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My Third Birthday in California Or, I Went to Chicago?!

7 Aug

My first birthday in California I spent in Malibu. It was kind of romantic. I was in love with California if not the person I spent it with.  I’m still in love with California.  Last year I celebrated my birthday in Santa Monica with Nicolle and her daughter Katrina:

birtHDAY 2014 N, K, ME AT WATER GRILL

And a few days  later with–of course,  my son Noah. And with–of course, Ben Affleck. Noah spotted Ben across the room at The Hungry Cat Restaurant. When I told Noah (aspiring actor) to  “go over there and strike up a conversation with Ben,” Noah said “That’s more your kind of move than mine, Mom.” So I made my move. Ben’s agent tolerated it. And Noah took a picture.

birthday 2014 Noah licking lips in Hungry Catbirthday 2014 Ben and me(Please understand, Dear Reader, that I didn’t realize when I coerced Ben into this photo that he was cheating on Jennifer with the nanny.)

ANYWAY, after last year’s celebration, this year looked like it might not stand a chance of being so interesting.  So, I booked a ticket to Chicago to see my dearest, oldest friends. Given how kind they have been to  me through thick and thin, I’d have say they are more family than friends.  (And there’s the fact that except for Noah, I have no family, so I gotta call somebody family!) After a day of teaching English as a Second Language, I got on a plane and landed in O’Hare late at night, and found the Blue Line:

birthday 2015 arrival blue line

Loving the culture shock of taking REAL public transportation, I called Susanna, whom I’ve known since I was 5–and whose birthday we were also celebrating–and told her I’d be at Logan Square in about 30 minutes.

birthday 2015 arrival at Suz's stop

I got off  the train, and the air was humid and there were guys playing chess and flirtatiously calling to women walking by. It was urban in a way that is only Chicago. I LOVE CHICAGO, I thought. I used to think about moving there.

birthday 2015 suz and rise and cocktailsSusanna, or “Suz” as I’ve always called her, and her husband Russ picked me up, took me to their house on Montana Street–where I’ve probably slept 15 times,  and Suz made a killer cocktail and we toasted and laughed at nothing and then all fell asleep within minutes. It so felt like family.  In the morning I was happy to see Max, one of their sons, who is just a year or two younger than Noah.  I’ve known Max since he was in diapers. He was reading Updike.

Birthday 2015 Max readingThen Max and Suz and I took a walk. Their street is pure Chicago.

birthday 2015 Montana streetI felt a strange homecoming.  Chicago is not my hometown, but I’ve spent so much time there, growing up in Champaign-Urbana (two and a half hours away.)  I grew up the daughter of Audrey–my single mother who loved the Art Institute and Oak Street Beach and the Chicago Symphony. We drove up often. And I’ve visited my friends there countless times. Suz and Max and I kept walking, and ended up at a Farmer’s Market, almost next to the Lake.

birthday 2015 me in front of old lamp postbirthday 2015 farmer's marketI realized I’d been missing the MidWest, where there is green grass,  people buying jam, and those big-shouldered buildings overseeing the lake.

birthday 2015 lake and skyline

And then I went paddle-boarding with Suz.

Birthday 2015 paddle board with suzI remembered being in camp with her in Wisconsin one summer. We both loved the lake. She was better with the cold. She was better with the horses. And better with the spiders. Maybe that’s why she’s a world- renowned  doctor?

And then it was time to meet Nicolle, and Howie and Sue, my other great Urbana friends! We met at a beautiful hotel restaurant, and the food was subtle, and it was like old times but better– because we’re older and more subtle.

Birthday 2015 suz and howie

That’s Suz and Howie.reunion me pointing finger at Sue

That’s Howie’s wife Sue and me. Howie’s like my brother. Sue is my sister.

Birthday 2015 girls in the dark

And there’s Nicolle–my California and Chicago sistah, me, Sue, and Suz.

The next morning I flew home. A few days later,  got to celebrate with Noah. And that was so so sweet.Birthday 2015 Noah and mom at Boiling Crab

And then I had dinner with another Urbana sister (once upon a time babysitter!) Peggy, and newer sister, Carol.

Birthday 2015 Carol and Peggy

Peggy and I used to eat Popcorn on Pennsylvania Avenue. And to celebrate my birthday we did again.

birthday 2015 Peggy and me popcorn better

Though there was no Ben Affleck, there was a mysterious stranger.

Birthday 2015 Kirsten and Rex

Well, actually  more like new friend.

My third birthday in and out of California. Still not quite here, Dear Reader. But Close. And I’m glad I went home for the day I was born.

birthday photo with momThank you, Audrey, for this life!