People responded differently to my resignation -- my friends rejoiced and congratulated me. My family wondered about my sanity. My colleagues varied between amazement and envy. As it is, I seem to have a great many expectations to fulfill.
But not yet.
Next on the schedule was a trip. In all those years, I’d never taken off two weeks together, so my first plan was to go away for two weeks. I had no pets at home to guilt me out of it, and I learned how to use my inaccurately named ‘frequent flyer miles’ that had built up over years on two airline credit cards. For this trip, I paid for the rental car in northern California, and hotels, and my last flight home from Chicago. But for the rest, I flew for nothing (except when I gave myself the gift of “economy plus, and that “plus” was just enough).
Before I left, I had planned to write something resembling a journal about my travels, “blogging” each night. Alas, that didn't happen, and the days turned into weeks, and here I am with some notes about my travels, and nothing yet online – except pictures and little videos taken with the Flip camera my team gave me when I left.
To Drive or To Fly
I’ve always wanted to drive cross country, like the guys on that old TV show, “Route 66.” Of course, as a female of a certain age in the 21st Century, working jobs day to day to fuel and maintain the car is not as practical for me as it was for Martin Milner and George Maharis (later Milner and Glenn Corbett – yes, the original Zefram Cochrane on the original “Star Trek”). Were I to attempt it now, I’d doubtless run into snowfall on mountain roads, which would not be fun. I postponed yet again.
My friend Eric has a traveling cat. This little buddy is apparently amenable to the occasional move cross country while Eric works in different regional theatres. I’m hoping my next cat(s) will be more amenable to vehicular travel, but meanwhile….I was on my own.
I have driven cross country. Decades ago I shared the driving with eight other actors. My first paying job as an actor was a non-union US tour of a bowdlerized “The Comedy of Errors” (which ran an hour ten, so yes, it was severely abridged). The nine of us were packed into a white Volkswagen van with our luggage and our costumes. A coffin-like box had been fastened to the top of the vehicle to carry our folding set. This box was not in the slightest bit aerodynamic, and we felt its pull on mountain roads and straightaways in any kind of wind. No speed was to be had in that VW bus. We played in 40 states in no rational order. There ought to be a law that producers must look at and understand maps before booking their actors in absurdly overlapping zigzag patterns around the continental U.S., offering shortened dollops of the Bard to junior and senior high school audiences.
At any rate, I’ve been all over the country, but we were working – tight schedule allowed little time for sightseeing. We drove to our performance site, set up, did the show, broke it down, sometimes talked with the students, then went to a Days Inn that looked just like the last one, found laundromats, ate bad food, and had the time of our lives – the sort of job that would allow us dinner stories for months to come.
A quarter century later, I’d thought my little vacation would afford me a more intimate introduction to a few places, but the time spent in each of the cities I traveled to in twelve days was absolutely insufficient. Like a bus tour around Britain I took with my mother 30 or so years ago, all I learned was which places required and deserved a longer stay.
- The First Leg -- Northern California, from Sacramento to Mendocino
- The Second Leg -- A Weekend in San Francisco
- The Third Leg -- Minneapolis
- The Fourth Leg -- Chicago
Tuesday, 19th October:
The alarm went off at 4:30 in the morning, but my nerves had already awakened me. I grabbed my toes and pulled and stretched, then jumped in the shower. The large suitcase that I’d have to check was already done. I put those last daily-use items into the backpack acting as a carryon overnight case, which would ensure I’d have the necessaries if the airline misplaced my checked bag. The car service arrived early, making me nervous – it does no good to say he has to wait for me. Once in the car, it stank. I cranked the window and pulled out my itinerary, but there was no light in the car either. Since I am anal enough to always carry a flashlight, I could still go over the plans for the umpteenth time.
By 6 a.m. I was checked in and looking for breakfast at LaGuardia. I didn’t want to start the trip wrong, so looked for nondairy creamer at the “Beanery” on the lower level. Powdered stuff, but that would do. When the woman behind the counter brought me my bagel and coffee, I asked for the non-dairy creamer. Apparently she seemed to have never heard of non-dairy creamer until I pointed it out to her. In a coffee and breakfast franchise. I can be patient. I will train myself to be patient.
