Jim’s Birthday Weekend

Last Thursday, I flew out to Chicago for Jim’s birthday weekend. My flight went through Dublin, which is interesting since you do all the security and customs checks there, so that you don’t have to do it once you arrive in Chicago. Because my initial security check at Schiphol happened about two hours before the American security check happened in Dublin, it was easy to compare the experiences. I made note of it all so that I could compare it to the security check in Chicago on the way back. In short; the American security check was absolutely awful compared to the one at Schiphol.

At Schiphol, unless you’re wearing heavy boots or boots with metal things in it or on it, you can simply keep your shoes on. At the American check, everyone takes their shoes off except children younger than 12, and the elderly past a certain age. At Schiphol, depending on how busy it is, they don’t require you to take laptops out of your bag any longer. At the American check I think that, without exaggeration, I had to show my boarding card to at least three people for verification. And that’s not to mention just how rudely you are treated. In Chicago there was a man who kept yelling at people to stand differently, who was yelling while moving entire rows of people, and giving instructions that, honestly, hardly anyone could understand. It struck me that the American security personnel were rude, disinterested and sometimes even hostile compared to the personnel at Schiphol. It’s strange, since when you compare the service industries between the U.S. and the Netherlands, you’re much more likely to get treated well in the U.S. I don’t understand why your airport experience needs to be any different.

So that was the shitty part of my weekend. The rest of it was awesome.

I arrived in the early evening on Thursday, jumped into an Uber and arrived at Jim’s place, which I hadn’t seen before, in time for a tour de casa, a shower and drinks at The Violet Hour with Laura and friends.

The house is really cool and I really like what he has done with the place. Downstairs he has a spacious kitchen, spacious office, a second bedroom and a nice sitting room with a beautifully framed triptych map of Chicago. It’s lacking in natural light a bit because and it could use bigger windows, but the space itself is amazing. The staircase upstairs does have wonderful light and has a big wall that’s ripe for a beautiful painting or mural. The second floor has these beautiful sky light windows over an open space (which has mats on the floor so that you can do jiu jitsu!) and a spacious master bedroom, which Jim was so gracious to leave to me for the duration of my stay.

We went out to The Violet Hour and met up with Laura and some of her friends. Later we were joined by Kevin, and I saw Sprite and his girlfriend as well but they couldn’t sit at our table because we were completely crammed already and the bouncer wouldn’t let us put more seats around it. We had a few drinks there and eventually left for another place where we met up with Daki, Josh, Lisa and Scott as well as a friend of Jim. It was good to meet up with Josh again, and I was surprised and somewhat impressed with how openly he spoke about the things he had been struggling with since the last time we saw each other. We spoke about Ireland and both of our trips there and he was delighted to hear that I had thought of him a lot while I was travelling through Ireland because of how enthusiastically he had spoken about his trip the last time we saw each other.

I was exhausted by the time I got to bed. Jim’s bed was a delight and I slept very well. The next morning, Jim had to go to work and I decided to do some shopping. Joasia had handed me a few requests and since I had the whole day to kill I took my time. Julie was lovely enough to give me a ride and drop me off near the places I wanted to go to, and I spent some time having breakfast and doing the shopping. On the way back to Jim’s, I took another Uber and was surprised that the lady who drove me started¬†proselytising. A little unexpected and unpleasant. But! I thought it was very clever. You know you have someone for the next twenty minutes without them having a place to go, so under the guise of “having a nice chat” you can start recruitment.

Back home I took some time to read and continued watching The Handmaid’s Tale, which I had started watching on the aeroplane ride over. (Shit, that story is brutal.) When Jim returned we made our way to Aloft¬†where Jim was doing a trapese class. I had never been to their new studio space yet, and it was pretty bananas. It’s a beautiful old church, quite a bit smaller than their previous place, but definitely in a better part of town. I was once again amazed at the casual feats of strength and dexterity that the students displayed. Julie was in the back giving a private class, and the three of us returned home and changed to go out to dinner.

