A relatively easy drive from Milwaukee put us in Evanston, IL by about 6pm on Saturday. We quickly learned how active Kenny’s social life at Kellogg is, as we rushed off immediately to tailgate the Kellogg football game with his fellow classmates. I was so surprised to see a college football stadium with food options inside. This ain’t Cornell football baby. After the game we went back to the center of Evanston to watch a fight at a bar slash hear lots of Kellogg students tell us how much they love Kenny already and how he was cast as “The Most Interesting Man in the World” in their video. Of course! We packed it in earlier than most other students as we had a big day ahead of us.
It was up before 6am so the boys could prepare the dry rub on our wings and we could pack up the car for the 3 hour drive up to Lambeau Field in Packers country, Wisconsin! With fingers crossed the weather would clear, it rained the entire drive up and we arrived to a sea of poncho-ed tailgaters grilling up food and drinking beers in driveways and front yards. That’s right. While there is a big parking lot it sells out faster than there are fans, so the homeowners outside Lambeau sell spots in their driveways and yards to fans who then park, tailgate, and use their port-o-pottys for $20. Is this something that happens at other stadiums? This was my first professional football game, so it was all new to me, but this was crazy. I mean, every year, every home game, these people stand outside and direct cars onto their grassy lawns, and rent toilets! What? So insane.
Disappointingly the rain did not let up, so we had to tailgate in the rain. We poured a round of bloody mary’s and got to cooking in the trunk of the car (ingenuity folks). Luckily this haphazard attempt at sautéing onions and peppers for our sausages was noticed by our neighbors and they kindly offered us some space under their tent. They came PREPARED – full tent, big pop up grill, loads of food. It was much appreciated. The brats we’d bought in Madison were delicious, but no star in comparison to the wings the boys cooked up. After downing our food and a handful of BL’s we started to make our way into the stadium. Our seats were great, as damn well they should have been for the price tag! Holy NFL. Luckily the rain let up pretty much as soon as we entered the stadium, though of course we’re all wearing long underwear and rain gear in anticipation of four hours of cold wetness.
The highlight for me was byfar my cheesehead which I had negotiated for in exchange for a budget blowing for a day of pure football. Lambeau was a great place to do it though. Those Wisco fans are good people.
Kenny was a champ and drove 3 hours both ways, so with little brother being the responsible one, Alan .. well, he had a good time. And his good time culminated in knocking over a frying pan and open flame in the trunk of the Subaru when we attempted to make a second round of brats post-game.
Needless to say, the next day was a low-key one for us. We got bagels at Bagel Art in Evanston – mediocre and pricy! I dropped off my bridesmaid’s dress for Jaim’s wedding to get tailored. Then we sat on the couch catching up on our favorite TV shows online, both of us on separate computers with headphones in our ears (to be fair this was essentially the first time we watched TV since leaving LA, and we watched very little over the course of the 3 month trip). And that was the extent of our day. We did make it out at night for some Lou Malnati’s deep dish pizza with Kenny. They are famous for Chicago style pizza. I actually tried it before on my last cross country trip when I drove Concord, MA to Los Angeles, CA with my mom five years ago. It’s solid, but I’m still a thin crust girl. Afterwards we checked out the view of the Chicago skyline from Kenny’s roofdeck, which was impressive. The boys watched (more) football and it was off to bed.
I think that football game threw us into a tizzy all week, because we were kind of off our game the entire time in Evanston. I don’t know if it was travel catching up with us, or a multi-day hangover, or starting to miss the creature comforts of having a home and a routine, but we were slow here. The next day we had decided to go into Chicago, but it took us until about noon to get out of the house to do it. From there it was about an hour on the L to get into the city.
We started wandering around Chicago somewhat aimlessly, walking past the Art Institute, by the Chicago River, and up to Michigan Ave. We stopped at Portillo’s for lunch and Alan had a Chicago dog with all the trappings (mustard, relish, fresh chopped onion, chopped tomatoes, a pickle spear, and peppers, served in a poppy seed bun). I was sausaged out from the game and opted for a pasta dish. I had never heard of Portillo’s but it is apparently famous for its dogs. It’s kind of kitschy, and you order from windows like you do at a mall food court. Food hit the spot though. After lunch we continued wandering, meandering up Lakeshore Drive, and through the south edge of Lincoln Park, which is a charming part of town full of brownstones I imagined choosing between. It was here that we and others stopped to observe a dog that was stealthily creeping up behind a squirrel while his owner was caught up on a cell phone conversation. Everyone’s saying, “no way, he couldn’t catch it..” Then… he caught it! This was the most wildlife in action moment all trip! Who would’ve thought it’d be a domesticated animal in a public city park?
