All posts for the month March, 2018

Mark, Todd, & Chris at Girl & The Goat on our last night in Chicago

From Minneapolis it was a five-and-a-half hour drive to Chicago, the longest drive we’re going to do on this road trip. There were two interesting things about the drive. One, Wisconsin is really boring. I should qualify that and say that southern Wisconsin is really boring. Most of my childhood was spent in northern Wisconsin and that is beautiful but the southern part of the state is just flat and dull and ugly. On the other hand the second thing of note was that at one point while traveling through Wisconsin I realized that there was no more snow on the ground. It was only nine days in Minnesota’s snow but it felt like nine weeks. Free at last!

Oh, and one other observation about the drive. We stopped for lunch in Janesville (home of House Speaker Paul Ryan, but we didn’t see him). Mark had found a place just a little off the highway with good reviews so that made sense. It was early afternoon on Sunday and the place – a big bar with good salads and nice-looking burgers – was packed. At some point it occurred to me that pretty much everyone there had driven; there was really no neighborhood around it. And yet pretty much everyone, or certainly most people, had beers or Bloody Marys in front of them. For years now, long before we started this adventure, Mark & I walked when we were going out or took public transportation or a cab. Here, though, the parking lot was full and lots and lots of people were drinking.

I supposed that is far more the norm than the exception in the U.S. but it gives me pause when I’m driving. In much of Europe authorities are utterly hard-nosed about drinking and driving and, of course, cities and towns tend to be much denser so people can walk to their favorite watering hole. I like that system a lot better.

Our first night in Chicago was the Stormy Daniels interview on 60 Minutes. You have to love it when even cheap food joints hate Trump.

OK, now on to Chicago. It’s a city we love, in part because of the city itself – the size, the density, the architecture … all that. And it part we love it because we can visit Chris & Todd. They own a building in the Uptown neighborhood where they’ve turned the lower level into an Airbnb, so that’s where they stayed. Chris & Todd, of course, were traveling with us in Tuscany last fall when we had an awful experience with an Airbnb host who was nasty because we were using her washing machine too much (though she listed it as an amenity on the Airbnb website). We were glad to observe that Chris & Todd were much better hosts and didn’t complain one bit about how much laundry we had. (And, if you’re ever staying in Chicago, their unit is honestly great – big space, two bedrooms, beautiful kitchen, and a quick ride to the train into downtown. You won’t be unhappy!)

One thing that was interesting about seeing Chris & Todd a few months after our Tuscan adventure was that on the one hand Todd says he’s a little weaker, that his ALS is getting in the way more and more. On the other hand, to me certainly, it looked as though he was doing measurably better. Now I know that ALS doesn’t typically move in that direction but I just thought he was moving up and down stairs a lot more quickly. All we could guess was that by the end of our two weeks in Italy he was getting pretty tired and that was my more recent memory. At any rate, Chris and Todd are still hanging in there and great fun to visit with.

Here we are with Sonia and Nina, friends of Chris & Todd’s whom we’ve met and bonded with before. Mark sat between them during dinner and appeared to have about the best time of anyone.

Our first night in was quite an extravaganza: Chris & Todd hosted a dinner party for us and eight other of their friends at a nearby restaurant. We had met a few of the others before and then had a chance to meet several newbies, always fun. I sat next to Coco, a woman you may have seen on Fox News. (But then if you watch Fox News what the hell are you doing reading this? She acknowledges that none of her friends ever see her there.) She was apparently their go-to woman to defend Hillary Clinton during the 2016 race and yes, she had some fun stories!

Two other meals of note in Chicago. On our second night we took Mark’s niece Jasmine and her boyfriend Charlie out to dinner at The Gage, a swank steakhouse right near the Chicago Institute of Art where they both study. It was a fun night: Charlie is a charming guy, not at all the scary guy you might expect studying art. And Jasmine, what can you say? When you live far away you see her growing up in fits and starts and then all of a sudden *Bam!* she’s a beautiful and interesting young adult. She reminds me of my little sister who, when she grew up, I discovered was a fascinating person. Mark & I are already looking forward to spending more time with her this summer in Italy where the whole Sullivan clan will be spending a week.

Me & Mark with Jasmine & Charlie after dinner. Since they’re artists – Charlie’s field is photography – Mark thought we should be artsy with this shot.

