Chicago was not originally a stop on my tour. Everything changed when Laura and I decided that we had all been apart for long enough and we started making plans to fly the family back up to the States. I was in the Detroit/Flint area around the time we planned to reunite, so we ended up buying them tickets into Chicago, the nearest airport with cheap flights from Mexico. This also happens to be Laura’s hometown. Oak Lawn, actually, but the Chicago area was her turf.
Laura has no more immediately family in Chicago, but she has many friends, including a lady named Nijole, who is closer to our parents’ age. Nijole, now retired, was an opera singer and a voice teacher, and she and Laura have stayed friends over the years, knowing each other originally through the Lithuanian community in Chicago. Nijole kindly agreed to host our family for several days while we reoriented ourselves. I had our car, stuffed to the brim with our gear, and the girls were coming back from Mexico with tons of luggage, which would have to somehow be integrated into the already full car.
My first task when I arrived at Nijole’s house was to empty out the car and take the huge totes full of additional gear off the roof. We would have to go through all of it and repack, and I needed room for the girls and all their stuff when I got them at the airport.
It was wonderful to reunite with my family, whom I hadn’t seen in two months. They were all well, and we enjoyed catching up on what all had been happening. It was a good thing we had several days to chill, because they were weary of travel and we had lots to do.
Laura had several people she wanted to see while we were in town, and I wanted to visit my cousin Nathan, who also lives in Chicago. Our girls mostly grew up in Oregon, but Eva was born in Chicago, and she and Gaia used to stay in the city frequently when visiting their mociute (grandmother) and Jurate. Their paternal grandfather Dennis still lives in Chicago, and we planned for them to go out and visit him while we were in town.
My cousin Nathan moved to Chicago to be part of the theater community, and he’s still active there, doing improv shows and unrehearsed Shakespeare performances, which are unbelievable. Each character memorizes lines independently and the players never take the stage together until the performance. Nathan always has something cool going on. He’s currently training to become a sommelier, which is fancy talk for a wine expert. He knows so much about it, it’s crazy. And he’s just a beginner, even though he’s very close to getting his certificate.
Nathan was working at a casual fine dining place called Bad Hunter, thusly named because they feature vegetables as the main focus of the meal, with meats being more side-show. Walking in, you wouldn’t realize what kind of quality you were in for. It felt like any small urban restaurant. The menu was not huge because everything is seasonal, and each dish is a special.
The prices seemed reasonable enough, until Nathan told me that most people eat at least two or three plates, because each dish is a very small portion. Still, we had to try a wide variety because the descriptions made everything sound exquisite.
And was it ever. I am pretty sure this was the best food I’ve ever eaten, as far as quality and flavor go. Fine dining, gourmet level food, in a casual environment. I don’t think it’s ever been done before Bad Hunter. Nathan told me that since he’s been developing his own skill set and reputation with restaurants, he’s very picky about where he works. He always reverse interviews places by going to eat there, and he said he was instantly sold on Bad Hunter simply because the quality was so above and beyond. The fact that it wasn’t so stuffy and formal was just a perk. We had a good laugh about Calvin being in a restaurant with too much atmosphere.
Nathan took great care of us during our meal. Rather than order anything, we just asked him to bring out different dishes for us to try. We sampled a wide assortment of foods, each about the size of a small appetizer, but so rich in flavor. Asparagus, snow peas, rampion, onions… I wish I had written down everything they served us, because it was all awesome.
The bill at the end was a doozy, but it was worth it, and I enjoyed getting to catch up with Nathan. We made plans to get together the next night when he was off work. The last time we all came to Chicago we did this same routine; stopping by with the whole family to visit Nathan where he works (he worked at a different restaurant back then) and then later me going to Nathan’s place to stay the night and go out on the town.
