Guess where I've been this past weekend!
OK, I'll give you a clue.
That's right, Saveur! I ditched the Husbear and plopped myself down in the middle of row 29, on my way to Chicago.
After 2.5 hours of holding my elbows very close to my sides, I landed in significantly larger and cooler Chicago. A friend from high school, that I haven't seen since 1999, came to pick me up. Wow.
I should probably mention that what brought me into town was my high school reunion. Eep. You can probably guess what year we graduated...
Hey! I wasn't even born in 1977! Not cool, readerperson.
Anyway, d picked me up and we went to the mall. Wait a minute, this is sort of like high school!
Not so much that evening, when we picked up the first boy I ever dated (seriously, we were twelve) and drove to the Hopleaf to check out their huge beer selection and chat about what we'd all been up to for the last eight years or so.
They even had the dark Leffe, that I haven't seen since Belgium! I was happy and prattling away and then we ordered smelts to go with our fancy beers. Smelts are a family of small anadromous fish, you know.
They were fried quite well, with a crunchy outside and soft fishmeat interior - the bones had been removed. The pickles topping the dish were deliciously vinegary, and though I wanted a giant pile of them, I couldn't figure out a way to ask for a satchel of pickled onions without sounding completely insane. Oh well.
Instead, I got a beer with a wooden handle. My friends had to slap my hands away to keep me from trying to separate the beer from its holder. Kwak, you are so yummy, and easy to drink once you get the hang of the external contraption.
I also had a duck confit salad with frisee, stilton, almonds, and peach segments. The idea was great, but the peaches were really under-ripe. Maybe Chicago isn't the best place to order peaches in September? Huh. Perhaps stewing them for a little while would help, or changing out the fruit - apples are in season, and they grow all over the Midwest.
Moving along, I ordered fermented pickle juice.
That wasn't what I was expecting from this beer, which on the menu is described as being brewed with mustard seed, spices, and sugar. The taste is strangely reminiscent of pickled cabbage - not in a bad way, though. It was odd, but I find myself wanting to try it again. Plus, it's from Brugge (Bruges), where our friend Meglets spent 6 months working in a hostel!
Day One down, I slept in on Friday before going to see my aunt, uncle, and cousins out in Western Springs. At it turned out, the friend I was staying with lived a hop, skip, and a short drive down the road from them, so it was a simple thing to get together.
My aunt knew just what had been missing from my diet down here - polish food, copious polish food! Check out the amazing variety she put together.
Not only were there blintzes and kugelis and potato pancakes, and sausage with sauerkraut and sausage stuffed into cabbage, there were (count them if you don't believe me) THREE different types of pierogies! She kept having to remind us which was which, since our family is apparently lacking in the x-ray pierogi skill set.
We sat down at the table with huge bags of old family pictures and spent a couple of hours reminiscing about family times. You don't get to see it, but there's a great picture I was allowed to take home where I'm wearing high-waisted pleated-front lavender koolats with a matching shirt, and Shelley up there is in turquoise overalls. Yipes!
Lots of fun, that we should do again sooner.
Later that evening, we headed out to a cocktail reception in our old gym. It's now been refurbished, equipped with new rooms and carpets and paint, and whole areas we weren't allowed in have been thrown open to the air.
The new gym is being menaced by that denizen of grammar, the apostrophe. Look at what it's done to this poor sign. d offered to pose as South Girl.
The only other classmate to show for this leg of the reunion made the kind offer to show us what a North Boy looks like.
So, you know, that was fun - walking around the gym with a glass of Delicato, catching up with teachers, standing in a knot of three, snickering about grammatical mistakes (there was also a sign pointing the way to the teacher's offices). Turns out the school already knew of the mistake. I wonder how long the signs hung without people noticing, though?
That evening went on fairly late, too, continuing up on the North Side somewhere at another bar with a huge beer selection. I'm not much of a beer drinker down here in Texas, but when in Rome surrounded by delicious Belgian and German brews, why the heck not?
Back to skool the next day - we gained one classmate. Now, while that does mean that over 10% of our graduating class of 39 were there, it was still pretty sad.
There were turkey legs, though - great for a food fight that never materialized.
So, we wandered the small homecoming carnival with old classmates, bitching about how things were so new and shiny.