It was very dark. No darker than midnight, but no sign of lightening before I flew. The two United flights (changed planes in Chicago, of course, where I started off the trip energetically, taking every staircase available). Flying over the middle of the country, then at a lower altitude as we get closer to California, I am amazed at this country, this huge land, the distances between settlements, the tiny roads through mountains, the courageous people who traveled across this land without cars with GPS and CD players. Beautiful, daunting, challenging, remarkable journeys. Mine was easier.
The second flight got us in early to Sacramento, where it was about 80 degrees! There I picked up my rental car – I’d requested a compact, but they provided a 2010 Camry. It drove beautifully, but lacked one of my favorite elements of my much older car – the compass built in to the rearview mirror. Knowing in what direction one’s headed would be especially handy in a rental, I should think. No matter, I read maps. I drove north on Route 5, coming to my first turnoff less than an hour later, and headed west on Route 20. This is one of those roads…. It twists, it turns, it curves, it climbs, it drops, it levels off, then does it all over again. Signs warn 20 mph as even tighter turns show up. This is a video from one of the lovely “turnouts” I used. Slower traffic is demanded to pull over into these turnouts so vehicles can pass, and I happily did so for those cars more confident of the road than I.
I drive and drive and drive and don’t seem to get very far. This is not a highway. On my left the mountains give way to an extraordinary blue lake that goes on forever. It is Clear Lake, and I drove slowly around its northern shore for well over an hour. I pulled over in Lucerne and chatted with friendly people in the tourist office, who advised me of how long it actually takes to get places around here.
I’d been driving for two or three hours when a dashboard light went on saying “Airbag is turned off.” I didn’t turn anything off. I didn’t turn anything on. I kept driving, heading to Route 101.
I’d looked through the AAA Tour Guide for the area, narrowing down potential hotels/motels at which to break my journey to Fort Bragg. Some possibilities lay south on 101, fewer northerly, but northerly was where I needed to end up. I drove up to Willits, “Gateway to the Redwoods,” quickly spotting the strip of motels and fast food joints, but I wanted real food. Wouldn’t have minded a brew either. I drove thither, I drove yon, motels and good food were not near one another, so I parked, ate mediocre Chinese, then grumpily chose a motel.
It was the Baechtel Creek Inn & Spa, and my AAA card got me a reduced rate for a lovely room I’d have been happy to spend a week in it anywhere but Willits. Although the air had chilled considerably by sunset, the hot tub was still hot and bubbly and inviting, and I partook. I watched the light fade from the sky through leafless branches of the trees lining the dried out Creek. It was a lovely set up. Too bad I’d be leaving in the morning.
Wednesday, 20th October
After yesterday’s 70-80 degree weather, the morning was quite chilly, more like the weather I expected. I’d spoken with my cousin, and told her I’d be heading to Fort Bragg, expecting to take an hour or so to get there from Willits. Although my cousin drives these roads all the time (there are no others), it takes her a good hour each time as well. OK, it’s not just me.
Route 20 west from Willits to Fort Bragg is 34 miles long. It’s a winding mountain road. Mostly going slow. Those wonderful “turnouts” allowed me to look around and let faster cars go by. But first I shot this video:
And that was enough of that. I’m afraid there’s no neat ending to that video, since I just pulled the Flip in the window and turned it off without a plan. I wanted both hands on the wheel for this drive. It wound, it climbed, and climbed some more, and twisted and turned and offered fabulous views and terrifying drops. I came to a sign that said I’d gone 11 miles. It felt like 50.
When at last I came upon a sign that said Fort Bragg was 11 miles away, I breathed a huge sigh, and then saw an “Adopt a Highway” sign which read “Fort Bragg: Starbucks.” Starbucks! I can get a soy chai latte! I’d been driving for three quarters of an hour from Willits, which is 34 miles from Fort Bragg. I’ll wait while you do the arithmetic. 23 miles in 45 minutes. No, it wasn’t traffic.
