On the 28th of October, my girlfriend, Allison, and I celebrated our fourth year together (see writeups for our third and second; the first predates this blog). What began sixth months ago as the vague intentions of going to see something on Broadway eventually morphed into a weekend-long celebration that involved a lot of driving.
Friday, October 27th
My planned time of departure is 12:30—the plan is to drive to WIU and be there by 4pm. My intention was to work until about noon, and then come home, throw my bag in the car, and leave. My alarm, though, had other plans, since it was set not for 7:45am, but 7:45pm, which makes a considerable difference, when you think about it. Having woken up late, I simply phoned it in and used the extra time to brew some coffee and make sure I had everything that I needed.
Only once I got on the road did I realize that I had entirely forgotten to eat. Anything. And wouldn’t have another chance to eat until later in the evening. Later, I would also be forcefully reminded that I had forgotten an article of clothing that Allison had very clearly asked me to bring. I stopped at a store to buy a card and flowers (given that they’d need to survive a 3-hour trip in a warm car, the flowers were a bit of a gamble), and got some trail mix to tide me over.
The drive from Joliet to Macomb is about three hours (less, the way I drive) and brutally boring. Luckily, it was a rather overcast day, so I didn’t have any glare to deal with, and with the exception of irritating truckers, it’s a smooth and uneventful drive. Going to Macomb is always infinitely better than coming home, because I have Allison to look forward to. A few notes about the trip:
- To the person who almost ran me off the road because you were gawking at the blazing semitruck on the far shoulder of the oncoming lane: eat shit and die.
- To the semitrucks who insist on getting in the left lane to pass other semitrucks, but take five minutes to do so because you’re not going any faster: eat shit and die.
- Boy, do I like having a V6 engine. I can do 80mph without breaking 3k RPM.
Despite a somewhat late start, I got to Western with time to spare, spending about 15 minutes waiting for Allison to get out of her rehearsal. This was fine, as it gave me time to use the restroom, again—drinking a large beer stein of coffee before embarking on a road trip is an exceptionally bad idea. Seeing Allison was, as always, wonderful: she even liked the flowers, though they were at this point somewhat worse for the wear.
The festivities for Friday evening actually had little to do with the anniversary, unless you include our countdown to midnight, when we exchanged small gifts. Actually, the reason I had driven down on Friday had more to do with driving arrangements than anything. But Allison had to take part in the orchestra’s annual Halloween concert, an event which probably draws every child in Macomb. It’s a fanciful romp through crowd-pleasing tunes like excerpts from the Pirates of the Caribbean score, its distinguishing feature being a parade of costumed children parading across the stage before the final song, to the applause and cooes of the audience. I’m extraordinarily uncomfortable around children, but I couldn’t help but be amused by the exceedingly young Spiderman sitting (sort of) in front of me, who was so very excited by the whole situation that he couldn’t help but beat the living tar out of an inexhaustible supply of invisible villains.
Afterwards, Allison and I hung out in her room, watching a movie and eating a late dinner. I should point out here that she gave me a copy of The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, so my Bryson collection remains blissfully complete.
I won’t go into details about dorm life or any of those specifics. For that, see my earlier post about visiting Allison.
Saturday, October 28th
In the morning we slept in slightly, needing to leave only by about 9am. I ate leftover pizza for breakfast1, put on a different shirt, and we climbed into Allison’s Buick (affectionately known as “Big Bertha”) and hit the road, heading back to Joliet. As we are talking about I-80, I-74, and I-34 here, there’s very little to say, except for the following:
- It’s a much nicer trip with someone to talk to.
- There are a surprising amount of roadkill, especially on I-80. Including cows.
- About 20 miles outside of Joliet, traffic clumped together into a 55mph mass. A truck was hauling an enormously oversized load that apparently required two pickup trucks with flashing lights and a police cruiser as an escort. Because people are apparently paranoid of police, no one wanted to pass him up, even though it was perfectly legal to do so. Idiots.
I went home, had a light lunch, and then showered, trying to spiff up as much as possible. The 28th was, after all, our actual anniversary, and the day with the most exciting activities.
