Saturday, May 31, 2014

our chicago adventure

two years ago today we headed to chicago feeling pretty excited about our lives. we boarded the plane in greensboro in our shorts and tshirts only to land in a frigid downpour at o'hare. and 1 year ago today we packed up everything again and moved back to north carolina.

let's back up - 2 months prior to our big move i was driving down 85 and my car broke down. technically it just overheated and needed a little coolant but i was sitting at the rest stop, late for work, cold, and not a clue how to fix it.

when it happened again 3 days later and made me late for work yet again the irrational-over-dramatic-needs-to-take-a-chill-pill side of me took over and i grabbed my phone and sent alex a very resolute text:

"we are moving to chicago. don't ask any questions."

alex is pretty easygoing but even he was a little hesitant that a little car trouble made me want to uproot our lives and move 800 miles away. i made my case that night and a few days later as we were driving down 85 and passed the very spot where my car broke down we shook on it. we weren't sure when or how but we were going to make it happen.

that all happened in the middle of march and by april we had found someone to sublet our apartment and we sold 2 of our 3 cars. by may we had packed up all of our belongings and moved into alex's parents old house.

we flew up to chicago may 31 to find an apartment. we traipsed around the city with one of those apartment finder people who showed us several places. despite going to depaul and living in the city prior to that i was overly optimistic in what we would find.

the very first studio apartment she took us to was so small that i could stand in the center of the room and touch both walls by just extending my arms. i'm honestly not sure a bed could have fit. it didn't even have a closet. it also didn't have a stove. just a mini fridge and a pathetic excuse for a bathroom. you actually had to step into the shower to be able to close the door.

and it was $650 a month. plus utilities.

alex and i looked at each other. we were sopping wet, completely unprepared for the rainy day, and even more unprepared for living in the city. we gave each other that "what have we gotten ourselves into?!" look.

each apartment she showed us got a little worse. the one with walls so thin and neighbors playing music so loud that the floor actually shook was when we called it a day.

we walked to the caribou on clark and arlington and sipped coffee as we both tried to pretend that we hadn't made a huge mistake. i sat there going over in my head if there were a way to get out of it and move back home.

we couldn't tell people the truth. i had too much pride for that.

"you guys are coming back?? why?"

"um, well, we kind of didn't plan it very well and it was raining the day we got there and the apartments we saw were either too small or too loud..."

um, no!
so we had to lie. i must have thought up a dozen ridiculous stories that weren't even plausible and only made sense to a shivering, emotional me.

"you guys are coming back?? why?"

"it turns out that the city of chicago requires a 3 month notice to move there...."

"alex was offered the position of ceo at chipotle but he has to stay in north carolina to accept it...."

and my personal favorite:
"we went up there and there are literally zero apartment vacancies. there was actually no where to live in the entire city. crazy..."

after a grueling week of fruitless apartment hunting alex flew back home and i stayed to continue the search. i'm not exaggerating when i say i called 100 different places and viewed dozens of apartments. when i did find something in our price range it was either in a really inconvenient part of the city or as i mentioned earlier, had no closet.

i was walking down clark one sunny afternoon to go to molly's bakery to decompress. i got a decadent cupcake (chocolate ganache filled, cream cheese icing, with oreos and gummy bears on top) and turned left onto wrightwood to head back to my sister's. i had done enough searching for the day and i know myself well enough to know that when i resort to cupcakes topped with candy it's gotten bad and i need to take a break.

i stuffed the last bite into my mouth and resisted the urge to lick the wrapper (oh, don't even. you've done it too) when i spotted a beautiful gothic style building on my right. there was a sign on the front entrance that read 'studios and 1 bedrooms for lease' with their number at the bottom.

keep in mind i was in my absolute favorite neighborhood in chicago. it's been my favorite long before i ever lived there and some of my favorite memories have been in that little 6 block radius of lincoln park. favorite and least favorite - i could live to be 100 and never forget the date at dunlays where the guy paid our $67 lunch bill with 1's, 5's and quarters. yeah, seriously. but that neighborhood is expensive and way out of our budget. i had viewed an apartment right down the street and a 1 bedroom was almost $2000 a month. ahh!!

i looked at the sign on the front entrance and kept walking, feeling defeated and knowing there was no way it was in our price range. but then i saw their number. the first 3 digits were the same first 3 digits of my parents phone number.

i took it as a sign telling me not to feel guilty about the thousand calories i'd just inhaled and to keep my head up. i called and asked their prices and to see an available apartment. her next availability was at 3pm, which was a couple hours away, so i went home and called my old roommate from depaul who still lived in the city and asked her to go with me.

we walked the few blocks there and it was a particularly hot day (that's the thing about chicago - one day it's raining and 50 and the next it's a blistering 90). we were more excited about getting out of the heat and in the apartment to cool down than we were about seeing the place i'd potentially live.

i should have suspected something when we walked in and the hallway to apartment #5 was just as hot as it was outside but without the breeze. she fumbled with the key for a while and my impatience grew. 

could we just get this over with?! the rent was only $775 and that just seemed too good to be true. i was sure i was about to walk into something the size of a coffin. 