The Fort Bragg Starbucks is right on Route 1 at Walnut, perhaps five blocks from my motel on Oak. I call them for directions (remarkably simple, but I didn’t yet have a map of Fort Bragg’s layout, which is pretty much a grid), then my Cuz to say I was in Fort Bragg. She lives 25 miles or so away in Albion. As you may have gathered, 25 miles is longer here than in the East. I was tuckered.
The Colombi Motel is next to the Colombi Laundry and across the street from the Colombi Market, where I collected the key to unit 5 as well as a box of kitchen stuff – utensils and two place settings for the full kitchen. Love this motel, with its carport (the door in the apartment that led to it has been sealed, wonder why) and friendly layout – separated in a big horseshoe, cozy.
My Cuz came by, and drove me around to some sights in Fort Bragg, good walking spots. Unfortunately the Skunk Train I had wanted to take ran Wednesday morning while I was driving here and Friday when I’d have to start my drive down to San Francisco. Dang! We spent the day walking, talking, driving, with her showing me the sights along the coast, places she and her family had history over the decades. Not to mention “Jessica Fletcher’s” house, which is not in Maine but rather in Mendocino.
This video is in Fort Bragg, “Glass Beach.”
We visited my Cuz’s son and his two young sons in Mendocino, then drove down to where my cousin and her husband live in Albion, or more accurately, on Albion Ridge. For all these years, I’ve written to them at a PO Box. Now I know why. Mailtrucks are not driving up the road to their place. Albion itself has two or three buildings by the highway, then a two lane road winds through the redwoods on a fairly gradual rise. Truly, I couldn’t even imagine driving those roads in the dark, yet my Cuz and her husband and their neighbors do it every day. What a citified wuss I am.
The road to the house, which my cousin had described as ‘rough,’ was barely a road. It was an unpaved rutted track, climbing sharply up then around and around and ever higher up. Car parts appeared on the side of the road with more frequency until we pulled into the clearing before the house. There were ancillary shacks (one for her husband’s glass-blowing workshop, the other who knows), and a tile and brick walkway led the way to the front door. The house is in the middle of the redwoods, huge pane glass windows open to it, and skylights spreading whatever light was available around the house. Sitting inside as the light faded, the redwoods could have been inside with us as we watched first a Yankee game and then the San Francisco Giants game. The Giants won as we ate dinner. Oddly, they have satellite television, but dial-up internet access. Surely there’s a way to harness….something.
At any rate, that was a big driving day for my cousin, once she drove me back to the motel. Thursday we planned an early dinner midway between my motel and their house.
I think I just like sea level. Mountains are not my thing. The Pacific is remarkable, so different from the Atlantic. Similar latitude to where I go on the Atlantic Coast, but too cold in the Pacific for anyone but rubber-clad surfers. And none of them now. Odd out here -- 80 degrees yesterday, 40-50 today! My cousin explained that by saying, “Welcome to California.”
Thursday, 21st October
On Thursday morning I visited some spots we’d driven by on Wednesday and walked the beach, shot some video, talked to dogs and the seagulls gathered around my car. And the one who wanted to stay. This is Pudding Creek Trestle beach.
A walking day around the nice town that is Fort Bragg. Relaxing. Later my cousin and I met for dinner at Silver’s at the Wharf at Noyo Harbor.
The land rises and falls quite a bit here – Fort Bragg is clearly at sea level at some streets, then suddenly the road drops down to Noyo Harbor, which lies underneath the bridge that brings Route 1 into Fort Bragg from the south. We enjoyed a nice dinner watching the sun set over the harbor, ignoring the ball game on the television in the bar section of the restaurant. Unfortunately, the Giants lost. Because I didn’t watch?
Friday, 22nd October
First thing in the morning, I realized I didn’t have my knit scarf, which I’d had at the Wharf. Checked the car, not there. Left early after checkout to go back to the restaurant, but no luck. Alas, the first casualty. And my throat was a bit scratchy. I put my package of Hall’s lozenges on the seat beside me in the car, filled the tank in Fort Bragg, and started on my drive down to San Francisco by 11 a.m.
