December 3, 2003

Debauchery, Marriage, and the Secret Car
Our trip to Chicago for Thanksgiving was a busy affair. We saw a lot of people, visited a lot of places, test drove a pre-market luxury car, and got engaged. Yeah, Sara and I are getting married. Tell your friends.

I wanted to write a long and complicated account of the whole trip, but we took a fair number of pictures, so I thought I’d let those do most of the talking. If you click on them, you’ll get bigger pictures. You might as well, too, since your computer will have loaded the bigger ones anyway, ’cause my coding’s primitive.

This first set deals with the enormous Thanksgiving dinner and party my very good friend Mike put together for Saturday. He cooked for something like three days, made huge pans of food like a catering company might: delicious mashed potatoes, gorgeous sweet potatoes, exquisite beef, homestyle macaroni and cheese, fabulous sweet corn, stuffing from scratch. It was incredible. On Saturday, a whole honey-baked ham appeared from the oven. I don’t know how he did it or where the hell it came from. It was unbelievably good, and I don’t really dig on ham. Amazing, really.

Mike also invited coworkers from the Chicago public school where he teaches and, therefore, some of his students whose parents he works with. So the apartment was teeming with kids playing Madden something-or-other on the PS2 and my copy of Crimson Skies on Marty’s Xbox. It was really great. Eventually, the grown-ups (teachers, friends, poker buddies) got to drinking and such. This is the debauchery.

This is Mike. He’s getting a cooking show on The Food Network this spring.

Okay, not really. But he deserves one.

Jackie (spelling?) and Pam. I took a bunch of photos of them that amounted to little more than blurs. They’re like that.

We’re playing Crimson Skies here and… I think Brian is wearing two hats. That’s weird.

Mike and Pam, debauchees.

Jamieson, beer, meat.

Tony and Jackie, aka G-funk and Swords.

Yeah, Marty, we know how you feel. That’s the Acousticboy on the left.

Marty and Jim again.

Marty had, somehow, been offered a secret new luxury car to drive for 24 hours, Saturday to Sunday. Strangely, this was a Volkswagon luxury car, not yet unveiled for the public. Marty had been picked (randomly? by computer? by mistake?) through no action of his own and sent an invitation to take the car out for a day and spend the night in a luxurious W Hotel in downtown Chicago. Weird and wonderful. Marty, of course, accepted.

The car is called the Phaeton. We all came to the consensus that it’s named after the fella from Greek myth who stole the chariot of the sun from Helios and was subsequently smote by Zeus. Turns out that’s Phaethon, though. A phaeton is “any of various light, four-wheeled carriages used in the 19th century,” according to Webster’s. The unabridged definition says a phaeton has “no side pieces” and is drawn by “one or two horses.” One or two horses, eh? Yay. Stand back.

Nevermind that. What the hell is VW doing making a fucking luxury car? It’s the Car of the People, isn’t it? Do the people have $65,000 to drop on a dash-mounted computer and faux-wooden dash panels that automatically retract to hide unwanted vents? I’m people and I don’t. Perhaps this comes from VW’s new Nabobwagon division?

Anyway, it’s got the GPS, the heated seats and AC for your ass, the 6-disc changer, and all that. The computer system lets you raise your lower the profile of the car with the twist of a knob (that is, the car actually raises up or lowers down, affecting ground clearance but in no way resembling phat hydrolics). It has programmable shocks, a mini-bar, fold-away window shades, and automatically dispenses your lawyer’s business card if the car is ever approached by unwanted plebes. All right, I made some of that last stuff up, but whatever. It was pretty fly for a white guy’s car, but it really didn’t strike me as being worth sixty-five grand. Leg space seems like an Edwardian manor to VW drivers, I’m sure, but let’s be reasonable. I don’t need a button that folds my rear-view mirrors against the car and if you told me what I paid for it I’ll bet I’d be pissed. Plus, the car’s V8 pick-up doesn’t belong with its hyperactive brakes. I’ve never been more nauseous in a car. Seriously. It could’ve been Marty’s driving, I suppose, but I drove it, too, and can’t figure out how to touch those brakes without slamming my head against the magnifying mirror on the sun visor. Any time I even thought about the brakes, the car stopped.