but to my surprise there was actually enough room for a bed! and a couch! and there was a stove and a fridge and....a....closet!!! my reality was obviously distorted because had i seen this studio at any other time in my life i would have laughed at the idea of living in only a 300 square foot space. but it seemed so spacious and most of all doable. but there was no air conditioning. not even a wall unit.

i sent a few pictures to alex and got the go ahead from him to sign the lease. we moved in a couple weeks later on what i am convinced was the hottest day of the year. after hours of sweating and hard work we walked to home depot and bought as many fans as we could carry and placed them strategically throughout our tiny place.

we kept them on the highest setting and they worked great blew hot air on us for the rest of summer. 

the first few weeks there weren't bad. maneuvering around our apartment and figuring out what worked best felt like a game there for a while. i quickly realized it was a game i was losing and conceded to the fact that no matter many times i rearranged i could not make it feel or look any bigger. when you were sitting on the couch you could rest your feet on the bed. when you were sitting at the foot of the bed you could open the oven door. and no matter where you were, even the bathroom, you could watch the tv. on days when i felt cramped and imprisoned i told myself, "hey, you know what, i can make chocolate chips cookies and not even have to get out of my bed! how many people can say that!?"

i ended up really liking our tiny living space. you know you married the right person when you can live in such cramped quarters and not drive each other crazy. i loved everything about our little studio and our big neighborhood. i loved being newlyweds and exploring the city together. i loved that we had a rabbit that lived outside of our window and he felt like our pet. we named him walmart. because i don't like rabbits and i also don't like walmart so it seemed to fit. 

i loved getting to walk to work every day and not having to depend on my car's radiator. i loved our super lazy mornings when i'd walk to trader joes and get orange juice and alex would walk to einstein's to get 2 everything bagels and we'd meet back and lounge around for hours just enjoying each other. i loved sipping tea every sunday afternoon with my sister as we discussed what we read in the new york times earlier that week. we'd talk for hours while alex and brad tried to tune us out with football.

we didn't have internet while we were there and although i didn't think much of it then i am glad we never did. so many more adventures were taken because we weren't busy binge watching netflix. however, we did find a really cool used dvd store on broadway and may or may not have purchased every single season of 24 and Lost and stayed up til 5am many many nights. "just one more episode" said every addict ever.  

when we go back in july i think the first thing i'll do (besides smother my nieces with kisses and squeals) is go to the salvation army on clybourne. my love affair with that place is incomparable and admittedly a little unhealthy. we went back and forth for weeks trying to decide if we should fly or drive up there. we weighed the pros and cons of each and then it hit me...i can buy so much more if we drive.

i am happy that no matter where we are in life with jobs, kids, whatever, we'll always have our year in a 300 square foot studio apartment in chicago.

our street through the seasons. summer, a short lived fall, and a very long winter. spring does not exist there.

the air and water show. pros of living really close to the lake: it only took a few minutes to walk there. cons: it sounded like we were being bombed the week leading up to the show because they were practicing just a couple blocks from us. it was terrifying!

our favorite park. usually had it all to ourselves and right across the street from uncle julios, one of our very favorite restaurants. you haven't lived until you've eaten at uncle julios.

our secret spot. it could be difficult to find a secluded area within the city. this is where we would retreat to when we wanted to get away. it was a 30 minute walk but no one else was ever there. 

got bored one night. so a nose piercing seemed fun. the 3rd and final time i'll ever pierce my nose.

i heard about a really cool thrift store in the west loop and convinced alex to go with me. we passed harpo studios where oprah used to film her show and of course i had to take a picture. oprah taught me everything i know about proper bra sizes!
it was unseasonably warm one day in january. it was 61 and we had to take advantage of it despite the forecast. there was an 80% chance of rain. we got about a half mile from our place and it started pouring. it was so much fun!

alex's little chipotle. i loved how close it was to our apartment and getting to walk and see him whenever i wanted.

our bunny, walmart. this was the first snow of the year and we laughed when we woke up that morning and opened the blinds to see this. sun or snow he always rested in the same little spot right outside our window.

sometimes we did touristy things like this. we sipped martinis on the 95th floor and after our date we were walking around downtown and saw common signing autographs. i was feeling so 'city' and fancy for a while until my feet were hurting so bad that i had to take my heels off and walk from the fullerton redline to home barefoot. the fanciness wore off quickly.

our teeny tiny and messy apartment. you see those mirrors behind the couch? that was the closet. we kept big bins full of seasonal clothes in there. i used to hide in them and scare alex when he got home from work. he didn't find it quite as amusing as i did.

despite everything the city had to offer there was nothing as fun, silly, hilarious, and cool as these two. they made our year up there worth every below 0 day. i miss walking in their house and hearing their little feet stampeding toward me with shouts of, "aint beeeeeeeeeeeee!" i'm so glad i got that time with them while they were still so little. i'll miss when they get old enough to realize that calling me aint b is weird and switch to aunt b.

thank you, chicago for a fun and crazy year. i'll always have a deep dish pizza size hole in my heart.

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