Two months later, and I’m back in Chicago. For dancing, of course. Three days full of live music at a huge, free blues festival. So we danced (live music is the best for dancing!) all day, in the sunshine and rain, then dancing all night to DJed music (by all night, I mean until 4 in the morning, of course).
A weekend full of adventures…
Well, to begin, I flew in on Thursday night. That is, I was supposed to. From Pensacola to Houston, no problem. Then guess what! My connecting flight is cancelled. Wait in line for an eternity, along with dozens of (understandably) irritated customers. Options: Wait until Saturday (WHAT?! no. just no.) or spend the night in Memphis and reach Chicago in the morning. Needless to say, I chose the latter.
Turns out, Memphis is one of the smaller airports, which do not have cots for overnight travellers. It also turns out that airport chairs were not designed for sleeping. Who knew, right? Shout-out to the awesome lady who worked at the Southwest desk, who went and bought McDonald’s for the dozen of us stuck there overnight, after she got off work. People can be amazing sometimes, going out of their way for total strangers.
5:30 a.m. finally rolls around, with a zombie that sort of resembles me boarding the flight. Out like a light until we land. Stumbling through the airport. Ooh, look! Coffee! Three shots of espresso produces no discernable rise in brain activity, but at least I’m happy now. Now to solve a mystery: will my luggage truly make it onto the first flight of the day? Fast forward an hour, and what do you know, there it is!
After last April, I’m fairly comfortable navigating the public transit system, so I reached my host’s house without incident, although dragging a suitcase for about a mile wasn’t the highlight of the day.
One of the things that I love about dancing is the way it forces me to meet new people all the time, as well as ensuring that we’ll almost certainly get along (having such a great interest in common). So I get to the house and meet one of my housemates for the weekend. Really sweet person (and a botanist!); we walk down the road in the rain to a sweet little bakery called Bittersweet, where the food is so beautiful, you almost wouldn’t want to eat it. Almost.
Next, we head to the festival. Parking in cities is a…challenge. We end up walking a mile to the park. Now to find the others. Thankfully, dancers are fairly easy to find, since they’re, you know, dancing. Being the first day of the festival, our group is small but mighty. In the damp cold and soup-thick fog that eerily shrouds the skyscrapers, dancing is the perfect way to stay warm and cheerful.
Night falls, and we congregate in a sweet little wood-floored, brick-walled venue, ceiling adorned with strings of lights, for 5 hours of DJed music. Pure bliss, meeting so many friends from BluesSHOUT! in April, enjoying the late-night snacks, losing myself in the best blues dancing I’ve experienced in months.
Finally, in the early a.m., we stumble up the stairs and into bed. Sleep overtakes me before I can brush my teeth or even change clothes.
Sunshine! A happy, bleary-eyed crew (nine of us!), we figure out breakfast, get to know each other a little better, and eventually make it downtown for another day of dancing. Today is considerably warmer, almost too warm. Our band of dancers has grown, and the music today is even better. We spend a good deal of time by the stage that has a shaded, grassy area (soon to be muddy instead), where we can dance barefoot or chill and talk under the sprawling tree branches.
You know what I love about jazz and blues? They’re improvisational, spontaneous, inspired by and for the sake of the moment. They’re meant to be shared and enjoyed by all. One of the guitarists even let a little boy come play a solo with him in the middle of a song! (Here’s a short video of the same band.)
The three main acts are the final concerts of the day, truly phenomenal. The music is so soulful and intense that the impending thunderstorms even decided to make an appearance. And because blues dancers are hardcore, we weather it all (pun totally intended–no apologies, no regrets). Now I can say I have blues danced to live Buddy Guy music in the middle of a thunderstorm, watching dusk darken the Chicago skyline, with its myriad of lights twinkling softly through the curtain of raindrops. Truly magical.
