This was a big year. Not only was it my final year living in Chicago – and working for Groupon – but it also ended with Randi and I packing up and beginning our travels in South America.
After a nostalgic New Year’s Eve at Josh and Anna’s flat I landed back in Chicago on New Year’s Day without a coat, hat or gloves. [Cue montage sequence at REI where I bulked up for my final Midwestern winter.] Later in the month I saw the future governor of Illinois make his pitch alongside rival candidates at a townhall meeting and met Randi’s cousin (and soon-to-be Chicagoan) Arielle for the first time. I also shared a friendly Friday night with the forensics officer who came to investigate our apartment break-in. It turns out that American police will not accept cups of tea, though.
My strongest February memory is from Ashley and Erik’s Super Bowl party. I was sitting on their sofa, eating their chilli cheese and chatting to a fellow Hillary phonebanker when I said how pleasantly surprising it was that everything was working out just fine with Trump as President. He didn’t agree and I had to wait awkwardly for my British sarcasm to show. Close runner-up memories: my awesome surprise weekend in Atlanta courtesy of Randi, which included Jimmy Carter’s terrible Oval Office furniture, the church where Martin Luther King preached, a crazy man on our CNN tour and MARTA. Hurray for MARTA, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority! Later we also visited Randi’s family in Dallas and toured the only “book depository” anyone has heard of. We also saw Icarus (crazy Russian doping!) and – television highlight of the year? – the BBC’s documentary on IKEA. (Don’t mock, it was really good.)
I spent a chunk of March in California, beginning in Palo Alto for work and then moving to San Francisco where I saw Weightless with Jamie, hung out with Jonah’s family and accidentally scared Nolan’s roommates into thinking that I was breaking in. Finally I flew to Yorba Linda for Randi’s mum’s surprise 60th birthday party and narrowly escaped being mauled by a bobcat. Meanwhile, in Chicago, we drank goodbye to McKenna and Rusty (oh, the giant pretzel!), spent a morning in Evanston with Melissa and Rudy, celebrated Catherine’s birthday at Geja’s and introduced Grace and Charlotte to all of our Chicago dinner staples.
We started April with a combined Easter and Passover brunch (I ate most of the chocolate) before a little light Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri at Joe and Julie’s. The other really good film we saw this month was The Other Side of Everything about Serbian activist Srbijanka Turajlić, after which she made a guest appearance. I also wrote a cathartic essay to Jewel, saw Ed Miliband at a University of Chicago event and spent my accumulated Groupon Bucks on a weekend in Milwaukee. Highlights there included the Domes, the cheese, the Chudnow Museum, the surprise birthday party which the hotel struggled to hide from their electronic board in the foyer and – of course – the amazing Forged In Fire: Knife or Death.
One night – I don’t remember exactly when – Randi, Amanda and I had let ourselves into the empty apartment opposite to nose around. It turned out to be lovely and spacious, and by May we had successfully persuaded our landlord to let us move across the hallway. This upgrade was soon put to good use hosting our best-attended Eurovision party to date. Other achievements in May were seeing Haim at the Aragon Ballroom and somehow beating Marte at Mario Kart. But the biggest thing of all was Randi’s surprise 25th birthday party at Carnivale, which had involved a lot of lying / organising / secret meetings with Catherine and AJ in the lead-up, but came off very successfully!
My last Chicago summer! As usual, it was a busy time and included rock climbing with Catherine and AJ, a swim in the Pulaski Park pool, a brief reunion with Jonah, burgers at Au Cheval with Gonzalo and Francisco and a failed baseball outing with Toggolyn and Kevin. We hosted Christa, throwing in the Incredible Burger at Kuma’s and Death by Chocolate at Improv Shakespeare, and were the very first guests at Francisco and Carolina’s new home where they fed us Chilean hot dogs and vetted our South American plans. I had not one but two birthday dinners: at the terrifying Red Square (for nostalgia purposes) and the amazing Spacca Napoli. I also went back to Palo Alto – this time with Robert and Shelby – and satisfied my curiosity by wandering around Google’s Mountain View campus. Randi and I also flew to Charlottesville for Chelsea’s wedding where we stayed with our mutual friend Villy and toured Monticello. Afterwards, Randi and I hung out with her cousin Ben in DC and passed judgements at the National Portrait Gallery. Finally, I will remember June as the month where (a) Todd showed me Terminator, and (b) I caved and purchased a ridiculously large Dominion box. A great purchase decision, even if it is currently stranded in Chicago 😮
The World Cup moved up a gear in July and we persuaded Elana and Steve to join us for England’s victorious quarter-final match against Sweden. Things did not go so well at the semi-final and at an (otherwise lovely) morning at Karol’s I laid my football interest to rest for another four years after the unhappy play-off against Belgium. You know who was a winner in July? Me, in a game of Catan with Chloe and Aaron – that never happens! This month we also tried Gloomhaven with Jason and Carrie plus a whole host of other games at Joe and Julie’s, celebrated 4th July at Robert’s, saw Ocean’s 8 with Ellen and Lou and rode the new Navy Pier Ferris Wheel with Randi’s cousins from Philadelphia. Francisco patiently answered all of my Spanish questions over WhatsApp, Randi was mistaken for Millie Bobby Brown at Margie’s Candies, I absolutely loved The Pirates of Penzance and our flat had many nights in with Mrs. Maisel. I also saw Incredibles 2 with Amanda, Terminator 2 with Toggolyn and Three Identical Strangers at the Music Box Theatre. There was my final work trip to Palo Alto for an offsite, while in Chicago we finally made it to a Steppenwolf play (The Roommate) and also Devon Street after Randi practised her camerawork on Loyola Beach. Finally, there was a very popular video of me killing a fly. I killed many flies in July, but this one in particular was pretty special.