The morning was foggy along the coast, and I drove the coast road (Route 1) with growing confidence. I guess I could get used to these roads. And the views. Those would be just fine. Total fog over Albion River and Salmon Creek below Mendocino. Happily there were also plenty of places to pull over. I stopped at Van Damme Park to take some photographs then continued down Route 1 to the Navarro River, where I turned into the redwoods on Route128, another two-lane highway. It’s extraordinary driving through the redwoods. They tower to the sky on either side of the road, with glimpses of dim light breaking through. The occasional turnout allowed people like me to pull over and just stare. And take pictures, of course. Otherwise it’s a 50 mile an hour road with the occasional 25 mile portion to allow for tight curves. Nature definitely wins out here.
Eventually the road broadens into the Anderson Valley, which opened up sunny with intermittent light rain. Once the fog lifted, the rain continued steady all the way south. I was looking for Cloverdale, where I’d switch from Route 128 onto Route 101 south to San Francisco. At 1:10 p.m. I stopped for lunch at the “World Famous Hamburger Ranch & BBQ” at the Cloverdale junction of Routes 128 and 101.
A perfect lunch break revived me for the remaining drive through incessant rain to San Francisco. The rain never let up, my throat worsened, the traffic got heavier just where my friend had told me it would, then opened up again. By the time I reached San Francisco, the rain had lessened and the fog took over. The Golden Gate Bridge is awesome even fogged in. Perhaps especially when fogged in. Happily I had picked the right neighborhood for someone who’d had enough driving for a while. By 3:35 I was in my room at the Hotel del Sol in the Marina District. It’s a brightly colored three-story hotel wrapped around a courtyard. It’s cheery.
That evening I initially walked the wrong way out of the hotel. Lombard goes eastward toward Van Ness and westward back toward the Golden Gate Bridge and Fillmore. Yes, that Fillmore. Toward Van Ness, I found nothing to eat or drink (OK, that’s not really so – Japanese place, Vietnamese place, Thai place, but I really wanted a beer and a burger). I turned northerly toward the Marina and asked some women walking a dog where I could find a simple tavern. We chatted for several minutes, and the girl without the dog pointed me in the opposite direction I’d gone from the hotel. All the action is from Fillmore and west. There I found happiness. Or at least a number of places with comfort food and alcohol. I chose a place called “Barney’s,” which is apparently a chain, but I don’t care. GREAT Halloween decorations, a fine beer list if bottled (I had Samuel Smith “Organic Lager,” which was excellent) and chicken and fries and spinach.
California takes Halloween very seriously. Houses and businesses decorated very well, including this restaurant. Imaginative, good masks, dressed in red and black rags. Some of it creepy, even babies with sharp buck teeth.
Saturday, 23rd October 2010.
Difficult night. Cold really kicked in, and though I got a cup of hot water from the office (for which they charged me until the term “philanthropy!”), there’s no microwave or coffeemaker in the room so I couldn’t dose myself with lots of tea nor heat my herbal pillow. Heard every noise on the walkways, and even with blinds shut it seemed too light. 6:30 in the morning the person upstairs started moving around and never stopped. Woke with shoulders aching. Finally got up snuffling near 9. I opened the blinds to see the rain in the courtyard, as well as an intrepid dad and daughters swimming in the outdoor pool, which was one of the reasons I chose this hotel. Alas, I certainly didn’t feel well enough to use it, so I showered hot water onto my shoulders and went down for breakfast. Nice spread including oatmeal with teas and coffee, but no place to sit inside. There would be seats outside, but it was still raining. I was able to heat the herbal pillow in the microwave on the breakfast table (not sure what it was used for). Had lots of vitamin C in juice forms.
For some reason the Flip camera wouldn’t upload– it only likes the one USB and seems to require internet. Works OK with WiFi but not when I plug in the Verizon broadband thingy. This logic escapes me.