And then there was a final dinner at Girl & The Goat with Chris & Todd, and oddly named but excellent restaurant they took us to once before. Hard to get reservations there but totally worth it if you can manage it.

Otherwise Mark & I did a lot of walking in Chicago and a frustrating experience with Chicago Institute of Art. It’s a bit over six miles from Chris & Todd’s Airbnb to the museum, so on our first full day we set off for the long walk. Because of a modestly late start by the time we got there it was lunch time so we ate first and then went to the museum. When we got there, though, the line was long and slow so we just bagged it, figuring we’d go back the next morning when it opened. So we walked back, making a 13-mile walk to and from lunch.

The next morning, then, we took the train in, got there just after it opened at 10:30, and the line was super long, like crazy long. I’m sure it would have taken an hour to get in, so we just bagged it again. I wanted to see the museum but not that badly. So we walked away, toward the lake, and discovered a second entrance, this one with a much shorter line. We got in line and it was just inching along, barely moving. I went to look and, notwithstanding the $25 entrance fee – higher than any museum we’ve ever seen anywhere in the world – they were staffing two of the eight sales booths.

So let’s see if I have this right. You open later than most museums and close earlier than many so the time to see the place is pretty restricted. You have higher prices than anyone, AND you won’t hire enough people selling tickets to keep the ticket lines reasonable. As Mark points out, there is just no reason in the 21st century to have lines like that. You can make tickets available online and, if you need to restrict entry due to crowding, the tickets can be time-specific. So we just said to hell with them. I’ll enjoy other museums.

That’ll teach them!

A fun little site showing Chicago’s 27 sister cities. Mark & I have been to a large majority of them, though I can’t quite read all the names.

So that was Chicago: old friends that we love, some new friends, and even a bit of family time. Nice architecture but no art worth seeing. Great food. Oh, and one more thing to love about Chicago. We walked by some Banana Republic outlet store and stopped to buy some basics. When we checked out we saw a sign that a 2017 ordinance requires every store to charge seven cents for every bag you get. Since I didn’t have anything to carry our new clothes in we paid the seven cents, but I loved it. When I mentioned it to Chris he said that yes, he and everyone he knows now carries around one or more bags just in case they buy something. A brilliant way to reduce both trash and pollution.

From here we’re continuing south into Kentucky. Next stop, Louisville.

Chicago architecture

Another shot

Another shot of Charlie & Jasmine, a cute couple

Todd and Harry, another cute couple

My best friends from college – Deb, Amy, Brian, and Donna

We’ve started our road trip, Duluth to Key West. It’s worth noting that a road trip like this in the U.S. is pretty unusual for us. We don’t like cars and haven’t owned one in 10 years. The last time we bought a car was during Bill Clinton’s first term as president. But since we’re planning on spending several weeks in the country we figured we would rent a car and connect with friends along the way.

Our first stop was Minneapolis, an easy two-and-a-half hour drive from Duluth and one that I’ve done many, many times. I lived here for nearly all of my 20s when I went to college and had my first political job. The four days here were one of my favorite stops on this five-year adventure we’ve been on, a chance to reconnect with great old friends. That recognition – that spending time with friends after our visits with family in Michigan and Duluth is such a highlight – goes a long ways toward explaining why we’re thinking of getting a permanent home back in the U.S. If being around friends and family is what you want, maybe you’re done traveling the world on a full-time basis.

That’s Bill standing next to me and his girlfriend Jennifer next to Mark. We had dinner with them one night and then lunch before a matinée performance of “Familiar” at the Guthrie. We met Bill in Chile some years ago and have traveled with him in Korea, Panama, and Paris, and have plans to see him in Amsterdam this summer. This is the first time, though, that we’ve seen him in the U.S.!

At any rate, we had a great few days in Minneapolis. Lunch with an old college roommate, dinners with a variety of my oldest friends, a visit to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, a matinée at the Guthrie Theater, and just walking around a lovely city. How much fun did we have? True story: A month or so ago I emailed a group of college friends and said Mark & I would be in town, wondering if we could all get together. Amy invited us all to her house for a dinner party so five great old friends and five spouses came over. Lots of talk and catching up and all that along with a very nice meal. Brian’s cell phone rings and he steps away from the table because he thinks he knows what the call is about: his mother just died. She was fading and everyone knew it could happen at any time. He decided, though, that being with old friends was just what he needed so he stayed with us, telling stories of his mother and just drinking in the warmth of old friendship. That’s a helluva night.