The next morning, a couple friends and I visit a beautiful Turkish cafe (with great espresso!), and I head off to the third day of live blues. The train has three stops in a row that shared the first half of their names. Not realizing this, I get off at the wrong stop. The best adventures are spontaneous, of course, and I have a lovely time exploring a bit of downtown Chicago. The architecture, random modern artwork (a few photos here), street musicians…all topped off with a blue sky and sunny breeze.
So I’m definitely not a city person, but I do love visiting new cities. The two things that I really enjoy about big cities are (1) the beautiful local coffee shops and (2) the street musicians. Essentially, the parts that counteract the anonymity that pervades centers of civilization and increase the quality of life through art. I pass a flautist, a violinist, a little jazz band and (my favorite) five guys with five-gallon buckets and sticks, creating rhythms and having a hell of a good time (see video here). Just goes to show, you can make music with anything.
There’s this strange contrast that I observe, walking the streets of downtown Chicago. The finest hotels and restaurants and upscale clothing stores, juxtaposed to abject poverty. The rain from inky sky, blurring golden lamppost light, may seem romantic to me, but what about to that man huddled on the corner, wrapped in trash bags to keep dry, as expensive coats hurry by and self-absorbed eyes stare ahead blindly? What of the homeless man, hand forced by poverty, selling his bike (presumably his only mode of transportation) for a mere $35, while many passers-by spend that much on a single meal? Thoughts to ponder…
The rest of this evening is perfect, from the weather to the music and dancing. Lost in the music as darkness blankets the landscape, punctuated by light from the city and lanterns that concert-goers launch from the green lawn.
And now the finale, the Sunday late-night dance, lasting until dawn. As the sun rises, we gather outside for a survivors’ photo, before returning for the last couple songs, which by this point have turned from blues to modern (with “Uptown Funk” in the mix, of course).
Now, standing in the parking lot, sleepy to the point of wakefulness, wondering, “should we get breakfast?” and “why does no place sell beer this early in the day?”
Now, the previous night/morning, I had managed to change my flight from Monday morning to Tuesday morning, since I wasn’t scheduled for work. So worth it, despite spending more than an hour on hold. (Seriously though, is hold music just recordings of 4th-grade piano recitals or something? Who even likes it?)
After a few hours of sleep, then yoga for a back and knees…well, and everything else, sore from about 30 hours of dancing (much of it on concrete), I spend the rest of the day in a fascinating little coffee shop called Dark Matter. Wood floors, classically inspired modern artwork on the walls, with scents and sounds both happy and familiar. Coffee and inspiration have a direct relationship, I am sure. A cup of delicious dark roast, then a three-shot drink with maple syrup, black pepper, and sage (crazy delicious!), and words are flying from my fingers in a futile attempt to keep up with my idea-happy head.
In the middle of writing this post, sitting at the bar, facing a shelf of various spice jars, I suddenly catch a glimpse of my face in the mirror behind them. Something erupts within my being, and another post writes itself swiftly and fiercely. The words capture feelings long unspoken, in the past but as real as ever in memory. (Unexplainable awesomeness, that post had 25 views in the first hour: unheard-of for my obscure little piece of internet, but such happiness!)
Finally satisfied with the day’s endeavors, I dash through the rain, back to the house. Short nap, then swing dancing! Chicago’s weekly lindy hop dance happens to be Monday night, and it is a lovely conclusion to the weekend (also, some big-deal hockey sports thingy was happening that night, and Chicago won, in its own city, so everyone was going crazy. I obviously lack even a basic knowledge or interest in sports…)
To the airport now! I’m a zombie. Long lines for check-in, longer lines for security, chairs yet again not designed for napping. The flight time, uh…flies by. Yeah. (Because I was asleep.) Funny story–I manage to nap during the layover but don’t manage to wake up for the boarding calls. The flight is scheduled to leave at 8:30, and I wake up at 8:32. I freak out, dash a few yards to the gate, and make it literally last-second. Yay for the ability to sleep like a rock anytime, anywhere!
Now home, sweet home. Back to normal-ish life, for a while. As if that even exists.