Coincidentally, my last day at work on Friday also happened to be Groupon’s 10th birthday. So it was nice to pretend, as 3pm rolled around and the champagne and green cupcakes started to appear, that the party was also for me. Even better was Tiffany Haddish’s guest appearance at our company-wide All Hands meeting the day before. I’ve been at Groupon in one form or another for seven and a half years (despite being rejected for the first job I applied for, fun fact!) so it was a nice note to leave on. I try to keep work largely separate from this blog, but as I wrote in my leaving email, it has been a real privilege to enjoy the company of the people you work with. (Although I was too shy to go up and share the company of Tiffany Haddish.)
Later that night, Robert very generously arranged a leaving party for me and Randi at the Revolution Brewery Tap Room. Everything felt like it had come full circle after my London leaving party in 2014, which Robert was also there for. I still have a week left in Chicago before a brief homecoming UK trip, so there are still some emotional farewells outstanding. But things are moving quickly, as they always do. And while I am very, very grateful at how lucky I am to be able to travel and live in different places over my life, it does mean that there will always be friends across oceans.
Our final visitors to Chicago were Randi’s family friends, the Moffitts, who accompanied us to Chicago’s new ‘experimental’ museum, wndr. It’s a quirky and highly interactive blend of art and science which is super-fun to wander through and play about in. Later we went to our last-ever Improv Shakespeare – or at least, our last for a while! – which turned out to be the rather hilariously out-there What I Learned From My Dog. Murderous dogs devouring cheating husbands and a fabulous mud demon for the Scottish mud dwellers… I will miss you dearly, improvising Shakespearians.
Also, it was great to see Mike Fotopoulos again for a Motel visit the other week with Sara and Sam from work. He is an American who relocated to the UK and is now equally (if not more) excited than me about Crossrail. Amanda’s friend Rebecca also stayed with us this past weekend, and we all gathered on the sofa in our pyjamas to drink wine and watch the first romcom which came our way, Crazy, Stupid, Love. The moral message of the film was kinda appalling. Still fun to watch, though.
Hey there, Japanese Encephalitis! After our final round of vaccinations, I’m not scared of you anymore. Come at me, bro.
People at work keep coming up to me and asking if if I’ve “heard the rumour” that I’m leaving. If the answer was no, this would be a pretty awkward way of firing someone. But yes, after over 4 years in Chicago and over 7 years at Groupon, I will soon be leaving both for new adventures. And “new adventures” here isn’t actually just a euphemism for “changing jobs”. Randi and I will be doing some travelling first, which I will be delighted to blog about… later. I will write about Chicago properly, too. Right now I am caught up in a whirl of transition docs, visa forms and vaccinations. I need to ship my giant Dominion board game box to the UK, sign some paperwork to release my dental records (of which I am sure there are a lot) and figure out the train lines in South East Asia. Lots to do!
For a while it looked like I would outlast Motel Bar in Chicago, which would have been sad. But the bar next to our office has now reopened “under new management”, and after a bit of a dry spell I have been making better use of it again in the past few weeks to have conversations with some of the many wonderful people I work with (case in point: Jason and Brigette) before I leave.
I am even happier, though, that before we left Randi and I finally escaped an escape room together (The Escape Game: Special Ops). We were part of a dream team of CIA operatives assembled by Todd, and I’m proud to say that we saved the world with 10 minutes to spare. We did it! Hurray! World saved!
In the past few weeks we also went back to Spacca Naopli (which is certainly in the running for the world’s best pizza) with Randi’s cousin Arielle, had a birthday dinner downtown with Arielle’s family and ate an awful lot of fondue with Catherine and AJ. Fun fact: Catherine and I got into an argument about the physical nature of post-resurrection Jesus, so I thought it was an excellent moment to ring up the number from those 855-FOR-TRUTH billboards and get an authoritative answer. The operator took my side, naturally. An invaluable service.
This past weekend, Randi’s friend Mike and his girlfriend Melissa finally decided to visit us in Chicago after a bazillion years, so we took them on our patented Chicago tour (there’s a lot of walking involved, but also a lot of cinnamon rolls) which inevitably concluded in Improv Shakespeare. This time the play was Quantum Shark, and between the ventriloquist puppet show, the amazing song of the sailors and the higher-than-average quota of inside Shakespeare jokes it was probably one of my favourites. Don’t laugh at me, but we already have tickets for another show before we go.
If you can’t get to an Improv Shakespeare performance, though, two things recently which I would recommend:
- A Dangerous Dynasty: House of Assad (BBC iPlayer) charts the story of Bashar Assad from shy London eye doctor to dictator of Syria. The most fascinating character is his British-born wife, Asma, who adopts a delusional posture as ‘First Lady’ of Syria with all of the trappings of an American First Lady (visits to schools, charity events, soft-focus TV interviews) but no seeming recognition of how the Assad family’s power is maintained.
- Free Solo, a documentary about rock climber Alex Honnold who becomes the first person to ascend El Capitan in Yellowstone without any ropes or, y’know, any protection whatsoever if he slips. We saw this in the cinema with Mike and while it didn’t inspire me to do any free soloing myself, it was undeniably beautiful and terrifying and crazy.
I really love coat weather. A few nights ago, John from work hosted a “casual pizza and beer between colleagues” gathering at his house – it’s been way too long since I last went to one of those – and I persuaded my co-worker Snow to travel there with me via a classic Dom walking/Red Line/more walking route rather than just jumping in a car. And of course I kept apologising because it was slower and colder and I’m bad at directions (we got there eventually) but really I was delighted to be prompted to go home and dig a coat out of the cupboard again.
This afternoon, Randi and I had some time to kill before Doctor Who, so it was coats-on to visit Garfield Park Conservatory (which is lovely and free!) and, look, I don’t know a better way of putting it than that life is just better in a coat. It doesn’t have to be freezing, just brisk enough that you can walk with purpose. And you get more pockets, too.