I splurged (in terms of calories, fat, etc.) on a real breakfast at Mel’s Diner (yes, another chain, again I don’t care! It even had the old “jukebox” at the counter!) at Lombard and Steiner. Eggs at last! And not Lipton tea, good tea, in a pot, with honey! Love it! Then I walked up to Marina Green on Fillmore.
Saturday morning I explored the Marina under cloudy skies. After staring at the water and the runners and the gulls, I found that rare gem, a public bathroom right where I needed it. I love San Francisco.
My friend JMA has been working long late hours in L.A., so I didn’t expect her to arrive until afternoon. We finally got together around 3 (I took advantage of the lag time to at nap), caught up a bit, then gathered our rain gear and started walking through the Golden Gate National Recreation Area at Fort Mason, then through the tourist den of Fisherman’s Wharf. We made our way to Pier 39, but alas, the population of sea lions was quite a bit less than expected: We’ve walked all over New York in all seasons, but since I was already getting sick as I drove down here from Fort Bragg, I couldn’t really keep up very well.
All in all, JMA and I had about 24 hours in San Francisco. By a little after noon, though, the skies opened again and the rain kept up until near 6 Sunday evening. JMA and I walked through it all – except for when we stopped at a charming Italian restaurant, the Panta Rei Cafe on Columbus Avenue and enjoyed some lovely food, a warming glass of Scotch for me and wine for JMA, and watched the San Francisco Giants win the National League pennant. Three nights before, I’d cheered them on with my cousins up in Albion, and they’d won over the Phillies. The following night I paid no attention to the game although it played in the background of The Wharf at Noyo Harbor. Alas, they lost. It’s me. I was happy to redeem myself and watch them win on Saturday. Sorry, Phillies fans. I don’t think JMA spends much time in places where sports fans congregate. She seemed surprised at the excess, the cheering, the mass exodus once the Giants had won, and the continuing celebration in the streets of San Francisco. We walked up some of those crazy hills, tried to help a woman catch her frightened dog, and made our way back to the hotel. Funny thing about those hills, you think you must be at the top, and you’ll find a great view, but there’s always another hill. How can that be?
Sunday, 24 October.
In the morning we overslept, then got over to Mel’s Diner for another good breakfast. Everyone and everything is damp. I wished for the rainboots children wore. I wished for a respite from the rain. We walked toward the Octagon House and found it, but it’s only open a few days a month, and it’s not today. We shopped at a charming place called Jest Jewels on Union Street. Some gifts for others, some gifts for ourselves. By three in the afternoon, I was wiped, and JMA had to start heading back. Off she went with her overnight bag that was the size of the backpack I normally carried from Queens to Manhattan on workdays. Me, I went back to bed.
After napping a few hours and feeling moderately better, I chose not to starve my cold. After all, in 12 hours I’d be up, getting ready for the airport shuttle, before breakfast would be served at the hotel. Eat now. Dinner (spicy fish sandwich and fries) and two pints of Widmers at local “City Tavern” made me feel much better. The horseshoe-shaped bar seated about 25, with an additional dining area focused on a huge television screen. Some of the people seemed rapt by the football game, but everything was a letdown after last night’s big baseball win.
The Marina district is filled with charming architecture, views of the Bay, and plenty of nightlife around and west of Fillmore. I’d recommend it for anyone visiting. Just don’t bring the rain.
Monday, 25 October.
Early morning flight, so I sat in the hotel lobby awaiting an airport shuttle. It took an hour to drive around San Francisco picking up others and then get out to the airport, but it cost $16. Can’t beat it. What can be beat was the appalling mess at San Francisco Int’l Airport with an overbooked Delta flight taking an hour to get through the checkpoint. The flight was cramped and unpleasant and I knew I’d never book another Delta flight again, free or not. Yes, this one too was on “skymiles.” At the gate in Minneapolis, I grabbed a banana and a soy chai latte at the Starbucks, then went in search of my luggage. My friend MM picked me up at the Minneapolis airport, and we awaited my suitcase together, then she drove the short distance to her 1912 house inhabited by three cats and a dog.
