I bolted from the train as soon as we arrived at Union Station and walked hurriedly in case there might be some competition for taxis. I got out quickly, grabbed the first cab sitting outside the door and was quickly on my way to the John Hancock building. The size of the Loop, as I took it in while we moved along and across the Chicago river, made me laugh at myself. I felt that I had finally gotten used to living in a real city, being on the edges of downtown Milwaukee. In sheer scale, Chicago is still another thing entirely as the idea of "cities" goes. The glow of the buildings and the sense of life pulsing in the downtown put that familiar old edge of discomfort in the mind of this small-town Midwestern boy. In a few minutes I was walking through the entry of the building and on my way up to the Signature Room on the 95th Floor. Checking my coat and bag, I found that Kevin hadn't taken our table yet and so I climbed the stairs and walked into the club on the 96th floor to find him. I was distracted for a moment by the view to the west, with the lines of the city lights flowing west and stretching to the suburban horizon. A few lost turns of me spinning about and peering into the shadows got Kevin waving to me from across the room. We laughed, hugged and before we could sit down, the buzzer indicating that our table was ready went off in a display of Perfect Timing. In another minute, we were being seated on the eastern windows looking toward Navy Pier, in perhaps the same table we shared in January 2005 when I had last been there, seeing Kev and Fran off on their honeymoon, and relaxing with them after all the hustle of the three weeks building up to the wedding.
Those memories came back first, and we talked for a few minutes about those days and that meal, and missing Frannie and wishing that she was with us now. This past week's scare with her illness in the days after delivering Max was something I obviously needed to hear more about, and Kev fleshed out what he had been emailing or texting me about over the last few days, and as our wine arrived we first toasted Frannie along with our own reunion and friendship. We had a laugh, too, in remembering how our friendship really began taking off over wine in Chicago, when I invited him into a bar in the International Terminal at O'Hare as we waited for our flight to leave for Ireland in the Notre Dame Folk Choir's tour in May 1997. Jen, my girlfriend at the time, and I had talked about how to juggle the time we wanted to spend with one another and time with other friends on the tour, and I had mentioned that I sensed my friendship with Kevin was about to move to a new, and perhaps unusual level. In inviting him into the bar that day, I was conscious of opening that door, as well as teasing all the under-21 undergraduate Folkheads, who stood outside the bar staring at us and gnashing their teeth in frustration. It's strange to have had such a sense of just how important that friendship was going to be, before it was in any way clear that such would be the case.
We took care of the serious business of ordering, and the meal was a fine one, with:
Badia a Coltibuono, Chianti Classico, 2000 as the wine: smooth and easy, with no bite to the aftertaste, which we both preferred;It was a fabulous feast to celebrate our reunion and Kevin honoured me even more deeply by insisting on treating me to it, while commisserating with me about his own memories of tight graduate school finances. As I had told Julie earlier in the week, in speaking of our own dinners out and my plans on getting together with Kevin, that it was with Kevin that I began to love what we could call "restaurant culture." In my poverty of my first year of teaching high school, 1997-98, it was a big splurge for me to commit to a regular Tuesday night dinner at the Chicago Steakhouse in downtown South Bend before the 8pm Tuesday Folk Choir rehearsal. I would invariably get the less-expensive cut of what was pretty much the least-expensive item on the menu, the $12 London Broil with garlic smashed potatoes, along with a more flamboyant glass of wine. That regular combination of food and conversation is in some way the "ancestor" of the social pleasure I have gotten used to in dining out with friends, and so now in this dinner with Kev, there was a sense of having come "full circle." I mentioned something of this to Kevin and laughed with him as we went over details of that menu and some particular such meals together.
Their Lobster Bisque, chervil crème fraîche and rock shrimp, which was pleasingly rich, and which we remembered with approval from the 2005 dinner there. It was every bit as good this time around, as well;
Kevin also added their Crispy Duck Spring Roll, with an apricot chutney; and sweet and sour mustard as an appetizer for him, though I passed on it;
His entree was a Grilled Shrimp Pasta, and mine was their Angus Porterhouse and balsamic glazed cippolini onions, with roasted fingerling potatoes.
