chicago, again

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All last week I worked in Chicago. It was a wonderful week. The team I work with is fantastic. The program we ran was exciting and successful. But the level of energy required to pull it off is just shy of atomic. Okay, that’s perhaps a bit of an exaggeration. Regardless, by mid-week, we were running on empty and by week’s end, exhausted.

Well, no, this wasn’t our first rodeo. And yes, we all knew this would happen. So we’d planned to arrive the day prior to program launch to give ourselves a bit of breathing room in Chi-Town. Our first agenda item was Chicago’s longest running off-Broadway show, Million Dollar Quartet.

The Hubs and I enjoyed this show so much a few years ago that I was thrilled for an opportunity to return. I sold the idea to my colleagues and purchased tickets months ago. We were delighted to snag front row seats at the Apollo Theater in the Lincoln Park district.

M$Qx2 did not disappoint. It is the most magical of live theater experiences in my repertoire, Broadway included. The slightly dumpy little theater is so intimate, the actors so talented, the writing so good, the simple set and classic sound track so perfect, you feel like you’ve spent an evening in the presence of greatness. It’s harder to believe that’s not Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis talking, singing, playing, reminiscing, and ribbing each other.

The best part was near the end of the show, when “Elvis” solos Hound Dog. He caught the eye of my colleague and locked in. She never blinked. He glided over with his white silk scarf and draped it around her neck, crooning all the while. A big wink and he was back on stage, dissolving into the drama unfolding. She left with the scarf and a large smile.

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There was one evening, mid-week, when I had the opportunity for a long walk. Boy, was I ready. Serendipitously, a walking partner appeared. The buddy system gives me peace of mind in an unfamiliar city. I love it when the Hubs is with me because he has a great sense of direction; I can relax and enjoy the view. But I remembered enough from a visit a couple of years ago to know we could get to Navy Pier from here.

We took the long way, hitting a dead end before redirecting. It was a gorgeous summer night, perfect temps, a light breeze. The Pier was hopping with locals out for a stroll and tourists enjoying the sights. We lingered over a beer, people-watching and chatting. We covered a lot of ground, literally and figuratively. I slept like a baby!
IMG_1911On our last evening in town, there was a small window of opportunity to sneak out for deep dish. One of my colleagues had never had this experience. Let me tell you, there is nothing like Chicago deep dish!

Pizzeria Uno’s original restaurant was within walking distance of our hotel. Perhaps I’m partial to Gino’s East but it really doesn’t matter where I get it. There was simply no way I was leaving town without it. In fact, I was planning to order an extra to bring home to the Hubs!

After multiple delays and false starts at the end of an excrutiatingly long day, we were finally ready to roll. And then it started to rain. Before long it was pounding, pouring from angry clouds in solid sheets. What a mess. It was also rush hour; the taxi line was barely moving. We were both hungry. I was starting to feel just a bit grumpy.

Fortunately, the hotel provided umbrellas so we decided to strike out on foot, slogging along East Wacker, to Columbus, to Michigan Ave, to Ohio. She was slipping and sliding out of her sandals and we were both soaked through by the time we finally arrived. All along the way, passing delectable-smelling restaurant after restaurant, she kept saying, “This better be worth it.” And I kept saying, “It will be worth it. Just wait. It will!”

FullSizeRender-1Even in the downpour, there was a line extending out the door. We walked up to pre-order and get on the list. There we discovered, to our surprise, that an open table for two awaited. What a gift. We sloshed into a seat, ordered a round of beer and an appetizer. The pizza takes almost an hour to bake but it is so worth it. (She agreed!) We left with a few leftovers and the fully satisfied feeling that only a long conversation over a good meal brings.

On our return, I was looking for someone who might need a bite to eat. I don’t know if this gesture would have occurred to me, if not for my eldest son’s example. We diverted from our first prospect, crossing the street to avoid his agitated arm waving and hollering. Too scary! It wasn’t long before we came upon another man quietly sitting on the curb, his head dropped to rest on his chest. Was he asleep? I wasn’t sure but approached close. “Hey, buddy, would you like a bite to eat?” He lifted his head, reached for the bag, and said, “Thank you.” I felt a lump in my throat and wished I’d offered more than my leftovers.

IMG_5349So those were the bookends and highlights on an intense week in the Second City: Million Dollar Quartet, Navy Pier, and deep dish. In the midst of this often crazy-intense work, long hours and frustrating travel logistics, it’s these experiences with colleagues and friends that make it feel a lot more like a life than a job. Along the way, I’m often reminded that I am incredibly blessed.

~ René Morley

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