All this led to the tiny room at the big W Hotel of La Salle Avenue in Chicago. First, I’ve never been to a 22-story hotel where the room windows open even on the 20th floor. You? We threw barbecue-pork-filled buns from Chinatown out the window, just for good measure. And a fortune cookie, because I’m sure that a fortune revealed after a 20-story fall is somehow more meaningful. Never found that cookie, though.

Second, the hotel was tacky. It looked like some generic European club environment from Alias: Cathedral-style vaulted lobby with hanging mirrored chits, illuminated stacks of orange cubes, and a disco ball. Still, it did come equipped with a spy-like soundtrack and was a fun, if simple, hack. Wagner and I wandered a few rooms, a few floors, finished someone else’s chess game in the lobby, and then blew an hour or so playing Crimson Skies in the room with Evan. (Damn him for being better than me at a game I bought and beat and he had just learned.)

Third, the room was bogus. I’ve gotten more free stuff from Holiday Inn. And who puts wax lips in a mini-bar? Whatever. We even had to hook up our own VCR to get the Xbox connected to the hotel room’s television. That’s bullshit, I don’t care where you’re from.

Still, we got to drink some of Marty’s nice Port and shoot the shit for a while. It was something different, and therefore a great trip back to Big Shoulders. It’s all because of the secret car.

When we got to the parking garage where the car was to be dead-dropped, we found ourselves in a little corner inhabited by nothing but identical, secret cars. This is three of the four.

For some reason, I didn’t think to take many pictures of the car at the time. It looks like a damn Buick.

Marty, treating his luxury loaner with the proper respect. Believe it or not, he hadn’t had anything to drink except his sissy vanilla latte; we called ’em “Soccer Moms” back in my Starbucks days. I ask you: Is Marty modeling on the car or has he been involved in some tragic yuppie collision?

The tiny room at the W. I knew only half of these people before that day, which is a great way to measure the fun I’m having. I like a good 1:1 ratio of new:old friends.

Sara’s eye for still-life photography at work. You’re looking at a bottle of Port, a W-brand intimacy kit ($10), wax lips ($2), and a list of porn on video they’ll hand-deliver to your room.

Once the car had been dropped off, Marty finally got to real drinking. Here he toasts to his own magnificence. Plus, we see what happens in a free, expensive hotel room: people get tired and fall asleep.

For some reason, there was a giant plush grape (or something) on the hotel bed. Marty’s wearing it on his head, natch.

A few words here about Marty and Tony. They’re brothers, and undeniably two of the best people I know. Let me sharpen that a bit for you: Tony and Marty are great at being people, maybe the best at it. I’ve certainly learned a lot about how to be a human being from them both. They both do important work with kids that society has deemed “bad,” and they both manage to keep up the appearance of happy kids after hours. By way of example, you could go read what Marty said about my engagement on his own blog and you could know that Tony encouraged me to play poker online with his money. (I came in second in a tournament!)

Tony and me. I like this picture because it’s got Tony’s energy and because you can’t see me too good.

The cock-eyed mick being ensorcelled, I guess. His shirt says “Feelin’ Lucky” and even has a little shamrock on it.

So, I suppose I should get to the marriage part. On Friday, Sara and I went down into the city on the “L” and wandered around a bit. She thought we were just going to take in the holiday spirit. We wandered around while I got up the nerve and picked a good spot. I got on one knee (as one should, ahem, Kevin) and she said yes. Children sang, the city lit up, and fireworks went off. Seriously. I accidentally timed it just right so that the big tree-lighting ceremony culminated right after I proposed.

Afterwards, we visited the little faux-German Christmas village set up in the square and ate hot potato pancakes with our hands. What can I say, we were hungry and hot root-shreds felt good in our hands. We capped that by buying bags of springerle and pfefferneuse cookies. I’ve got no complaints.

This is the girl I’m gonna marry.

Sara took this picture during our drive into the city that afternoon. It’s coincidence. I didn’t now she’d taken this picture, but I proposed at this corner between this sign and the sign in the next picture.

Another coincidence. This picture was taken minutes before I asked, before we did a whole lap of the area. It was snowing big, beautiful, fat snowflakes. It was the way Hollywood says The City looks at Christmas Time.

So I’m a big romantic goob. Whatever. It works for me and, better, it works for her.


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