Oh, yes, Sundays are Doctor Who Sundays now. I really have missed it, and I absolutely love settling down on a Sunday night (a departure from tradition but it really suits) with Randi, Amanda, Joe and Julie to watch it. At the same time I love how fresh this series feels, how everything is being built anew. It looks different, it sounds different. Jodie is great but when I think of “the Doctor” I don’t think of her… yet, and oddly that is exactly what is so reassuringly familiar from regenerations past. It takes time. It takes work. I just checked my blog from 2014 when Capaldi started and discovered I watched it from Malaysia. That feels like a lifetime ago.
I am less emotionally invested in The Great British Bake Off but I am enjoying that too, especially last week when Villy dropped in on Chicago and joined us for an episode. I also saw Crazy Rich Asians in the cinema with Randi and Amanda, which was surprisingly fun and prompted hilariously genuine gasps from the audience at all the right moments of rom-com drama.
Finally, on Friday night I saw a 2nd Story performance in a pub. The concept is four “ordinary people” getting up and telling their personal stories, from the comic to the heartbreaking, but the event is carefully crafted beforehand through workshops and rehearsals so that each speaker delivers an impressive and moving piece of rhetoric on the night itself. It’s really interesting, because I think we have come to associate “authentic” and “real people” with spontaneous, unpolished, off-the-cuff emotion. I appreciated the opposite approach, where the stories which are worth listening to are also worth the work to craft. In particular, I’m glad I heard more from Randi’s colleague Lydia, the final storyteller on Friday night and who has a story worth hearing.
This weekend (otherwise known as “A Very Fall Weekend in America”, ©Catherine) we stayed at AJ’s parents’ house up in Hartland, Wisconsin and enjoyed various activities of impeccable Americana including a high school Homecoming football game, apple picking at an orchard and navigating a giant corn maze.
OK, admittedly, we only dropped in on the Homecoming game for a few minutes on Friday night because it was cold, we were hungry, and AJ wasn’t showing enough school spirit to overcome these factors. But we did spend a lot longer in the corn maze the next day – nearly an hour and a half, in fact – trying to solve various puzzles and collect all of the stamps. (If you thought the point of a maze was just to find your way in and out again, think again.) It is true we didn’t reach 100% completion, but I thought it was a good effort.
I also enjoyed taking photos on my new phone… an extravagant purchase, but coming after a two and a half year gap from my last phone, which is not bad going. Just think of it as an investment in high-quality blog content.
Many thanks to AJ’s parents for hosting us, for making many delicious pizzas in their wood-fired pizza oven on Saturday night (supplemented by a healthy amount of wine) and for letting me drive their lawnmower around the garden after I was impressed by their fancy motorised lawnmower. Apparently this is how AJ and his brothers learnt to drive, but I’m not planning on going any further.
Aside from this trip, I spent most of the rest of the last fortnight recreating a childhood pattern: coming home from work and settling down on the sofa as quickly as possible in order to read as much of JK Rowling’s new novel as I could before bed. It’s excellent, and I really hope there isn’t such a long wait for the next instalment in the series. Talking of JK Rowling childhoods: it was very exciting to be sat next to a 7 year old at dinner recently who had read all of the Harry Potter books (or had them read to her, same difference), rated them higher than the films, and was emotionally attuned enough to be deeply sympathetic to Snape. It was very heartening.
Randi and I also celebrated Amanda’s actual birthday at La Scarola, had an underground photoshoot at the Division Blue Line station (more on this in a later post, once we have photos!) and I met Jason’s new dog on a freezing patio. (It was one of those days where you kid yourself into thinking that shorts and a t-shirt will be fine all day, and then by the evening shorts and a t-shirt are definitely no longer OK, and you end up making awkward conversation with the woman running a high-end art gallery with a special exhibition on Frank Sinatra just to get out of the wind. “Are you a fan of Frank Sinatra?” “Erm, no… I mean, I’m not not a fan of Frank Sinatra…”)
I’m afraid it has not been a big month so far for going out and doing interesting, photogenic, blog-worthy things. I have been hatching plans, yes, but they are not ready yet, so in the meantime I feel almost guilty for displacing the nice Yellowstone & Grand Teton post down from its prime position into the slow oblivion of the archives. Oh well, so it goes.
A notable exception to this sad trend was Amanda’s boat-based birthday party on Saturday night. I spent most of my time perched at the front of said boat with Randi and our neighbours Joe and Julie – eating Ruffles, searching the horizon for Randi’s ghostly circus tents and wondering whether the captain was speeding up just to try and knock us off. Also, I finally understand what a lock is. (It’s a lift for boats! What a world.)
Otherwise I have been catching up with interesting people, like Zak (who took me to a mysterious cocktail bar), Karol (who has officiated more weddings than seems proper) and Zoe (a British friend-of-a-friend who was visiting Chicago and dropped by with wine and book recommendations). Last Friday night we had delicious tacos at Francisco and Carolina’s house with Robert, Julie, Poncho and – most importantly – Bernie, who is delightful despite his penchant for stealing phones.
And the weekend before last, while Randi and Amanda were off gallivanting in the cornfields of Ohio, I was delighted to meet some Young People In College at Catherine and AJ’s who answered some of my questions about what Young People do these days on the internet. (Certainly blogging is not one of those things, sigh.)
I do really want to recommend that you all go and see The Wife. Why? Well, admittedly the original reason was because my cousin Alix is in it, and you can’t really pass up the opportunity to go and see your cousin pretend to be Glenn Close’s daughter in a Hollywood film. But the three of us – Randi, Amanda and I – really enjoyed the whole thing! Go see!