Brian and Donna

Besides all that, two things stand out. First, I’ve long thought that I would like to move back to Minneapolis at some point. I know Mark doesn’t want to so it’s not going to happen, but it’s still something of a fantasy. In short order, though, two old friends separately threw quite the wet blanket on the idea. They each told me – one at lunch our first day, the other at dinner that night – that after living on the East Coast for 25 years and now traveling the world I’d be bored back in Minneapolis. Probably true. And sad.

OK, one other weird thing. Over the years when we’ve traveled in Asia people sometimes ask Mark and me if we’re brothers. We just laugh; presumably to them all us Westerners look the same. Suddenly though it’s happening with a lot more regularity and now in the U.S. It’s weird because, as Mark points out, we’re not even the same race. One night as we returned to our hotel in Minneapolis the guy checking IDs at the hotel bar asked if we were twins! We think it’s strange.

Our first stop was lunch in Minnetonka with my old college roommate Jeff

We stayed at the W Hotel downtown in the old Foshay Tower. Modeled after the Washington Monument, it was the tallest building in Minneapolis for over 40 years. Because the hotel chain likes us our room was in the very top floor with views in two directions across Minneapolis. If you had told me back in the 1970s and ’80s when I lived here that I would be sleeping in the top floor of the Foshay Tower, I’d have thought you were crazy.

There is a viewing platform at the very top of the Foshay Tower, along with a cute little museum about the building. Here is Mark enjoying the view.

Minneapolis City Hall, where I once worked for the City Council. This beautiful Richardsonian building was built in the late 19th century and was the tallest building in Minneapolis until the Foshay Tower surpassed it. The clock faces are bigger than Big Ben.

And while I’m on the subject of architecture, this is the Guthrie Theater, a great repertory theater that has been a Minneapolis mainstay since the early 1960s. This new building opened in 2006 and is a stunning addition to the Mississippi River area of the city. It was designed by Jean Nouvel, the same guy who designed buildings in Seoul, Doha, and Abu Dhabi that Mark & I have loved.

Here’s the set for “Familiar”, the play we saw on Saturday afternoon. We haven’t been to a play in years so maybe that’s part of the explanation of why we loved it so much, but we had a great time. Interestingly the play is written by Danai Gurira who is starring in “Black Panther” as Okoye. Quite the talented woman, apparently.

Besides friends and the Guthrie, the other big deal for me was a morning at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. It’s a great collection with lots to enjoy, but this one stood out. It’s by Kehinde Wiley, the guy whose painting at the Detroit Institute of Art impressed me so much and whom I later learned painted Barack Obama’s official presidential portrait. I love learning about new artists (and by that, of course, I mean new for me…).

I liked the way it looks as if this Rodin – The Age of Bronze, a statue so lifelike that Rodin was insulted when people suggested he had cast it directly from a male model – has just punched those guys in the Wiley painting

Speaking of learning of new artists, the Minneapolis Institute of Art has a lot of local art, including several by George Morrison, from the Grand Portage Ojibwe band, a neighbor to my Fond du Lac band

Another George Morrison, this one titled “Lake Superior Landscape”

Just as I thought I was done with the Mia (as they refer to they call the Institute of Art), I came across an exhibit by Minol Araki, a Japanese artist born in China. I quickly fell in love with it.

More Araki

Snow monkeys in one of his very, very large pieces

And finally, back to old friends. The top picture here showed five old friends. This is five spouses, also apparently having a good time. Note that Steve, standing next to Mark, was my RA when I lived in the dorm in my sophomore year and who was then on the City Council when I worked for a different (and usually competing) member. Strange but true.

