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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Last Fling in Chicago ... On to Costa Rica!

We have made the rounds here in Chicago, seeing old friends, meeting new ones and enjoying that famous Chicago deep-dish pizza. With our suitcases loaded for bear after cutting down to three bags, leaving one large duffle bag, golf bags and much extraneous clothing, toiletries and other “stuff” in Portland.
         Our early morning flight to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport via Salt Lake City was pleasant enough. Thank goodness for a couple of Atkins Protein Bars; Delta offers very little in the way of snacks. After arriving at the Quality Inn near the airport, we enjoyed a delicious late lunch at the Bella Sera restaurant inside the hotel. I would have enjoyed my grilled chicken panini more if we weren’t trying to stay lo-carb. As it was, I scraped off the yummy pesto dressing and left most of the bread behind. Volumes could be written about trying to stay lo-carb on the road.
         Saturday offered an introduction to the subway and bus system here in Chicago, adding a layer to our growing knowledge of public transit around the world. After a hotel shuttle ride to the airport, we wandered through several doorways then down an elevator to a lower floor where we encountered a maze of ticket machines. Despite our ignorance, we were able to help a foreign visitor with the mysteries of a credit card machine: insert the card and remove it quickly for the reader to work. Voila! In the process, we learned how to buy a ticket ourselves and at least one of the riders waiting behind us thanked us for the impromptu educational experience.
Then it was down an escalator to a still-lower level where four tracks held waiting Blue Line subways. Off we went on a ride that seemed much like the Bay Area’s BART trains, bumping and rumbling alongside dark walls, yellowish lights flashing by in rhythm, then emerging into sunlight and city views. A few stops later we got off at Jefferson Park to catch the #92 bus. With seemingly perfect timing, we soon saw our bus pull in through one of the portals and we stepped onboard. Like a Costa Rican local, this one stopped at almost every corner. Finally, we arrived at our meeting place to hook up with an old friend, Jill C., my roommate in graduate school and former longtime girlfriend of Layne’s, a dear friend to us both. Jill drove us to her beautiful apartment in the Gold Coast, that famously upscale area of Chicago overlooking Lake Michigan. There we enjoyed a glass of wine and a couple of hours of delightful reminiscing and updating each other on our life paths.
After much laughter and many hugs, we headed out for dinner. Jill’s good friend Terri lives in Highland Park and the 45-minute drive north took us through tree-lined streets with glimpses of ornate mansions set back from the street. At Terri’s lovely home, surrounded by large trees and only steps from the lake, we were greeted by a loud chorus of cicadas screeching their hallelujahs to the world. There we met three of her friends: feisty Elizabeth, originally from Poland, and Bill and his partner Arturo, who is from Puerto Rico and still has family there. Over bottles of Chianti, we discussed the pros and cons of Costa Rica vs. Puerto Rico for retirement, which Bill and Arturo are considering. While Costa Rica has a complex residency process (as we have discovered!), as a United States territory, Puerto Rico requires no paperwork for U.S. citizens to live there. And while Layne and I will still be liable for U.S. income taxes, Puerto Rico residents are not subject to the Internal Revenue Service, only federal payroll taxes such as Social Security and Medicare plus Puerto Rico income taxes. But then, Puerto Rico has much more poverty than Costa Rica and lies within the Atlantic hurricane paths, while Costa Rica is spared those devastating storms and has a literate and large middle class. After all the debate, Layne and I remained content with our decision.
         Finally, the group headed out to a “Jewish Mexican” restaurant they had all been wanting to visit. And for good reason! La Casa de Isaac served some of the best Mexican food we’ve enjoyed all summer. The salsa was perfectly picante, the guacamole was as good as my own and the enchiladas Layne and I shared were spectacular. Plus, our waiter Bernardo was attentive but patient with our raucous laughter, fueled by outrageously good margaritas. Fortunately, we were seated outdoors in the warm evening air so our good times didn’t disturb other customers. An aspiring photographer, Bernardo pointed out his excellent photographs on display inside the restaurant and we were impressed with the gorgeous colors and composition.
         The rest of the crew returned to Terri’s house but Jill, Layne and I had other plans for the evening. My good friend, Candye Kane, blues diva extraordinaire, just happened to be performing in Chicago that night. (Photo credit: Alan Mercer) For months, I had been following Candye’s worldwide tour schedule via Facebook, wishing our paths would cross. Then I saw her post that she was in Edmonton Friday night and would be at Fitzgerald’s in Chicago on Saturday. What an opportunity! I quickly emailed her that we were in town and she responded with a generous offer to put us on the guest list.
         With the sometimes-confusing help of Ilsa, as we call our German-voiced GPS, Jill drove us across town with a persistent foggy windshield blurring her view, despite Layne’s best efforts to locate the defroster button. We could have been in the cockpit of a 747 with the complex array of red-lighted icons on the Audi dashboard. But eventually we landed at the nightclub and were whisked inside just after Candye’s set had begun.
         What a great time we had! Candye is an eye-popping brunette beauty with charisma oozing out of every pore. Plus-size and proud of it, she is a survivor of pancreatic cancer and in between belting out the blues, she urged her audience to enjoy and appreciate every moment of life, to love our bodies including the parts we like the least and to cherish our friends and family. She is such an inspiration, not to mention a world-class talent, having been nominated for four National Blues Foundation Awards for the BB King Entertainer of the Year award, Best Contemporary Blues CD for Superhero, and Best Contemporary Blues Female of 2010, to name only a few of her many honors. Adding so much to the band’s excellence was Laura Chavez, the lead guitarist, whose soulful interludes were much appreciated by the crowd, which showered her with applause after each solo.
         At the end of Candye’s set and a short visit with her stage-side, we left to make our way back across town. Gosh, Chicago is HUGE! Eventually, between Ilsa’s directions and Jill’s knowledge of the city, we made our way to a Blue Line station where Jill dropped us off for our trip back to the hotel. Like I say, Chicago is big and with a lengthy wait at the airport shuttle stop, it was almost 3:00 a.m. when we finally dropped groggily into bed. Ah, but what a night!
         And now… on to Costa Rica! Hasta la vista, amigos!

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