Dinner was at a Greek restaurant whose name escapes me right now. It’s a place that Jim and I had been to frequently to have gyros, only this time it was the scene for a cabaret show, with a band called Brooklyn Britches and the Whispers and several burlesque dancers. The show was awesome. The food was not awesome. Jim and Julie knew the singer, Brooklyn, who turned out to be very charming, so we had a chat with her afterwards.

After dinner we went to The Underground Lounge, a place that became the location of some of the events that used to be held at Neo before it closed down. There I bumped into Laura and some of her friends, Kevin showed up, and I was happy to see Katja was there as well. We didn’t stay very long, just had a few drinks and ended up leaving.

The following day we had some breakfast out. Julie had an appointment to keep that afternoon and Jim had two back to back circus classes that he wanted to attend. I had the ambition of going to the Field Museum, but the weather was so miserable that I decided to relax some more. More Handmaid’s Tale. When Jim was done, we jumped into the car and drove out to Frankfort, which is a southern suburb of Chicago. We were to meet up with a bunch of people and play laser tag.

The ride over took about 90 minutes due to traffic. I didn’t mind because it gave Jim and I some time to chat, hang out and listen to music. The ride took us through miles and miles of strip malls, which I find absolutely soulless places of conformity and misery, but they also fascinate me a little bit. The uniformity, the spaces, the architecture, the signage, the types of businesses that settle there. I used to think all strip malls were Targets, CVS’s, tae kwon do schools and nail salons. I had to amend my list and add yoga studios now, too.

When we arrived at the laser tag place, called CMP Tactical Lazer Tag, I was dreading the upcoming experience a little. The place was filled with faux military stuff and a lot of teenagers. We had to sign up really quickly, but luckily we bought the tickets in the car on the way over so we could get a 50% discount. Jason, Laura, Scott, Lisa were there already, as well as Jim’s father and some people from his life whom I had never met before. Most notably; C. C is Jim’s acrobatics partner, a person who turned out to be as friendly as she is tiny.

We were lumped in together with the teenagers and were divided up into two groups. Our group was mostly complete, but because the group of teenagers was larger in number, some of them were added to our group. We got some awfully realistic looking rifles and some sensors to put on our heads (head shots only!) and we were explained the rules.

No running. No contact between players. You can take three shots before you’re dead. You can respawn in your team’s respawn zone. No spawn zone camping. Your rifle holds 120 rounds before you have to hit reload. Check.

The games that they came up with were kind of cool. My trepidation of the experience had completely subsided by the second game. It turned out to be a lot of fun. We absolutely crushed the other team over the span of six games. Only one of which we lost. It turned out that the teenagers were awful at working as a team, and we actually employed some tactics. The teenagers that we had in our team quickly became addicted to winning and so they were up for the team work as well.

My favourite moment was when we were playing “cops and robbers”, a game in which the robber team had to extract money from several safes (you actually had to punch in a code and open the safe) and place the money in a bag. Then you had to get the bag to an extraction point, which was a very exposed jeep. Lisa, C and I were at the safe’s really quicly. Lisa and C opened all the safes in record time while I stood guard. We immediately went to the exposed jeep to drop off the bag. C was leading, I was trailing. C dropped to a knee behind a crate and covered us. I overtook Lisa and went on a suicide run, blocking Lisa and sniping off anyone who dared to take a shot at us. We dropped the bag off and won the game in record time.

When all was said and done, we had a great time and took a silly photo to prove it:

We drove back to the city. The traffic on the way back was much lighter so we made it back in half an hour and we met up at a Mexican diner. I shared some food with Laura and we went to Lincoln Kareoke to do what Jim loves; sing horrible songs, loudly and out of tune! A bunch of extra people showed up, Gremlin, Ann, Austin and a dude named Mad Robin who walked in carrying his bagpipes and wearing his bagpipe band uniform. He played a birthday song on the pipes, which drew a crowd and proceeded to crush it with the ladies.