A few Chicago things took place in August, including Erik and Ashley’s block party (where I think we detained their state senator for a good 45 minutes), Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again and a stroll through Humboldt Park with Carolina and Poncho. But the majority of the month, and a real highlight of the year, was our trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Randi and I were joined by both of our mothers in the brightest green Jeep you’ve ever seen on an amazing journey of lakes, caverns, geysers, bear spray and Huckleberry ice cream. The hikes in Grand Teton were our absolute favourite and after many, many family holidays which my mum had planned for me it felt good to invite her on a trip where everything had already been worked out. Including the Idaho Potato Museum. I also want to note that Randi and I cleverly left ourselves an extra weekend day after we got back home so we could blog about it all.
As our departure date crept closer, I invested in some travelling luxuries. So I went back to REI for an afternoon of packing and re-packing weights into bags until I found my perfect backpack and handed over my life savings to Apple in exchange for an iPhone XS. I also saw Daryl’s niece Zoe while she was in Chicago, hung out with Karol (for curry) and Zak (for cocktails) and celebrated Amanda’s birthday on the bow of a boat, listening to the soundtrack from The Greatest Showman and mocking Randi’s ghostly night circus which, embarrassingly, turned out to be real. Later we had a last meal at La Scarola with Amanda and Michael – a place which has a very fond place in my heart. We also saw my cousin Alix in The Wife, bookended by British lunches and desserts at the Duke of Perth, and posed a lot on the Blue Line for our photoshoot. Finally, we spent a weekend in AJ’s home town of Hartland where I learned to drive (a lawnmower) and spent hours in the world’s most elaborate corn maze. I was also disturbed to learn that parents of American high school football players aren’t allowed to keep up their spirits by drinking while they stand in the cold and watch the Homecoming game.
In October we got our first set of vaccinations for travelling and I started to tell more people that I was leaving, including at John’s cosy Groupon evening (where alas I arrived too late for the chickens) and over multiple Motel drinks. Mike and Melissa visited Chicago just in time, and together we saw Free Solo and Quantum Shark at Improv Shakespeare. I also enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians with Amanda, the start of Jodie Whittaker’s first season of Doctor Who (together with our neighbourly Doctor Who/Bake Off watching group!), an evening of 2nd Story and a trip to the Garfield Park Conservatory. Two other important highlights: winning an escape room (on a team organised by Toggolyn) and arguing about the nature of Jesus with Catherine over fondue. If you don’t think evangelical telephone helplines would be useful in your life, you haven’t lived.
And so it was finally here… my last month in Chicago, where I’d lived since June 2014. Randi and I had our last visitors to the city (the Moffitts) with whom we visited the funky Wndr Museum and saw our last Improv Shakespare (What I Learned From My Dog). I went to my last Groupon All Hands meeting (featuring Tiffany Haddish!) and then had my very last day at work followed by a leaving party at Revolution Brewery. Not forgetting my last corn beef hash (with blue cheese) at Windy City Café! We made latkes and lefse with Catherine and AJ, saw The Crimes of Grindleward with Arielle, left a bunch of stuff at Robert and Julie’s house (sorry!) and then one Monday morning I said goodbye to Amanda and flew home with many bags. While in London I managed an overnight stay in Chelmsford to see Abbi, Paul and Jack, a night with Cat and Matt, a Themes & Sources pub catch-up, brunch with Simon, random sibling fun and also learnt all about the pen licensing system at Salusbury Primary School.
Oliver and Abi’s wedding was so much fun and made me so happy. Together with fancy themed tea with Catherine and AJ it was the perfect note to leave London on and begin travelling. The rest of my December has been pretty extensively blogged already! Randi and I started in Lima, Peru and worked our way down to Chile, spending Christmas in Santiago with Francisco and Carolina’s family and ending the year in Puerto Varas in Chile’s Lake District. A particular highlight of December was our stop in San Pedro de Atacama, where we floated in salt lagoons in the middle of the desert and spent a night looking through telescopes at the stars.
2019 will definitely be a strange one. We still have a lot of travelling left, but what exactly I will be writing about at the end of my 2019 annual review is anyone’s guess. In the meantime, have an amazing new year!