Let’s be honest. For the world as a whole, 2016 will not be remembered as a vintage year. But if the world is ending, then all the more reason to celebrate my crisscrossing of it while it was still there. Here’s my annual review!
As 2015 passed into 2016, I was asleep in California. Apologies for the slow start here. Later on in January I tried and failed to escape from a CTA-themed escape room adventure, watched an unhealthy sibling relationship dissected in Bruise Easy and almost poisoned Kevin and Grace with out-of-date vegetable broth. Sorry! It was a good time to escape cold Chicago and head to Sydney for Claire and Mitesh’s wedding. Family reunions aside, my favourite Australian experience was my day in the Blue Mountains, before I flew to Wellington and geeked out with the wonderful Jen.
My all-too-brief journey around New Zealand continued with Christchurch, a train across the South Island, beach-friendly Hokitika (home to my favourite airport in the world) and finally Auckland, Tiritiri Matangi Island and – most importantly – The Shire! Back at home, Randi and I hung out with her mum at the Art Institute’s Van Gogh exhibit, saw my favourite play of the year – Byhalia, Mississippi – and visited St. Louis, including the incredible City Museum, with Jason. More ominously, with the benefit of hindsight, we also spent pancake day watching the New Hampshire primary with Catherine and AJ while flipping pancakes and laughing. Oops.
I saw a bunch of good shows in March: ineffectual-corporate-superhero dance troupe Trip The Light Fantastic, classic Othello, the first half of creepy Interrogation – the conclusion had to wait – and the wonderful Chvrches. In between, Kevin left for LA and we played a lot of Fibbage with Toggolyn. I also began corresponding with the elusive owner of Columbus’ Curry. But the highlight of the month was our jaunt to Iceland with my family, especially the steamy public baths and snowmobiling over the snowy plains!
This was the month I caved and bought an iPhone. That bombshell is probably enough to stop, but just for good measure, it was also the month I finally saw the first Indiana Jones film. Also in April: Marti’s Mai Dang Lao, building a hardy spaceship at the Adler Planetarium, and reuniting with Lauri over drinks. Sam Carter visited Chicago and discovered burgers at Kuma’s, we enjoyed musical improv group The Deltones with Karol, and Randi and I spent a weekend with Rachel in Providence where – amongst other things – we saw and loved Zootopia. (Apparently known as Zootropolis in the UK…. who knew?)
One of my favourite trips this year was to Memphis, which I booked as a surprise for Randi’s birthday. We travelled on the overnight Amtrak in a cosy roomette, stayed at the fancy duck-themed Peabody Hotel and generally had a wonderful time. But we were especially spoiled in May because we also went to Ohio with Jason: eating at Yats, ziplining at Hocking Hills and losing llamas. In Chicago, I saw my first Cubs game at Wrigley Field with Todd and Carolyn, enjoyed the immersive storytelling at Even Longer and Farther Away and threw a successful Eurovision party with a bunch of first-time Eurovision newbies.
As usual, June breaks this format because too much happens to be succinct. There were a plethora of overseas visitors to Chicago – including the famous Malaysian couple Robert and Julie – and we herded most of them to a White Sox game (Steven: “why are they wearing black socks?”). Alex, Nolan and Kevin all said farewell (yes, if you’re following closely, that’s Kevin’s second turn) while Carrie invited us to ‘review’ Ethiopian food with her and [drumroll] Randi graduated! This freed her up for a big family holiday to Ireland and the UK, which I met in York in time for Caroline’s amazing wedding. For my birthday we migrated from York to Willesden Green to Sanzio (try the gorgonzola gnocchi) and then over two weeks rolled on to: The Invisible Hand at the Tricycle, News Revue, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Maggie Jones’s, Brick Lane and climbing the O2. Plus I met up with Cat and Matt, Daryl and Ermila, Oliver and Abi, Simon, Christa, Clark, Melissa and – joyously – Abbi and newborn Jack as well as Josh and slightly-less-newborn Isaac. Oh, and I voted in person for Britain to remain in the EU. As you may have heard, this was an unsuccessful play.