One thing I noticed – and loved – about the L station: the drop-off area is called the Kiss-n-ride! How cute? Kiss your lover as you drop them off! Adorable! Also, there was a Dunk’s at our L stop, so amaze-balls all around. After we got back to Evanston, Alan and Kenny went out for food and partying with Kenny’s friends. I opted to catch up on sleep and a night of weird depressing movies that Alan would never want to watch 🙂
The next morning Alan got breakfast at Delbe’s Corner, and I picked up a pastry at Bennison’s and we did some “work” back at Kenny’s. I know that it seems like without jobs one would never have “work” but there is a surprising amount of time that gets spent on what is now our “work.” It’s just that we don’t get paid for it. What work, might you ask? Well, I won’t bore you with the details, but all the normal life stuff that people do (like paying bills, going through e-mails, reading the news, etc.), then there are a whole host of other things that you normally don’t have to think about while employed, like getting health insurance, traveler’s insurance, car storage, plane tickets by the bundle, hotel accommodations, research on the dozens of cities and locations you’re visiting so that you know what to see, editing photos, writing content for blog posts, constructing blog posts [I know, I know it seems like we didn’t do much of that… but I promise they’re coming!], and so on. This is not an explanation proffered to garner sympathy, it’s simply an explanation as I find many people expect we have nothing but time on our hands now that we travel full time. It’s not surprising that people think this, and I certainly thought it would be more like that myself. But life is always life and there are always things to deal with and work on.
Anyway, for lunch we met Kenny at Bat 17, somewhat of a Northwestern student must-see. Their sandwiches are GINORMOUS. I could barely eat half of my egg salad sandwich. The boys split some mean meaty sandwiches. I was tempted by the expansive beer selection, but opted against it. It was back to the apartment for some more errands and then into Chicago for a steak dinner.
We took a cab into the city during one of the most intense lightning storms I’ve ever seen. So intense. The restaurant was a typical fancy steak place, complete with a table of two businessmen and hookers sitting at a table near us. I ordered a peach and burrata salad which was really good. I honestly don’t even remember if I had any steak. (Meat is not my typical splurge item – I opt for desserts, pasta, pastries and cheese, and not always in that order. Do you think I will enjoy Italy?!). Though the boys certainly did (and bacon, obvs), which they thoroughly enjoyed. Alan and I smiled seeing Cristom’s Marjorie wine on the wine list (you might remember that from our Oregon wine country post). The rain let up on our ride home and the air was so clear, it afforded some epic views of the city’s architecture. Maybe it was just the rain clearing, but I felt that in Chicago there is a space between buildings through which you can enjoy the sky, versus New York, where every space seems to be filled with noises, sounds and smells. The thunder picked up again over night with intensity unlike that I can ever remember. Or is it just that I’ve forgotten what thunder sounds like having lived in LA for five years?. Either way, I was glad I had my thunder buddy for life (We’re not scared of thunder cause it’s just god’s fahhts! Ohh, I love quoting the movie Ted).
The next day we slept in and got a late start. While the boys went for chicken wings (for breakfast), I decided to use this as an opportunity to try 5 Guys for the first time (yeah, also I guess breakfast). They are EVERYWHERE now. We saw SO many on the road trip. Yet you have to drive miles from West LA to find one? Well, I suspect this is because they have NOTHIN on In-N-Out. My take: super messy meal. I got the little cheeseburger “all the way, no tomato” and fries (it’s well documented on this blog that I love tomatoes, but I hate fast food tomatoes and I don’t like ‘em on my burger). The portions are huge, the food good but not amazing. They do have this cool soda thing were you choose from a digital menu of dozens of flavors of soda. We took our greasy food back to Kenny’s, ate on cardboard boxes leftover from Kenny’s move and then settled in to a day of insurance torture.