I don’t normally sing, but was emboldened by Gremlin’s suggestion that “[I] can actually carry a tune”. Jim and I did Daft Punk’s Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger and Austin and I did Marilyn Manson’s Tainted Love, which was awesome.

When everyone was good and sauced we said goodbye to everyone and went back to Jim’s place. Two people joined us for a night cap and Jim and I got to drink a bottle of birthday Asti for old time’s sake.

The next morning we met up with Gremlin, Scott, Lisa and Jim’s friend Matt for brunch, which was nice. I had a wonderful pizza which made me feel like winner. I had finished the book that I was reading so when people suggested hanging out at a bookstore for a moment after brunch I ended up buying the first Harry Potter book. I had never really been that interested in the series, but Joasia had gotten me onto the first few films and I watched one on the aeroplane over and decided I would want to know more.

Afterwards Jim drove me to the airport and we said goodbye. Another awful security experience later and I took the flight out to Dublin. I landed at 5 in the morning and an hour later flew out to Amsterdam. I arrived home by ten in the morning and wasn’t as tired as I thought I would be. I think it was a very successful trip. And I hope Jim enjoyed it as much as I did.

Halloween

I’m not a very big fan of themed parties where you have to dress up. There is something about the hassle of it. I hardly ever think that the squeeze is worth the juice.

This year I had an idea for a costume that I dubbed “Bill Nye the Nitrous Guy” in which I basically dressed up like Bill Nye the Science Guy, but then come in with a bunch of balloons and a tank of nitrous oxide. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a party where someone showed up with laughing gas where the party wasn’t immediately improved.

Unfortunately, while UK law doesn’t explicitly forbid nitrous oxide, and the law that they put on the books to forbid it actually explicitly exempts nitrous oxide from its application, in spirit it’s considered regulated for consumption in that way. So unfortunately, that costume was out and the hunt was on for a new costume that was equally low-hassle.

This is what I came up with.

The Cotswolds

Last weekend, Joasia and I rented a car and drove from Exeter to Chipping Norton in the Cotswolds, a beautiful and very posh part of England. The area has quintessential, brocade English landscape, with green rolling hills and moss-covered, dry-brick wall partitions. The villages are, not unlike Bath, characterised by their limestone masonry, which gives it a beautiful, harmonious appearance. We were there right when the leaves were turning yellow and the different shades of colour was incredible to behold. Google “cotswolds autumn” and you’ll see what I mean. We visited many different small villages, and we also went to visit Blenheim Palace, which was amazing, too.

The rear entrance to the St. Edward’s church in Stowe-on-the-Wold.

I wouldn’t want to live in complete isolation in the country side. I would want to have a city near by, and a high speed internet connection. Other than that I could be quite happy living in a more rural area, provided there are some trees around. The thing that would probably become a common occurrence is the commute into work, the thought of which alone fills me with misery. In that sense, our apartment in Exeter is really quite special; it’s right on the edge, quiet and secluded, at the top of a hill with a beautiful view over the entire city. We’re half an hour away from Dartmoor, an hour away from Exmoor, and there are countless beautiful areas to visit, like Snowdrop Valley, the Blackdown Hills, etc.

I Miss Geralt

I miss playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. I miss Geralt, Zoltan, Ciri, Tris, Yenn, Vesemir, Eskel and even Lambert. I really wish I could start over and visit Velen, Novigrad, Oxenfurt, Kaer Morhen, Skellige and Toussaint again for the first time. I’ve done two full play-throughs now and I suspect I’ve seen almost everything there is to see. Still, I’ve started a third play-through. How I wish there was more content for me to experience. I still have several games ready and waiting to play; Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Middle-Eart: Shadow of War, Vampyre and I’ve been flirting with Pathfinder: Kingmaker. Still, I would happily trade all of those games in for another Witcher 3 DLC.