I know what you’re thinking: that was a nice London list, but where was the London Transport Museum? No fear, we ticked this off in July with Randi’s friend Villy, as well as an old-fashioned Kilburn High Road night out with Josh and Anna. And I finally (finally!) got to meet Cindy, who is awesome, before flying back to Chicago and then trying to find somewhere to live and somebody to live with me and Randi. Amanda agreed to join us despite being taken to dinner at a creepy bathhouse, which we’re still very grateful for. Amidst all this, I was lucky enough to go to Tokyo for work and for great food with Robert and Julie. On my return, Randi went on a killing spree on an Iowan murder mystery night and we ducked under the Maquoketa Caves. Also in July: 12 Angry Men, Lauri and Calvin’s birthdays and lots of Race for the Galaxy.
Settling into our new home, we christened the place with games of Would I Lie To You, lots of Olympics and Robot Wars on TV and – most importantly – putting together our king-size bed. (So much space! Never go back.) Taking advantage of the summer to swim and play pool games in Jason’s pool and Pulaski Park, we also saw two Cubs games with Todd and Carolyn at Wrigley Field as they continued their [spoiler alert] historic season. I also saw Star Trek Beyond, This Beautiful City, The 7th Annual Living Newspaper Festival, a thought-provoking Edward Tufte lecture and – as I mentioned back in March – got a resolution to Interrogation after getting my hands on the script. Carolyn’s friend Beric stopped by for lunch, Randi’s new job merited dinner at Summer House Santa Monica, and at the end of the month Simon and Steve reached Chicago on their marathon American journey.
After a few days together in Chicago, including a night of Improv Shakespeare, we set off with Simon and Steve on the next leg of their roadtrip to the Minnesota State Fair. After a night in Madison (highlights: our Laotian dinner and Simon’s sad air mattress inflation) and many, many renditions of I Feel Like Jeremy Corbyn we arrived at the fair, and it was AMAZING. There was so much there, but my top two were (a) the cheese curds, and (b) the river raft ride. Also in September we hosted Randi’s mum, had brunch with Karol at Windy City and saw a tense Orioles vs. Blue Jays game at a bar with Robert, Todd and Carolyn. I also saw Nolan again, met Debra and Andrew, discovered that Chloe and Aaron are big fans of Indian food and played a lot – I mean a lot – of Carcassonne. And Plants vs. Zombies 2.
With the election drawing closer we did a couple of phone banking sessions at Debra’s, during which I chatted with some very nice conservative women in Nevada but avoided talking to one very angry voicemailer from Cincinnati. We also saw a bunch of plays (Merge, The Rhode Island Chapter, The City of Conversation and The Last Wife), defended ourselves against Chloe’s betrayal at the House on the Hill and travelled to Omaha (where we spent a great night in a bar with Cubs fans as they advanced to the World Series) and San Francisco. The latter was primarily for a wedding at City Hall, but it was also especially great to go to Jamie and Paul’s house and meet another new cousin: Lori, their newly confident walker.
You may have noticed some story arcs simmering away in my 2016 review, and in November two of them came to a climax. Firstly, the Cubs won the World Series! We watched this in a great room at the back of a brewery with James, Lauren and friends. And then Trump won the Presidency, which we lived through after four days of campaigning in Toledo. At least with the election over we got Catherine back in our lives, and other great things this month included: The Power of the Daleks on the big screen, Four Lions with James, bangers and mash with Luis, a game of Pandemic, some great improv comedy, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Arrival. But the best part of November was Thanksgiving – I made my cauliflower cheese! – and our trip to sunny Charleston (or Charles Towne) for the long weekend afterwards.
If all goes to plan, this post will auto-publish as I recover from a successful 4-day trek to Machu Picchu in Peru. It will certainly be a contrast to snowy Chicago in which we spent December decorating for Chrismukkah, judging chillies at Ellen’s Master of Peppers contest and loving every minute of Planet Earth II. I also saw Rogue One this month, plus Nolan and friends for another brief reappearance in the city, before we left for our flight to Cusco on Christmas Eve. Not the most typical of Christmases, but a worthy conclusion to another year with plenty of adventures.
Time for 2016 to be over, I think. Happy new year!
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