I met his boyfriend, who is also named Nathan, and we hung out and talked for a while before heading to a café down the road. Nathan’s friend Charlie also came. I met Charlie the last time I was in town, but at that time she was Caroline. Nathan brought Charlie over expecting good conversation, and I think we did not disappoint. I liked Charlie a lot. We were on the same page about a great many issues, though trans culture is, admittedly, beyond my comprehension. Talking to Charlie helped me get some perspective on how it must feel to be in the position of someone making that change, though, and I appreciated the chance to better understand.
This is not a topic I go into a lot on Permagora. As with any issue, we are all entitled to our own opinion. Perhaps another time I’ll expand on my perspective regarding nature, sex, and identity. I hope I didn’t offend Charlie by speaking honestly (I don’t think I did), though I’m sure I just sounded like a privileged white cis male. The thing is, I am a male, but I don’t identify as “white” any more than I identify as “cis.” I know I am privileged. This isn’t a bad thing. I’m thankful for the privileges I’ve enjoyed, and I am committed to working towards a world in which everyone can have equal privilege. While I love and value all people, my desire to hang out with people is directly connected to how easy they are to hang out with. If we can’t have our opinions and then agree to disagree, then we can’t very well be friends. Point being, speak your truth, but don't browbeat people who aren't going to change their beliefs just because you think they should. Charlie and I got along so well because neither of us tried to do this. We each had our perspectives, and we shared them, allowing each other to just be. This is the essence of good relations.
Anyhow, our lovely afternoon on the patio was at once halted by a change in the wind. The temperature dropped suddenly and drastically, in one definite moment during which all of us (there were others outside as well) all looked at each other in shock. “Did it really just get freezing that fast?” we asked each other. I’m talking fifteen, twenty degrees in two seconds. No exaggeration. That’s Chicago for you.
We went back to Nathan’s apartment after that, though the real night out had yet to begin. The next item on Nathan’s agenda was to take me to a drag show. I had never been to one before. It was still cold on the walk over there, and I didn’t really have warm enough clothes (the previous two days had been hot and sunny) so I was glad to get there and get inside.
What a strange place. There were lots of men dressed like women, and everyone seemed to worship them. One queen was standing up on a raised surface (a table or bar or something; not the stage) while others came by to draw on him. I saw couples of all types, and everybody was having a good time.
I learned that night that there are certain questions you’re not supposed to ask trans people, and I assume that means queer folks in general. One of them was ‘who do you date?’ Bummer too, because this is the first question that jumps to my mind when I see a dude all dressed up like a girl. Is it because he wants to have relations with a man? Are most men who choose to become women gay before they take this route? If not, I have a hard time imagining why they would fancy the switch. I would think that most trans people are gay/lesbian first, in their natural body, and then when they switch, they still prefer the same hardware for sexy-time fun. But if you’re a lesbian who becomes a man, aren’t you becoming the very thing that lesbians are trying to avoid? If you’re a straight man who becomes a woman, do you then seek out lesbians? Because straight women would have liked you better before, as a man, I would think, and lesbians might not be into you because you were a man. To some people these questions might seem very offensive. For others, they seem absurd. But there are some of us who really like to understand how things work, and telling us that we’re not allowed to ask questions is a red flag.
I mean no offense, and I can’t take responsibility for everybody’s feelings. I am not trying to be derisive; I really am just curious, and I feel my curiosity and skepticism are natural. Can a biological male really become female?
So anyhow, we hung around and talked that night, waiting for the show to begin. Several drag queens were walking around, all dressed up with big shawls and such. I wandered about the club and did some people studying, finding it most fascinating. I would have filmed and taken more pictures if I could have, but I don’t think my curiosity would have been too well received. I didn’t even have my big camera, just the phone, so the only pictures I have from that night are lower quality. Still, worth including. When the singers came on, they sang some songs and danced around a bit, like any other show. What’s funny is that if it had just been a woman singing these songs, it wouldn't have been anything special. I doubt anyone would have even noticed her up there. But guys dressed like women singing the same songs… wow, the crowd went nuts. Just another aspect of the great mystery.
