Monday, March 13, 2006

Missing the Mardi Gras

The Plan: Fly to Chicago on Friday evening, meet a couple of friends, then drive out to St. Louis early Saturday morning in time for the Mardi Gras parade. Stay overnight in St. Louis, drive back Sunday morning. See the city (if you can ever see a city in one evening) on Sunday. Fly back early Monday morning and head straight to work.

The Problem: Meeting friends on a Friday evening, and expecting to drink sufficiently little that evening to wake up sufficiently early the next morning.

The Reality:

R wakes up at 6, as planned, and begs, grovels, for an extra hour's sleep. Since he's going to drive, and since we're all in the same shape as he is (but too dignified to beg), we aquiesce.

R wakes up at 7, and begs for another hour. We agree to half an hour.

By the time we're all ready, it's 8:30. After stops to buy coffee and food and for smokes, we reach St. Louis finally at 2:30 p.m. The parade is over, and only its junk remains - debris from the floats, broken beads on the ground. We settle for being tourists, go up in tiny steel cubicles to the top of St. Louis' arch. The view is strangely disappointing, as the trip has been so far. As must be, when strangers decide to be friends taking a trip together somewhere. Starving after no meals throughout the day, there is, really, only one option: alcohol.

The TrainWreck:
We walk into "TrainWreck" - a restaurant / pub / nightclub, and things begin to get happy. Copious amounts of beer and vodka are consumed, happy people at the next table join us, and we all get up and dance (around the tables, thankfully, and not on them), and exchange phone numbers. S calls from Delhi, and I speak to him for half an hour, but have no idea what we spoke about the next day - I only have a vague memory of using the F word fairly often.

R wants to drink on the way back, so I drive back part of the way on Sunday. Open roads, miles of nothing all around, wonderful driving. R plays DJ, inserting CDs and going ga-ga over some song before losing patience and skipping to the next one, till we are at the end of our tether. (It is annoying, when singing along loudly and tunelessly with Billy Joel, to suddenly find oneself singing loudly and tunelessly on one's own while the CD searches for the next track.)

The Madness:
Chicago is big, and R doesn't know his way around yet. But we manage to find our way to a comedy club, where there are some decent performances, then onto downtown Chicago. As we drive around, R, who can barely see straight by this point, shrieks at us desparately to keep our eyes open. "Quick, what's that road? what's that road? Is it Michigan?" "We're on Michigan already, aren't we?", I ask, poking my head out of the window to check. "Shit. OK, so is it Congress Parkway?" And so we navigate on.

The Sight-Seeing:
And so, if you visit Chicago, let me recommend that you see (based on my somewhat unconventional tour, which comprised coming across things more by accident than design, and my even more unconventional and somewhat pickled tour guide who made up for his lack of information with liberal doses of scorn, alternating with careless inventiveness) the Millennium Park (which we saw from a distance, and which, as per R, "has some structures and shit"), the famous Chicago theatre (which is "famous for some shit") and the Magnificent Mile (a mile of road on Michigan avenue, famous for shopping, but with some old architecture that is interesting). The Millennium Park, R says, letting go of the steering wheel and gesturing grandly with his arms to the near-detriment of the car in front of us, is the biggest park in the US. P and I both look suspiciously at him. "Bigger than Central Park?" "Oh, Shentral Park!" says our guide, "yeah, that might be bigger. OK, sho it'sh the shecond largesht." Moments later, he tells us that Chicago's Hard Rock Cafe is the second oldest in the US. A moment of thought, while we just look at him suspiciously. "I jusht made that up", he tells us proudly. "Do you even know this city?", I ask him. "Not really", he says in rare moment of honesty, following it up immediately with another whopper. But to do him credit, he does find his way to the House of Blues (where we missed B B King playing the previous night), entirely by the hit-or-miss method of "that looksh short of familiar, let'sh go that way", and eventually does manage to find his way back home.

The Epilogue:
I sleep through the ride to the airport the next morning, and all the way back on the flight. So we missed the Mardi Gras parade, and so we didn't end up doing anything we couldn't have done in New York or Chicago... but it was a fun trip anyway. And it's fun to have strangers become friends.

Pictures are here

Cross-posted here


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