I’d also been in touch with an actor friend in Minneapolis, CS. I’d wanted to get MM and CS together since the latter had moved to Minneapolis earlier this year, since MM is a theatre lover and CS is a theatre professional. We arranged something like “high tea” the following day. Meanwhile, MM gave me a driving tour of rainy Minneapolis. It hadn’t been raining until that morning. Apparently I brought the California rain with me.
Minnesota is indeed the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” Minneapolis has quite a few all on its own. We drove around them, stopping at Lake Harriet to visit its wonderful bandshell. Sometimes we drove around in circles, and we never did find Louise Erdrich’s bookstore, Birchbark Books. But by then, I already knew I’d need to return to each of the cities I’d had speedy tours of for a deeper look. I’d find my way to Birchbark next time. When it wasn’t raining. We had a nice dinner at Barbette’s on South Irving, then went home to relax, unpack, do a little laundry, and watch “Castle” with Natalie the Pit Bull.
Tuesday, 26 October.
On Tuesday morning we went to brunch at the Minneapolis Art Institute, a marvelous place. It’s not so big as to be overwhelming, but certainly cannot be covered (at least not by someone like me) in a day. We spent several hours there in the Thaw Collection of “Art of the Native Americans” (http://www.artsmia.org/thaw-collection/). The exhibit includes different regions of North America and the Native Americans native to each area. Each section included a video introduction by a modern artisan – bead weavers, dancers. We were both mesmerized by a video by Nicholas Galanin, an artist of the Tlingit/Aleut and Northwest coast; David Elsewhere danced the program. The fascinating videos were called “Tsu heidei Shugaxtutaan (parts 1 and 2)” and I’ve found them online at: http://www.beatnation.org/nicholas-galanin.html
In the afternoon we met up with my friend CS at French Meadows, a charming place with lots of tasty salads and pastries. The afternoon moved lazily on, and MM invited CS to join us at her home for the dinner she’d prepared. We three made our way back to the house, putting out some cheese while MM got dinner together, but neither CS nor I wished to sit in the living room while MM worked in the kitchen, so we joined her there with our wine and beer, respectively. It wasn’t long before we heard odd noises from the other room. When there are three cats and a dog in the house, strange noises are not alarming, but we went to look. All of the cheese had disappeared, and there was Natalie, happily eating everything in sight. Surely this would have a bad end.
During a simple meal together, MM and CS discussed Minneapolis theatre, of which MM has been knowledgeable for years. I achieve one of my dearest goals – to introduce my friends to one another in their newly adopted cities. Importantly, CS advises me to see “Detroit” at Steppenwolf when I go to Chicago later in the week.
Wednesday, 27 October.
We have brunch late, and I misplace my wallet. I began to panic, thinking of when I last had it, then found it. I also misplaced a pair of pants, inside my luggage! For goodness’ sake, I was totally losing it -- Maybe two weeks is too long a vacation for me.
And yes, Natalie and the cheese had a bad end.
We took the quiet, efficient light rail and explored downtown Minneapolis, where I said hi to Mary Tyler Moore.
In the evening we went to the Guthrie Theatre, which has commissioned a dramatization of Louise Erdrich’s novel, “The Master Butchers Singing Club.” On the way in I again see a strange sign, which I’ve seen in some downtown stores. Apparently in Minneapolis people need to be told where guns are not welcome:
Director Francesca Zambello was enthralled with Erdrich’s novel, and the artistic director of the Guthrie was entranced with the idea as well. Finally Marsha Norman wrote the play, and Ms. Erdrich herself was included in the process. The result is marvelous. I have not read Ms. Erdrich’s work yet, and most of the audience probably had. It’s a Brechtian style of story-telling, and spans quite a few years. The last decades are a bit rushed at the end of the play, but by then we already care quite a lot about the characters. I could have wished for a few more scenes with certain characters and a few less with others, but all in all a marvelous night at the theatre. Inside the Guthrie is fabulous. Outside, it’s pretty odd looking. The skies were still stormy, the winds high, so we were unable to use one of the architect’s darlings, a balcony overlooking the river. Too high for me anyway.