After making a few phone calls and twisting the knife a little, I was able to get a couple more people from our class to show up. Even if it normally was their day to sleep in. (I'm looking at YOU, Joe!)
We were all sort of surprised how many teachers remembered us, by name if not by face.
A cocktail party and dinner were supposed to start at 5, so the representatives of the c/o '97 that showed wandered over that way. None of us had paid to actually enter the dinner, but we figured we could act as a dragnet if anyone else from our class showed up.
We got a picture while we milled around.
One of our teachers made fun of us mercilessly for standing outside. He told us we should just walk on in and get a drink, and after some consultation we did. (Getting our grade to do anything has always been like herding cats. Or maybe sloths.) We looked at the yearbooks out on display and had wine in the dining hall - it was really, really surreal. I poked around a little in the room where we used to get our pizzas and fries and warmed-over green beef-ish patties.
When it came time for the alumni coordinator to give her speech welcoming everyone to the $50 per head dinner, she encouraged us all to sit. We reminded her that none of us had paid, but she got very insistent...
So we crashed our own reunion.
We sat and talked and drank and listened to a speech from the new Headmaster and remarked on how little the room has actually changed.
It also turned out that the DJ was a guy who'd gone to the same temple as me when we were kids.
There was a sticky moment or two, when we were made to tell the waitrons what we'd ordered... I guessed chicken. Sure!
It was, you know, better than the cafeteria food I had when I was going to school there. Yes, they did hire caterers.
One of our English teachers produced a sheaf of class pictures from somewhere back in a storage vault. So many 90s ties! We checked off the missing people.
We ended up staying at the school until pretty late, and we would have continued the party downtown except the traffic on the Dan Ryan was backed up almost down to Austin.
The next day, awesomely, I got to see my daddy and my brudda! They came out to the suburbs to pick me up, and we went to a Texas-style steakhouse called Al's Char House. Sort of hilarious.
My brudda really, really wanted a plate of cheese fries. Who are we to hold a kid back from his dream?
The servings here are sort of novelty-sized, I'd say even more so than usual. Dad ordered a 56-ounce steak! (Don't be alarmed - most of it was so he could bring food home to my mom, who wasn't able to make it out to the 'burbs.)
Here he is, showing off his find. I thought it was hilarious that there's a three dollar charge for sharing - this brings up the question of how often people finish this steak. I need statistics.
I was also able to donate to the keep Mom fed fund, since my lambchops were huge. And came with mint jelly! So traditional.
I think Dad packed up five or six pounds of food to go. I'm still waiting on my brudda to email me the family portrait we corralled a waitress into taking.
Again, we had a great time and did a lot of catching up. I hope I can make it back to Chicago with Husbear in the next few months. After the winter, please Gd.
My family dropped me back off at d's house, where she was ready to get out and get some dinner. Not me, I said, having just eaten seventyleven pounds of lamb. So she talked big D into going again, and we went to Moonshine.
Both of the Ds have spent time in New Mexico for school, where apparently the green chile's reign extends to pizza. Moonshine does a green chile pizza, so... we had to go.
And sit under a stop sign.
I do have to say, the green chile pizza was quite good. (I only had a small piece. It was probably a good thing I didn't stay in Chicago longer, eating like this!)
Plus, we got one last catchup session before I left in the morning.
Ah, the morning. My plane didn't leave until early afternoon. Since I was leaving from O'Hare, though, I got there with two hours to kill. (Thanks again for the ride, d's mom!)
Security and checkin went really quickly, so having had nothing to eat yet, I stopped off at some bar or other inside the airport and ordered a $9 burger.
Here it is - a study in airport bars. Traveler, meet cheezeborger.
The plane ride, unlike the one up to Chicago, was nice - I had a window seat and lots of room and a book that d lent me. And a ginger ale.
Thanks, Chicago, for the memories, and for hooking me up with so many old friends! We should do this again sometime, preferably before my 20th reunion.
Hopleaf: 5148 N. Clark St., Chicago, 773.334.9851
Al's Char House: 32 S. Lagrange Rd., Lagrange, 708.354.6255 (Careful - their site plays music!)
Moonshine: 1824 N. Division, Chicago, 773.862.8686