Later that night I got my first chance to see Rick and Morty. My friends in Richmond, Virginia were telling me that this show is a must see, but I generally avoid getting wrapped up in television series, because even when they’re really good, they just lengthen the already long list of things that demand my attention and time. But Nathan insisted that I really did need to see this one, and I think he was right. Over the course of that night and the next morning, we watched the whole first season. It was genius writing. Very funny, if in a slightly disturbing way. We also talked about the old days, running around and getting into mischief around Louisville, pranks we played on our poor grandmother, and old favorites like the Feist novels and Calvin and Hobbes, which we both read to near memorization growing up.
Nathan even credited me with influencing, if only subconsciously, his eventual path to being a sommelier. “Whenever we would go to fancy restaurants with our families,” he told the other Nathan, “Eric would tell the waiter ‘my friend would like to see the wine list.’” (This from a Calvin and Hobbes strip.) “I guess the notion kind of stuck,” Nathan explained.
It was great spending some time with Nathan again. Our lives are very different, and yet we still have a great time together. I’m glad he is happy and doing well.
We stayed in Chicago for close to a week. The girlsspent the night with Dennis one night, and after that I took them out to a nearby town, Naperville, to see an outdoor orchestral performance with Nijole. I met her daughter and some of her friends, whose kids were performing in the event. My girls were not at all interested in the music, but the theater was in a park and there were tons of other kids running around, so they enjoyed themselves.
Our final agenda item in Chicago was getting our car re-packed. When we drove out from Oregon last December, we were full to the brim, even with two huge totes strapped to the roof. Now we had my guitar (which I shipped to Florida to save room in the car), three boxes of my book Portlyn, and all the new stuff that the girls acquired in Mexico. I did some mental math/tetris, and I realized we’d never fit it all. So I went to Home Depot and bought a piece of plywood, some zip ties, ratchet straps, and a new tote. Room for one more box on the roof.
It turned out pretty janky, but it worked. We got everything in, though it was definitely tight. We thanked Nijole for her hospitality, and Laura insisted we leave her some money to cover the expense of our electricity use (we did many, many loads of laundry). I didn’t think Nijole would accept it, so Laura hid the money in a card that Eva or Gaia made for her. When we were driving out of the city Nijole called and said we had to come back. “You left money,” she said. Laura laughed and said that it was for her, to cover our expenses. Nijole wasn’t having it. “I am going to mail it back to you,” she insisted. Unfortunately for her, we don’t have a mailing address at the moment. When one day we get one, I won’t be surprised if she actually mails the money back. She is such a sweet lady, so generous and caring.
From Chicago, we were bound for Kentucky. We stopped briefly in Indianapolis for a picnic lunch and a downtown walk, for me. I knew my tour was going to be very different now that the family was along. I missed them a ton, but I certainly had mobility and speed on my side when I was traveling alone. I didn’t even bother trying to set up meetings or talks in any of the last cities we’d be stopping through. Sometime in the future I knew I would be touring again, so there would be opportunity. Looking at the map, as I often do, I realized that I’m the least traveled in the central, great plains states. For obvious reasons, I suppose. But I don’t care if it’s flat and boring. I want to see all these places and get to know the people there. So hopefully my next US tour will be of that whole central plains area, all the way out to Montana, a state I’ve yet to explore. I scratched a few states off of my never-visited list on this tour, leaving only Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin. I have been to Montana, but only just briefly, crossing the corner on my way out of Yellowstone. I’d love to explore there more.
There’s just so much to see and do in this amazing world, and my ambition seems to know no bounds. I’m blessed to have the life I do, and I know the rest of the adventure will be just as awesome as it’s been so far. So stay with me folks, because I’m not just going on all these journeys whimsically or without purpose. I am on a mission, and I need everybody’s help. This is our world, and we’re the only ones who are going to be able to fix it.