Thursday, 28 October 2010
Arrive at MSP with MM at 9:30 a.m. Checked luggage. Boarding pass in hand by 9:45. Security check done, my shoes back on, by 10 a.m. 10:13 sitting at French Meadows with breakfast, tea, and a bottle of water for the flight to Chicago. So was the disaster at San Francisco about California or about Delta? Based on previous experience with Delta, I’m guessing Delta.
All’s going quite well, but an issue arises: Flight delayed (this one’s United), probably a full hour. Is this a Minneapolis issue? Of course not. The problem originates at O’Hare! Apparently some valve that one might have thought would have been updated in ordinary inspection was not as it should be in Chicago, so the Chicago to Minneapolis flight was delayed while it was fixed, and subsequently our Minneapolis to Chicago flight was also delayed. Still, the gate crew did their best to assist passengers changing planes in Chicago (there were some failures, however), the actual flight was fine, and O’Hare was not at all the nightmare I had feared.
What I noted on landing was that, while I’d started this trip taking all the steps and eschewing escalators and moving walkways, this time I took every shortcut available. I was tired. Nevertheless, I made my way to the trains and took the blue line “L” to downtown Chicago, found the correct bus stop to get me up to my hotel, but grabbed an available cab anyway. My hotel is above the Chicago River, in an area designated the Magnificent Mile. It’s a great location for shoppers, of which I am not one. Far more importantly to me, about five blocks east is Lake Michigan. I took a little walk, and what did I find: A BEACH! In the City. The Ohio Street Beach. Have a look:
Made contact with colleagues at the office – in all the years I worked for the firm, I’d worked closely with colleagues in Chicago, but never went there. Now on my own, it’s time. Met some colleagues at The Gage on South Michigan for a lovely dinner. Perfect spot for me -- what looked like fancy wine list bound in leather was a beer list! We had good food and conversation, then they went their ways and I walked through Millennium Park. Met a Red Rex then found the infamous Bean, which is as photogenic in the dark as it is in the day.
Walking back over the River, climbing stairs, plenty of people out and about, I understand my former colleague’s comment that the quality of life in Chicago is way superior to New York. I’m getting that feeling that she’s right on that count. Once back at the hotel, I went online and booked a ticket to Steppenwolf. Their web site showed four seats available for the Friday performance, and showed exactly where they were. Terrific. Then I got an email for them with all sorts of information about parking near the theatre. When’s the last time you got a useful e-mail from a New York theatre at which you’d just reserved a ticket. Note, no question mark. Clearly a rhetorical question.
Friday, 29 October.
Spent the morning on a boat. This was the coldest day yet, and I had one layer too few on. The Chicago Architectural Tour boat trip was swell, the architecture of Chicago is remarkable, the river tour is well worth it. Just wished I had one more little layer on.
Finally I checked out Chicago’s Union Station. I was told it was a must-see, but I suppose I’m spoiled. It’s quite nice, clean lines, and not as chaotic and dangerous – nor as grand as --NYC’s Grand Central Station. Nor is it as beautiful as Los Angeles’ Union Station. I wonder how many cities have their own Union Stations, and should I take a trip and visit them all?
All through my walk, I was well aware of all the things I was missing, rushing through and past. I’d have to return. It was nearing the end of business, so I started walking back to the Red Line that would take me to Steppenwolf up in Lincoln Park. In between was what I suppose is the theatre district –
I stopped at an Elephant & Castle for dinner and beer and to ask how long it would take from there to Steppenwolf. No one knew the answer until I stated the closest train station. Gee, to the rest of the world, Steppenwolf is a world-famous theatre company. Apparently not in downtown Chicago.
Steppenwolf is at Clyburn/North on the Red line. It’s about twenty minutes from where I was just below the River and a block from the Red line. Exiting the train station, I came up to find a pond. A cement pond between the station and the Apple store was bright and refreshing.