To have these days with Dex and the rest of the family was a blessing

The primary reason we came back to the States was to spend time with my family in Duluth. To be clear, one wouldn’t normally choose to go from Thailand to Duluth in the winter (we arrived on March 16) just for a visit. In this case though the timing is critical: my 11-year-old great-nephew is in the late stages of terminal cancer. We’re here to spend time with him and the rest of the family and then staying in North America for a couple months until his funeral. And yes, it is very strange for me at least to be so direct about the end game in this, but my family has gotten used to it, or as inured as one can in the situation. Dexter knows he’s dying, has known it for nine months now, and it’s just something they all live with.

One of the things I learned on this trip is that there is nothing you can do about it. My first day back was pretty rough for me: Dex is obviously getting weaker and on top of that my mother’s Alzheimer’s isn’t getting any better either. She still knows who Mark & I are but she doesn’t know that we travel full-time, that Dex has cancer, or that Donald Trump is president for that matter. (OK, yeah, maybe that last one is something of a blessing….) So yeah, pretty tough stuff. And in the best traditions of how I’ve lived most of my 60-plus years when there’s a problem I want to do something, fix something.

Mark got his Dex time too

Doesn’t work here. There’s nothing to do except to be there. So we were there. After that first painful day it was a beautiful visit. I would spend midday with my mother, go over to the assisted living facility where she lives, visit for a bit, then take her for a drive and out to lunch. I learned that earlier in the day she’s relatively more present, able to carry on a reasonable conversation and all that. Then in the evening Mark & I would go over to my brother’s house for dinner (corned beef & cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day!) and visit with the rest of the family. All in all not so bad.

As always there were a few highlights. Certainly at the top of the list was just cuddling with Dex. He’s a little low in energy but that makes holding him both easier and more special. I’m truly glad that we didn’t miss this last chance. And then there was the drive I did with my mother through Superior, across the bay in Wisconsin, where she grew up. I asked if she remembered where her parents’ house had been and she didn’t.

As we drove around, though – I knew the general area within a couple of blocks – she suddenly said “Ohio Avenue.” Ah, she remembered that much. Then we drove up and down the few blocks it would have had to have been on and didn’t find it. Maybe it had long since been torn down. Then suddenly again she said “1614. It was 1614 Ohio Ave.” Sure enough, we found this tiny little house at 1614 Ohio Ave. where she’d grown up with her parents, four siblings, and a grandfather some 80 years ago and where I’d visited my grandparents when I was a little kid. After that we drove out of town to the house where I’d grown up. She remembered that a little more clearly, particularly as it really hadn’t changed much in the 46 years since we moved out.

My mother’s childhood home in Billings Park. It was tiny; hard to imagine eight people living there.

And the house that I grew up in on 80 acres on what is still a dirt road. I could be wrong but I think we planted those trees in the early 1960s. Either way they are a LOT bigger today than they were then.

And that was our five-day Duluth visit. Mark & I had dinner one night with an old graduate school classmate who lives in Duluth (and is a friend of my sister Rebecca), so that was fun. That and genuine quality time with the rest of the family made for me, at least, something of a healing experience. Sadly, we’ll likely be back in the next several of weeks for a funeral. Cancer sucks. Childhood cancer really, really sucks.

Of course, the whole visit wasn’t gloomy. One day the sun came out, the temperature rose into the mid-40s, and Mark & I went for a walk along the Lake Superior coast with my sister Rebecca. You can tell that it is still winter in Duluth, but it was a beautiful day and a beautiful walk.

After the walk my sister-in-law and brother Vic (Dexter’s grandparents) joined us for lunch at a spot on the lake. An indoor spot, of course, but then we went back outside to enjoy the sun.

Speaking of food, on the drive from Minneapolis to Duluth after we flew in from Detroit we stopped at Tobies in Hinkley (it’s an old, old tradition and just about required). We ordered Cobb salads and they were HUGE. It’s going to take us a while to get used to these portion sizes.

Rebecca made Sunday brunch for us one day. Sunday, I think. From the front that’s Jenny (Dex’s mom), Karen, Jackson, Mark, Lily, Rebecca, and Mat. (You’ll be seeing more of Mat as Mark & I are taking him to Europe in August.) Vic wasn’t there as Sunday mornings are busy times for a Lutheran minister….

More pictures of Lake Superior at the end of winter

My beautiful, talented, lawyer sister

Karen and her cats. These three-plus years of dealing with Dex’s cancer have been tough on her but through it all she is a survivor

Jenny took this one. I tear up when I think about it.