At 4pm, Allison and I set off in Big Bertha (my car, if you’re following carefully, was three hours away, in Macomb) for Chicago. It was Allison’s first time driving in Chicago, and she was probably nervous. I was nervous for her, despite my sheets of directions and maps. I’d only driven there once, to see A Silver Mt. Zion, and it didn’t even require me driving downtown, but I was still scared of it.
We actually got to the parking garage on Randolph St. without incident, which was a difficult task since our route sent out through the heart of downtown—premium gawking territory. The Self-Park is a large structure a block away from the Oriental Theatre2. It required that we drive up a steep, narrow, twisting path until we were several floors up. Imagine for a moment how difficult this is in a Buick LeSabre.
Once parked, we took the elevator to the bottom floor and hailed a cab after a few minutes of trying. The man was actually very pleasant, and wasn’t a maniac by the standards of most Chicago cab drivers. A $4.65 fare later, we arrived at Maggiano’s, on Grand St. At 5:30 on a Saturday, it was understandably packed. We had reservations, but they were still running behind and didn’t seat us until 5:45. The wait for those without reservations was well over an hour—while we waited, a steady stream of people entered and asked the hostess about approximate times, and then seemed both shocked and crestfallen when she gave them an estimate. What did they expect? This is an immensely popular restaurant in downtown Chicago at dinnertime, not Big Billy Bob’s All U Can Eat Ribs in Scratchyerass, Illinois. I remember when Allison and I went to the Maggiano’s in Oak Brook for Valentine’s Day several years ago. I wasn’t smart enough to make reservations, and so she and I had to endure a 3+ hour wait by wandering around the mall. 3+ hours.
We ended up with a primo table in the corner of a section otherwise full of larger parties. It gave us some measure of privacy and quiet. Allison encouraged me to get booze (she was paying), and as I was unimpressed with their choices of beers, I went fruity and got a pomegranate martini, which was delicious if not particularly strong. For our meal, Allison got Rigatoni and “D” (her favorite) and I tried some newer chicken dish (chicken something al forno—I don’t see it on their online menu), which was delicious. Since it’s Maggiano’s, I shouldn’t need to tell you that the quantities were far too abundant for our poor stomachs. For dessert, we shared a large slice of some of the creamiest cheesecake I’ve ever had, drizzled with blueberry sauce and fresh blueberries. Sinful.
Done with dinner, we hailed another cab to take us back to the theatre. This time, we didn’t luck out with a mild-mannered driver. This one, a man of few words, dodged and weaved through traffic as though he was a character in Grand Theft Auto. I quickly engaged my seat belt and gave Allison a look that said, “In case we don’t make it…. I love you.”
But we did make it (and without killing any pedestrians, either!), though visibly shaken, and returned our leftovers to our car. Outside the theatre, Allison took pictures of the marquee and of us. She tried also to capture some of the surrounding sights while we waited to get it, with mixed success. Once inside, we had some time to kill before the 8pm show, so Allison bought me beer. In a brilliant promotional ploy, the theatre was stocking Pete’s Wicked Ale, appropriate because we were in fact seeing Wicked. After tasting it, I thought perhaps it was a rebranded version of Goose Island’s Honker’s Ale, because it tasted very similar, and Goose Island, being a Chicago microbrewery, is good at forming deals with places and events inside of the city and surrounding suburbs.
Since I’m not a theatre critic, I won’t bother reviewing Wicked except to say that it was good. Some of the performers were different than when we saw it last January—Glinda was even bubblier than before, if that’s even possible—but the whole performance was as solid, funny, and exciting as ever. My one complaint is that the Oriental Theatre was not built for people with long legs: I had to sort of fold up by lower half in order to fit in my seat.
Afterward, we stopped in the tea shop (Argo Tea) next door. Not only was it easier to use the bathroom there than wait in line at the theatre, but we got some hot drinks to warm us up. A good thing, too, because there ended up being a substantial line at the Self-Park (the theatre is also smart enough to ally itself with the owners of the parking garage, who offer discounts to customers with ticket stubs). Much of the line was just waiting for elevators, but we still had to pay at the automated machines.
