Shenanigans in Chicago

The fact that I’ve titled this blog post “shenanigans” while Daisy has titled hers “vagabonds” should be a pretty good (albeit exaggerated) indicator of the gist of our spontaneous Chicago trip. If every traveling “plan” had to have a purpose, then ours would be simply to free our minds and open our eyes to experience a different world; and if apertures were pupils and camera sensors were our third retinas, then our cameras have helped us to see more clearly and look for what was beautiful and memorable.

And that’s exactly what this unplanned trip has been so far—beautiful and memorable. So maybe we didn’t have real tour guides to tell us the actual name of the “vagina building” supposedly built to counter all the phallic towers, but we did have awesome locals to take us to hole-in-the-wall joints with grandma chefs and kitschy décor. We did sit on a curb next to a hotdog joint past midnight, clogging up our arteries with greasy goodness. We did get into unknown club venues hidden among meatpacking warehouses and chat up a 6’4” black bouncer who spoke Russian. We also biked fifteen miles around downtown and along Lake Michigan on LSD—Lake Shore Drive—when Daisy exclaimed, “This feels like f!cking heaven.” And if that moment—zooming past pedestrians, sun-tanners, and Lonely Island wannabes on boats—was an accurate representation of heaven, then I wouldn’t mind dying.

Daisy and I could’ve carried around maps and done all of the tourist essentials. We could’ve gone to the top of the Sears Tower and John Hancock building during the day, but instead, we biked to the middle of a bridge around midnight, hopped over the railing, and landed on top of a train yard warehouse to take pictures of the Chicago skyline from an unobstructed vantage point. We could’ve bought day passes for the train and hopped on and off from neighborhood to neighborhood, but instead, we pedaled through the potholes and past the crazy batshit truck drivers from Ravenswood to the Belmont Harbor to North Beach and Oak Street Beach to Millennium Park and then to Chinatown for all-you-can-eat hotpot—and then biked some more until we ended up slipping down a super narrow escalator.

Of course, no experience is complete without the casual encounters. To describe some of the awesome people we’ve met, one guy has photographed an extravagant Indian wedding in Bombay, which consisted of elephant polo and a Japanese tea ceremony preceded by a taiko performance. That same guy also rode through the Himalayas on a motorbike—only to run straight into a cow blocking the road and find fur embedded in his bleeding knuckles. That was Cory. Jacob teaches English composition by day and works as an editor for ACM by night. He has a bookshelf with authors and poets like Dostoevsky and Yeats organized in alphabetical order. Paige lives in Presidential Towers with the most intense security face-scanning system I’ve ever witnessed, and she has an entire six-foot cabinet stuffed with Legos, including two Harry Potter sets. Thanks to her hospitality, we had quite enjoyable rounds of drunken mahjong while I also admired her chartreuse and aquamarine walls. I could also mention Melisa, who is a 5’3” Asian b-girl, and Joyce, who works for a Fox television show, but I think our Chicagan host, Frank, deserves the final shoutout and a proper “thank you” for driving/housing/feeding us despite having to work for seven photo studios simultaneously, and despite me being hung over this morning or accidentally hitting him in the head with a pool cue last night. Just now, I had to ask him what the pool stick (cue) was called, in which he responded with, “You need to get out more.” (How he puts up with someone as naïve as I am is beyond my comprehension.)

I still have a few more days here in Chicago, but I purposely have nothing planned, because I know whatever happens, I will be content. I can’t explain the peaceful feeling of being the only two people on the platform waiting for the redline at 2:30am in the morning or leaning over the balcony reading excerpts from ACM out loud to no one in particular; and I can’t remember when was the last time I watched a Miyazaki film while hugging a Totoro or flipped through books with such intrigue at a second-hand, grungy bookstore.

In Long Room, I had a bottle of La Fin du Monde—“The End of the World”. If it were the end of the world, I would try to live my life to the fullest with no expectations and no regrets—but you never know when is the Second Coming or next Big Bang. Someone said to me the night we jumped onto the roof of a warehouse to take pictures of the skyline, “You need to live in the present.” I’m living in the present, blogging about the past, and being optimistic about the future thanks to cherished moments like these.