest order. If there were a ball of twine big enough to warrant a sign, we would have stopped for photos.

If you find yourself driving through southern Wisconsin, it would behoove you to stop at the Jelly Belly Visitor Center (oh.my.god.candy.), which I didn’t even know existed until that weekend. I will never be the same because of it. We skipped the video tour and went straight for the rainbow wall of death by sugar. I bought a pound and a half’s worth, a quarter of which was gone before we hit Sturgeon Bay — and all of which were gone by July 5. I had to throw the entire bag in the backseat to keep from making myself completely ill as I drove.

(Whatever you do, do not buy the Coldstone Creamery–branded Jelly Bellys. No matter how brilliant the concept of ice cream in candy form seems. Birthday Cake Remix is your enemy, even if the little beans do look like tiny Funfetti bombs. They are bad. Just don’t.)

 

We also had lunch at a Kenosha gem known as the Brat Stop, which has some of the best bratwurst I’ve ever tasted, plus an arcade game that’s actually only kind of an arcade game in that you’re trying to catch a live lobster with the big metal claw. And if you get one, they’ll cook it for you for dinner.

That’s not weird at all.

 

This is a hard weekend to write about because I feel as if I remember every second, and every second is part of this big story that I want to live (and tell) over and over again, but it’s more the feeling I remember and not what actually happened. And feelings are harder to describe well.

It’s not our sunny Saturday afternoon at the beach that I’ll remember, but the hysterical laughter and woozy lightheadedness we couldn’t shake after blowing up the cheap rafts we bought earlier that day at the drug store. The slimy slide of seaweed on our skin and the warm sun and frigid water washing it away.

It’s not our trip to Washington Island that I’ll remember but the gleefully spontaneous decision to run from the visitor center and down to the dock, where we bought tickets and boarded the ferry just minutes before it pulled away. We never considered that biking 12 miles might be a bit more difficult in sundresses and flip-flops, and we didn’t care once we got started. (And it’s not the bike ride around the island that I’ll remember but exhilaration of the first 360-degree view of the island after climbing 200 steps — we counted — to the top of the observation deck.)

It definitely isn’t the fireworks show in Egg Harbor on July 3 that I’ll remember — we wound up on the wrong side of a huge building that blocked most of our view anyway — but the squeal of the children behind us, the barking of two obnoxious feuding dogs, the smell of kettle corn and the chill of the air setting in after a third glorious sunset over Green Bay.

 

Lisa and I are so different. She’s tropical pink and purple; I’m red and navy. She’s silver; I’m gold. She’s platform wedges; I’m ballet flats. She’s Stoli Blueberi and lemonade; I’m gin and tonic. But we shared a good friend we lost before we were ready. We’ve both had our fair share of pain but never stop looking for the good in people. And on this trip, we discovered we both loved the sky of a Door County sunset, which turns tropical pink before fading to star-studded midnight navy.

 

We also realized the best soundtrack to a impromptu weekend away can’t be found on an iPod playlist or a single radio station.

As we sailed in our red rental car down the only road that led away from the ferry dock, back toward the condo, the music flickered in and out between townships as we impatiently scrolled through the frequencies. We caught the last half of “Summer Nights” from Grease and all of “Hotel California” before we gave up on the static.

 

Then we rolled down the windows and just enjoyed the breeze.