The most excruciating drive ever. Not to be too disgruntled towards eastern Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa and western Illinois but the never ending gaze of fields, about as flat as possible with the freeway that continued on a straightaway made what should have been the easiest driving a marathon.
We made the best of the scenery as to make the moments worth while as we played Disney hits playlists and movies. An friend from college lived halfway through the trip, in Omaha, Nebraska which gave us a break from the monotony as well as hope of making it through the second half of the trip.
After seven and a half hours of driving we pulled into Omaha, just as flat as the rest of the planes but a city in the middle of farm country. You could see how it dragged on in the distance, with a pink sky as the sun began to set. Only a few miles off the path led us into the town as we met up with a friend Brandon and his girlfriend Jenni for a quick bite at a local Thai restaurant. Friendship is a beautiful thing and we have been so grateful to be able to share so many moments with good people.
We hopped back on the road quickly after and continued trudging along the last seven and a half hours with thickening fog as the hours passed. Overall time was somewhat lost track of and our arriving time just before getting to Chicago was about four in the morning which was a little too early to show up to our friends house so we pulled into a Walmart parking lot in Naperville, a suburb just miles away from the city.
After just a couple hours of sleep we finished the 45 minutes into Wickerpark, a neighborhood just south of downtown. Our friend Joe (another past roommate of Alex’s) had a parking spot held and available, parking stickers and even helped carry some of our stuff up to his second-level apartment. Joe, a very nice guy had just married the love of his life the winter season before. They lived in the perfect fitting loft just about in the middle of everything and just steps from the “el,” the subway transit system that were the veins to the city. Allie, his wife was working when we arrived, taking care and bringing hope to our future generations. Joe had about a half gallon of coffee waiting for us while he finished putting together the most delightful breakfast sandwiches. This guy went all out buying the freshest ingredients for meals for our stay. In the guest bedroom he had chocolates and fresh towels stacked neatly to the side. The house was immaculate as cozy as you could get to watch… “Cool Runnings,” which we did watch as we slowly faded into their plush leather couches.
Running on caffeine and a second wind we wandered the neighborhood as Joe introduced us to new venues since I’d lived there. I (Alex) had spent a bit of my twenties throughout Chicago, while absolutely loving the city there was a seriously need to take a break from the frigid winters. Bia had visited Chicago as well years ago but I had made a point to make a few stops with her during this visit. First on the list was to check out the Lincoln Park Zoo Lights spectacle that the electric company as well as the zoo put on every winter.
As dusk broke we caught a cheap Uber the twenty-minute ride towards lake Michigan, bundled from head to toe with camera and good spirit. Before entering the zoo we stopped in the Lincoln Park Conservatory, which as a green house was steamy and filled with botany from around the world. An electric train was set up to run through some of the vegetation while another larger tree was decorated to the nines. We wandered in and out of traffic before exiting towards the zoo which was just a hop-skip-and-a-jump away.
Glad I wasn’t paying the energy for this show as there were thousands upon thousands of lights strung as far as you could see. All throughout the zoo bright multi-colored lights flashed in and out of sequence in lovely design. Christmas music played throughout, an ice sculptor shaped human sized objects and of course the zoo itself was still open so the animals who’s domain this was roamed in their dens watching the passerby’s. We hung out to take some fun photos and continued walking, picking up pace as means to keep the blood pumping and keep warm. Marching north on Clark street along an old walking path of mine as I had used to travel for work. I attempted to give Bia the past routes with stories of each and every place. Before too long the cold crept beneath our skin and Joe, Allie along with another close friend, Henry whom I had lived with for many years were at a happy hour back in Wicker Park waiting for us. Besides we were parched and quite hungry.
The next morning, once again Joe had a big breakfast fixed up with an insane amount of coffee that is always hard to say no to. This time Henry joined as we finished up eating and came along to the second stop I anticipated on making. The Chriskindlemart takes place every December downtown Chicago and is filled with vendors frying schnitzel, baking jumbo pretzels and serving glüg, a hot spiced wine. Other shops sell hand made wooden ornaments, ornate blown glass decorations and every other kind of crafted Christmas good. We happened to go mid-day Saturday which was probably the peak time and worst time to go. Squeezing through the thick of it, the feeling of being at a concert with friends while trying to make it to the front of the crowd was what it felt like the entire time. I used to be that person but now isn’t really favored. We tried some of the food which was absolutely delicious before b-lining it out of the mess and towards Millennium Park where the city creates a couple ice-rinks free for the public. Even though we hadn’t brought our skates with us it was still a joy to watch on as merry-makers made way shaving away at the finished ice, one push at a time.
As the evening came upon us, we hopped on the “el” and began the travel back towards Joe’s house. There were plans in store for a big home-cooked dinner before an ugly-sweater party held by friends of friends.
Dinner was grand, with just a handful of us we ate like kings. Bia and myself put together pulled pork, cabbage slaw arepa sandwiches. Joe on the other hand made a huge spread of basmati rice, roasted potatoes and carrots with chicken and bread on the side. Bia put together traditional Brasilian chocolate dessert treats, Brigidero rolled into little balls and a taste of heaven. All in all it was hard to move afterwards along with fit into our outfits.
Allie and her sister Amy really did it up well dressed as Christmas trees, their long hard propped up to a point, decked with lights and a tree skirt around there collar. I felt pretty standard in an ugly Christmas vest with Bia and Joe in similar but sweaters. The place event was just packed with friends and family of the host. Henry met up with us shortly after while we partied in the standard neighborhood Irish style pub with old wooden planked walls and wooden floors. It was really a fun night and a great last night with great friends while reliving new moments in areas I once knew so well.
Before taking off on our next journey, Joe and Allie put together a fantastic farewell breakfast as we shared a few last moments before departing. The last few spots I wanted to show Bia were a couple neighborhoods I’d lived in, down by Soldier Field in the South Loop and where Joe, Henry, Pete and myself had lived for some years in Buena Park. After a quick loop and a fill-up we headed north towards my mother’s side of the family, but with a swing into Waukesha, Wisconsin where my uncle Perry and aunt Martha and cousins Neva and Molly lived. I had lived with them for a year some time ago and had promised on bringing the most beautiful Beatriz through on our adventure.
Waukesha was only an hour away and we anticipated on driving through around 1pm. The idea was to swing through, share some love and make way towards another friends place in Madison, WI. Arriving at the family’s house aunt Martha had two large hotel pans of pork and chicken sliding into the oven as we walked in. I know how wonderful her cooking is and from the get-go realized it wasn’t going to be a quick stop. To be fair though I hadn’t visited in some time and we have so much in common so conversation is too easy. I don’t believe there was a moment of silence between eating, stories and a jam session uncle Perry and I had in his basement. With every instrument under the sun we filled our time with love until about 11pm.
The trip to the Upper Peninsula seemed a bit dim by this point but as stubborn as one can be still attempted with a couple redbulls and complete focus. All hopes of achieving the driving goal came to an end for the period of being awake as our eyes held heavy while reaching Green Bay, WI. Only another three hours away we pulled over into another Walmart parking lot and caught some zzz’s before putting ourselves or anyone else in danger. It was so worth it…