“I wonder if there are stairs,” I thought. Not a minute later, a woman and her significant other pushed their way through to crowd to the corpulent attendant sitting behind a desk and watching the chaos with disinterest. “Excuse me,” she began, “but where are your stairs?”
“Stairs are closed,” the attendant answered, without looking up.
“Closed?” the woman repeated, exasperated. “What if there’s a fire?”
“Then the police will open them.” Still not looking up.
It really does boggle the mind.
When we exited the parking garage (in the car, that is), we ended up on a different street than we had intended, and after a moment of panic, we simply took a trip around the block and got back on Randolph, which led to 90/94E, which led to I-55, and it was a skate from there.
All in all, it was a pretty smooth experience and a great anniversary.
Sunday, October 29th
On Sunday morning, I slept in with the benefit of an extra hour from the end of Daylight Savings Time. Allison and I ended up getting together at about 1pm, had a light lunch, got our stuff together, said goodbye to her family and dogs, and then hit the road at about 3pm, armed with coffee.
Again, I needn’t bore you with the details of the drive, except to note these few things:
- The large black cow lying dead in a ditch on I-80 was still there.
- Have I mentioned how much I hate driving on I-80?
- Despite the relative remoteness of this stretch of interstate, Sunday afternoons are apparently the times for speed traps on I-80 (we avoided all of them).
We arrived after dark, in time to grab some food from the cafeteria, before going to that night’s activity: Western hosted a one-night-only performance of Rent. It was an off-Broadway performance, so there were obviously no big names, and the production values weren’t as high, but I was impressed nonetheless. Not only was the vocal talent still fantastic, but the choreography was surgically precise: the stage was small and packed to the rafters with scenery, but the characters still managed to dance, jump, and go crazy without tripping and breaking their necks.
There was quite a turnout to see it, including a lot of older people probably not related to the University. This surprised me, considering that Macomb is a kind of conservative farming town, excepting perhaps, the more left-leaning academics who staff its university, and Rent is a pretty damn liberal musical, unabashedly featuring (and defending) homosexuality, drag queens, and poverty. Allison pointed out to me, though, that it’s Macomb: there’s nothing else to do.
This version of Rent, which I’m guessing is largely unchanged from the Broadway version except for staging changes, was a bit surprising after seeing the movie. While the film opens with “Seasons of Love,” the stage show waits until the second act. One must also infer a lot more from the stage show, because it hasn’t the benefit of flashbacks and descriptive visuals. For those unfamiliar with the story (such as the elderly gentleman sitting next to me, who also complained about the excessive volume), it might have been difficult to follow. Also, because it was staged in a converted gymnasium, the quality of the audio was less than ideal. Still, it was a very enjoyable (and relatively cheap) experience.
Afterward, we drove to the area by WIU’s President’s house, where one can see the campus lit up against the starry sky—a remote analog of the Chicago skyline we left just the previous day. We then worked on some things that Allison needed done for the next day—we painted a wooden paddle for her sorority, and I proofread a paper that was due on Monday. At 1am, we crawled into bed and fell asleep in each other’s arms, dreading the coming of morning.
Monday, October 30th
We awoke the next day before 8, bleary-eyed. I just threw on my jeans and put in my contacts, waiting to shower until I returned home. We breakfasted on cereal; Allison made coffee. At 9am, we walked out to my car, parked outside since Friday, and sadly said goodbye. As Allison said, it’s a good thing she wore waterproof makeup. This would be out last meeting until she comes home for Thanksgiving, and neither of us wanted to part.
I filled up on gas in Good Hope, a tiny town of 400 a few miles north of Macomb, and then settled in for a long, long drive. A few notes:
- Driving away from Allison really sucks.
- They were finally picking up that dead cow when I passed it.
- At the exact same point as on Saturday—about 20 miles out from Joliet—there was once again a slowdown because, yes, another truck was hauling another large piece of metal, with a police escort. This sort of experience makes me never want to drive on I-80 again.
It’s been a short four years for me: being with Allison has been a blissful time for me, and it just flies by. I feel like it was only a few months ago that were in Chicago celebrating three years, and now here we are, stronger than ever, starting our fifth. It’s been amazing. She’s amazing.
I love you, Allison.