For dessert Kevin set in on a White and Dark Chocolate Mousse Cake, raspberry sauce; crème anglase, while I went with a lemon sorbet.
Topping that off, Kevin ordered us 2 glasses of 30 year-old port, which took the "smooth" I mentioned of our dinner wine in a new direction and to another level entirely.
We talked quite a bit about Kevin's current business and the book proposal that's being kicked around New York right now, which I'll share more of here later as it becomes more appropriate and public. This was cross-bred with accounts of my theological adventures in graduate school, including explaining a bit more about my dissertation project than Kev had previously understood. Then the explicit possibilities for some of the theological content I spoke of for his own psychological programmes – particularly some of the insights of trinitarian theology for more precise or informed constructions of human personality – got us in the fun zone of bringing psychology, spirituality, theology, philosophy and healthy-lifestyle discourses together, which is a conversation that has been going on in some way for most of these last ten years. Kev was enthusiastic about what I could bring to the type of consulting work that he does and I was typically wigged-out by the kind of money he talks about, having become perhaps self-destructively imprinted on a student or Catholic school-teacher's level of salary as "normal." His stuff is something I'm more interested in helping out with, or being an occasional consultant for, rather than really jumping into: my world is the classroom. But I am curious to see the type of in-business transformation he is so concrete in achieving through his Effective Executive Coaching business.
When we realized that we had shut the place down, and that perhaps – all denials to the contrary – the staff was now just waiting on us so that they could go home, we got cleared out of the Signature Room, but not before I took a few minutes to look out and enjoy the view southward over the rest of the Loop. It didn't take us long to get over to the James, dump off my bag and our coats, and then head downstairs to the building's bar, where we figured we would spend the rest of the time continuing to talk. But the place was largely deserted, with a small group of people sitting along the bar, and the rest of the mod-hip place dark and throbbing with the dance music being spun by the DJ in the typical lit-up cube along the wall. It didn't take more than a moment to decide that this was not what we were looking for. But a walk up Rush Street after a few blocks – wearing only our jackets – failed to produce any signs of more welcoming clubs. Apparently we were not as close to the rest of the Rush Street scene as we had thought. Ducking into another hotel, we received directions to a piano jazz bar that sounded more our speed for the evening, since the guy behind the counter couldn't name a close-by Irish pub, which is what Kev was really hoping for.
Along the way, heading back down State Street, we found a restaurant with kind of a diner feel, but a little more upscale, that seemed to be catering to the hungry post-clubbing crowd. Since they were open 'til four, we figured the place looked fine, and ducked out of the cold. The same sort of conversation continued, but with more talk about relationships. Amazingly, after all our dinner, we immediately set to ordering more food, and in short order our waitress graced our table with a pizza, a basket of fries, and a bottle of Pinot Noir, while giving us some feisty glosses on our own ongoing conversation, even sitting down for a bit with us until given the Evil Eye by the host. It seemed a number of people on staff were pausing and leaning in on our conversation, which is something we've seen happen frequently before, as we were apparently not talking about the same things as the well-dressed clubbers sitting around us. As the hours went on, Kev added a beer to the mix and I picked up a lemonade to try to make sure my head wasn't killing me in the morning (didn't work). At three o'clock, our server walked by bearing bowls of soup to another table and in hearing the selections, I found myself gulping down a zesty lentil soup to close off the night. When I commented that the soup was spicier than I'd expected, she called back over her shoulder, "That's 'cuz I put tabasco sauce in it!" Nice. As four o'clock approached, we decided to pack it in, and get back to the hotel. I gave a tipsy cheer at the discovery of a store named Michael Anthony, but that was about it for the night. I encouraged Kev to try to get a flight out of O'Hare to Dallas that left later than 8am, since he didn't have appointments until 3:30, and we were successful in that venture. Kev took off in the morning and then I was tortured by the staff who ignored my "Privacy" sign on the door and knocked every 25 minutes to see if they could clean the place, even though I didn't have to check out until as late as 2pm, if I didn't want to. Eventually, I gave up, packed it in for Union Station, and kept on reading theology. All in all, a super distraction from my regular day.