There are several restaurants along the street where the theatre is – I probably should have come up here straight away and eaten. No matter. The lobby of Steppenwolf is welcoming, pleasant, and friendly. I checked my coat and sipped a hot chocolate and waited for the play, “Detroit,” by Lisa D’Amour.
I like the house. The theatre allows for proscenium or slight thrust. From the few boxes house left and right all action below the proscenium would be easily seen. The balcony is quite close overhanging the last few rows of the relatively shallow orchestra.
Stage left is a house from the same time, the same floorplan no doubt, but without the same level of maintenance. An old awning over the original door with a battered dirty screen door over it. A fake looking plant on a wooden deck lacking some slats. A few steps stumble onto the brown lawn. Vines and bushes grow at will. Leaves overflow the gutters. Of course there are none on the stage right house gutters. Starting at the same place, the backyards go to a very different places. Fascinating set up.
A lovely blue sky is backdrop to both and I could hear some birdsong. That’s what we can see before the play starts.
The play is one of different lifestyles, different perceptions, and the tales we tell ourselves. The community is, in the words of the playwright, in that first “ring” outside a metropolitan center – that first slightly suburban area where people escaping the city went for their own houses and a short commute. It was doubtless all quite nice 50 years ago. Lisa D’Amour writes sparkling, character-specific dialogue, and the actors create her world with great dexterity and warmth. “Detroit” is a fine piece of work.
The ride back to the hotel is swift – at no time did I wait more than 6-7 minutes for a bus or a train in Chicago, and I felt quite ready for sleep after my chockfull day.
Saturday 30 October 2010.
Mid-morning PKG, LL, and their son and daughter picked me up at the Marriott and we drove down to the Museum of Science and Industry in what I think of as Jackson Park. Reading Erik Larson’s “Devil in the White City” as recommended, there are so many places I’d like to go that I’ve missed, but at least I stopped by Jackson Park and what used to be the site of the "World's Columbian Exhibition" of 1893. I’d met my friend’s 7-year-old son before, and he started talking to his ‘Auntie’ immediately. The baby is five months old -- she was silent but thoughtful, attentive, and never cranky. She’s captivated by movement, breezes moving Halloween decorations, people; she’s smiley and likes to lick fingers.
We spent the day at the Museum of Science and Industry, which is great, fascinating, fun, and offered my first Omnimax (re Hubble). The 7-year-old wants desperately to explore the war exhibits, especially the submarine. Someone will take him eventually, but I respected his mothers’ wishes and did not venture inside the German sub on exhibit. The Museum is fabulous, and by the time it closes at four I’m utterly exhausted. I marvel, as ever, at parents, who spend such arduous days and then bring the children home where they all stay up for many more hours. I just want a bath and a bed! But we go to dinner. I’d seen a sign on a subway car the night before that President Obama would be speaking at a “Moving America Forward Rally” on the Common Midway Plaisance – that is, quite near the Museum. Somehow the traffic wasn’t all snarled up, and we were able to eat in Obama’s old stomping grounds.
I spent my last night in a huge room at Doubletree near O’Hare, which offered a very easy trip in the morning after what I expected would be a noisy night. One drink at the hotel bar, a swim, then I should sleep well despite the planes.
Sunday, 31 October. Halloween.
PKG came by the hotel for breakfast on Sunday, so we got to spend a little quiet time chatting. Next time each place I visited deserves a week of its own, especially Chicago. I’m glad to be going home, although to what I’m uncertain – by this time I was thinking of myself as “unemployed” as opposed to “free at last.” Still decompressing from those 19 years, I’ve yet to find my footing in my brave new world, or my new path. Surely if I can be patient with people who don’t know what non-dairy creamer is, I can be patient with myself.
Again I took a window seat, this time on a Jet Blue flight, this time paying full price. I gazed at the fascinating land far below, until the cloud cover was the only view. Even those are beautiful from up here. Back to New York. Time to find new kitties and new work, and eventually a new me. Time to reinvent myself.
~ Molly Matera, signing off. There are more photographs posted on Shutterfly at http://www.djfphotolog.shutterlog.com/. Still looking for that new path.......