So. You may have seen my public outcry for help on facebook as we were trudging our way through this health insurance catch 22. Here’s a quick summary: we had a 60-day window to elect coverage under COBRA after leaving our jobs. That expired at the end of September. With only a few days to that date, we began the process of trying to get insurance that wouldn’t cost the arm and three legs that COBRA does (something like nearly $700 a month per person! Yikes!). So here, in a nutshell, was the conundrum: we gave up our apartment in LA and have no “home” anywhere, anymore. For all intents and purposes we still consider ourselves CA residents as we have CA drivers’ licenses, pay CA state taxes, have a car registered in CA, all our belongings are in a storage facility in CA, and we intend to reside in CA once we finish travelling. But, we have no family in CA, so our mailing address is now at my parents’ house in Massachusetts where my loving parents sift through our junk mail, magazines, and bills and tell us when important stuff has come our way (Thanks Mom and Dad!!!). But, we can’t get insured in CA with a MA mailing address (Romney Care), and we can’t get insured in MA because we are not residents of the state (and had no interest in paying state taxes there as well, obtaining MA licenses (which isn’t even possible since we don’t reside there!), etc etc). We tried and tried to level with insurance brokers at countless companies, explaining our situation to people who agreed with us how ridiculous it was, and people who hung up on us, and said things like “well you could use a friend’s address, but I’m on a recorded line, ma’am so I can’t advise you to do that.” Absurdity. We finally found a traveler’s insurance company that we thought would do the trick, but the coverage would not kick in until we left the country. Ridiculous? Yes. Absurd? Yes. But we were about to get to Vermont, where we could easily drive into Canada for lunch. Easy peasy right? Except I left my passport in a safe deposit box in Los Angeles that only Alan and I have access to open. GAH. (Another example of the exceptionally poor planning we did before leaving!!!) I even looked into flights to fly home for a night to pick up the passport. Well I’ll spoil the ending for you guys and let you know that this drama went on for a long while, and it was eventually resolved. We got a temporary insurance plan that covers us until the end of the year. And we did not need to leave the country, though we did realize I needed my passport to apply for visas (another headache we dealt with later on – I’m looking at you India, China and Uzbekistan. Why so many hoops to jump through just to boost your tourism industry!?). Again, crisis was narrowly averted, as while in Vermont we filled out a power-of-attorney for our friend Mike in LA to get into our safe deposit box and Fedex us my passport. Huge thank you to Mike and the kind ladies at Merrill Lynch who gave us the idea (no thanks to you, Citibank, who said there was absolutely no way around it)!!!
Anyway, after a long day of annoying stuff, we met up with our friend Kris who had recently moved to Chicago, for drinks and appetizers at a nearby bar. It was great seeing him, and a good way to finish out our somewhat strange time in Chicago. It was wonderful (as always) seeing Kenny, but while he was busy with classes and school work, Alan and I had hoped to be super productive. Man, we were so off our game. And this feeling of un-productivity and un-funness (again, only with respect to insurance and other BS, not at all un-fun hanging with the brah-in-law) was further exacerbated on our thwarted attempt to leave Chicago. Having a 10-hour drive ahead of us, we started the day with more fruitless calls to insurance brokers. By mid-morning we had our things together and were preparing to leave town. Alan pulled the car around to the front of Kenny’s building, parking right where it states “no parking,” so that we could load the car up more easily. Once loaded, Sven refused to start again. He had quite the tantrum, rolling down the windows in a weird creepy slow way that led us to believe there was an electrical issue with the car. We called Volvo roadside assistance for a tow truck. Unfortunately the Volvo dealer in Chi-town was booked and couldn’t guarantee getting the car in same day, so we had to opt for a dealer outside of town. Not to mention everything we owned was in the car, and we had no place to put it, having left the keys to Kenny’s inside his apartment while he was off taking his first mid-term. The tow truck took over an hour to arrive. We’re watching our clocks and counting in our head the progressively later hour that we’ll be arriving at our next destination. Well, thankfully a battery jump gets Sven going, and we call the other Volvo dealer in town again to see if they can just squeeze us in for a battery replacement. Sure they say, no problem. Here’s a 1:30pm appointment, come on by. And come on by we did, arriving at 1pm. In the waiting room we take advantage of the wifi dealing with – you guessed it – more insurance calls and other fun errands. Good times. The only highlight was Maury playing on the waiting room TV, until the guy changed it to ESPN. Uncool. Well, we wait and wait until 5:30pm creeps up and they tell us they tested the battery and it’s 100% fine, and they have no idea what’s wrong with the car. GRR. (It took 2 more Volvo dealerships in Vermont and Maine to finally figure it out, maybe). So we head off on our 10 hour drive to New York, most of which it was pouring rain out, arriving at our crappy, middle of nowhere hotel at 3am. Huge thank you to Alan for driving after such a no good, terrible day!
Despite this being the most annoying day of the trip – there were some redeeming factors. First, we entered the Eastern Time Zone! WOOHOO! That felt good. We knew we had made it almost the whole way across the country, and it felt like our “old” home, having both grown up in Massachusetts. This was also the start of a stretch of the trip traveling through a handful of states we were both already familiar with. So homey indeed. Second, the initial part of the drive out of Chicago, through the first bit of Indiana, the rain had let up a bit and the views of the city skyline were so clear it was disarming. The buildings looked superimposed on a green screen. Lastly, and most important, we were now in Olean, NY, only a few hours drive from Ithaca, NY to see my alma mater and celebrate our one year wedding anniversary!!!