Monday, October 27, 2003

Deja vu, All Over Again
This weekend, Mark and I sojourned to the great city of Chicago, for a big Grinnellian (mostly) reunion of sorts. It was really just people that we know, rather than all the Grinnellians in the area, but it was still a big group, as the midwest refuses to release its hold on many a Grinnell graduate. For a run-down of the cast, there was me, Mark, Heather, Matt, Erik, Ann, Mike and his girlfriend, Amanda, Kevin (Mark's ex-roommate) and his wife, Jana (non-Grinnellian), Brandon and his Czech girlfriend, Lucie (non-Grinnellian), Will (honorary Grinnellian), and two Chicago natives, John and Kate (not a couple, which is somewhat unusual in this list, as you may have noted.) Another of our friends, Rob, who works at the Field Museum, was originally going to be there, too, but had to go out of town, so he manifested his spirit by getting us 15 free tickets to the Field. It's good to have connections.

We left Michigan after I got off work, and our drive began pleasantly, through bright fall weather, so I got to look at lots of colorful trees on the way. It was kind of odd. I could tell when we had left Michigan just by the colors of the trees along the road. Michigan really is a lot more colorful than Indiana and Illinois, at least the parts on the way to Chicago. (Of course, almost anything is more colorful than Gary.) My final conclusion about the color difference in Michigan is that the trees have a lot more pure, bright yellows, oranges, and crimsons, which are extra-striking because they do not fade before they fall off the trees. I really liked seeing all those bright, firey trees mixed in against the larger, darker, solid oaks, with their thick brown-black trunks and green-brown leaves, as if they were protecting the more fickle, smaller, bright ones. Then again, maybe I was just happy to be out of E. Lansing.

The drive became much less pleasant, as always, when we actually entered Illinois and hit the Skyway. What good, I ask you, is an expressway, if you reduce it to just one lane? None, I tell you, none. When we finally reached the hotel, we discovered that it was 1) huge, and 2) hosting a boxing match, which meant 3) it had no open parking places in the $9/day lot. This somewhat biased me against the hotel, until we got in, got situated in our room, and went down to the sports bar area to meet other people. Because, then, you see, the strangest thing happened.

I knew where I was. As we walked through the back hallways, threading our way through boxing fans and past boxers' dressing rooms, we got to more of the main hallways. And then I saw the etched patterns on the glass windows lining the hall side of the bar. I had been here before. This exact hotel. The only hotel I have ever previously stayed in in Chicago. This was the Ramada where the JET program put us for pre-departure orientation, just before we got on the planes to fly to Japan. It was eerie.

On Saturday, a bunch of us headed off to the Field Museum. This took a bit longer than anticipated, due to having to find everyone at the airport, then find the El station there, and then make our way actually into Chicago. Of course, all the time on the train gave people a chance to talk, large herd that we were. Large groups of Grinnellians don't really have problems finding things to talk about. After lunch, and phone calls with the people who weren't with us already to find out if they wanted to meet before we went to the Field (where would we be without cell phones?), we finally made our way to the actual museum.

The Field is really neat. We had 4 hours there, but I'm sure we didn't begin to really see even half of it. What I'm fairly sure we saw a lot of, in depth, was Sue, the largest and most complete T-rex skeleton ever found. Upstairs, they have Sue's actual skull, it being too heavy to attach to the rest of the real skeleton, and there are all sorts of explanations of how they got the jaws apart, as well as a time-elapsed video of the construction of the skeleton on the ground floor. Over to the side, there are windows to see into the Fossil Preparation Lab, where the real live paleontologist work with microscopes and itty-bitty tools, complete with a sign, "Please Do Not Tap On The Glass."

The museum closed at 5, though, and they were very eager to kick us out, as they were preparing for a party with 900 guests. A few more sessions of phone tag got us on the El again, on our way to a restaurant to unite our group in its entirety for dinner. We enjoyed a lot of Chicago-style pizza and basically took over the entire side of the restaurant. It was good to see everyone there, even if the size of the group didn't allow for conversation with everyone at once. Some of them I hadn't seen since I graduated, so I had fun.

After dinner, everyone but Mark, Kevin, and Jana went to Kate's apartment. Her cat, Maggie, is huge, very hairy, and very friendly. She also brought out lots of yummy treats left over from her housewarming party, like licorice, meringues, and dried fruit. Mmmmm, good. The only house rule was that we were not allowed to feed meringues to the cat, because she would eat them all. The cat also kept stealing Kate's chair whenever she got up. It was very amusing.

On the way back to the hotel, we ended up with a half-hour wait at one of the transfer points to change lines. We were amply entertained by a musician, though, who was playing a guitar and violin simultaneously with the heads tied together with a bandana, while whistling and wearing tap shoes. It was very impressive, mostly Spanish in sound, and it really sounded like far more than one person playing. Eventually the train came, so after 3 trains and a shuttle, we made it back to the hotel to finally go to sleep.

After all that, Sunday was was lowkey. Various people needed to leave earlier that others, for farther drives and whatnot. Erik, Ann, Will, Kevin, Jana, Mark, and I went to lunch before going our separate ways. The drive back to Michigan was much shorter than the drive to Chicago, and we were home in time for dinner.

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